Despite the best of intentions and a workable plan that promises great results, achieving your best physique in 2020 may only lead to frustration and disappointment should chronic stress threaten to insidiously undermine your progress. Indeed, prolonged and unrelenting stress remains one of the biggest barriers to training success. By keeping stress low, however, your body is able to make best use of its nutritional resources to recover and grow. Rather than remaining on ‘high alert’, an extremely taxing state where unessential processes (like muscle growth) are superseded by a consistent state of agitation and readiness for action (the famed fight or flight response), you’ll be relaxed and calm, ideal conditions for muscle gains to flourish. Chronic stress, left unchecked, may also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, immune system dysfunction, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer.14 While each of these will no doubt substantially affect one’s physical health and energy levels, there is another stress factor that has been shown to more specifically interfere with muscle gains while setting the stage for the above-listed ailments: cortisol. An energy conservation hormone that is released during periods of high stress, cortisol is critically important to preparing the body for various environmental threats. Indeed, the “stress hormone” not all bad. In actuality, cortisol is released to counter the effects of acute stress, notably by helping to drive down inflammation. More nefariously, cortisol earns its catabolic hormone status with its excessive accumulation in those who exist in a constant state of psychological stress (including those who worry incessantly over things beyond their control).8 By rallying energy resources, cortisol prepares the body to respond to environmental stressors (real or imaginary). However, because it may stifle the normal utilization of nutrients, cortisol requires another energy source to meet physical demand. Can you guess where this energy source comes from? If you said muscle tissue, you are correct. By activating a process called gluconeogenesis (literally, glucose from new sources) cortisol increases blood glucose levels to prepare for or to sustain physical output. Unfortunately for bodybuilders, this process requires that amino acids be pulled from muscle tissue to produce the much-needed glucose. As we would expect, this severely compromises muscle growth, as amino acids are central to the formation of muscle tissue. In addition to depleting muscle amino stores, chronic stress may change the composition of the gut’s ecosystem of bacteria (collectively known as the microbiome), thus interfering with proper digestion and the normal uptake and utilization of growth-inducing nutrients. So, to make the following plan work to your advantage and to keep the gains coming through all of 2020, limit cortisol production by reducing unnecessary stress.