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Insulin: Friend or Foe?

August 14, 2016

Lately a lot of my clients are confused about what insulin does and its relevance to their training and nutritional plans. So today's blog will give you the low down on INSULIN.*


*Unfortunately, most of this doesn't apply to diabetics, but if you're one yourself you probably knew that already.


Insulin release is largely a bodily response, caused by the food you eat. You can control this response to a large degree, just like we can control whether or not we sweat on a hot day buy sitting in the shade, even though sweating by itself is something that is out of our control. We cant control our insulin levels but we can basically manage them by choosing what we eat.

Fast & Slow carbs


As you probably know, carbs are basically units of sugar. If you chew on a piece of white bread for a while you will soon have a sweet taste in your mouth as the bread is slowly broken from large chunks of sugar into small pieces of sugar.


This is exactly what happens in your stomach. The rate of sugar conversion depends whether it is a fast carb (complex carb) which is a big piece or a slow carb (simple carb) which is a small piece.


So if you eat a bunch of simple carbs there is not much to digest (break down) so it all gets dumped into the blood stream at the same time. This causes a huge surge in blood sugar. Complex carbs are large pieces of sugar and it therefore takes time to digest it bit by bit. This results in a nice steady release of sugar into the blood stream.


Insulin to the rescue


Who cares how fast sugar gets released into the blood stream? The body works likes to be balanced at all times and any sudden changes within the body can be very harmful. So in order for the body to remain balanced and function correctly it releases insulin into the blood in order to protect itself and bring the body back into balance.


The downside to our hero insulin is that he gets a little over zealous when dealing with trying to regulate the blood sugar and reduces it to a level below where it was before we ate the food. This is the well know as the common afternoon “sugar crash”. You all know the feeling where you feel tired and crave a sugary treat between 15:00-17:00!!


What happens?


The Insulin basically force-feeds the muscles with the excess sugar. The amount of sugar being "allowed " into the muscles depends on the level of insulin released, which in turn is determined by the insulin receptors in the muscles themselves.


Insulin is very anabolic which allows you to gain muscle but the down side is that it also shuts down your fat burn capacity and keeps it in low gear for quite a while, whilst actually promoting fat storage! The body thinks its getting a massive amount of food and not only stores excess energy in the muscles but also excess energy in the fat cells.


Emergency fuel


The high amount of processed sugar tricks the body into thinking it’s a huge amount of food, when in fact its only a tiny little biscuit. There is no surplus to handle after that initial blast of sugar ended, so you end up with an empty stomach and even lower blood sugar levels. Normally your body would make this up by using some stored fat, BUT The insulin switched off your body's fat burning switch!


In this situation your body then uses muscle protein as an emergency fuel! So that hard earned muscle you sweated over in the gym will be shrunk down as burned as fuel. It a situation where your body thinks it's starving,  it will breakdown muscle tissue which is highly metabolic needing a lot of energy to function in an attempt to burn less calories because food thus energy is scarce!


So eating simple sugars on a regular basis will not only cause you to store fat but will result in muscle loss too! Think about that next time you're eating a bar of Dairy Milk whilst watching Game of Thrones on a Saturday night…..Loosing gains and gaining fat - #Whoosa



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