How To Optimise Insulin Sensitivity For Muscle Gain and Fat Loss
Building a great physique isn’t just about training hard and eating six meals a day. If you want to spend more time acquiring results and less time wondering why it feels your hard work isn’t paying off, consider how improving insulin sensitivity can benefit you.
Taking advice from the best in the industry means looking at how bodybuilders approach insulin sensitivity. Bodybuilding is one of the toughest sports to succeed in as it is a constant battle that requires discipline, determination and dedication. With training, comes a schedule filled with maintaining the right nutrition, supplementation and getting enough rest and recovery. Getting the best results requires effort seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. The goal is to maximise muscle and reduce body-fat; a delicate equation to balance between shredding and/or bulking.
If you want to maximise your efforts there are some easy but essential tips.
The regulation of blood sugar, known as glucose, is a bodily process that is the most important for our general health, wellbeing and muscle building than any other process in the human body. Blood sugar is regulated through the pancreas, which secretes insulin whenever sugar is detected in the blood. Once released, insulin stimulates the absorption of sugar into the muscle and fat cells. Insulin is the catalyst that allows glucose into the body cells.
Healthy insulin sensitivity encourages muscle glycogen replenishment. Conversely, insulin resistance promotes fat storage and a company of other negative effects including;
- chronic inflammation
- poor recovery
- extended muscle soreness,
- increased triglycerides (a precursor to heart disease)
- sleep apnea and;
- nerve problems
If left unchecked, these can lead to diabetes. Avoiding this and promoting healthy insulin sensitivity makes muscle building that much more challenging.
Insulin sensitivity is all about how much insulin is needed to store glucose within the cells of the body. If an individual is very insulin sensitive, they will only need a small amount of insulin to store excess blood glucose. Resistant individuals need to produce a lot more insulin to store the same quantity of glucose. This may ultimately put a strain on the pancreas which can limit it in the future.
If you have a low sensitivity to insulin, you’re going to have an excess of glucose in your blood. This means more insulin needs to be pumped from your pancreas to get rid of the excess glucose in your blood, and although insulin is excellent for nutrient storage and to help facilitate the transportation of amino acids to muscle tissue, too much will lead to fat storage and other consequences previously mentioned. To emphasise, good insulin sensitivity is associated with good health.
Building the right foundations
Improving insulin sensitivity is important whether bulking or cutting. Traditionally, we can improve insulin sensitivity through nutrient timing and intense training. Optimal nutrition maximises the the uptake of glucose and amino acids into muscle to speed up the healing process and can enhance energy levels. Having good insulin sensitivity is essentially creating a healthy environment for nutrients to be delivered efficiently and effectively to muscles and away from fat storage. Generally 6-7 small meals a day will help in supplying the macronutrient ratios that are more suitable for your body to handle.
Other methods to increase insulin sensitivity include a higher volume of training, intensity and resistance training. Muscles require glucose both at rest and especially when forced to work; meaning when muscles are trained, they become more insulin sensitive than those that are not.
Nutrient timing must be accurate, so aim to eat your biggest, most carbo-loaded meals after training.
Age and genetics are considered to be the leading causes of insulin resistance, but anyone regardless of their predisposition can improve insulin sensitivity. Of the many factors that can help spike insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular activity is top of the list. Even better is to combine cardio with resistance training on non weight training days. This way cardio can further increase the uptake of glucose into cells. Vigorous bouts of more than 30 minutes are said to be more effective than lower intensity and lower levels of volume.
We all know how important antioxidants are for boosting immunity and indirectly increasing muscle gains, and although these can help, when to take these supplements is just as important. Research has shown that antioxidant vitamins C and E, when taken post-workout, can potentially eliminate the insulin-sensitising effects of exercise. To be safe, take your vitamins in the morning, or 1-2 hours before/after working out.
Carbs are essential for energising workouts, allowing protein to work its muscle-building magic, and providing valuable micronutrients to that improve muscle repair and general health.
We mostly avoid the so-called bad carbs (high simple sugar types) while eating clean, complex varieties. However, even the best carb choices (oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes) can result in excess blood sugar, which may lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
One way to solve this is to add insulin sensitive foods to higher carb meals. Among the best of these foods is vinegar. Vinegar helps to transform carbs into muscle and away from fat storage. Other foods include:
- green tea
- pickled foods e.g. kim-chi and sauerkraut
- and whole nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
For the purposes of improving insulin sensitivity specifically, four products should be on your list.
- Omega 3s: by reducing the intake of trans-fats, reducing the consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, corn and cottonseed, limiting saturated fats, and increasing omega 3 fatty acids (for example, fish oils), a fat balance conducive to increasing insulin sensitivity can be achieved. An increased intake of healthy fats as part of an optimal dietary fat balance will strengthen the outside lipid layer that both protects cells and makes cells more sensitive to insulin.
- Magnesium: a supplement scientifically proven to improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
- R+ Alpha Lipoic Acid: one of the most important antioxidants for improving insulin sensitivity, R+ ALA is currently being used by top bodybuilders to significantly enhance nutrient storage and optimize insulin activity. Recommended dosages range from 300mg to 600mg daily, ideally separated into 2 to 4 150mg dosages.
- Post Workout Protein/Carb Formula: After a workout, you do need to replenish proteins and carbohydrates. By consuming rapidly-digested proteins and carbs straight after your workout, both glycogen storage and protein synthesis are vastly increased as this is when insulin sensitivity is at its highest and muscle cells are most receptive to nutrient storage.
A muscle-building Foundation
A good bodybuilder will always understand whether they are doing all they can to enhance insulin sensitivity. Through a combination of advanced supplementation, nutrient timing, the inclusion of specific insulin sensitivity-enhancing foods, and tailored training strategies, insulin output can be controlled in a way that will advance aesthetic progress, building muscle and reducing fat.
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