I have been hearing about insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance in the news, magazine covers and fitness forums. For the longest time I wasn’t sure whether insulin sensitivity was an advantageous trait or not. If you have followed theFITLIFE for long, you’ve probably discovered my serious curiosity with insulin and the endocrine system as a whole. I continue to believe hormonal health is the least appreciated and discussed topic in total body fitness.
I feel many plateaus people experience in fat loss and muscle gain, can often be attributed to lack of insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance).
A few explanations that we may or may not know.
• Insulin-an anabolic (muscle building/growth) hormone. Responsible for “turning on” glucose absorption into cells thereby reducing circulation blood sugar levels.
• Glucose-sugar produced mostly by the consumption of carbohydrates. Glucose is used as fuel for our bodies.
• Insulin sensitivity-the description of how much insulin is required to use or process a quantity of glucose.
• Insulin Resistance-muscle, liver, and fat cells develop a resistance to the effects of insulin due to a couple of reasons, including chronically high levels of blood glucose levels.
Being insulin sensitive is actually the nominal state in humans but because of mass consumption of carbohydrates, lack of exercise, and massive dumps of insulin responsible for regulation blood sugar, insulin resistance has become the norm for many. Prolonged insulin resistance can lead to more serious conditions such as type-2 diabetes. This happens because the pancreas has been overworked, cells are less responsive to insulin so the pancreas has to constantly increase insulin production to furnish the same blood sugar leveling catalyst. (Sustained high blood sugar levels are toxic to the body)
How might I know if I’m Insulin Resistant?
Well, if you’re overweight and hold weight around the abdomen you’re almost surely insulin resistant. It’s a dirty cycle that is aggravated by the fact that insulin resistance escalates as weight does. Also, some people are born insulin resistant. If you respond favorably (in terms of fat loss) you’re probably insulin resistant. There are also tests that your doctor can perform if you’d like to know a definite answer, although its importance will probably be downplayed.
Practical tips to Increase insulin sensitivity
Strength train– I know I’m a broken record about the effects of strength training, but when it comes to increasing your insulin sensitivity and properly utilizing insulin, not much beats it.
- Why? There are countless research articles citing strength training as the best exercise for the purpose but I think of it like this; if you’re lifting weights, you’re using the glucose stored in the muscles to produce ATP and power your muscles. Cells are going to be much more receptive to insulin-induced glucose absorption from the blood stream if their storages have been depleted. Sensitivity is immediately increased during exercise and stays for an hour or two afterwards.
- You may have heard the meal after working out is one of the most important; this is why. Your body’s cells are incredibly receptive to nutrient uptake at this time.
Note: If you’ve been on a typical bodybuilder “bulk” phase(eating everything you can all day long), the tips laid out here will regain some of the insulin sensitivity you’ve lost from digesting food all day long. Why does it matter? Well if you’re becoming insulin resistant because of the constant presence of insulin, you’re muscle cells aren’t taking in the glucose and nutrients like before(remember insulin as the key that unlocks the cell membrane), rather turning the glucose into fat. Regaining insulin sensitivity will dramatically increase the flooding of nutrients into the cell for optimal protein synthesis.
Fast-I recommend at least one 20-hour fast per week. I fast 16+ hrs/day. See previous posts for advice and how-to.
- When you’re not consuming any calories, the body reverts to the use of stored fat as fuel. This is preceded by the use of stored glycogen and glucose (sugars) as fuel. This leaves the muscle and liver cells depleted of sugars and creates a state of “rest” for the insulin producing function of the pancreas. Anytime the body has not had massive blood sugar spikes in a time, you can expect insulin sensitivity to rise. I feel switching to a daily fast is the most natural way to eat, and the most effective at normalizing the way insulin operates in the body.
Eat a low carb/low glycemic index diet-The human body is not designed to be bombarded by 80g of carbs or sugars all at once.
- Some bodies handle carbohydrates better than others although none are conditioned for large amounts of processed carbs/sugar. This causes the pancreas to kick in and produce insulin immediately, but the muscle cells and liver can only take so much. The rest becomes adipose tissue (fat).
- Eating lower carbs doesn’t directly lower your sensitivity. It eliminates the large spikes in Insulin which lowers the “symptoms” you feel when you’re insulin resistant and your body is struggling to get rid of the blood sugar. So, insulin resistance is all but negated when you eat a very low carb diet. By losing weight, which most do with this eating approach, you increase insulin sensitivity and combat resistance, as well.
If you’re having a hard time breaking a fat loss plateau, or are just starting out on your path, incorporate the knowledge above to tailor your eating habits. Fat loss plateaus often come about because of the fact that as you lose weight, your body naturally becomes less resistant and more sensitive. (Think about our body’s propensity for survival) Our bodies are designed to store fat, so the less you weigh the more your body wants to store fat. Systematically lowering carbohydrates as your overall mass lowers, is one way to ensure your gains keep coming and the plateaus are blown through.
Think, Sweat, Grow- Joe
If anyone has any questions or comments please leave them below or in an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I really would love some interaction or discussion about the topics I write about. My goal here is to help someone, even if it’s just one sentence that resonates with you. I am learning about these topics each day and would love to learn more from you all. Take care!