Insulin is considered one of the most anabolic hormones in the human body that provokes love-hate feelings at the same time, because it has both a good and a bad side. But how can insulin affect muscle mass gains and fat loss?
Usually, those who have the goal of losing fat talk about insulin as if it were a bad hormone that keeps the body from losing fat and helps promote its accumulation. On the other hand, athletes who are focused on increasing muscle mass think of insulin as a hormone that has many positive aspects, because it helps to promote anabolism. The good news is, you can predict how insulin is going to affect your body, by controlling what you eat.
To simplify: the insulin’s main function is the maintenance of a stable blood sugar level. When glucose levels increase, insulin is released by the pancreas and the excess of glucose is removed by the blood, being stored in another place. There are three different types of storage: muscular glycogen, liver glycogen or fat. However, insulin doesn’t pick in which way it’s going to be converted to.
-Stimulates protein synthesis making it necessary for the construction of muscle mass;
-It has an anti-catabolic effect (inhibits lean muscle mass loss). Our body synthetizes and loses protein every day. To build muscle mass you need more protein synthesis than catabolism.
– Transports aminoacids into your muscle cells.
– Increases the enzyme activity that stimulates glycogen formation. This function is important because it promotes glucose storage in the muscle cells, resulting in an increase in performance and recovery.
It is essential to know how to control insulin in order to increase muscle mass, while avoiding the accumulation of fat. Check the following tips:
1 – Get to know more about the glycemic index (GI) –
speed at which your carbs transform into glucose in the blood. There are three basic categories: high glycemic index, medium glycemic index and low glycemic index. Let’s take look at the most important ones:
High GI foods
Rapidly digested foods that get to the blood stream so quickly that they end up increasing glucose levels in the blood, causing a spike in insulin levels. These foods can be eaten right after working out/ when you wake up. Ex: watermelon, melon, white bread, white rice, corn flakes, sports drinks, honey, biscuits, marmalade, etc.
Low GI foods
Slowly digested foods that gradually enter the blood stream and register lower insulin levels / ex: sweet potato, rice and whole spaghetti, plums, apple, orange, pears, lentils, etc. Most fruits are high in fiber, which helps to delay digestion. The fact that glucose can’t be used by the muscles as fuel, because it needs to be converted into glycose by the liver, slows down the process.
READ ALSO: The best carbs for your weight loss plan
2 – Give preference to low glycemic index foods.
The intention is to maintain low insulin levels, keeping the energy levels throughout the day, so you can increase fat loss. If you take too many carbs during your workout, choose low GI foods (20 to 40g) about 30 minutes before working out, adding 20g of powder protein.
3 – Choose the best moments during the day to increase your GI.
If your goal is to increase muscle mass, the first moment of the day should be right when you wake up. Not eating for 6-8 hours will lower your muscular and liver glycogen. This break is a sign that you need to replenish your levels, or your muscle tissue will be used as fuel. To stop the muscle catabolism process, spike insulin and replenish glycogen levels take 20 to 40g of rapidly digested carbs in the morning and add 20-40g of rapidly digested protein (whey protein). Eating fruit in the morning is a good option (it has antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals).
If you’re trying to lose fat, you should avoid having high insulin levels during the day. If, when you wake up, your body is going through catabolism, you’re also burning fat due to the glycogen’s low levels. Choose a protein shake to help with the muscle degradation process without excessively interfering with the fat loss process. The mistake is thinking that keeping low insulin levels during the day is the best way to lose fat, but regardless of your goal, you should awaken insulin release after working out, because, at this time, your liver and muscle glycogen levels will be worn out, which means every carb you ingested will be used to replenish the storages.
Add 30-80g of high GI carbs with about 40g of rapidly digested protein. Besides keeping your body from losing muscle mass, you will allow glucose and amino acids to enter the muscle cells, and you’ll be promoting the muscle fiber’s repair and growth.
To promote fat burn, keep your insulin levels low during the rest of the day.
Note: Mix proteins with carbs or proteins and healthy fats, but avoid mixing carbs with fats, because the combination of those macronutrients makes it easier for your body to store fat easily.
4 –Taking protein can be a good help.
Studies confirm that, taking in high GI carbs and rapidly digested whey protein (isolate or hydrolyzed) after your workout increases your insulin to a higher level than when you’re only on high GI carbs.
Whey protein stimulates insulin, mainly because of the amount of BCAAs (branched chain aminoacids) it contains, especially leucine. Some studies confirm that supplementation with whey protein or even BCAAs stimulate fat loss.
It seems that this supplementation increases insulin sensitivity, which helps to measure the efficiency with which insulin receptors get the insulin, which is actually good because it allows muscles to absorb more carbs. Insulin reduces hunger, so you’ll progressively be eating less.
If you’re at a stage where you’re finding it hard to lose weight, you can get back to the option of using micelar casein; it is a milk protein that doesn’t stimulate insulin levels in the same way whey does. You can take it before working out or at any other time during the day when you usually drink you protein shake. That will help you get the protein your body needs, keep low insulin levels and increase fat burn. To maximize muscle growth, you can combine whey or casein with a post-workout supplement.
5 – Consider using supplements that stimulate the insulin’s action.
There are supplements that can improve and copy insulin’s effects in the muscle cells and that can help to improve your post-workout growth, which is the case of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). ALA is an antioxidant that improves insulin’s action in the muscle cells. If you need to stimulate the insulin’s action to increase muscle growth and obtain a better recovery, add 300-500mg of ALA to the carbs and add protein to your post-workout shake.
Jum Stoppani, Ph.D., The Muscle-Building Messenger: Your Complete Guide To Insulin, 7th of February 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Clay Hyght, The Insulin Advantage How To Bulk and Cut on the Same Day, 14th of February 2014, translation and adaptation of the original version
N/d, How to gain 10 pounds of lean mass with proper insulin management, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version