When formulating a diet, one of the most important goals you should have in mind is to improve your insulin sensitivity. What is insulin sensitivity? To fully understand what it is, let’s discuss insulin and its function.
Insulin is a storage hormone. After you eat a meal, your body converts the carbohydrates into glucose. This glucose circulates the bloodstream and is used by all the cells in your body.
Insulin is the hormone that stores the extra glucose that your body doesn’t use. Your body has a limited capacity to store glycogen. A typical male will be able to store around 500 grams of glycogen.
In case you didn’t know, glycogen is what’s formed from glucose. When your body can no longer store anymore glycogen, the excess glucose is taken up by insulin and stored as fat.
Insulin sensitivity has to do with how well your cells respond to insulin. People that are highly insulin sensitive require very little insulin to store carbohydrates. By reason then, people that are insulin resistant (type II diabetics), need larger amounts of insulin to shuttle those carbohydrates around.
What this means is that when you have high insulin sensitivity, you are able to eat carbohydrates without such a large rise in insulin. When insulin is kept low enough, fatty acids can still be released.
However, once insulin gets too high, fat loss comes to a halt. People that have bombarded their bodies with high-glycemic carbohydrates and processed foods over their lifetimes have become somewhat resistant to the effects of insulin. Therefore, when they eat carbohydrates, it causes a larger release of insulin. This inhibits the release of fatty acids.
Higher insulin levels = more fat storage
Reduce Insulin Resistance
When insulin is high, fat can’t be released. For fat loss to occur, it needs an environment of low insulin, and high growth hormone. Growth hormone is a very powerful hormone that is responsible for many positive metabolic functions – one of which is the release of fatty acids.
In order to increase growth hormone levels, you need to have insulin levels low. GH and insulin levels are inversely correlated. When one is high, the other is low. So then, what are the factors that both raise and lower insulin?
Insulin is released in response to a meal that contains carbohydrates (and protein). Insulin is directly correlated to both the amount of carbohydrates (glycemic load) you eat and the GI (glycemic index) of that carb.
The GI, in short, is how quickly a particular carbohydrate is digested by the body. The more sugar you ingest, the more insulin your body releases in order to store that energy. The higher the GI of that carbohydrate, the quicker your blood sugar levels rise, and in response, your body releases more insulin to store that energy. To recap:
- Insulin levels are low when growth hormone levels are high, and vice versa.
- Insulin is a fat storage hormone that stores extra carbohydrates.
- Growth hormone releases fatty acids in an environment of low insulin.
- Insulin sensitivity is how sensitive your cells are to the effects of insulin. The more insulin you need to store those carbohydrates, the harder it’s going to be to lose fat.
We’re going to be needing those carbohydrates for our high-intensity exercise. So then, how do we ingest carbohydrates for fuel, while at the same time keep insulin low enough so that fat can still be released?
Eat Carbohydrates When Insulin Sensitivity is High
The best way to do this is both through nutrient timing, and choosing the right carbohydrates in the first place. Your insulin sensitivity is at its highest first thing in the morning, and after a workout.
This is when your body has its lowest muscle and liver glycogen, and therefore will be more receptive to soak up the carbohydrates you just ate, instead of sending out large amounts of insulin to store that glucose as fat for another time. So when formulating a meal plan with a goal of improved insulin sensitivity, try placing the bulk of your carbohydrates for your first meal and the meals around your workout.
Choosing the right food to eat will always be the easiest and most effective way to increase your insulin sensitivity. Whole foods contain fiber. Fiber helps to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, and as a result, your body gets a nice steady feed of glucose to use instead of a large influx of sugar that causes insulin to go through the roof!
Whole foods also tend to have a lower GI. Lower GI foods cause a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. This results in lower amounts of insulin needed to shuttle those carbohydrates around.
So, eat fruit, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, and whole grains. They are high in fiber and nutrients, and will help put your body in the optimal environment to release fat.
Don’t fight against your body. It will beat you every single time! The great news is that you can reverse the effects of insulin resistance by changing your diet and exercising. Eat the right foods, and you’ll be well on your way to regaining that fat loss advantage.