Insulin Resistance - What Is It?

We hear a lot about insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance but let’s be honest – a lot of people don’t actually know what is happening and take it for granted. That’s a potentially dangerous place to sit because you might take on the wrong advice and lack the basic knowledge to second guess it. As ever FitMag will sort you out.

Insulin resistance, what is it?

When we ingest food the pancreas secrets X amount of insulin to act as a transportation agent, carrying the food to the relevant destination (cell). The amount of insulin secreted will be depend on the food (s) ingested and the overall glycemic load of the meal – in short, the bigger the glycemic load the greater the insulin spike. Simply put.

However here’s the kicker – if you are ‘’insulin resistant’’ (and there are varying levels of this by the way depending on beta cell dysfunction) then when you ingest a meal rich in carbohydrates with a higher glycemic load you could be exacerbating the issue. Due to your insulin resistance your pancreas won’t secret the insulin it should which means you will have a load of glucose in the blood which is potentially not going to be utilised as energy because there isn’t sufficient ‘’transportation’’ (insulin) to get it to the cell (where it can be processed). Unless there is an immediate requirement for energy then the chances are this will be stored as body fat.

Over time as you repeat this by snacking on carb rich snacks and over eating on carbs you will suppress your ability to utilise carbohydrates effectively. We now have a dilemma.

In short, being insulin resistant is a vicious circle and you could find it harder and harder to build muscle and burn fat! Couple it with the fact an ever increasing body fat level means you are becoming less anabolic as aromatisation will occur at a higher rate. (Aromatisation is the conversion of testosterone into estrogen - the aromatase enzyme lives in fat cells, the more fat you have in theory the most estrogen you will have - hello man boobs and love handles!!).

How do we go about fixing this?

It really depends on the level of damage done. Things which will have contributed towards this will include –

Excessive carbohydrate intake (especially sugary snacks in isolation)

A lack of fibre in the diet

A lack of fat and protein in the diet

Gradually increased body fat over a prolonged period of time

The higher your body fat the more aggressive we need to be in your recovery, essentially. This means strictly limiting carbohydrates (apart from cruciferous green veg) initially and using fats as your primary energy source. It is likely just a small helping of carbohydrates post-lifting is the only window for extreme cases would be the best thing to do. Once every 2-4 weeks depending on progress and body composition (and type) we can have a slightly higher carb day to help ‘re-stimulate’ insulin production.

Over time we can improve your insulin sensitivity this way and get you to the stage where you should be able to tolerate a minimum of moderate carbohydrate intake on lifting days, coupled with some refeed days. This process can take time – after all, extreme cases where people are circa 30% body fat have spent a long time that way so don’t expect overnight miracles!

In conclusion, carbohydrates are great – they stimulate the metabolism, they are anabolic and they taste great. Insulin is also great, it drives nutrients into the muscle cell and is the single most anabolic hormone in the body. It’s just that neither of these points are much use to you IF you are heavily insulin resistant and as such you need to address it!

That’s what insulin resistance is.

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