To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight the importance of controlling your blood sugars cannot be understated. Let’s look at what you can do…
What is Insulin?
Insulin is the anabolic hormone responsible for bringing down blood sugar levels, it is the only hormone which we have complete control over through the food we eat. Poor insulin control is closely linked with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, accelerated ageing and cancer.
Whereas protein can have 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 known 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.
If you’re new to the concept of blood sugar management you may not of heard of the terms insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. They 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.
The way in which your cells become resistant to glucose is when all the receptor sites on your muscle tissue and liver are already full or damaged, for example you don’t exercise and burn off the stored glucose within the cells yet continue to eat carbohydrates. When this happens the excess blood glucose is bound to red blood cells to form triglycerides which in turn get stored in adipose tissue (fat cells).
The more insulin you secrete the more insulin resistant you become, which means the more insulin you will need to do the same job of glucose disposal and keeping blood sugar under control as too much glucose in cells is toxic.
Insulin resistance occurs through eating a diet high carbohydrates over a prolonged period of time and being inactive. The net result is that 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 wastage and fat gain.
If however you are active and eat a healthy diet and are insulin sensitive then it is possible to completely turn this ratio around 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 ingredients to achieving a great body composition. The good news is we have the power to change our insulin sensitivity. Exercise and especially resistance training help make your cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin. If we hold a low body fat then it is more likely that our muscle tissue will have a great deal of available insulin receptor sites which will quickly mop up 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 directed to your fat cells. A bonus of this happening is that your muscles will develop a lot quicker through greater fuelling which in turn will boost metabolism.
It is estimated that for every 0.5KG of lean muscle that you put on you burn an extra 50 Kcal a day. In the long run this can have a huge effect on metabolism as putting on an extra 5KG of muscle will help you burn an extra 500 kcal before you do anything! Therefore the best way to exercise to improve insulin sensitivity is to do weight training.
The body fat reading at your sub scapular (shoulder blade) site is a great indication if you are insulin sensitive or insulin resistant. If the calliper reading is above 10mm at this site you can nearly always suggest that you will struggle to handle starchy carbs like white rice, pasta and white bread. You also need to monitor your body fat reading on your hip. This is a site that reflects how many carbohydrates you eat. As you lower your 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 helping yourself move towards 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, 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 a primary fuel source. Starchy carbohydrates do have their place in a fat loss program but you must use them at the right time, as Charles Poliquin likes to say, you must earn your carbs!
By making these simple steps you will be well on your way to reducing your overall body fat levels and becoming insulin sensitive.
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