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Insulin Resistance

When it comes to weight loss insulin is one of the most important hormones in the mix. The majority of people who are overweight have some degree of what’s called “insulin resistance.”

This is where the body no longer responds to insulin as it should and becomes insensitive to it. The end result is the fat storing switches being left on and the body programmed to send energy to fat cells instead of muscle cells.

In this post I’m going to explain the main reasons why insulin resistance occurs and your best strategies on reversing it.

Causes of Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows blood sugar to enter the body’s cells where it’s stored or used as fuel. It acts as a delivery agent shuttling blood sugar (glucose) along with protein (amino acids) into the cells. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether you’re feeding a muscle cell or a fat cell.

Anytime you consume more carbohydrate (sugar) than your body can use at that moment it will look to store the excess for future needs. Insulin’s job is to take the excess blood sugar and store it in the liver and muscle cells first. However, once both of the areas are filled it has no choice but to transport the excess sugar into fat cells.

People who consume a diet too high in carbohydrates will develop insulin resistance due to the repeat secretion of this hormone. Basically the cell receptors start to shut down and stop receiving insulin the way they should. The body responds by having your pancreas keep producing more insulin to try and do the job. This becomes a vicious cycle in which you’re literally stuck in a fat storing mode.

One thing you should know is that it’s basically impossible for you to burn fat in the presence of insulin. You see insulin has a sister hormone called glucagon which is responsible for among other things transporting energy to a muscle cell in times of low blood sugar. Both hormones can’t be working at the same time. Your pancreas will either secrete one or the other depending on the conditions but not both.

This is why if you have a meal too high in carbohydrates and secrete insulin you stop the fat burning process dead in its tracks. For example, if you were to consume 50+ grams of carbohydrate before a workout you could forget about burning fat during your exercise session. This is exactly why I recommend having something light like a piece of fruit (<25 grams of carbs) prior to your workout.

Insulin Resistance And The Impact On Your Health

Insulin resistance or low insulin sensitivity over time increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes so it’s not to be taken lightly. You also have the increased health risks of storing too much belly fat which only adds to the problem.

The health risks of insulin resistance only increase as we age as the body tends to lose lean muscle with the corresponding loss in testosterone. That is of course you offset the loss with strength training.

Improving Insulin Sensitivity With Strength Training

There are numerous studies now out that show strength training can boost insulin sensitivity by 20 percent or more in only a matter of months. While aerobic exercise has long been prescribed for improving insulin sensitivity, and rightly so, it now looks like strength training is equally if not more important.

The average physician in this country who deals with insulin resistance and diabetes recognizes that aerobic exercise is helpful so they’ll prescribe it. But most aren’t as quick to prescribe strength training even though it works just as well and could actually be more beneficial.

Unfortunately strength training is still viewed as being exercise to mainly build lean muscle. While this is obviously a benefit, it’s not the only benefit.

One thing most doctors don’t talk about is the benefits of strength training on helping the cells respond better to insulin. Strength training increases the number of proteins called glucose transporters (mainly GLUT4) which move blood sugar into the muscle cells. The more GLUT4 you have, the better your cells respond to insulin.

Then of course as you add you lean muscle you have more available parking spots to store blood sugar instead of sending to fat cells. As you increase lean muscle you’ll also improve testosterone levels which help to keep the entire endocrine system in balance.

Best Strategy For Improving Insulin Sensitivity And Reducing Insulin Resistance

  • Perform vigorous strength training 3 x week preferably in accordance with burst training methods.
  • Perform staggered intensity cardio with alternating sessions of low-intensity aerobic training and higher intensity interval training 5 x week.
  • Follow a primal blueprint diet that is naturally lower in carbohydrates to help reduce insulin secretion.

When it comes to weight loss here’s the bottom line for what you need to know. Insulin secretion is good thing when you’re feeding muscle cells with the necessary nutrients for rebuilding and recovery. However, if you’re secreting insulin and mainly shuttling energy into fat cells this will make weight loss extremely difficult.

Your objective should be to minimize insulin secretion during the day except for the times when you’re looking to enhance the rebuilding and recovery of your muscles. This would be in a “post- workout” situation where it’s actually beneficial to have an insulin release. Protein shakes with simple sugars and fast-assimilating protein like whey work well here to speed up the recovery process.

Use strength training, cardio, and a primal blueprint diet to feed muscle instead of fat and you’ll have no problem reversing insulin resistance. Trying to just use one of these components won’t work the same. For example if you just try to do aerobic exercise and leave strength training out you won’t see the same benefits. Remember, it’s the synergistic effect of all three combined that provide you with the real knockout punch.

Train hard, eat primal, live strong!

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Hormones & Health.