Control this hormone with the right food and supplements.
Yet years ago, insulin was only discussed in regards to diabetes, as it’s the hormone that drives glucose into cells, such as muscle cells. But insulin is so much more than a hormone that controls glucose. Insulin is highly anabolic, which means it’s critical for building muscle. But insulin also has a dark side, as it can increase fat storage. The fact is that you need to spike insulin to optimally recover form workouts and grow, yet you also need to blunt it to stay lean. Make sure you know all the facts about insulin and how to use it and avoid it for creating a muscular yet lean physique. My Insulin Guide will teach you how.
Insulin is actually a protein.
Yet unlike the proteins you think of, which are the building blocks of muscle, this is a functional protein, much like growth hormone is. Like all other protein, insulin is a chain of amino acids strung together. But the way this protein chain is folded makes it act as a signaling mechanism.
Insulin is produced by and released from the pancreas when you eat carbs, or protein, or both.
People with type I diabetes have inadequate insulin production and release from the pancreas. From the pancreas insulin enters the blood stream and travels to various tissues. One critical tissue is muscle. The muscle fibers (or cells) are lined with insulin receptors. These receptors are similar to a docking station. Once the insulin molecule docks onto the receptor it signals the muscle cell to open up gates in the muscle that allow glucose, amino acids and even creatine to enter the muscles. This is one reason why insulin is so important for building muscle. When insulin docks onto the muscle cells it also instigates biochemical reactions in the muscle that increase protein synthesis, the building of muscle from the amino acids that are entering the muscle cells. This is the second reason why insulin is important for building muscle. In addition, insulin also decreases muscle breakdown, which further pushes muscle growth forward. People with type II diabetes produce enough insulin, however, their insulin is not effective at opening the gates on cells to let nutrients like glucose and amino acids into the cells.
Insulin not only builds up muscle cells, but it also builds up fat cells.
When insulin is released form the pancreas it signals the body that it has just been fed. Since the body is always trying to spare energy, it halts the body’s burning of stored fat in your fat cells for energy in favor of using the nutrients that have just been ingested. In addition to muscle cells, insulin also works on fat cells, where it increases the uptake of glucose and fats. This causes the body to store more body fat. With more fat being stored and less fat being burned, you can see why spiking insulin levels throughout the day would lead to fat gain over time.
Another reason that having high insulin levels can hurt you has to do with energy, or lack there of.
When insulin levels spike it clears out the majority of the glucose in the blood (by pushing it into muscle and fat cells. This causes blood glucose levels to severely dip, a condition known as hypoglycemia. When this occurs your energy levels crash and so do you. Not only is this bad for your energy, but it’s bad for your physique. When your energy crashes your hunger soars, causing you to overeat, especially carbs.
In addition to increasing nutrient uptake and muscle growth, as well as body fat growth, insulin has a couple other, lesser known, functions in the body.
Insulin causes the muscles of the blood vessels to relax, which causes the blood vessels to dilate and allow greater blood flow to the muscles. By increasing blood flow, insulin can get more nutrients like glucose and amino acids to the muscles. This is one reason why bodybuilders pound simple carbs on contest day. Not only does the corresponding spike in insulin drive the carbs into the muscles to keep them full, but it also boosts vascularity.
Insulin may also play a role in aging.
Research has discovered that when insulin levels are maintained at a low level, animals live about 50% longer. Although the precise mechanism for this anti-aging effect is undetermined, it is believed that the signaling that insulin causes in cells makes cells less healthy over time and that decreases our overall longevity. Therefore, keeping insulin levels low results in less insulin signaling within cells, resulting in healthier cells and greater longevity. Of course, you still want to spike insulin after workouts, just be sure to try and keep it low at other times of day.
How to Rule Insulin
Since insulin has a good side and a dark side, it’s key to know how to use insulin for your gain, muscle gain that is, while avoiding its effects on fat gain. Follow these six Rules and you’ll be good to go.
Rule #1: Know the GI – the types of carbs you eat can make or break your ability to rule insulin. Carbs can be categorized into two basic categories: 1) high glycemic index (GI) carbs and 2) low GI carbs. The glycemic index refers to how fast the carbs in the food end up as glucose in your blood stream. High GI foods are those that pass rapidly through your digestive system (i.e. fast-digesting) and into your blood stream. Because these types of carbs get into your blood stream so quickly they drive up blood glucose levels and this causes insulin to spike in order to utilize the glucose. Low GI foods are those that pass more slowly through the digestive system (i.e. slow digesting) and slowly enter the blood stream. This keeps insulin levels low.
Rule #2: Know the GI of most carbs – Typically, simple sugars such as table sugar (sucrose) are high GI carbs, while most complex carbs such as sweet potatoes are low GI carbs. However, there are many exceptions to this rule. For example, fruit is high in the sugar fructose, yet most fruits are very low GI carbs. The reason for this is twofold. For one, most fruits are high in fiber, which somewhat slows down the digestion. Also, the sugar fructose can not be used by he muscles for fuel. It must first be converted into glucose by the liver. This process takes time to complete, keeping most fruits in the low GI category. Exceptions to this are cantaloupes, dates, and watermelon, which tend to be higher GI fruits than their counterparts. On the other side of the coin, white potatoes are complex carbs, yet they are digested very rapidly and deliver their glucose into the bloodstream quickly, making them a high GI complex carb. The same can be said of white bread and most white rice. See my list below of high GI and low GI carbs.
