Insulin: Flip The Switch

How your body looks and performs will always be the result of two things –environment and hormones – constantly interacting with each other.  Environment being the things you do to your body (such as what you feed it and how hard you train) and hormones being the chemical messengers telling your body what to do. Building the body you want is as simple as learning to properly manipulate these two factors. This post will focus on is arguably the most powerful hormone in our bodies: Insulin.

Insulin is an anabolic hormone, even more anabolic than growth hormone, whose job is to maintain safe and steady blood glucose levels. When blood glucose gets high, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to restore normal levels. In diabetics, the pancreas has lost the ability to secrete enough insulin to restore normal levels, and when glucose builds up too high, insulin resistance occurs, leading to a host of health and physique problems, which an estimated ¼ of Americans are expected to suffer from by mid-century: a very scary statistic. A good number of those Americans, maybe even you, are in this state now.

When Uncle Marv is chugging that orange soda down at the backyard barbecue, there’s a lot more going on than appears. Being high in sugar, that orange soda sends a message down to the pancreas and the aforementioned glucose regulating takes place. Voila! Problem fixed…kind of.  At this point, insulin takes the extra glucose out of the blood and stores it away for safe-keeping either in muscle, in the liver, or in adipose tissue (fat).  Of course we prefer storage in the first two, but insulin doesn’t care, it just transports where we tell it to.

With the great power insulin has, comes great responsibility in controlling it. It's not up to insulin to secrete itself for fat loss or muscle growth. It's up to you to stimulate insulin release optimally for your goals through your nutrition. There's ways to do just that….and no, Uncle Marv’s orange soda protocol is not one of them.

Let’s say your goal is fat loss, as is most personal training clients here at Pulse, then you want to decrease your levels of insulin throughout the day, on average.

Why? Because higher insulin levels will make the body burn carbohydrates for energy instead of fat. Read that again - insulin "spares fat."

How? By decreasing your overall carb intake and place any carbs you do have around workouts and make them more functional, natural forms.

There is a time and a place for everything, and insulin is no exception. Don’t think that having rock bottom insulin levels all day every day is best way to lose fat – it may be if your idea of exercise is walking the dog – but the type of higher intensity training we conduct requires some fuel and hence a more intelligent strategy is needed. Even if building muscle is the farthest thing from your mind, initiating SOME insulin secretion around workout time is important to shuttle glucose and amino acids into the muscle cells.

Attempting to maintain those rock bottom glucose levels around a Pulse workout almost always ends with us whipping out the emergency stash of Smarties candies from the front desk. Insulin will not convert glucose to fat if it can first store it as muscle glycogen. After an intense training session, both muscle and liver glycogen are depleted and ready to soak up serious glucose, hence high glucose Smarties being the tonic that de-zombifies clients at their darkest hour, and why I haven’t had the chance to use the defibrillator yet – kidding.

The Take Away:

Having lower insulin levels throughout the day while initiating a small signal around workouts will enable you to maximize fat burning and an increase in lean mass. Whether you're promoting muscle gain or maximizing fat loss, insulin is the switch you need to learn to flip: "on" for muscle gain and "off" for fat loss.

Edwin KnoblockComment