If you’re someone who takes your training and nutrition seriously, at some point you’ve most likely heard about the latest diet fad that everyone is doing. These diet fads range from The Paleo Diet (Yes, I said The Paleo Diet), Bulletproof Diet, Sugar-Free Diet, 5:2 Diet, South Beach Diet, Low Carb Diet and on and on. The important thing isn’t to get on a set “Diet”.
What you really need to know is what is going on inside your body when you eat any type of food and how that effects your body’s natural secretion of insulin. Often referred to as “The Most Anabolic Hormone in the Body”, Insulin can help you improve athletic performance, it can speedup post training recovery and it can improve lean muscle development while keeping you lean.
On the other hand, insulin can make you fat and it can make you feel tired and sluggish. The key is to understand what insulin is, what it does in your body and how to control your body’s secretion of it, so you can make it work with you and not against you.
In this two part article, we’ll roll up our sleeve and get down to the “nitty gritty” of what is really going on when you eat. We’ll discover ways to make insulin work with you to improve your athletic performance, speedup your recovery and make the changes in body composition that you want faster. With that, let’s jump right in!
What Insulin Does and Why:
Insulin plays two major rolls in your body. Insulin’s first role is to transport nutrients from your bloodstream to body tissue and so by doing, insulin helps your body build up tissue. Whether it helps to repair and build muscle mass tissue or buildup fat mass is highly dependent on your choices of food intake and your activity level at the time.
Insulin’s second role is to regulate blood sugar levels. Anytime you eat a form of carbohydrate, whether it is a fast digesting carbohydrate or a slow digesting carbohydrate, your body breaks it down into simple sugar and converts it into glucose. Glucose is your body’s only usable form of simple sugar. When your blood sugar levels are raised, your body releases insulin into your blood stream to regulate blood sugar levels by transporting excess glucose to body tissues.
A key note to keep in mind is that insulin must be present for the uptake of glucose in all body tissues except the brain. The only exception to this is during or immediately following physical activity.
The first stop for insulin carried glucose is your liver, where glucose is stored as glycogen for later use, such as during times of intense training or other physical activity. When your liver glycogen stores are filled and there is still a high level of insulin carried glucose present in your bloodstream, the next stop for glucose is your muscle tissue. Glucose enters into your muscle tissue through receptor sites located along your muscles. These receptor sites open only in the presence of insulin and during intense physical activity.
Once your liver and muscle tissue have all the insulin carried glucose they can handle, any excess glucose will be shuttled off into fat tissue. An important point to keep in mind is your liver and muscle tissue take up glucose much slower than your fat cells. So, if your blood sugar levels are raised too high or too quickly, your liver and muscles won’t be able to absorb glucose at the rate insulin is providing it. If this happens, much of the glucose will end up being moved to your fat cells.
Keep in mind, the amount of insulin your body releases into your bloodstream will be determined by how many total carbohydrates you consume as well as the type of carbohydrates you consume.
If you consume fast digesting (simple) carbohydrates, more insulin will be released to regulate your blood sugar levels. Your body is going to try to keep blood sugar levels in a very slim margin and when a load of glucose is dumped into your blood stream, a high amount of insulin will be sent out to regulate your blood sugar levels.
On the other hand, if you eat carbohydrates that are slow digesting, your blood sugar levels won’t rise as high or as quickly. Less insulin will be released and your blood glucose will be provided to your liver and muscles at a slower rate that they can absorb.
What Insulin Means To You:
So now that we know carbohydrates causes a release of insulin and insulin is released to keep blood sugar levels stable and transport nutrients form the bloodstream to body tissue, how does this apply to you?
First, if you have a high intake of simple carbohydrates, your body will secrete a large amount of insulin into your bloodstream. If you are in an inactive state, your liver and muscles most likely won’t have a need for a lot of glucose at this time, nor will they absorb glucose very quickly. This means insulin will draw that glucose (blood sugar) almost directly into your body fat tissue.
On the other hand, if you consume slow digesting carbohydrates evenly throughout the day, your body will secrete small amounts of insulin, which will transport glucose, amino acids and other nutrients you consume into your liver and muscle tissue at a slower rate, which they can absorb and draw from steadily for hours. This will provide your body with a steady flow of energy and nutrients your muscles need to repair and grow as well as fuel you throughout the day.
Finally, if you are in the process of completing a training session or have just completed a training session, your muscle and liver will need glucose as a fuel source and for recovery. At this point, your liver and muscles are depleted of glycogen, so they will absorb more glycogen and quicker than at other times of the day. At this point, you want to consume simpler carbohydrates and you want a higher release of insulin. So, it makes since to follow up your workout with simple carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores quicker.
If you time your carbohydrate intake correctly with the right amounts and the right kind of carbohydrates, you can start to control your body’s secretion of insulin and get it to start working for you.
In Part Two:
In part two of this two-part article, we’ll dig deeper and look at the relationship insulin has with amino acids and see how they tie together with carbohydrates. We will also look the affect insulin has one your performance and post-workout recovery. See part two HERE.
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