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Decreased Insulin Sensitivity With Middle Age Adults And Carb Considerations

I get quite a few questions regarding what the best diet is for middle age adults. While this is sort of a “it depends” question, there are some physiological factors to consider. One of the big issues is insulin sensitivity. As we age insulin sensitivity tends to go down and this can impact dietary choices. In short, the way you ate in your twenties and thirties may not be optimal for your forties, fifties, and beyond.

In this post we’re going to talk about insulin sensitivity and how it relates to diet and exercise for middle age adults. For starters let’s briefly discuss the role of insulin. As you know our bodies run mostly on fatty acids and blood glucose (aka blood sugar). As sugars and starches are digested and broken down into glucose molecules, the body needs a way to get the base elements in to the cells for energy production.

The way our bodies do that is with insulin – a hormone produced by the pancreas. Think of glucose as a hitchhiker, and insulin is the truck that transports it. The more sensitive our insulin is to glucose, the better the glucose is “hiked” into our cells so it can be metabolized into energy.

However, in cases where there is simply too much glucose hitting the bloodstream over prolonged periods of time, the pancreas can get exhausted trying to produce enough insulin. With the body in a chronic state of high levels of blood glucose and insulin the cell receptors begin to down-regulate. This leads to something called “insulin resistance” – the precursor to Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

Unfortunately, eating poorly and not exercising is not the only way our insulin sensitivity can become diminished. Aging is a major culprit in the breakdown of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, resulting in less insulin-sensitivity to circulating blood sugar, increasing the risk of developing the following:

  • Diabetes Mellitus (DM)
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hypertension
  • Atherosclerosis (due to scarring of vessel and arterial walls by the large glucose molecules)
  • Possibly even cancer (as new evidence suggests high blood sugar may “feed” cancer cell growth).

Exercise and insulin sensitivity with middle age adults

Exercise with middle age adults is essential as it helps battle the decrease in insulin sensitivity. While all exercise is beneficial, the most effective forms of exercise for improving insulin sensitivity will be metabolic resistance training, otherwise known as “burst training.”

By working the large muscle groups with short bursts of high-intensity effort, the body undergoes a metabolic disturbance. This produces a favorable hormonal response and improves insulin sensitivity within the muscle cells.

Recent research shows that resistance training performed in this way has a much more pronounced impact on insulin sensitivity than traditional aerobic exercise. So while walking and other forms of aerobic exercise are generally good for your health, they don’t have the ability to produce a hormonal response to exercise like burst training.

In short, middle age adults will definitely want to have a “concern for muscle” and use resistance training to improve insulin sensitivity.

Diet and insulin sensitivity with middle age adults

From a dietary perspective, middle age adults will want to make some changes in the way they eat. “Good Carbs” and “Bad Carbs” have been making headlines a lot in the last decade, and there is some validity to these claims. The optimal type of carbs would include higher fiber carbs that do not cause a spike in glucose levels. Foods like greens, vegetables, and whole fruits fall under the “Good Carbs” category.

Carbs you’ll want to minimize in your diet are the ones that are easily digestible and cause spikes in blood sugar or excess starches which require more work from your pancreas to secrete insulin to match the levels of glucose.

You’ll definitely want to minimize foods made with unrefined flour like white bread and pasta, chips, bakery items, candies, and fruit juices. This includes all processed and refined foods. Each individual will be different in regards to their needs and tolerances for heavier starches like whole grains, legumes, and potatoes. While many of these foods are tagged as “healthy carbs,” middle-age adults often don’t need the excess sugar they provide.

Once again, this all depends on individual factors with insulin sensitivity, rate of metabolism, energy demands, and genetics. Some people do well with lots of whole grains and starches in their diet, others not so much. Beyond the scope of blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, grains can impact people differently due to irritation and allergen impacts of phytates and lectin.

See the video below for more information on grains.

In addition to watching carb intake, try to limit trans-fats like hydrogenated oils that are more damaging to your heart and arteries. Adding protein to your meals also helps slow the absorption rates of carbohydrates, so make sure to add lean meats and other proteins to your meals.

The bottom line is middle age adults will want to experiment with carbohydrate type and amounts in their diets. It’s not that you have to remove all starches and whole grains from your diet, but some individuals will simply do better with these foods in moderation.

From my experience, the majority of middle age adults tend to respond more favorably to a Primal Blueprint type diet that is naturally low in starches and sugars.

The combination of burst training and a modified Primal Blueprint diet is the foundation for body transformation programs here at Shaping Concepts. I’ve found this to be one of the best ways for middle age adults to improve insulin sensitivity while simultaneously decreasing unwanted body fat, adding lean muscle, increasing energy, and lowering risk factors for disease.

I encourage you to experiment with removing excess starches and grains in your diet for 30 days and switch to more of a Primal Blueprint type diet. You’ll also want to minimize dairy products during this time with the exception of things like cottage cheese, hard cheese, Greek and natural yogurt in moderation.

The idea is to condition your body to fuel off of fatty acids more efficiently with lowered levels of blood glucose and insulin. You may experience some “withdrawal symptoms” when you first begin reducing the amount of sugars in your diet. Irritability, mood swings, and strong sugar cravings may be present during the first week or so.

Know this going in as it’s a natural process to conditioning your body to begin fueling itself more efficiently from fatty acids. A lot of this will depend on how much of a sugar addiction you have prior to starting. The degree of inflammation and build up of metabolic waste in your gastrointestinal tract will also be a factor. Basically, the poorer your diet has been with excess sugars, starches, and processed foods, the longer the process.

You may have to push through the withdrawal symptoms a little longer than others but it will be well worth it in the end. The idea is you’ll want to take an aggressive stand on removing excess sugars in your diet and not just look to switch out bad carbs for “healthy” whole grains and other starches.

Moving from white bread to whole grain bread for example is a “healthier” choice, but it’s not necessarily the best way to improve insulin sensitivity. In some cases you’d want to remove bread completely from your diet for a while.

If you’re in the Charleston, SC area and would like some assistance with putting together a diet and fitness training program built for your unique needs, we’re here to help. Shaping Concepts specializes in personalized nutrition and exercise programs for middle age adults. You can register for a free no-obligations consultation and personal training trail today on our homepage.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston fitness trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides personal fitness programs with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation. Sign up for a FREE, no-obligations consultation today.

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