Insulin, Glucagon, Glucose, Fat and Muscle

One thing about weight training and building muscle that clouds the entire process is the fact that you can train, eat and supplement completely wrong and still make gains. The bad thing with this is that it can reinforce incorrect training and nutrition methods. If you train wrong and make progress what will motivate you to optimize your training to achieve maximum progress?

One of the primary objectives at AST Sports Science is to continually seek to optimize nutrition, supplementation, and training methods to achieve the greatest results in the least amount of time. We spend countless hours in the laboratory, in the research library, in the gym and in intense collaboration with the most progressive minds in sports science research. We don’t think in terms of “What can we sell next?”, we look into the science with foresight and develop products based on validated physiological effects.

Unlike most companies in this industry, we do not try to blow smoke up your ass with distorted muscle-building promises of miracle supplements. I think it’s ironic that the companies that invest absolutely nothing in research are the very companies that run the biggest scams.

It’s a jungle out there. Actually it’s more like a side show. You do not just have to arm yourself with knowledge, you have to arm yourself with the right knowledge.

The education we provide at AST Sports Science is designed to help you gain this knowledge so you can maximize your results, make more intelligent decisions, and hopefully help prevent you from wasting not only your money on worthless supplements, but also help you from wasting time as well.

Understanding How Food-Controled Hormones Effect Muscle Growth

Everyone has heard of insulin. Fewer have heard of glucagon. Understanding these two important hormones can help you choose food and supplementation that will maximize muscle growth and minimize fat accumulation. And, just as important, it will help you pinpoint when you should consume these foods and supplements to maximize muscle growth and minimize fat accumulation.

Insulin and glucagon are hormones secreted by the pancreas. More specifically they are secreted by the islet cells within the pancreas. There are three types of inslet cells – alpha, beta and delta. The beta cells secrete insulin and the alpha cells secrete glucagon. What dictates the secretion of these two hormones is the ever changing level of sugar/glucose in the bloodstream. The delta cells secrete the hormone somatostatin. Somatostatin regulates growth hormone (GH) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

Insulin and glucagon work together in an opposing fashion. That doesn’t make sense does it? How can you “work together in an opposing fashion”? Here’s how.

The human body works to maintain blood sugar/glucose in a very narrow range. Insulin and glucagon are the controllers of this narrow range maintenance.

When blood sugar/glucose is high (after a meal) insulin is released to transport the blood sugar/glucose out of the bloodstream and into tissue. As blood sugar/glucose falls insulin secretion is reduced. The primary deposit site for insulin transported blood sugar/glucose is muscle tissue and fat cells. In response to insulin, muscle and fat cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream effectively lowering blood sugar/glucose levels.

Insulin facilitates muscle cell glucose uptake. Glucose can only enter your muscle cells through insulin mediation. Insulin also stimulates the uptake of amino acids, contributing to it’s potent anabolic effects. Low insulin levels shifts the balance towards protein degradation.

Glucagon, the hormone secreted by the alpha islet cells of the pancreas, also controls blood sugar/glucose but in the opposite direction. When blood sugar/glucose levels get low (between meals and during and after exercise) glucagon is secreted that then signals the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream.

Glucagon also signals the liver to synthesis glucose from other nutrients when required – namely protein from muscle tissue. High demand for glucose not fully supplied by the liver are derived through protein from muscle tissue. When you need glucose to raise blood sugar/glucose levels to normal ranges and it’s not available from the liver, muscle tissue breakdown will occur.

As you can see, insulin and glucagon not only control muscle growth, but muscle breakdown as well. Maintaining optimum blood glucose levels is very important and manipulating the secretion of these hormones, principally insulin, at certain times can enhance nutrient utilization and ultimately enhance muscle growth.

As Paul Cribb has pointed out in several articles, using certain foods and supplements to manipulate insulin release while also supplying anabolic nutrients at key “insulin sensitive” times is paramount in building serious muscle. And keeping steady blood sugar/glucose levels and in return, steady insulin levels at all other times eliminates fat accumulation.

It’s a intricate balancing act. Kind of like the game where you have a steal ball resting on two movable rods that are at a slight uphill angle. The object is to move the rods apart to get the ball rolling upwards, but not too far apart that will cause the ball to fall through. It takes precision and control, but when it’s done right the ball defies gravity by traveling up the incline. Glucose and insulin manipulation done right defies normal nutrient transport creating a hyper-nutrient transport environment.

