When I’m completing a hormonal profile on a new prior to determining their training and nutrition needs, one of the more common hormonal imbalances I come across is poor insulin management.
Insulin is a growth hormone. It is responsible for allowing nutrients and energy from the blood into the cells of our body. For the purpose of this article I’ll discuss the implications of insulin resistance and fat storage.
When our insulin function is working well we are what is called sensitive. The insulin receptors which are located on our muscles and other cells act like sponges and soak up nutrients and energy from the blood. Energy and nutrients are stored to be used when we carry out our daily activities including exercise, digestion, breathing and the numerous other bodily functions required to stay alive.
The opposite is termed insulin resistant. The cells of our body aren’t receptive to insulin and is unable to do its job properly and store nutrients and energy into the cells and muscles of our body. In an attempt to overcome this, we make more. As a result we become more resistant. This is similar to going deaf at a concert. If you turn the volume up you become deafer.
The result of insulin resistance is increased fat storage. Insulin is unable to store the energy from the blood stream from the food we eat into the cells of our body. It then has to store excess energy into our fat cells. This is obviously the situation we don’t want.
Levels also go up in response to increases in blood sugar. Blood sugar increases depending on how much and what type of food and drink we consume. Foods high carbohydrates such as sugar, refined wheat and grain products along with starchy fruit and vegetables will increase blood sugar levels quickly. This will result in high levels of insulin being secreted in order to store the high amount of energy that has been consumed. Any excess energy that the body is unable to store in muscle cells and other cells of the body will be stored as fat. While blood sugar levels are high, our body can rely on the energy from the blood rather that utilising fat for energy. This is another situation we want to avoid. Increased fat storage while fat is not being used.
When blood sugar levels drop so do our energy levels and our body sends out signals causing us to crave sugary or high carb food. The cycle then repeats putting us into perpetual fat storage mode.
Over time, insulin resistance left unchecked can turn into type 2 diabetes.
So how do we improve insulin sensitivity and encourage the use of fat for energy rather than blood sugar, thus resulting in improved body composition? Focus on the consumption of good protein sources, non-starchy fruit and vegetables and healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil and fish oil.
The omega 3 found in fish oil has been found to improve this sensitivity and help control blood sugar levels.
Exercise wise, both resistance training and interval training works best for improving insulin sensitivity. This type of exercise should be done at maximum effort in order to provide the best results.
The take home message is keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels in check by eating the right foods and undertaking a consistent exercise program. This will encourage the body to utilise fat for energy resulting in improved body composition.