To spike insulin, or not to spike it? Learn how to maximise insulin to help you grow!
Decades ago it seemed that insulin would only be discussed in reference to diabetes. But as science grows and information increases, insulin, one of the most anabolic hormones in our body, has become more important in the bodybuilding world than ever before.
One of its primary perks is that the hormone rapidly drives glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells catering for the repair and growth process. While one of its downsides, is its antagonistic role to accumulate fat. The challenge is to learn how to induce the hormone to your advantage. Or else it can quickly turn on you and become your worst enemy.
Whether you want to learn to control and manipulate insulin or gain a deep insight of its properties, find it all here in the content below!
Your New Friend, Insulin
After eating a meal, any carbohydrates that are consumed go on to be broken down into glucose and passed through the blood stream to various tissues, including your muscles. During this process, insulin is produced by the pancreas, whether we like it or not. This molecules role is to allow sugar and other nutrients, to be absorbed into your cells as energy at a rapid rate. To be clearer, think of insulin as a key that opens the door to a cell allowing glucose, amino acids, and creatine to enter.
All in all, insulin provides another two core advantages for athletes and bodybuilders. Next in line is its benefit of accelerating protein synthesis (the process of building muscle) which occurs when an insulin molecule connects with a muscle cell. While the last advantage may not be as useful as the other two, it still however aids muscle development by causing blood vessels to dilate, allowing greater blood flow (more nutrients) to our muscles. This is why you will often see bodybuilders eat high GI carbohydrate foods on contest day, as it allows for full muscles while also boosting vascularity.
Although insulin may be extremely anabolic, it is a double-edged sword. Insulin’s other role is to tell the body to store excess fat, which is quite possibly the worst downside for athletes. This process begins when insulin is released from your pancreas, triggering a message to be relayed to your brain stating that it is being fed. And since our bodies have an inclination to minimise energy usage whenever possible, this action prompts internal systems to halt the process of fat breakdown for energy and instead rely on the nutrients that have just been ingested.
Even worse, when insulin joins with fat cells, which quite frankly is inevitable. It increases your cells’ intake of fats and glucose, resulting in your body storing more fat. And last but not least, insulin depletes your bloodstream of glucose by transporting it into cells throughout your body. Consequently, this causes glucose levels to drop severely, resulting in energy levels plummeting thereby forcing your body to counteract by increasing hunger levels. This in turn prompts you to overeat, particularly in carbohydrates.
Your body’s insulin sensitivity determines how effectively your cells respond to insulin. Individuals with a low insulin resistance will require little amounts of insulin to store carbs. On the other hand, people that have high insulin resistance (type II diabetics), will need larger amount of insulin to transport glucose.
As mentioned before, when insulin levels are high, fat loss comes to a halt, and fat storage is triggered. For this reason, you will want to decrease your insulin resistance. This can be achieved by eliminating high GI carbohydrates from your diet or adopting a diet where you cycle carbohydrates. The latter option, carb cycling, is the result of varying your carbohydrate intake each day so that your body re-learns how to use glucose efficiently. Eating additional fiber and healthy fats, as well as taking supplements such as fish oils together with L-carnitine, can contribute to decreasing insulin resistance. Practicing one of these processes will be a key factor in your future fat loss.
Individuals often gain insulin resistance as a result of eating too many sugary foods that spike insulin levels too frequently.
As you now know, insulin provides an optimal anabolic environment, but how do we maximise this attribute?
After any form of resistance training, your body is depleted of glucose stores (energy). This in turn induces an environment where the body becomes highly sensitive to insulin. As a result, during this period you can freely consume high glycemic carbohydrates (within reason) without worrying about it turning into fat. Instead, the carbohydrates go to straight towards replenishing your energy stores and catering for the muscle repair and recovery process.
Ideally, you should eat the bulk of your carbohydrates within the oncoming 1-3 meals post-workout. As time ticks on, so will the decrease of your insulin sensitivity.
