Adrenaline is a powerful tool that can fuel your workout and leave you feeling great—and it’s all thanks to a hormone called epinephrine.
“It’s all hormones nowadays” could be the mantra for today’s fitness enthusiasts. For comedy aficionados, that might recall a line from “Fletch,” the 1985 tour-de-force starring Chevy Chase as Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher, an investigative reporter based in Los Angeles.
(If you haven’t seen the film, Fletch assumes a variety of characters as he investigates a drug-dealing scheme. In one of the most memorable scenes, Fletch tries to fib his way into a hangar by saying he’s an airplane mechanic, there to check the engine’s ball bearings. “It’s all ball bearings nowadays” is one of the many iconic quotes from the movie.)
Whether you’re aiming to get rid of excess bodyweight, add lean muscle or boost your energy levels, you can channel your inner Fletch and say, “It’s all hormones nowadays.” That’s because the hormones your body produces in response to movement are the essential ingredients for physiological transformation.
Hormones and movement
Hormones are chemicals produced by your body’s endocrine system to control the cells that operate in your body. They regulate a number of physiological functions, including energy metabolism, reproduction, tissue growth, hydration, muscle protein synthesis and mood. Some hormones build new muscle proteins, while others convert fat into fuel for muscle activity; the specific ones produced and the cells they interact with will determine how the body changes in response to exercise. Having an understanding of which hormones are released in reaction to different types of movement and how they interact with different tissues in your body can help you identify the best workouts for your needs.
Two of the most common reasons we train are to improve the way we look or to change the way we feel. While movement produces hormones that can help change appearance, it can take some time before you notice visible results; on the other hand, if you want to use movement to change the way you feel that can happen in a single workout thanks to hormones like adrenaline.
It seems like we most often hear about adrenaline in relation to extreme sporting events like the X Games or dangerous activities like skydiving. Here are six things you should know about adrenaline, how it affects your workout and, most importantly, the types of movements that you can do to boost your adrenaline without having to risk your life downhill mountain biking or wing suit flying.
Epinephrine is the real MVP
What is commonly referred to as adrenaline is technically an amine hormone produced by the adrenal gland (hence it’s knick-name) called epinephrine. Epinephrine helps provide the fuel our muscles use during physical training. Have you ever felt sluggish and “meh” at the beginning of a workout? Five to 10 minutes later, don’t you feel completely different? Thanks to epinephrine, only a few minutes of movement helps you to feel charged up and ready to take on the world—even though you barely crawled your way into the gym.
The fight-or-flight response supplies immediate energy
Epinephrine is produced as a function of the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body’s fight or flight response, and helps produce energy rapidly when needed to fuel muscle activity. Whether it’s to physically fend off a foe or to run away from a dangerous situation, your adrenal gland will start pumping epinephrine to meet the demand for immediate energy.
Epinephrine uses carbs, fat and glucose to fuel the body
Produced in an immediate response to a stress stimulus, epinephrine promotes the breakdown of glycogen (how carbohydrate is stored in the liver and muscle cells) which then increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, dilates blood vessels, helps metabolize fat and elevates the heart rate—all of which delivers more energy to the muscles to be used during activity.
The later the workout, the lower the intensity should be
If you experience a last-minute change to your schedule which forces you to get to the gym much later than normal, it’s better to do a low-intensity workout in order to experience better sleep. Working out later in the evening—especially high-intensity training—can elevate levels of epinephrine, making it difficult to fall asleep, which can keep you from getting a much-needed battery recharge.
Don’t do drugs, just work out
The production of epinephrine can also trigger the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure centers in the brain to help us feel better and enhance our mood. This is how movement helps you to feel better; once your body elevates epinephrine to produce more energy it also increases the levels of dopamine in an effort to help your brain ignore any signals of discomfort from the working muscles. Many drugs, both those prescribed by doctors and illicit ones like ecstasy or cocaine, can boost levels of epinephrine and dopamine, which can lead to problems of addiction. That same chemical reaction helps explain why you may feel “addicted” to working out. It can also explain the explosive popularity of extreme activities, because we all like to do those things that make us feel better.
Energy drinks are more sugar than substance
Energy drinks that contain caffeine and similar substances can help elevate levels of epinephrine without physical training, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for a couple of reasons. The first is that many energy drinks often contain high amounts of both sugar and calories; if you make movement a priority in your life, there is no reason to add more of either to your food intake. The second reason is that epinephrine metabolizes fat for fuel. The danger is that if there is no physical activity to use that fuel, then the fatty acids can be re-deposited in abdominal tissue, which only adds abdominal fat. If you do get that sluggish feeling in the middle of the day, it can be much healthier to take a quick activity break and get up to move around instead of just grabbing a calorie-laden drink. If you feel a little run-down before a workout, a small cup of back coffee is the perfect low-calorie option to boost your epinephrine and get your motor running before you start moving.
A workout to get your adrenaline going
For those of you that work out after a stressful day at the office, have you ever noticed that you walk out of the gym in a much better mood than when you walked in? That’s because in just one workout, epinephrine—along with other hormones and neurotransmitters—can have an immediate effect on a variety of different cells and tissues in your body. If you want to boost your levels of epinephrine, the good news is that there is no need to pick up a deadly new hobby like motorcycle racing, because almost any type of moderate-to-high-intensity workout can boost epinephrine.
Here is an EMOM (every minute on the minute) workout that you can use to elevate the epinephrine in your body.
What you’ll need:
- Kettlebell (moderately heavy—one that will make 15 swings challenging)
- TRX Suspension Trainer
- Dumbbells (optional)
- After a complete, full-body warm-up that gets you sweating, set a timer for 12 minutes.
- On the even minutes do 15 kettlebell swings. When the timer hits the odd minutes, do 10 push-ups on the Suspension Trainer.
- Once you complete the assigned number of reps, you have the rest of the minute to rest; for example, if it takes you 20 seconds to do 15 kettlebell swings, you then have 40 seconds to rest before the next minute and the next set on the Suspension Trainer.
- If you’re feeling up for it, grab a set of dumbbells and reset the timer; on the even minutes do 12 bent-over rows with both dumbbells and on the odd minutes, do 12 goblet squats with the kettlebell.
It will be tough, but at the end of either 12 or 24 minutes you will have done a quick, effective workout as well as jacked up the amount of epinephrine in your body. You’re welcome!
Photo credit: Kyle Johnson, Unsplash