hormones and body composition

Hormones and Body Composition

If you’ve spent any time reading about this stuff on the internet, surely you’ve seen many an expert preach that one particular hormone is the one. The Big Mama. The only one that matters. Just manage this one hormone, and you’re set for life. The problem is this hormone seems to change all the time depending on who you speak to and sporting trends.

For a while that hormone was insulin, then it was cortisol. We spoke about estrogen dominance over low progesterone. But, the thing is they all matter. Hormones control every metabolic process in your body. Everything from the commonly known hormones above to immune-signalling molecules that you’ve probably never heard of, like Il-6 and Il-15. They all work together and play a role in your health.

Starting point

Insulin and cortisol influence all other hormones to such a great degree that if they aren’t in balance nothing else matters. Which means your efforts to boost progesterone or lower oestrogen dominance or even effectively utilise your thyroid prescription will be only minimally effective. That doesn’t even take into account trying to lose body fat or gain lean muscle.


Insulin is anabolic meaning it can store fat and build muscle. So, while some insulin is needed to build muscle, an excess can lead to weight gain. Therefore, balancing this hormone is very important for body composition. While insulin is secreted most significantly when eating carbohydrates, it is also released when you eat protein and fat. This is important to note because it’s a common misconception that protein and fat are free foods, and that you only need to worry about carbs when it comes to insulin.


Our other hormone friend, cortisol is a double-edged sword. Secreted by the adrenal glands it is our main stress hormone and has a couple of jobs; including raising blood sugar. Cortisol is vital for life, necessary for fat burning, and is even anti-inflammatory in small doses. Yet, on the flipside, when your body experiences it in too-high doses, it can cause an increase in body fat. It can also slow the metabolism by affecting thyroid hormone levels, lead to inflammation, induce cravings, and create a big metabolic mess.

This insulin-cortisol fat-storing combo is especially tough on fat cells around your midsection. To complicate things further, these fat cells can actually make some cortisol of their own.

Managing hormones

But, your hormones can be managed. You can reduce insulin resistance with a mix of intense weight training and aerobic cardio work. Modifying your diet to include minimally processed carbohydrates help. Especially if paired with good sources of protein and fats while avoiding over processed sweet foods. So no more pastries and cakes.

Participating in restorative exercise like long walks, yoga or mediation is a great way to reduce your cortisol.

So what does all this mean for your body shape and diet? Well, it shows it is possible to take control of you body. Taking a strategic approach to your health and fitness can result in balanced hormones and a better body composition. The important thing is to remain informed and avoid buying into faddy trends. Science never changes.   


Martina Dunne is a certified personal trainer who specialises in pre and post natal coaching and small group fitness sessions with a love for health and fitness. For more information visitfromthetinyflat