The secrets of Insulin
Diabetes, muscles and obesity
You need to regulate insulin to function well
Lack of insulin production in the pancreas is something most of us connect to diabetes, but there it stops for most of us. Let us dive further into this matter to understand more mechanisms related to the hormone Insulin. Most bodybuilders know that Insulin helps to deliver the proteins into the muscles; basically exactly as it helps your cells to receive glucose. Since insulin is highly anabolic in nature we find it to be one of the most important elements when building muscles. Another important aspect with insulin is the ability to increase our body’s storing of fat. These three elements (glucose regulation, protein delivery and fat storing) tell us that the insulin levels must be exact at all times; lower the blood sugar levels (BGL), to grow muscles and to keep fat storing down to a minimum.
The basis of insulin
Let us start with the beginning. Insulin is a protein that is released by the pancreas when you eat carbohydrates and proteins. This means that insulin is released in our bloodstream after you eat carbohydrates and proteins; sugar and meat. So, insulin is NOT only a sugar-phenomenon as we tend to believe. The carbohydrates we eat function as gasoline and proteins a type of building blocks in our body. Theoretically insulin is a type of protein since it is built up by amino acids, but it is more correct to say that insulin is more a protein signal than a protein brick. You might see insulin as a type of signal since insulin will help your system to start constructing itself instead of actually to build directly. Insulin is like an architect and a construction site; needed bot in reality not doing much physical.
Insulin and muscles
Remember that insulin is a part of your blood content, circulates with your blood and enters everywhere where the blood stream brings your blood. Our muscles have an increased amount of insulin receptors; meaning that insulin have a job to do in the muscles. The main function of insulin in the muscles is to OPEN the possibility for other substances to enter the muscle. The substances that enter muscles are glucose (sugars), amino acids (proteins) and creatine (“the speeder”). This is simply put the MAIN mechanism of insulin in the muscles. Of course insulin also has other mechanisms in muscle. One of the other interesting aspects is how the insulin increases the protein synthesis in the muscle. In short this is the mechanism that insulin makes the muscle receives amino acids faster. One is that insulin gives opens for the amino acids to enter the muscle and the other is the increase in the protein synthesis. It is perhaps easier to understand this by saying that insulin to decrease the degeneration of muscles and to enhance muscular growth. People that are in a situation where they lose muscular tissue will lose less and persons that build muscular tissue will grow more due to the insulin. Another important aspect of insulin is the effect on the dilating and relaxing of the blood vessels. Insulin promotes an increased flow of glucose and amino acid rich blood to the muscles through its regulation of the blood vessels. A muscle need to be full of carbohydrates to function, and the more carbohydrates, the more power we find. Full blood vessels (vascularity) are a part of the insulin effect and how it afflict our body.
Insulin and fat
It is a fact that insulin might make you fat if you do not take care. Every time you eat your insulin levels increases; insulin helps fat to enter the fat cells. The more you eat, the more fat enters the fat cells from the blood stream. As a result you get bigger; insulin gets high and as a result you get heavier. The mechanism works as follow, the body prefers to save your excess fat in deposits and use the food you eat as gasoline. When insulin enters this calculation we find that the body starts to store and use what you eat. When you do not eat you will lack energy circulating in the blood. Then you need to use your reserve stored in your fat deposits. If you eat regularly your fat deposits will stay full and get fuller; you get obese. An interesting observation is that the energy levels go down when a person experience hunger. This is of course a natural response to save energy. When a person that is on a “saving energy”-modus starts to eat extra carbohydrates we will see that this cause an increased secretion of insulin from the pancreas, and thereby he will get an even higher increase in his storing of fat – gain of weight. In short, when a person just eats a little, but dominantly carbohydrates he will store more fat. The more fat that is stored, the less fat are transformed to energy, and thereby little is burned. Then the persons need quick energy from carbohydrates to gain quick power – it is in these moments you carve for sugar and is filled with hunger.
Hunger and low BGL
The normal function of the insulin is to put glucose into the cells; give gasoline to the cells. The result in the blood is lower levels of blood glucose (BGL). Sometimes the person might suffer from various problems like a lack of insulin production in the pancreas, resistance to insulin in the cells due to fat molecules surrounding the cell, too much glucose due to a bad diet with a high intake of sugars or too little sugars. If the situation is a lack of glucose in your blood (low BGL) you would most likely feel in a total lack of energy and with a terrible hunger (often for sweets). In these situations we tend to overeat.
