To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight it is important that you control your blood sugar levels.
What is Insulin?
insulin is the anabolic hormone responsible for lowering blood sugar levels. It is the only hormone which we have complete control over through nutrition and the food we eat. Poor insulin control is strongly linked with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, accelerated ageing and cancer.
All foods we eat raise or spike our insulin levels, protein and fats have only a small effect, the only foods which significantly raise blood sugar are carbohydrates. After you eat a meal containing carbohydrates your body breaks them down into simple sugars referred to as glucose. Glucose stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas which then transports the blood glucose into the cells for energy.
The brain always gets priority on blood glucose, from there it is partitioned off to muscle tissue, fat cells and the liver. How this energy is divided up depends on your insulin sensitivity.
You may not have heard of the terms insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. These are terms that describe your body’s ability to produce and deliver glucose into your muscles and other cells. If your cells are resistant to a high amount of glucose arriving, it will take a lot more insulin to get the job done. If your body is sensitive to glucose, it means that it will be delivered into your cells a lot more effectively.
Your cells become resistant to glucose when all the receptor sites on your muscle tissue and liver are already full or damaged, i.e., you’re not doing any physical activity or exercise to burn off the stored glucose within the cells and yet continue to eat carbohydrates. When this happens, the excess glucose is bound to red blood cells to form triglycerides which in turn are stored in adipose tissue (fat cells).
The more insulin you secrete the more insulin resistant you become, this means the more insulin you will need to do the same job of glucose disposal and to keep blood sugar levels under control as too much glucose in your cells is toxic.
Insulin resistance occurs through eating a diet high in carbohydrates over a prolonged period whilst being inactive. As a result, 85% of excess blood glucose is stored as triglycerides in body fat, 10 % as glycogen in the muscles and 5% as glycogen in the liver. This leads to muscle atrophy (where muscle wastes away), and an increase in body fat.
On the otherhand, being active and eating healthy nutrient rich food and if you are insulin sensitive, it is possible to flip this ratio on its head so that 85% of excess glucose is stored in the muscles, 10% in body fat and 5% in the liver.
Being insulin sensitive is one of the key factors to achieving a good body composition. Through nutrition and exercise we have the ability to change our insulin sensitivity. Exercise, specifically resistance training help make your cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin. By having lower body fat, it is more likely our muscle tissue will have a great deal of available insulin receptor sites which will quickly absorb any excess blood glucose.
If your muscles are more insulin sensitive than your fat cells, the nutrients you eat will get sent directly to your muscles and not to your fat cells. The added benefit of this is your muscles will develop quicker through greater fueling, in turn boosting your metabolism.
It is estimated that for every 0.5kg of lean muscle you put on, you burn an extra 50 Kcal a day. This can have a huge effect on your metabolism as putting on an extra 5kg of muscle will help you burn an extra 500 kcal without lifting a finger. As a result, the most effective way to exercise to improve insulin sensitivity is to weight train.
The body fat reading at your sub-scapular (shoulder blade) site is a major indication to whether you are insulin sensitive or insulin resistant. If the caliper reading is above 10mm at this site it is an indication that you struggle to handle starchy carbs like white rice, pasta, and bread. Furthermore, monitor your body fat reading on your hip, as this site reflects how many carbohydrates you eat. As you reduce your carb intake you will notice this site go down very quickly.
So how do you make the change if you know you are insulin resistant?
The first step you need to take in being insulin sensitive is to remove starchy carbohydrates like rice, pasta, cakes, and bread. These heavy starchy carbs need to be replaced with lean protein, healthy fats, berry fruits and fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, curly kale, spinach, and cabbage.
This will allow your body to use up a lot of its stored glucose and will prime your body to use fat as its primary source of fuel. This by no means is meant to demonise starchy carbohydrates, as they do have their place in a fat loss program, but you must use them at the right time. Another mentor of mine the late Charles Poliquin used to say, you must earn your carbs.
By taking these simple steps you will be well on your way to reducing your body fat and becoming insulin sensitive.