As I’ve said…
In the short-term it’s important to be in a calorie deficit to lose fat and to be in a calorie surplus to build muscle.
But if you really want to Live Lean, and turn your body into a fat burning and muscle building machine for life…
In addition to calories, you need to also be focusing on long-term hormonal health.
Today, I want to talk about one of the most important hormones that can help with this, insulin.
So even though your genotype is fixed, the expression of your genes, known as your phenotype, is directly influenced by the foods you eat, your environment, and your lifestyle.
This means your phenotype can be controlled by your daily actions.
For example, the foods you consume, the amount of exercise you do, and the quality of the sleep you get, all stimulate your hormonal system to send fat burning or fat storing messages to your body.
No matter how much exercise you do or how little you eat, if those actions are excessive, they will throw your body’s hormones out of balance, which can turn your body into a fat storing machine.
It’s amazing how much responsibility the approximately 50 different hormones have on all the cells in your body.
Some of these hormones play a larger role in the fat gain or the fat loss process.
I’ve already done posts on the important thyroid hormones, as well as the hunger decreasing leptin hormone, and the hunger increasing hormone, ghrelin.
But today lets get deep into…
Insulin is a hormone secreted immediately from your pancreas following a meal.
The role of insulin is to control the amount of sugar in the blood by moving it into the cells, where it can be used by the body for energy.
Insulin can have positive and negative effects on the body.
Insulin plays a major role in building muscle when produced in sufficient amounts.
After a good workout, your muscles are in a catabolic state, meaning they are broken down, and your body loses some muscle glycogen.
Consuming a high glycemic carbohydrate after a workout creates an insulin spike, thus providing an excellent delivery system for the carbohydrates and the amino acids from the protein to reach the muscle cells.
This helps break you out of the catabolic state, and puts you into an anabolic state to help re-build a stronger muscle and replenish your previously depleted muscle glycogen levels.
Insulin plays a negative role when produced in excess.
When refined carbohydrates are over consumed, they break down into sugar and quickly enter the bloodstream.
A large amount of insulin is then required to clear the sugar from the bloodstream.
At anytime, your bloodstream usually only contains approximately 4-5 grams of sugar in the blood.
That’s only about 1 teaspoon.
So think about what happens to your body’s hormonal balance when you eat a “low fat” refined carbohydrate like a cinnamon roll that contains 60 grams of sugar.
Insulin then releases a fat storing enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL).
When this LPL enzyme is released, it has a mission to store everything as fat, especially as belly fat.
Essentially it turns you into a fat STORING machine!
Your muscle and liver glycogen tanks have a limited capacity to store short-term energy.
Remember the video I did on the Spill Over Effect?
When your glycogen tanks are already full, the following happens:
So the next time you read a label that says cinnamon rolls are “low fat”, think again.
Your body is designed to burn stored fat for the majority of its energy requirements.
But when you have continuous high insulin levels caused caused by overconsuming refined carbohydrates and not working out enough, your body continues to burn sugar for energy and store the excess sugar as body fat, rather than burning the already existing stored body fat for energy.
Another negative affect of insulin is how it reacts with other fat burning agents in the body.
For example, carnitine is a compound in the body that helps shuttle fatty acids into your cells mitochondria to be burned as fuel.
However, when insulin is in excess, it lowers the level of carnitine in the body, thus slowing your fat burning potential.
This leads to the topic of insulin sensitivity versus insulin resistance.
If you’ve been struggling with fat gain and the majority of your snacks and meals are primarily comprised of carbohydrates, you may be suffering from insulin resistance.
Insulin Resistance simply means overtime, your cells become less affected by insulin.
Think of it this way.
The cells in your body have doors.
When you’re suffering from insulin resistance, the doors to open the cells are locked.
But, when you’re healthy and insulin sensitive, the insulin acts as the key to open the doors to the cells to let the nutrients in to be burned for energy.
But when you’re suffering from insulin resistance, the keys don’t work, so the pancreas continues producing more and more insulin.
In other words, when your body is suffering from insulin resistance, you don’t process carbohydrates well, therefore you’re more likely to store them as fat, rather than burn them for energy.
The opposite of this is insulin sensitivity, meaning you do process carbohydrates well, you store them in the muscles and liver cells, and you burn them off for immediate and short-term energy.
The major keys are simple:
The higher your carbohydrate consumption, the higher the potential for your insulin levels. Depending on your goals and activity level, I usually recommend between 50-150 grams of mainly complex carbohydrates per day with one high carbohydrate weekly cheat meal.
Replace the calories from carbohydrates with high quality sources of lean muscle building protein. Protein does not induce insulin as much as carbohydrates and can also help keep you feeling full, thus limiting your sugar cravings. Depending on your goals and activity level, I usually recommend starting with 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass.
Working out and building muscle can help improve insulin sensitivity. After your workouts, insulin sensitivity can be at it’s highest, meaning it’s a great time to consume carbohydrates as your muscle and liver cells probably have capacity to store them for short-term energy.
Take our quick Live Lean Quiz to select a workout program that is suited for your fitness level, your access to equipment, and your goals.
Lack of quality sleep can increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which then can then increase the cravings for insulin spiking, sugary foods. Check out this post on the best foods to improve sleep.
Our Live Lean Beginner bundle contains a workout program for gym newbies that is designed to help beginners burn body fat, build lean muscle, and feel better than ever!