Past research has shown that individuals who have a low body fat percentage will have a decrease in insulin resistance. This means carbohydrates and protein (to a smaller extent), will have a larger impact on the anabolic effect of insulin when you have less fat.
Now you know that insulin has both pros and cons, and as a bodybuilder you need to know how to optimise its benefits to maximize muscle growth while avoiding its negative effects.
Growth Hormone and IGF-1
Another point athletes would want to consider is that when insulin is released, two anabolic hormones, human growth hormone and IGF-1 will stop. Therefore in the ideal world, if you want to promote the best environment for muscle hypertrophy, ONLY spike insulin post-workout.
Know Your Carbohydrates
The glycemic index (GI) indicates the rate at which carbohydrates increase glucose levels in your bloodstream. Carbohydrates are broken up into two categories high GI and low GI. High GI foods pass rapidly through your blood stream which in turn causes insulin to spike.
Sources include: Dextrose, sweet tasting foods, and pasta.
On the other hand, low GI foods pass through your blood stream slowly, causing insulin levels to spike at a relatively lower rate.
Sources include: Whole grains, brown rice, vegetables.
So when should you eat high GI and when should you eat low GI?
Know When to Go Low
As mentioned before, if you want to maximise the release of other anabolic hormones and fat loss you should only spike insulin when needed. However, this is quite a tough task considering how mouth-watering carbohydrates are. So if you can’t resist the temptation of carbohydrates, then your best bet is to consume low GI foods at all times. This even includes post-workout, particularly if your goal is to maximise fat loss.
Bear in mind, although low GI foods release relatively small amounts of insulin over time opposed to all at once like its counterpart High GI. It will still hinder the fat burning process and the secretion of anabolic hormones since it does stimulate the release of insulin. Though at this point, how much it affects these two processes is still debatable. However, there is one thing that we definitely know for sure; it is that to avoid any form of carbohydrates at least until post-workout to maximise growth and fat loss!
Know when to Go High
Unlike low GI carbs, as soon as you consume high GI foods, essentially anything that contains sugar. You immediately stop the release of HGH and IGF-1 as well as the fat burning process. But like always, balance is key to maintaining a vigorously life. So if you wish to eat sugary foods, your best bet is to consume them when your insulin sensitivity is high to reduce fat accumulation leaving us with two options, breakfast and post-workout.
After waking up from your slumber where you have endured a whole night of fasting, your glucose (energy) levels will have decreased. It may not be a significant drop, but glucose levels decline nonetheless.
For this reason, your insulin sensitivity will always be high at breakfast, hence eating carbohydrates during this time will result in a minimum release of insulin. Not only that, but spiking insulin during this period causes your body to replenish the nutrients that were depleted overnight. Though this does mean, that unless you perform some type of vigorous activity, the chances are any excessive carbohydrate consumption during the day will likely lead to fat.
This is by far the best time to eat high GI carbs. When you are training, your body’s primary source of energy is the glycogen stored in your muscles. Therefore after any form of vigorous training, glycogen stores will be severely depleted. This makes devouring high GI carbohydrates treasured as you will be able to rapidly restore glycogen levels while also contributing to the transition from a catabolic state to anabolic without worrying about fat accumulation.
Just to reiterate, the first meal after a vigorous workout will always be the most optimal time to eat high GI carbs. The second and possibly third meal could also cause the carbohydrates to go straight to your muscles and not fat. But bear in mind that as time passes after your workout, so does the efficiency of eating high GI carbs without fat accumulation. Try to eat carbs within the 4-6 hours post workout.
All things Considered
Insulin is fantastic for muscle growth. If used correctly after a training session or manipulated through diets such as carb loading or carb cycling, it can have a tremendous effect towards accelerating nutrition to enter our cells and promoting protein synthesis. However, when insulin is induced incorrectly or more accurately when generated too frequently, it can result in unwanted fat accumulation. As a result, you should always be wary of your insulin use.