Glycemic index GI
Insulin will give you more muscles if you take care of some simple elements. First you need to separate the food you eat according to the glycemic index (GI). GI is a way to measure the speed carbohydrates have when converting into glucose in your blood; slow indicate low speed/ low GI and fast indicate high speed/ GI. A high GI gives a quick increase of the blood sugar levels (BGL). Another fact we need to know ate a high GI will also give a quick increase in the blood insulin levels. A low GI will increases the BGL slowly and keeps the insulin levels more stable than a high GI. Stable insulin levels will create healthier glucose levels and not to forget less storing of fat in the fat cells! High GI food are complex carbohydrates such as sugar, white potatoes, soda, dextrose, couscous, pasta, white rice, gummy bears, white bread, bagel, Gatorade, Monster and the traditional sugar cereals as Corn flakes. Low GI food are food like oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, 100% fruit juice, rye bread, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, beans, apple, banana, orange, peaches and basically all fruits.
Fruits have a low GI mostly because they are high in fibers; fibers slow down the digestion process and make the glucose enter the blood slowly. Fruits contain fructose and fructose only work as gasoline in the muscles after a chemical process in the liver. Due to fibers and a slow acting liver, most fruits have a low GI; common exceptions are watermelon and dates. Complex carbohydrates like white potato, white bread and white rice is digested relatively quickly, enters the blood stream more or less directly and have of that reason a high GI.
For many reasons we might say that a low GI diet are favorable for our body. A low GI diet will create a relatively stable insulin level in the blood and avoid peaks in the BGL. Insulin will create a stable BGL during the day and burn unnecessary fat. Many athletes consume high GI before training to get a peak of energy. It might sound reasonable, but this energy most likely will run out before the training is over; as a result the athlete get tired in the last part of the training session. This tiredness has most likely nothing to do with the normal training intensity or stamina, the reason is that he is out of gasoline – a high GI burn fast. Another important aspect to remember is that you will not burn fat after a high GI intake. AS we wrote before the body prefer gasoline from the blood. A high GI is racket fuel and a low GI is normal car fuel; quick and dead vs. slow and long.
Body builders often eat protein blends to optimize the effect of their training. The normal procedure is to use a mix of 50 gram low GI mixed with 50 grams of protein about 30 minutes before a hard training session. This mix gives them a better stamina during the training, more proteins in the muscles and less storing of fat. When a body builder eats a low GI diet, he will maintain a low insulin level in the body. The body functions better on low insulin levels. Most likely low insulin levels will give a longer life. Some believe that insulin activates cell degeneration, and low levels keep the degeneration down to a minimum.
If you eat a high GI meal you will only get an advantage it two occasions. First, if you take it just before walking you will gain mass. Second, if you take it just after waking up in the morning (7 hours of sleep) you will recharge your liver glycogen level and avoid muscle degeneration. To refuel the liver glycogen levels completely you need to take about 50 grams of high GI. This will rice your insulin levels and quickly refill the liver. Then you will be ready to start the day with normal energy. At the same time if you are going to have a slow start of the day you better go for a low GI meal like for example fruit. Remember that fruit (fructose) first have to go to the liver to be transformed. Two things will happen in the liver: First, the fructose will fill the liver glucose deficiency in the morning. Second, the now filled liver will signal to the body that it is not needed to break down muscles to get energy. Beside the GI meal it is recommendable for persons who train hard to also eat 50 grams of protein (fast-digesting). Proteins will help maintaining the muscle mass; important for men that want big muscles and women of the same reason.
Ketogenic diet and muscles
Persons that live on a ketogenic diet or on fasting will maintain a low BGL. A low BGL will lower the liver glucose level. With a low liver glucose level, the liver will start to transform fatty acids (fat) to ketone bodies (molecules). The liver and the kidney (to some extent) might through a process named gluconeogenesis (GNG) produce glucose form non-carbohydrates. Gluconeogenesis is “basically” that the body starts to eat itself to produce glucose in the liver. For us it is important to understand that when you live in a catabolic state where you burn fat to produce ketone bodies you are in danger for starting to break down your own muscular tissue. That is why you need to protect the muscles. Some muscle break down is inevitable (!), but selecting between obesity and a limited muscular break down the answer is simple. The trick here is to eat some protein in the morning (about 50 grams – with zero carb) and you will avoid most of the muscular break down due to the ketogenic diet.
Muscular growth and Insulin
Most of us want less stored fat on our body and more muscle volume; a slimmer waist, six pack, big butt and enormous biceps. Of course, this requires training and dedication, but it is possible for most of us. This leads us the second time where a high GI is recommendable, and that is just after a training. It is normally recommended to take up to 100 grams of high GI together with 50 grams of protein after a hard training. When the high GI enters we find the insulin levels rice dramatically. The insulin will open up for carbohydrates and amino acids (and creatine if you take the supplement) to enter into the cells AND to the proteins to enter the muscles. You will recharge the muscles quickly with glucose and avoid muscular and general fatigue. Beside the gasoline aspect of the glucose, the amino acids (proteins) will create an increased muscular growth when it enters the muscle after the training due to the opening effect of insulin. Creatine will also enter the muscle and create an even faster muscular growth! The easy translation to the high GI after training might be something like this: An increased insulin level will create an increased muscular growth and reduce the muscular break down.
