You’ve probably heard over and over again that carbohydrates are perhaps the WORST thing you could eat when trying to lose fat or transform your body, and for most people, that’s 100% true.
Fact is, due to years of consuming a diet full of processed carbs and sugars, most people have grown quite insensitive to one of the most important hormones in our body—a hormone that can either be a huge asset to your body transformation goals, or a total fat-loss and health-derailing nightmare.
The name of this hormone is insulin.
And insulin’s function is to help your body keep blood sugar at bay, clear it quickly from your bloodstream after a carbohydrate meal, and (hopefully) shuttle that blood sugar to muscle tissue for energy instead of into fat cells (driving up your weight).
I say “hopefully” because that’s actually the exact opposite of what occurs when most people eat carbs. Going back to insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance, due to a diet full of processed, insulin- and blood-sugar-spiking carbohydrates, most folks are suffering from some level of insulin resistance, a condition in which insulin is no longer able to efficiently remove blood sugar from the blood stream.
The result? Dramatically reduced fat burning, increased blood sugar levels and increased fat storage.
Even worse, insulin resistance can and often does lead to type II diabetes and an array of other health problems over time, such as an increased risk for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders, premature aging, heart disease, and even stroke…and it all leads back to insulin sensitivity.
Ideally, when you consume carbohydrates, here is what you want to happen:
1. Minimum insulin release. This occurs when your body is highly sensitive to insulin. When it is, only a small amount of insulin is necessary to effectively and efficiently clear glucose from your blood to its storage sites. This is great news because your body has an incredibly difficult time burning fat in the presence of insulin. The less insulin you have floating around, the better.
2. Quick and efficient blood sugar clearance. Again, this will occur when your body is highly sensitive to insulin.
3. Maximum glycogen uptake. Glycogen is the term used for stored carbohydrate in muscle tissue and the liver. When these tissues are highly sensitive to insulin, the vast majority of blood glucose will be stored within them as an energy reserve, instead of being converted to fat.
4. Minimum fat storage. When you increase insulin sensitivity, your body will choose to store your carbohydrate intake as energy, again in lean muscle tissue and the liver, instead of body fat.
Simply put, your body’s ability to process the carbohydrates you eat all comes down to your insulin sensitivity and your body’s ability to quickly and efficiently clear sugar from your blood.
Knowing that, and also knowing that you yourself are very likely suffering from too much blood sugar and some degree of insulin resistance due to the previously mentioned dietary and lifestyle factors, you’re probably wondering what you can do to improve your insulin sensitivity and make your body responsive once again to this critically important hormone.
Fortunately, there are 5 extremely effective strategies you can begin using that will ultimately end your struggle with insulin resistance and carbohydrate intolerance once and for all, while finally allowing you to experience the excitement of seeing a thinner waist, flatter stomach, and a more defined body when looking back at yourself in the bathroom mirror each morning.
The Five-Step Insulin Sensitivity Approach
1. Cut Out Fructose
Condemning all carbs as evil and cutting them across the board, regardless of the type or individual metabolic situation, is no different or more effective than the 1980s low fat approach. If pure starch really were the cause of insulin resistance and obesity, the Japanese would be the fattest, most diabetic people on Earth. Got rice?
Although the traditional Japanese diet is high in carbohydrate/starch, it’s low in fructose/sugar, and that’s the true anthropological lesson. It is abnormally high amounts of fructose that’s causing widespread insulin resistance in America, not necessarily the generic carbohydrate.
According to numerous studies, fructose is the main culprit in table sugar that causes insulin resistance, not glucose. In animal models, fructose produced the following responses: insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high insulin levels, high triglycerides, and hypertension.
A study in the American Journal of Physiology compared a starch-based diet with a sucrose/fructose-based diet, with the practical application being this:
Cut out high fructose corn syrup, fructose sweeteners, sugar, fruit juice, fruit smoothies, and dried fruit. 1-2 pieces of whole fruit a day is permissible.(1)
Use glucose post-workout and fructose-free, gluten-free starch (rice and potatoes) as your primary carbohydrate sources.
2. Cut Out Trans-Fats
Trans fats are horrendous for overall health. In the physique context, trans fats have been shown to inhibit glucose disposal, promote insulin resistance, and induce abdominal obesity.(2)
Practical application strategy: Cut out anything with trans fats or hydrogenated oils on the label.
3. Improve Omega 6:3 Balance
We know the importance of correcting essential fatty acid balance for virtually all things health and fitness related. Insulin sensitivity is no exception.(3)
Practical application strategy: Increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids through wild fish, grass-fed and finished beef. Decrease your consumption of high Omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and fried foods.
4. Grab a Green Tea
You’ve heard of glucose disposal agents, right? Green tea is one of them. According to a study in Biofactors, “For mechanisms of the anti-obesity actions, green tea significantly reduced glucose uptake accompanied by a decrease in translocation of glucose transporter 4 (GLUT4) in adipose tissue, while it significantly stimulated the glucose uptake with GLUT4 translocation in skeletal muscle.”(4)
More carbs being diverted towards muscle cells and away from fat cells?
