Insulin is an anabolic hormone produced by the beta cells in your pancreas. As most fitness trainees know, anabolic hormones are a good thing; they help build muscle tissue and as that’s the primary goal of weight training/bodybuilding, it’s worth getting insulin on your side.
The role of Insulin in the body
Insulin’s main job is transporting nutrients into your cells. Whenever you eat carbohydrates (like rice, potatoes, bread, pasta or sugars), the carbs are converted to glucose and enter your blood stream. This rise in blood glucose levels triggers the release of insulin from your pancreas which lowers your blood glucose levels by allowing the glucose to leave your blood and enter your body’s cells.
Glucose can be then
1. pushed into your muscle cells,
2. stored in your liver,
3. used as fuel or
4. converted to body fat
Number 4 only really happens if there is a significant and prolonged glucose excess – as is common in many overweight people’s diet and the Western diet in general.
In addition to driving glucose into cells, insulin also encourages the uptake of protein-derived amino acids into your muscles.
This is an essential part of recovery from exercise and muscle building. Some bodybuilders actually inject insulin after a bit meal to encourage the uptake of nutrients into their muscles and speed up their recovery after training. While these sort of makes sense on paper, the reality is that too much insulin can be drop-dead fatal and the potentially fatal risks outweigh any benefits.
As well as encouraging the uptake of nutrients into cells, insulin also interferes with the oxidation or burning of fat. This is why insulin gets a bad rap for dieter’s and why low carbohydrate diets are so effective for weight loss. Less dietary carbs mean lower insulin levels and therefore a better environment for fat loss is created.
Why you should keep Insulin under control
Rather than label insulin as a good or bad hormone, it’s better to try and use it to your best advantage. This means that your carbohydrate consumption should be controlled and timed around periods of activity. This essentially means that you should eat according to what you have just done and what you are about to do.
Insulin is a highly anabolic hormone that can enhance your recovery from exercise and help you build muscle but if fat loss is your goal or you simply want to avoid gaining fat along with your hard-earned muscle it makes sense to try and manipulate your insulin levels for best results. To do this, try following these guidelines…
For breakfast, consume slow acting carbs like oatmeal or focus on protein foods such as eggs. Definitely stay away from sugary cereals and juices and their subsequent blood glucose spike. If you expect to be sedentary for most of the day; maybe it’s a day off from training or you are training in the evening, consider a protein-only breakfast.
The more sedentary you are, the less carbohydrates you need. Running marathons needs lots of carbs, 60 minutes of strength training four-times a week does not. For speedy, easy fat loss, swap carbs for protein. Even if you don’t actually alter the quantity of food you eat, keeping insulin levels low will promote fat burning.
Immediately after the workout, consume fast acting carbs and protein. A good ratio of carbs to protein is 1:1 or 2:1. The carbs and protein, in combination with your increased insulin sensitivity, means that almost all nutrients consumed at this time will be pushed into your muscles which will enhance recovery and promote muscle growth.