Here is another trick. If a person eat a high GI together with protein (fast digesting – Whey) he will create an even higher GI than just the normal high GI diet. The protein will increase the insulin levels due to its BCAA (branched chain amino acid) content. This is one of the reasons that many eat protein in connection to training. High insulin and a lot of proteins makes muscles grow. High GI and high protein will in addition to the increased amount of amino acids into muscles and increased glucose into the cells also help in reducing the body fat! If the person feels hunger he might eat Leucine. A reduced hunger makes you eat less. When you struggle to lose the last grams you might change strategy. We know that protein increases insulin levels. High insulin levels will stimulate glucose to enter the cells, something that might put a break on the weight loss. Then if we change the normal whey protein with a Casein protein (micellar casein) we might observe something new. Casein will not increase the insulin levels like Whey does. The change from whey to casein is made to optimize the fat burning process. Casein is used just as normal whey protein is used. It is also possible to combine the two. Note that you will never lose weight if your dietary intake is higher than your consume. If you eat 30 hamburgers, you will get a 30 hamburger body. Just as if you only eat an apple a day, you will get a very thin body.
Insulin is a nice entrance to understand weight loss and muscular growth. To make the most out of insulin you might use insulin injected, but that involves many health risks and open for ethical discussions. An others way are to use food supplements that mimic insulin directly or the insulin effect. The food supplement way is popular among body builders that search for a quick muscular recovery after training and muscular growth. Most commonly used food supplements are 500mg of ALA (Alpha lipotic acid) and 250 mg of Cinnulin-PF. ALA makes the insulin work stronger in the muscle and Cinnulin-PF directly mimics the effect of insulin in the muscle. Cinnulin-PF is made out of cinnamon extract. These insulin imitators are supposed to be taken at the same time as your proteins and carbohydrates. Another way are to manipulate insulin through a GI diet. High GI pulls up the insulin and a low GI keep the insulin stable. You might say that in the end everything is about GI: when you eat, what you consume, the quantity and the quality of your food.
The glycemic index (GI) is a way to grade carbohydrates from 0 to 100. The faster they increase the blood sugar levels (BGL) the higher GI number. One of the keys is the digestion and the absorption of the food; the faster digestion and – absorption the more fluctuation on BGL and thereby also a higher GI score. A low GI indicates a slow increase of the BGL and thereby a more stable blood sugar level. Low GI will also control appetite and reduce the hunger sensation. High GI levels are often blamed for many diseases as diabetes, heart problems and obesity.
It is interesting to know how we get the GI number or value. Normally this is done through giving 50 grams of carbohydrates in food to 10 persons. Then next morning the BGL are measured every 15-20 minutes for 2 hours. Based on this the researcher develop a blood sugar response curve. The area under the curve (incremental area under the curve (iAUC)) reflects the rise in BGL for the distinct food. GI = (iAUC/ reference food x 100) of all persons/10 persons. Low GI is normally food that has less than 55 in GI, medium between 56 and 69, and high over 70 in GI.
Food that contains fat and fiber has lower GI. At the same time the more ripe, stored, preparation, cooked (the longer the higher GI) or processed a food substance is the higher GI.
Glycemic load (GL)
It is very useful to use the GI to calculate the Glycemic load (GL). This is really only another measure of GI, but this one measures both the glycemic quality and – quantity. Through calculating GI up against the grams of carbohydrates in a meal you get GL. GL = (GI/ carbohydrates in grams)/100. If GL is over 20 it is seen as high, 11-19 is medium, and under 10 is regarded as low. An apple has a 38 in GI and 15 carbohydrates per serving. GL=(38×15)/100= 6. GL of an apple is therefore 6. This is considered as a low GL. Per day you should have GL less than 100.
Carbohydrates are important in our body to make glucose, our preferred fuel. It is recommendable to eat more low GI food and the minimum of high GI. Then you need to calculate the amount of food you are consuming. Sufficient quantity of low GI food is the best. A normal meal is constructed of ½ vegetables and salad, ¼ protein and ¼ low GI carbohydrate.
Example of a day
High GI – not recommendable
- Breakfast: Corn flakes
- Lunch: Jam on white bread
- Dinner: Tamales with Jasmine rice
Low GI – recommendable
- Breakfast: Muesli, natural
- Lunch: Ham on wholegrain bread
- Dinner: Chicken with pasta
Classical GI Food
Low GI Foods (55 or less)
- 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
- Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli
- Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar
- Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
- Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots
Medium GI (56-69)
- Whole wheat, rye and pita bread
- Quick oats
- Brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous
High GI (70 or more)
- White bread or bagel
- Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal
- Short grain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix
- Russet potato, pumpkin
- Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers
- melons and pineapple