Losing weight and building muscle are the two of the ultimate goals for individuals on a fitness journey. What people don’t often consider is the vital role in which something like hormones can determine the success rate of our dieting and training regime.
Insulin in particular is a top talked about hormone – but what does it actually do?
This hormone in particular is secreted in the body to control our blood sugar levels and modulate carbohydrate and fat metabolism, therefore it can have a huge effect on your health and training goals.
Why is insulin so important?
When we consume foods that contain high levels of sugar and carbohydrates, the body’s blood glucose levels are increased. In order for them to decrease and return to normal, insulin is secreted by the pancreas, which then causes glucose to be stored in the muscle tissues and fat cells of the body.
This metabolic effect has led to insulin also being renamed as the “fat storing hormone,” which when produced actively tells the body to store fat.
If incorrectly balanced over long periods of time through your diet, insulin can promote fat storage and prevent hard-earned muscle gains – something gym-goers would call a nightmare…
For people who consume too much sugary food, too often, the overproduction of insulin can also lead to the development of insulin insensitivity and type 2 diabetes, which is where insulin can no longer reduce the amount of sugar in the blood adequately.
Insulin secretion and levels in the body are proportional to cortisol – otherwise known as the stress hormone. Therefore, as insulin increases, so does the level of stress in the body- both of which are associated to the retention of abdominal fat!
If you’re trying but failing to lose fat, maintaining an optimum blood sugar and insulin level could be the answer, in addition to adopting the following three dietary tips.
1) Watch Your Carbs
The most obvious way to help maintain an optimum blood sugar level below 110mg/dl is to stop consuming an excess of sugary food. But do you know how much sugar you are actually consuming as it is?
Chocolate and cakes are the obvious sugar-laden culprits andshould be avoided for fat loss. However, sugar is hidden in many of our common condiments like sauces and salad dressings, milks and yoghurts, breads and drinks – especially fruit juices…
The body does not know the difference between the different types of sugars we eat – the natural sugars we find in fruits and honey also cause the same increase in blood sugar and insulin that can promote fat storage. This doesn’t mean you should cut out fruit from your diet, it just means we need to be clever about when we eat these foods.
Sugar is the body’s main source of energy and for that reason, it should be consumed pre- or post-workout when the body needs fuel, or when our metabolism is increased, and the muscle glycogen stores need replenishing.
What carbohydrates will help reduce insulin levels?
Ensure the majority of your carbohydrates are wholegrain and as free from processing as possible.
This will ensure that they are slow-digesting carbohydrates also known as low G.I carbohydrates, meaning less insulin is released to stabilise blood sugar levels.
|Brown rice||White bread|
|Sweet potatoes||White potatoes|
|Leafy green veg||Sugary foods|
|Quinoa, beans||Fruit juices|
2) Consume Protein With Carbs
Many studies have shown that consuming adequate levels of protein (around 20g) with carbohydrates like the above, can lower blood sugar and the secretion of insulin, therefore reducing insulin response!
One thing that many people take from insulin control is cutting out carbs and following low-carb diets. However, low-carb diets otherwise known as ketogenic diets, can have a series of negative responses in the body and when training hard can result in adrenal fatigue if carried out over long periods of time.
Carbs are needed for both fat loss and muscle gain, whereby amounts vary depending on your body type. At a very minimum it is not recommended to go below 80-100g when aiming for “low” carbohydrate intake especially with intense training and cardio levels.
Carbohydrates can actually help protein synthesis and aid muscle recovery. To stop a spike in your blood sugars and control your insulin levels, you should be aiming to consume almost even amounts of carbs to 20g protein with every meal.
3) Monitor Meal Timings
You’ve surely heard of the little and often rule of cutting… Whilst this rule doesn’t apply to each individual, eating 6-8 meals a day allows your metabolism to constantly progress – and if you’re consuming the right ratio of fats, carbs and protein, it can actively stabilise blood sugar and insulin in the body. Simple!
A common misconception is that carbs will skyrocket your insulin and therefore we should avoid them. The truth is that carb intake is vital for training goals, therefore most of us should be eating plenty of them – it’s the timing that can result in a lack of progress.
Pre and post-workout carbs will fuel your body to work your muscles hard.
Eating fast-digesting carbohydrates irregularly through the day can lead to dips in blood sugar levels, resulting in a lack of energy and often promotes mood swings as the body tries to clear out the excess sugars from the blood. This can cause people to crave more simple carbohydrates as a fast energy source, which causes the same process to happen again and again.
When insulin is released from the pancreas into the bloodstream, this tells the body that it has just been fed. The body then stops using fat as a fuel and moves on to whatever food has just been consumed, encouraging the fat cells to open their walls and begin storage as it did with the muscle cells.
Leave the fast-digesting carbohydrates for a pre or post-workout snack as it is at this time your body can use insulin as an aid to muscle growth and repair.
The insulin spike post-workout serves a number of purposes:
- It signals to the muscles cells which are lined with insulin receptors to open up its walls to allow nutrients to enter the muscle cells.
- Causes reactions in the cells that begin protein synthesis which is the building of muscle.
- Insulin also prevents muscle breakdown and increases blood flow to the muscles.
Take home message
By choosing low G.I carbohydrates in the bulk of your meals you can keep your insulin levels low and stable throughout the day, preventing excessive fat storage. Utilise high G.I carbohydrates post-workout to get the most benefit from their anabolic properties.
By manipulating the timing of your carbohydrate intake and the type you choose, you can reap huge benefits and enhance your results from training. By eating smartly and timing your carbohydrate consumption accordingly you can make your food work for you so that you get the best possible results from your training plan.