Rule #3: Go Low (most of the time) – at almost every meal of the day you want to focus on low GI carbs, if any. This will keep insulin levels low, thereby helping to maintain energy levels throughout the day, as well as fat burning. This is not just theory based on what we know are insulin’s functions in the body, but this has been shown in several clinical studies. One of the most critical times to go with low GI carbs is right before workouts. For years bodybuilders went with high GI carbs before workouts, reasoning that they needed fast energy. The problem with this thinking is that they got exactly that, fast energy that quickly ended before the workout, killing their intensity before the workout was over. In addition, they were halting fat burning during workouts. If you consume carbs before a workout, be sure to go with 20-40 grams of low GI carbs within 30 minutes before workouts. Of course, that’s along with 20 grams of protein powder.
Rule #4: Know When to Get High – while you want to observe rule #3, there are two times of day when high GI carbs may rule rule. If mass gaining is your goal, the first time is within minutes of waking. When you wake you have just endured a solid 6-8 hours of fasting. That has caused your muscle and liver glycogen (the storage from of carbs in the body) to drop. This drop in glycogen signals your body to tear down muscle tissue for fuel. So you are waking in a muscle-wasting state. Taking in about 20-40 grams of fast-digesting carbs as soon as you get out of bed will boost insulin and quickly restock your glycogen levels and stop the muscle onslaught. I recommend fruit in the morning, as it offers other benefits such as antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals. And while higher GI fruits may be quickest, even low GI fruits are good. The main reason fruits are low GI is fructose, which needs to go to the liver. But once it gets to the liver it signals the body to stop breaking down muscle. And be sure to take those carbs with 20-40 grams of fast-digesting protein, such as whey, which will restore the muscle lost during the night. If you are trying to maximize fat loss, you may want to skip the carb altogether in the morning. Yes, you are waking in a catabolic state but you are also waking in a fat-burning state. Your body also has to burn more fat due to the lower glycogen levels. Getting in a protein shake will help to stop some of the muscle breakdown without halting too much of the fat burning. Whether your goal is mass gaining or fat loss, the other time to take in high GI or fast-digesting carbs is within 30 minutes after workouts. Here you’ll want to shoot for about 30-80 grams of those carbs along with 40 grams of protein powder. At this time the high GI carbs will spike insulin, which will drive those carbs and amino acids for the protein, as well as creatine (we hope you take creatine) into your muscles. The fast carbs are critical for quickly restocking the muscle glycogen used during the workout. The amino acids will boost muscle growth, as well as further boost insulin. And the creatine, well you should know that that will further boost muscle growth. In addition, the insulin itself signals the muscle to kick start muscle growth processes and halt muscle breakdown.
Rule #5: Get Help from Protein – As we mentioned above in rule #4, you’ll want to take protein, particularly whey protein, when you take your high GI carbs. This is not only important due to the fact that the amino acids from that protein are used to build muscle. Another reason has to do with the fact that protein, especially whey, helps to further boost insulin levels. Research confirms that when you take high GI carbs along with fast-digesting protein, such as whey, after workouts, insulin levels soar even higher than when just high GI carbs are consumed. In fact, whey protein has been suggested in a few studies to boost insulin levels as high as high GI carbs. This has caused many people to wonder in they should use why protein between meals and before workouts because it spikes insulin so much. Will this hinder fat loss? While whey does appear to spike insulin, due mainly to the amount of the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine that is in whey, it does not appear to hinder fat loss in the long run. In fact, studies show that supplementing with whey, or BCAAs, or just leucine actually aids fat loss. Although leuicne may increase insulin release without carbs present there seems to be little fat storage. Plus, this seems to increase insulin sensitivity, which is a good thing as it allows the muscles to take up more carbs. Plus, the leucine, or BCAAs, or whey protein blunt hunger so you eat less in the long run. So should you worry about whey protein spiking insulin? Not really. However, if you get to a point where you are having trouble dropping those last few pounds of fat on your stubborn areas, consider using casein protein, particularly micellar casein, which is a quality milk protein that does not spike insulin levels the way whey does, in the morining and before workouts, and any other time of day when you normally have a whey shake between meals. This can help to get you the quality protein you need, but keep your insulin levels low, helping to keep you in an optimal state of fat burning so you can encourage those trouble spots to let go of their fat. Of course, as I always suggest combine both whey and casein postworkout to maximize muscle growth.
Rule #6: Use Insulin Mimetics – there are also supplements that enhance insulin’s effects at the muscle cells and/or mimic insulin's action at the muscle cells, which can help postworkout to get more out of insulin. These include alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and Cinnulin-PF. ALA is a potent antioxidant that enhances insulin’s actions at the muscle cell. Cinnulin-PF is a trademarked water-soluble cinnamon extract. The active ingredient in this cinnamon extract, hydroxychalcone, mimics the effects of insulin at the muscle cells. Immediately after workouts consider stacking 300-500 mg of ALA and 100-250 mg of Cinnulin-PF with your postworkout carbs and protein. This will enhance insulin’s actions for better recovery and growth after workouts.
Common high GI (i.e. fast) and low GI (i.e. slow) foods