When people hear Insulin, they automatically think diabetes. While Insulin is the hormone primarily associated with blood sugar management, it’s job is actually a little more complicated than that. Insulin is a storage hormone and the way you manage it, will ultimately determine whether you become muscular, lean and perform like an athlete OR big, soft and tubby where the only contest you’re likely to enter is a pie eating one.
The body can burn a lot more fat when insulin and blood sugar levels are low. So the key is to make insulin work for you, so you can maximise the benefits and minimise the pitfalls…
Call to Action… Blood sugar management.
So what exactly happens in the body and what processes require insulin to be released? When we eat, we stimulate a release of insulin from the pancreas. But depending on what you eat and the size of your meal, the units of insulin that are released are massively different. When you eat a meal, the body will detect what has entered the bloodstream from the diet and dependent on the amount of amino acids, carbohydrates and fatty acids it will release an appropriate amount of insulin to transport these nutrients for processing.
In a perfect environment with everything working as it should, the pancreas will release just the right amount of insulin to clear the blood stream of the glucose and other nutrients and transport them to adequate storage sites such as the liver and muscle cells. Unfortunately, with poor modern dietary habits and the low nutritional status of even our fresh and healthy foods; the perfect working body doesn’t really exist any more. The modern day diet does more to promote insulin resistance, a condition where the bodies storage sites fail to acknowledge insulin and accept the nutrients being transported, leading to fat gain. Instead we would prefer to create an environment where nutrients are stored and used in muscle cells and the liver (Insulin sensitive) rather than being dumped into fat cells.
Modern diet and its problems.
We all know how bad sugar is for us, yet most people have a diet that’s full of it. And those that watch their sugar intake usually don’t realise even the healthiest sources of carbohydrates metabolise to glucose in the body. This is a huge problem because constantly elevated blood glucose levels, like you’ll likely find in most diets recommended by doctors and government will cause the same damaging effects to cells in the pancreas as bad diets and ultimately skew the efficiency of your bodies insulin production. This is why diets recommended on food pyramids, my plate and the back of food packets are useless when it comes to creating a lean and healthy physique. People that follow these diets have a really hard time losing weight or getting lean, they’re constantly craving sweet foods as there is still an abundant source of glucose in their diets so they never really fix the problem.
Insulin gone wrong… and how to fix it!
So what actually happens in the body that makes everything go wrong? Well there are several things that can happen within the body that can screw up this system and several things that can be done to fix them, but the main culprits I see come up time and time again are; poor diet, good diet with too many carbs, too much body fat (linked to first two), not enough healthy fat or fibre in the diet and not training hard enough to transport the glucose that is floating around the bloodstream.
Firstly, lets look at poor diet. Unfortunately, good food isn’t really cheap these days. People find it easier and more cost effective to eat quick foods that satisfy cravings like sandwiches, fast food, ready meals and frozen foods. These foods are usually high in carbs/sugar, low in good fats, have minimal protein content and are loaded with sodium. The way these foods are processed in your body are completely different to the way that natural healthy and fresh foods are. Because of these factors, they slow down food turn over and metabolism and are very easily stored as fat. Clean up the diet and include more fresh, natural and unprocessed foods to see an immediate improvement in health and body composition.
Second, a good diet with too many carbohydrates. This seems to be the biggest pitfall with modern diet and the reason obesity and fat/weight loss are such big topics these days. Most diets recommended by mainstream practitioners, like the one in the pyramid above, are arse backwards for someone that wants to improve their health and physique. Your carbohydrate intake should mirror your activity level and it’s as simple as that. And even for those that are training hard, carbohydrates can be more tactically placed within the training day to produce better results. So match your carb intake to your activity level, your body type and goal.
Third, too much body fat. The fatter you are, the more insulin resistant you are; fact! If you are carrying too much body fat, your body has a hard time recovering from exercise because nutrients aren’t being sent where they need to be. And without the ability to recover quicker, you’re too tired and weak to train more frequently. When you have poor insulin sensitivity, any excess calories you consume have a higher chance of being turned into fat than muscle, the worst place to be. Having too much body fat can prime you to become fatter, even if you’re doing a lot of things right! Focus on getting leaner to improve insulin sensitivity.
Fat and Fibre are actually so important, they should have probably been my first point as they are both crucial to blood sugar management. Yet another problem with mainstream advice as people are told that they can count fruits as part of their “5 a day”. Inevitably they decide to replace most of their vegetable intake with fruit; but fruits contain sugars that will spike your insulin levels and slow down fat loss. Increasing your vegetable intake as well as adding healthy fats to your meals will work wonders for fat loss and improving your insulin sensitivity.
Lastly, is not training hard enough. It’s a well known fact that exercise improves insulin sensitivity. But in most commercial gyms you find a lot of people that turn up just to give themselves a psychological pat on the back so they can let loose on the weekends by having a ‘cheat meal’ or six. Training HARD will improve insulin sensitivity, going through the motions because you’ve penciled it in your diary will NOT. Do you give each session in the gym everything you’ve got? If not, maybe it’s time to find your motivation, or hire a trainer to put your through your paces!
Improve Insulin sensitivity and everything improves!!
Above I’ve outlined a few of the ways you can improve your insulin sensitivity and start working towards a healthier, fitter and leaner you. So clean up your diet, be tactical about your carbohydrate intake, up your healthy fats and fibre and train a little harder in the gym! These will all have an impact on your insulin sensitivity which in turn will improve your fat loss.
And as a bonus, if you have the time, check out this film “Carb Loaded: A culture dying to eat” which outlines many of the things that are outlined in this article. It’s an interesting watch and will help you improve your health in the process. It also outlines another very important point; just because you don’t look like a health train wreck on the outside, it doesn’t mean that you’re not falling apart on the inside…
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