Get Your Ideal Body Part 5: Insulin Sensitivity

Adding to my Get Your Ideal Body Series, brings us to the top topic of insulin.  To be more specific the topic of insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.  Which end of the spectrum you stand, will have an impact on your fat loss efforts.  So let’s get you on the right side.

To begin, lets define and explain what insulin is.

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted from the pancreas when we eat and our blood sugar rises.  The purpose of insulin is to control the blood sugar that enters into the bloodstream after we eat a meal.  Insulin is like a traffic cop, directing blood sugar to it’s destination.  The destination where it ends up is what is important.

photo credit: Marksdailyapple.com

photo credit: Marksdailyapple.com

The body will first want to direct that blood sugar to the muscles and restore and replenish any glycogen.  If those “storage tanks” are full, then the body will store the excess in the fat cells.

This is very beneficial for “healthy” individuals who exercise routinely and are depleting their glycogen stores on a regular basis.  They get their “energy source” refilled and a full tank for their next workout with very little is being stored in the fat cells.  Also the more muscle you have, the more glycogen stores there are to fill up.

On the other end, the individuals who are sedentary, and not active with consistent exercise are not using up their glycogen stores. So since they do not need to be refilled, the blood sugar is redirected to the fat cells.  This process keeps repeating itself and leads to obesity, diabetes, and other health related issues.

So lets discuss insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.

photo credit: nufit.com.au

 

Let’s begin with insulin resistance, since this is where most people will be starting.

Those who are insulin resistant, are more prone to store the food you eat as fat.  So what happens on cellular level, is that the cells are not binding with the insulin.  As a response, the pancreas has to produce more insulin into the blood stream.  More insulin means more blood sugar will be taken out of the blood and stored.  With an insulin resistant individual this means more fat storage.

You can clearly see how this can become a constant cycle of increasing weight gain, or prevention of fat loss.

Insulin sensitivity is the opposite.  An insulin sensitive individual only needs a small amount of insulin to get the job done.  Therefore fat storage is less likely.

How do we become more insulin sensitive?

The first one should come to mind pretty easily, deplete your glycogen stores through exercise, specifically….

Strength Training — Your glycogen stores will be depleted during and need refilled after your workout.  Remember this is where the blood sugar will be directed to first.  Any excess after that, will be stored as fat.  Strength training will also increase the amount of proteins and enzymes that bind with insulin, resulting in less insulin needing to be released.

photo credit: balanced motion.com

photo credit: balanced motion.com

Endurance Training — Although it’s not as beneficial as strength training, endurance training can increase insulin sensitivity by reducing the amount of insulin needed to remove sugar from the blood.  It also helps you lose weight, which in turn will help lower your insulin response.  However, cardio training is usually not a full body exercise.  So only the targeted muscles will be effected.  For example, most cardio primarily uses the legs, such as jogging, elliptical, and the bike.  So only the legs will have a better insulin response.  One option would be the rower since the legs and arms are used…. or just make sure you do strength training with you cardio.

Avoid spiking your blood sugar — Avoid consuming refined carbs, and opt for more complex carbs like vegetables and high fiber carbohydrates.  The blood sugar will be released into the bloodstream at a slower pace that the body can keep up with.  This will avoid a sudden spike and sudden high insulin release.  We can be very guilty of this with our Starbuck coffees, energy drinks, and anything else full of sugar.

Changing your diet (at least temporarily) — So if carbs are causing a spike in your insulin and are being shipped right to your fat cells, then cutting down on your carbs would be a good idea.  A low carb diet with higher protein and fat intake would be good to get things under control.  The carbs that you would consume in your diet should mainly consist of high fiber and vegetables as stated above.

If you are partaking in an exercise plan while on a diet as such then you should burn fat and build muscle.  These three factors (exercise, fat loss, increase muscle mass) will help increase your insulin sensitivity.

When I say low-carb, I’m talking 50-100 grams a day.  This is very small once you try it.  If you are already a consistent exerciser, then you maybe able handle more carbs on your training days and then go very low on your non-training days.  The carbs will be used for energy in your workout.

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These tips will be a good start for anyone looking to increase their insulin sensitivity.  If you are someone who finds that they are still struggling after implementing the tips above, then some more detailed nutrition, diet, and supplement strategies can be tried.   (I’ll leave that for another blog post)

If you need to do some back reading on previous Get Your Ideal Body series post, they are linked below….

Get Your Ideal Body Part 1:  Intermittent Fasting 

Get Your Ideal Body Part 2:  Testosterone

Get Your Ideal Body Part 3:  Human Growth Hormone

Get Your Ideal Body Part 4:  Leptin

About The Author

Kevin Fulton

Kevin Fulton is personal trainer in Pittsburgh, PA. His goal is to help his clients look, feel, and move better. In his spare time you can find him under a barbell or practicing jiu jitsu.

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