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I have been in the fitness industry for the last 14 years. I have been asked this very question countless times. The answer is "it's complicated". I am not saying that you can't look, feel and perform your best. It means that sometimes it takes digging deeper to get to the route of the problem.
Advertisers, the USDA and many "health professionals" would like to imply that ideal body composition and sports performance is all about the calories and movement. There is an inference that if we eat less and move more that we will magically have the perfect body, perfect health and the world would be a better place filled with unicorns and rainbows.
Nowhere in the above calories in/calories out (eat less/move more) scenario is the mention of hormones. Hormones are the real driver of how much body fat we burn or store. This does not defy the Law of Thermodynamics.
In order to have good body composition and performance, we need to understand some of the hormones that drive fat loss, fat storage, hunger and muscle growth. Our hormones dictate how our bodies perform. I hope the following list gives you an idea of some of the hormones that are regulating your body.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Notice the “store glucose for future use”.
Glucagon is released in response to low blood sugar and signals the liver to break down glycogen stored in the liver. Glucagon also signals the body to convert amino acids to glucose and to break down stored fat (triglycerides) into fatty acids for use of fuel cells.
Leptin is a hormone that is produced by the fat cells in the body. Its main role is regulating how many calories we eat and burn, as well as how much fat we carry on our bodies.
Ghrelin is secreted when the stomach is empty. When the stomach is stretched, secretion stops.a It acts on hypothalamic brain cells both to increase hunger, and to increase gastric acid secretion and gastrointestinal motility to prepare the body for food intake.
Somatostatin is a hormone that inhibits the secretion of several other hormones, including growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone, cholecystokinin and insulin.
Thyroid stimulating hormone regulates the production of hormones by the thyroid gland. Thyroxine and triiodothyronine are essential to maintaining the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development and maintenance of bones.
Thyrotropin-releasing hormone has effects on the arousal and feeding centres of the brain, causing wakefulness and loss of appetite.
Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. It plays vital roles in digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development and maintenance of bones.
Calcitonin is a hormone that is produced and released by the C-cells of the thyroid gland. Its biological function in humans is unclear. Yep, the experts have no idea what the heck Calcitonin does.
Parathyroid hormone is secreted by the parathyroid glands and is the most important regulator of calcium levels in the blood and within the bones.
Vitamin D is a hormone produced by the kidneys that helps to control the concentration of calcium in the blood and is vital for the development of strong bones.
You might be thinking “Wow, that is a lot of hormones!" Yes it is, and those are not the only ones in your body! Not only are there a lot of them, they all work together. The food we eat affects the hormones, so does sleep, stress, exercise and genetics.
The magic combination to achieve optimal health, body composition and sports performance is complicated. There are things we can do to focus on our overall health that is not limited to eating and exercising.
If you have dialed in nutrition and are not seeing results, it is is worthwhile to explore the other areas of life that affect hormones to optimize health and performance.
Wired to Eat
Stephanie is an endurance coach with a passion for motivating people to live healthier.