Hormones and Exercise: Serotonin

Hormones and Exercise: Serotonin

This is the first blog of a series relating to hormones. I am going to specifically discuss these hormones in regards to health & exercise, and how we can use them to our advantage to optimize physical progression.

**Disclaimer** I am by no means an expert on hormones or physiology. I am very intrigued by this topic, and want to write about it in order to further my own understanding. I will keep these blogs as simple as possible, and hope to provide comprehensive information that everyone can understand.


What is serotonin? Serotonin is a calming chemical. It acts on the central nervous system by producing feelings of pleasure and contentment.

So, essentially – serotonin is our “feel-good” hormone.

Unfortunately, this hormone is often unrecognized in relation to physical exercise and body composition improvement. As fitness professionals, we often overlook hormones like serotonin, as it is generally not associated with building muscle, or losing fat. It does, however, largely influence body physiology, and psychology, which ultimately affect our ability to improve body composition.

Although seldom correlated with improving physical appearance, optimizing this hormone in our bodies is extremely vital in our physical transformations. Here’s why:

[A few] Effects Serotonin has on the body:

  1. Promotes proper digestion.
  2. Appetite control
  3. Sleep
  4. Mood & Relaxation
  5. Increased performance overall
  1. Promotes proper digestion

Satiety – the state of being fed or gratified to capacity. Satiety ultimately means feeling full or satisfied from eating food.

Without sufficient serotonin levels, satiety is difficult to achieve. This is obviously not good, because if we can’t achieve the “full-feeling”, then we will most likely eat an excess of calories, resulting in weight gain.

In addition, upon ingesting food, serotonin is released in order to control the contractions of smooth muscle in the small intestine, which helps move the food.

  1. Appetite Control

Obviously, consuming excessive amounts of calories will lead to gaining weight. Serotonin helps mask the intake of extra calories by controlling your appetite.

When we eat carbohydrates, we produce serotonin. This production of serotonin suppresses our appetites.

Have you ever eaten a meal loaded with carbohydrates, that makes you extremely sleepy? I know I have. Here is an example: Thanksgiving!

In an oversimplified fashion, when we consume large amounts of carbohydrates, our serotonin levels are elevated substantially. This, in turn, makes us feel extremely full and sleepy; hence the post thanksgiving feast nap.

Personally, I like to avoid carbohydrates for breakfast (this is for several reasons that I will not get into). As we know, eating a carb heavy breakfast will cause serotonin levels to increase.

If you are someone who consistently gets tired after breakfast, or has a hard time waking up in the mornings, save your carbohydrates for lunch and dinner. Elevating this “calming chemical” at the wrong times could be part of your problem.

  1. Sleep

Serotonin helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. This physiological process is influenced by a multitude of things, but ultimately, hormones play a vital role.

Obviously, sleep is very important in regards to recovery. If we aren’t sleeping enough, our progress in the gym will be negatively affected.

Serotonin levels are lowest during deep sleep. Believe it or not, serotonin is partially regulated by sunlight, as our bodies release it in accordance to the exposure we receive. This helps ensure that we sleep, and/or are alert, at the correct times of the day.

  1. Mood & Relaxation

Serotonin plays a vital role in our mood and mental stability. When serotonin levels are high, we feel pleased, and our mood usually exhibits that. When serotonin levels are low, we often feel stressed, anxious, and uncomfortable.

For example, how great do you feel after you exercise? Amazing, right? Your mood is improved, thoughts clearer, and overall, you just feel better.

  • Unfortunately, chronically low levels of serotonin are thought to be associated with depression.
  • Fortunately, exercise will help elevate those serotonin levels.

Serotonin is heavily related to keeping stress levels down, which enables us to relax. Since serotonin is considered the “feel-good” hormone, adequate levels provide us with the euphoric feeling of contentment.

Do you know that feeling you get when you’re on vacation? The one where it genuinely feels like your insides are smiling? The cup of black coffee aside, this can largely be credited to elevated serotonin levels in your body.

  1. Increased Performance Overall

Although this hormone plays a minimal role in actually improving body composition, it is certainly vital in the physiological aspect of physical progression.

Having adequate levels of serotonin allows us to control our eating, regulate our sleep, and feel mentally superior.  This, in turn, will correlate to improving physical appearance through better habits, and improved workouts.

Ways to Improve Serotonin Levels

  • Exercise: Yep, that’s it. Exercising elevates serotonin production levels, which will improve your mood for several hours.
  • Get Some D: Vitamin D, that is. As I previously stated, sunlight regulates serotonin production. The more sunlight we are exposed to, the higher our serotonin levels are elevated. I guess that’s why we get sleepy after a long day on the beach…
  • Eat some carbs: Consuming carbohydrates does induce the production of serotonin, however, we don’t want to overdo this one. Remember, if your serotonin levels are low, it increases the difficulty of achieving satiety (feeling full). Don’t use this as your ticket to eat copious amounts of carbs with no remorse, as consuming too many can lead to weight gain.
  • There are several additional ways to improve serotonin levels, but they are too complex for this blog.

Ultimately, resting, sleep, and calming of the CNS are all vital aspects of working out.

Quick question. Do you know how much muscle we build while working out? None. We break down muscle when we workout.

Proper rest and nutrition outside of the gym allow broken down muscles to build back up. None of our physical changes actually occur inside the gym; they occur at home, while resting.

Recovery should be just as prioritized in your physical transformation as the actual workouts. Adequate serotonin levels help calm the CNS, so optimize them appropriately, and experience the physical changes your body will make.

I hope you learned something and thank you reading. Stay tuned for the next topic in this Hormones and Exercise series.

Your fitness friend,

Patrick Burns




Mi40Nation. (2008). The Serotonin Advantage. Mi40nation.com. Retrieved April 08, 2017, from http://www.mi40nation.com/premium-articles/the-serotonin-advantage/








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