5. Be Nice With Cinnamon Spice
Cinnamon is another food compound that has shown to exhibit positive nutrient partitioning effects. Numerous studies have shown it to improve the metabolic action of insulin resistance by increasing glucose uptake by the cells and enhancing the insulin-signaling pathway in muscle.(5)
The last time I checked about 1/4 of the U.S. population was pre-diabetic. If you’re over 25% body fat, chances are you could be among that group. So one particular study that stood out: cinnamon extract that was given to 21 adults with pre-diabetes led to a 1.1% increase in muscle mass and a 0.7% decrease in body fat, without exercise. (6)
That may not sound like much, but combine that with some strength training and the previous four steps, and you have a multi-faceted attack on La (Insulin) Resistance. A formidable foe requires a team effort.
And on a side note, that’s no excuse to go out and start pounding down Churros or Cinnamon Toast Crunch (my personal favorite as a kid). It has to be high quality stuff without the junk to have an effect.
6th Sensitive Man of the Year Award
So you have your starting 5 line-up. But who’s coming off the bench to hit the game-winning shot? It’s your diet of course – the most important piece of this sensitivity makeover.
Find Your Place on the Dietary Seesaw
If you’re obese, low carb diets are the best way to go to lose fat – you’re so insulin resistant that any carbohydrates you eat will most likely be stored in adipose tissue. Sorry. Research shows that the best approach for this demographic to improve insulin sensitivity is to lose body fat through low-carb eating. Once you’re lean, you’ll have more dietary options.
However, research has also shown that prolonged low-carb eating may reduce insulin sensitivity. Can you say “post-dieting or post-contest weight rebound”? This may be due to enzymatic changes in the body (for example, pyruvate dehydrogenase activation – a key enzyme in carbohydrate metabolism – is reduced after prolonged periods of low carbohydrate intake). Use it or lose it, I guess?
I don’t like to get caught up in the confines of any one, universal dietary “system.” I prefer instead to draw from different approaches based on the individual’s unique situation.
For carbohydrate intake, I look at it as a seesaw approach. On one side, you have a person’s relative insulin resistance, on the other side, their suggested carbohydrate intake.
If someone’s insulin resistance level is high, then his/her carbohydrate intake should be low. If someone’s insulin resistance level is low (and insulin sensitivity is high), then his/her carbohydrate intake should be high. If it’s in the middle, carbohydrates should be moderate and targeted.
Practical application strategy – Since insulin resistance is closely correlated with body fat, we’ll put it in terms of ballpark body fat percentages:
>25% body fat: Low-carb diets would be the best. Think Paleo, Caveman, LaLanne’s “if man made it don’t eat it”, or Poliquin’s “run, fly, swim, green and grows in the ground” approach.
12-25% body fat: Stick with the “earn your carbs” theme. If you’re consistently strength training like a madman, you can reintroduce carbs back into your diet. Start slowly, perhaps 0.75-1.0g/lb of lean body mass. Targeted timing matters – spread intake over periods where insulin sensitivity is at its highest (peri-workout and breakfast).
<10% body fat: In addition to peri-workout nutrition and breakfast, I think carbs should be a consistent part of the diet for this demographic. Something like a traditional bodybuilding high protein, moderate-to-high carb, lower fat, with fat as a by-product of protein sources approach. I would go with 1-2 grams protein per pound of lean body mass spread relatively evenly over the course of the day.
With this article in hand, all of you should be on your way to being a little more (insulin) sensitive. If you happened to understand all this and finally had the “AH HA” moment and want to give me a hug right now, I will accept. I’ll also settle for a High-five. Very nice.
Definitions: “peri” means around or about. So in the context of peri-workout nutrition it means before during and after a workout.
1. Thresher et al, Comparison of the effects of sucrose and fructose on insulin action and glucose tolerance. AJP- Regu Physiol October 2000 vol.279 no.4
2. Kavanagh et al, Trans fat diet induces abdominal obesity and changes in insulin sensitivity in monkeys. Obesity 2007 Jul;15(7):1675-84.
3. Gonzalez-Periz et al, Obesity-induced insulin resistance and hepatic steatosis are alleviated by omega-3 fatty acids: a role for resolvins and protectins. FASEB J. 2009 Jun; 23(6):1946-57
4. Ashida et al, Anti-obesity actions of green tea: Possible involvements in modulation of the glucose uptake system and suppression of the adipogenesis-related transcription factors. Biofactors 2004; 22(1-4):135-40.
5. Qin, B, et al. Cinnamon extract potentiates in vivo insulin-regulated glucose utilization via enhancing insulin signaling in rats. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2003 62:139-148.
6. Ziegenfuss, TN, et al. Effects of a proprietary water-soluble extract on metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Care, 2006.
Article Provided by Nate Miyaki- Contributor at T-NATION