Building muscle, losing fat, improving overall health--it all hinges on one important hormone. Insulin is your body's 007, the secret agent that can dictate your physique's course of events. In other words, when insulin talks your body listens, and reacts accordingly.
This classified dossier on the international hormone of mystery is valuable information if you want your body to get it done on the fitness front. Insulin sensitivity can mean the difference between fast and slow, meaningful and mediocre, or fit and flabby.
So What Is Insulin Sensitivity?
Insulin sensitivity refers to how your body responds to the hormone insulin, and is directly related to how productively it handles the carbohydrates that you consume. Those with high sensitivity (fast response) have better blood sugar regulation, allowing the body to store glucose in muscle tissue rather than in those fatty love-handle areas.
On the other hand, poor insulin sensitivity may result in the overproduction of insulin, causing the body to play catch-up to control increasing blood sugar levels and force the storage of glucose as fat in the body.
So you want to enhance your own degree of insulin sensitivity. Do so, and if you're looking to build muscle mass--and therefore eating in a calorie surplus--you'll have a greater tendency to gain more lean muscle with less body fat.
If you're dieting, you'll feel much better, with fewer energy highs and lows, and the ability to maintain proper muscle glycogen levels.
So follow these 6 tips to make sure your body and insulin play well together for the best results!
Step 1: Tighten the Reins On Refined Carbs
Cutting down your refined carbohydrate intake is crucial. One of the primary reasons people develop diabetes over time is their overconsumption of refined carb/sugar intake in their diet, which causes their pancreas to continually pump out more and more insulin.
The higher the amount of refined carbohydrates you consume, the greater the chance that your cells will become resistant to insulin, which will translate into poor insulin sensitivity.
Step 2: Have Some Healthy Fats
Another way to increase your insulin sensitivity is by optimizing the rate at which your body processes carbohydrates and directs them to muscle tissue, and this is done by eating plenty of healthy fats.
Diets that are loaded with trans fats tend to encourage poor insulin sensitivity, while the reverse holds true for those who consume plenty of monounsaturated and omega fats. The best sources of healthy fats include olive oil, flaxseed oil or Flax seed, avocados, nuts and nut butters, and fatty fish or fish oil.
If you can consume small amounts of these fats every day, making sure not to overindulge, you'll be one step closer to promoting an iron bond between your body and its insulin.
Step 3: Focus On Fiber
Eating more fiber in your daily diet isn't just for digestion and regularity. Fiber-rich meals also slow the release of carbohydrates into the blood, allowing for a more effective insulin response.
Many high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables also provide the body with numerous vitamins and minerals to further improve your health and ward off disease.
Remember, fiber is also very beneficial for fat loss because of its ability to help pass unnecessary ingredients out of the body instead of allowing them to be stored as fat!
Step 4: Perform Depletion Workouts Every So Often
From the workout side of things, one thing that you can do to enhance the rate at which your body shuttles glucose into the muscle cells is perform glycogen depletion workouts every so often.
By depleting your muscle glycogen levels, you'll create a large "sinkhole" into which glucose can move. When you're in a very glycogen-depleted state, your body will instantly suck that sugar right up and put it into the muscles, staying far away from your body fat cells.
Don't perform depletion workouts each time you're in the gym, as this may seriously interfere with your training strategy. But once in a while, it's definitely not a bad idea. Especially if you know you're going to be having a carb-laden meal later on in the day, this type of workout set-up--higher reps and plenty of volume--can help your body prepare for that meal better.
Step 5: Your Insulin Loves To Have Things Lean
Getting lean itself is another important way to increase insulin sensitivity. The lean crowd also has a greater ability to gain lean muscle mass. The primary reason is this--they can send more of those excess calories to the muscle cells, where it provides energy for muscle building and growth, rather than to be stored as fat.
The lean folks are probably eating healthy and not consuming a lot of refined carbs/sugars, but the point is that the leaner you get, the more sensitive your insulin becomes. This means your body will operate faster, your diet leniency will be greater, and your insulin-body connection will be at its strongest.
Step 6: Stay Active All Day
The last step to enhancing your insulin sensitivity is making sure to participate in some sort of physical activity periodically throughout the day. Most people hit the gym regularly, but they succumb to long periods of inactivity during the rest of their day. If you do this, you're asking for trouble.
It's all about matching exercise with the carbohydrates you consume. You should already be eating smaller meals throughout the day, and performing even short periods of light physical activity such as walking or biking to a coffee shop on a work break will help to maintain your insulin's sensitivity and ensure that your blood sugar levels don't fluctuate widely.
Hoping you wrote all this down, because this top-secret insulin document will in explode in 10 seconds. Good luck.
- D'Agostino, R.B. et al. (2005). Dietary Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, Carbohydrate and Fiber Intake, and Measures Of Insulin Sensitivity, Secretion, and Adiposity in the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. Diabetes Care. Vol. 28. No 12.
- Berglund, N.L. et al. (2001). Substituting Dietary Saturated For Monounsaturated Fat Impairs Insulin Sensitivity In Healthy Men And Women: The KANWU Study. Diabetologia. Vol. 44, No. 3.