Insulin is an anabolic hormone produced by the beta cells in your pancreas. As most fitness trainees know, anabolic hormones are a good thing; they help build muscle tissue and as that’s the primary goal of weight training/bodybuilding, it’s worth getting insulin on your side.
However, insulin one of the hormones associated with digestion and is often vilified in discussions regarding weight management and fat loss. Is insulin a two-faced bad-boy hormone or merely misunderstood? In this short article I want to try clarify what insulin is, what it does and how it can be a friend or an enemy depending on how you manipulate it.
The role of Insulin in the body
Insulin’s main job is transporting nutrients into your cells. Whenever you eat carbohydrates (like rice, potatoes, bread, pasta or sugars), the carbs are converted to glucose and enter your blood stream. This rise in blood glucose levels triggers the release of insulin from your pancreas which lowers your blood glucose levels by allowing the glucose to leave your blood and enter your body’s cells.
Glucose can be then
1. pushed into your muscle cells,
2. stored in your liver,
3. used as fuel or
4. converted to body fat.
Number 4 only really happens if there is a significant and prolonged glucose excess – as is common in many overweight people’s diet and the Western diet in general.
In addition to driving glucose into cells, insulin also encourages the uptake of protein-derived amino acids into your muscles.
This is an essential part of recovery from exercise and muscle building. Some bodybuilders actually inject insulin after a bit meal to encourage the uptake of nutrients into their muscles and speed up their recovery after training. While these sort of makes sense on paper, the reality is that too much insulin can be drop-dead fatal and the potentially fatal risks outweigh any benefits.
As well as encouraging the uptake of nutrients into cells, insulin also interferes with the oxidation or burning of fat. This is why insulin gets a bad rap for dieter’s and why low carbohydrate diets are so effective for weight loss. Less dietary carbs mean lower insulin levels and therefore a better environment for fat loss is created.
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