So how can you do this? Paul Cribb has meticulously pointed this out in his two articles, The Anabolic Nutrient Timing Factor and The Right Carbs for Building Muscle. These two articles are a must read for anyone looking to gain muscle faster. One thing that is key to this whole process is the effect certain foods and supplements have on circulating blood sugar/glucose. One way to figure this out is by using the Glycemic Index. This will show you what the effects certain foods will have on blood sugar/glucose and the corresponding insulin response.

When you want to spike insulin and when you don’t.

There are two important times when you want to spike insulin due to an advantageous metabolic environment – when insulin sensitivity is at its highest. And research is revealing a possible third key time when it may be productive to increase circulating insulin by consuming foods or supplements with a high glycemic index.

Immediately upon wakening.

You have high insulin sensitivity when you first wake up. Also, blood sugar/glucose is typically at its lowest point at this time. Now is a opportune time to facilitate nutrient transport into your muscles. Feed them when they are hungry.

* A quick note to those of you that are under the misguided assumption that doing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is they way to burn fat. Here’s what happens, you have low blood glucose levels, you place energy demands on your body, your brain signals glucagon release, glucagon breaks down muscle tissue to supply the needed glucose for energy. Not only do you miss a critical and efficient feeding time for your muscles, but you create a sever catabolic state that could linger for many hours. This is a step backwards.

3 hour time period after training.

Paul Cribb has written at length about this post training time period. During this 3 hour time frame, you should be keenly aware that your muscles are very receptive for nutrient uptake. If you miss the time period to address their nutritional needs your workout effort has been severely compromised if not wasted.

Before training.

Again, Paul Cribb has uncovered some interesting research that strongly suggests pre-workout protein and carbohydrate intake enhances protein synthesis. This compelling research makes it a necessity to supplement at this time. Paul suggests “bracketing” your workout with a mixture of VP2 Whey Isolate and Creatine HSC before and after you train.

The above times are when you want to spike insulin by consuming foods and supplements with a high glycemic index. At all other times you do not want to have a high blood sugar/glucose level. Other than these three key times you want to maintain a steady blood sugar/glucose level that subsequently allows you to maintain steady, non-fluctuating insulin release. This is accomplished by consuming foods and supplements with a low glycemic index or, as you’ll soon learn, foods that keep YOUR blood sugar/glucose levels and insulin steady.

By consuming high glycemic index foods at times outside of the 3 key time periods, it will increase blood sugar/glucose levels, spike insulin and facilitate glucose transport primarily into fat cells where it will be converted into triglycerides and cause you to put on fat.

Steady blood sugar/glucose levels are an indication you that you are maintaining an anabolic state while reducing the chance of fat synthesis.

Your Personal Glycemic Index.

The glycemic index is very helpful and powerful tool, but I’m not 100% convinced that it’s universally applicable. To me the glycemic index is like going to the bathroom late at night, you know about where the toilet is at, but it’s dark and it can be hit or miss. Because of metabolic individuality, the same food can effect blood sugar differently in different people. So the Glycemic Index, though very useful, may not be telling the whole story.

Now the glycemic index is certainly a good foundation for food intake determination, but if you are the least bit like me, you want to get more precise. Well, you can develop your own personal glycemic index. It’s very easy, very efficient, painless, cool as hell, but it does require a small amount of bloodletting and some record keeping. Don’t let the “bloodletting” scare you away. It’s painless.

Developing your personal glycemic index can be done using readily available glucose monitoring systems available at any drug store. These are very small computer devices that, by analyzing just a spec of blood, can give you a blood sugar/glucose reading within 5 seconds.

You can use these readings to determine exactly how different foods effect your blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels. You can assemble a personal database of the foods you eat and know exactly what they are doing that will contribute to muscle growth. This will give you a clear picture on what to eat and when to eat it.

By testing, analytically, how different foods impact your blood sugar/glucose levels, you can determine what foods to avoid and what foods embrace. You can determine what foods will create a rapid insulin response to develop an optimum pre and post workout nutrition plan. You can just as easily determine what foods invoke a steady insulin release for meals outside of the post workout time period.

You’ll be able to assemble a diet and supplement plan tailor made to your individual metabolism and tailor made for fat-free muscle gains. No more blind, shotgun approach of just slamming down protein and carbs. You’ll be armed with knowledge individualized to your physiological make-up.

Next week I will give you complete step-by-step details on how to use the Glucose Monitoring System to help you build muscle faster and stay lean in the process.

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