Why (and how) to Improve Insulin Sensitivity
It’s not vastly complex but nevertheless competent training can be a tad complicated. However the one great benefit of this is it completes dispels the ludicrous lean in 15 and get fit in a week style plans, which are bandied about all to frequency as quick fix solutions.
Sadly there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. Just the right nutrition and the correct forms of exercise. But then sometimes even that isn’t all.
Ever heard of insulin sensitivity? It might sound a little too sciencey to get your head around, but it’s something you need to master if you want to shed fat and get ripped fast.
With poor insulin sensitivity, you’ll never be able to shed the fat successfully and reveal a lean, slender physique. Lack of insulin sensitivity is the reason that most people in the modern world can’t get lean – no matter how low on the calories they go.
Let’s face it: we know that weight loss isn’t as simple as calories in vs calories out. If it was, no one would ever have a problem getting lean.
The truth is there are many more factors going on behind the scenes that decide how fast you lose weight. One of the most important is insulin sensitivity.
What’s more, improving your insulin sensitivity will also help you build muscle faster. It’s arguably the most important factor for transforming your physique fast – but most people just don’t understand it.
Here’s what you need to know about insulin sensitivity, and how you can improve it.
What is insulin?
Back up for just one moment. What the hell is insulin anyway?
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas when we eat carbohydrates. It then binds to the glucose molecules and encourages them to be absorbed by the cells.
Insulin is somewhat of a double edged sword. It can be the most lipolytic (fat storing) hormone in the body, encouraging free fatty acids and dietary glucose to be stored as body fat.
On the other hand, it can also be the most anabolic hormone, improving the amino acid uptake by muscle tissue and thus accelerating protein synthesis. Read: it will help you build muscle faster
The key with insulin is learning how to use it to your advantage in order to get the best results possible for your physique goals.
Insulin sensitive or insulin resistant?
The way that your body responds to insulin should dictate the amount of carbohydrates that you consume. The majority of the population are sedentary, and therefore by nature are insulin resistant. This means that when they eat carbohydrates, they are more likely to store them as fat. For these people, a lower carbohydrate diet is optimal.
However, as a general rule; the more active you are, the more insulin sensitive you become. In other words, your body is able to handle carbs much more effectively and use them for beneficial processes – such as supplying energy and building muscle.
As an athlete, it is not in your interests to be insulin resistant like the rest of the population. You need carbohydrates to fuel your exercise, but what good is that if they are just going to be stored as body fat due to insulin resistance?
The less insulin resistant and the more insulin sensitive you become, the more you can manipulate this much misunderstood hormone and start to radically transform your physique.
So in short: you get to eat more carbs, get stronger and get leaner. What’s not to love?
How to improve insulin sensitivity
If you want to get insulin sensitive, the first and by far the most important thing you’ve got to do is get lean.
If you’re carrying excess body fat, any carbs you eat are just going to be stored in the adipose tissue, causing your fat stores to grow. When you’re lean, insulin facilitates transportation of carbohydrates into muscle cells rather than fat cells. It’s the reason that bodybuilders eating a high carb diet get that full, ‘pumped up’ look, whereas fat people eating a high carb diet just look, well, fat.
So, if you could do with losing a few pounds, stop reading this article now. Lower your carbohydrate intake until you get lean, then start adding them back in once you are at a healthy weight. As your body learns how to tolerate carbs again without storing them as fat, you can work on improving your insulin sensitivity.
Once you’re at a healthy level of body fat, there are a few dietary changes that you will need to make to further improve your insulin sensitivity. The first is to significantly cut down on your consumption of fructose. High fructose consumption has been shown in numerous studies to induce insulin resistance1. In practice, this means cutting out the sugary snacks, fizzy drinks, and general crap that’s in your diet.
Whilst whole fruit does contain fructose, our body metabolises it in a very different way to added fructose that we find in junk food. So fruit is still on the menu, as long as you keep it to 2 – 3 servings per day max.
The second dietary change to make is to cut out trans fats such as vegetable oil and margarine. Not only are these fats horrendous for your overall health, they have also been shown to induce insulin resistance and abdominal fat storage2. There is nothing good about them, so cut them out entirely. Instead, opt for healthy cooking oil such as coconut oil or butter.
The final dietary change to make is to increase your consumption of omega 3. Ideally you want to be consuming a minimum of 2 grams each day – about the equivalent of 100g of wild salmon. If you don’t eat much fish, consider taking a high quality omega 3 supplement. This will help improve your insulin sensitivity even further, by improving the rate at which your body metabolises carbs3.
On the training front, it’s in your best interests to sprint and lift heavy weights. These should be an essential part of your training anyway from a physique development point of view, but they will also dramatically improve your insulin sensitivity4,5.
All these changes will help improve your insulin sensitivity. Now, how do you use it to your advantage?
Making insulin sensitivity work
Remember how we spoke about insulin sensitivity improving the rate at which carbohydrates are shuttled into the muscle cells? Now you’re insulin sensitive, the carbohydrates you eat will have a much more anabolic response and help you to gain muscle faster.
This is another reason we at JHHF prefer a ‘lean gains’ approach to bodybuilding over the traditional ‘bulking and cutting’ methods. By staying lean and maintaining great insulin sensitivity, we can start to build muscle even faster.
Our body is at its peak of insulin sensitivity directly after a heavy workout. So to maximise the anabolic response, your highest carb meal should be eaten in the window after your workout.
You should also eat more carbs on training days, as your body remains in a heightened state of insulin sensitivity for between 24 and 48 hours after training.
This means that if you’re training multiple times per week, you will almost always be in a state of heightened insulin sensitivity. Again, this is great news for your physique goals.
Insulin sensitivity may seem confusing at first, but in reality it is just common bodybuilding sense. Get lean, train hard, eat your carbs and grow faster than you ever have before.
If that sounds good to you, now is the best time to start.
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