How does stress play a role in our training and ability to recover?
It can have a negative effect on body composition and eating behaviors.
Stress plays a critical role in our capacity to handle acute and chronic bouts overtime. An example of this is strength training. We need to add stress to our muscles (via volume or intensity) in order for them to adapt by getting stronger or bigger.
Another example is resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to recover from difficulties. When something is too hard, we may not have the capacity to be resilient. It takes us longer to recover from it. This can be emotionally and/or physically.
The theory of General Adaptation Syndrome* implies we recover and adapt from stressors as long as we have enough time to recover before the next stimulus.
Sleep, food, relationships, life, and other factors all play a role in stress accumulation. The key here is that it does accumulate and we must be aware of it. Too much of a load leads to a decreased ability to adapt.
In the study, “Effects of Chronic Social Stress on Obesity**“, the researchers concluded that chronic stress increases fat storage, increases dyslipidemia***, and influences eating behaviors that lead to increased fat storage.
What can we do about it?
So while acute stress can be beneficial to building capacity and resiliency, chronic stress has a negative impact on our health by affecting body fat storage, blood health, and eating behaviors.
It is important that we manage our it. Easier said than done, obviously. But we have a couple strategies that can help.
Here is one strategy, Autoregulation****. Take this excerpt from Stronger by Science on it:
Autoregulation is not a stand-alone, specific type of training. Autoregulation doesn’t have to be complicated, and autoregulation does not require the use of rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scores … Rather, autoregulation is simply a systematic approach to implementing something every trainer worth their salt knows is of supreme importance: the principle of individuality.
The article also dives into the models of RPE (rate of percevied exertion) based training. Give it a read for more in depth info on both topics. These models can and should be used to help regulate and adjust training due to stress.
Stress has a complicated response on the body. It can be beneficial by increasing our capacity to deal with stressors. However, chronic stress can lead to increased fat storage, increase in feeding behaviors (eating more), and impact recovery from training (checkout this study on how stress increases recovery time*****).
This implies that there is an optimal load of stress that allows us to have more benefits than consequences. The load is indivualistic to each person as stress seems to be perceived differently from person to person. This individualization is why strategies like autoregulation and RPE can be beneficial for adjusting to the stress load.
*****Stults-Kolehmainen MA1, Bartholomew JB, Sinha R. “Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96-hour period.” J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jul;28(7):2007-17.