Any chemicals the body produces are manufactured with good intentions. That is, they serve as an important part of making some bodily function possible under normal conditions. When these
chemicals are balanced, the body works optimally. When they are over-manufactured and dumped into the body as a result of unbalanced eating, sleeping or living habits, they can wreak havoc.
Since about the mid '90s we've all been hearing a great deal about insulin and its effects on the body. Unlike decades past, talk of insulin hasn't centered just on diabetes and those who have the disease. The common talk of insulin for the past eight or nine years has been about the average Joe, the guy who just can't seem to lose that extra layer of fat around his middle or the woman who can't seem to shed the last bit of fat from her thighs.
Though the general public is fairly savvy about the negative effects of insulin on the body and its propensity to cause bodyfat storage from books such as Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and Enter The Zone, not everyone knows how many factors cause the body to release insulin and encourage it to linger. Consider the powerful effects insulin has on the body when over-release is in full swing, and the act of losing bodyfat and staying lean, or adding additional muscular size, is very difficult. If becoming a competitive bodybuilder is on your agenda while an onslaught of insulin is assaulting your body, you'll be facing an uphill battle.
In my experience bodybuilders are all pretty good at the discipline of losing weight when they absolutely have to during their diet period of 12 to 18 weeks (depending upon their condition at the close of an off-season). If bodybuilders lacked this skill, they wouldn't get past the first Mr. and Ms. Culver City contest to move on and do more diets. But that's not the problem. The prevalent problem is the overall lack of year-long self-discipline. This weakness causes a cycle that, after a while, becomes so formidable all the self-discipline in the world cannot mend it. I'm referring to insulin resistance.
Over the years spent yo-yo dieting, most competitors create a cycle for themselves that finally escalates to a point where weight loss is all but impossible without the use of unhealthful diet aids to force the body into submission. It's one reason why thermogenic products are probably the number one bodybuilding supplements today. This continual opening and closing of the insulin floodgates, based on alternate cycles of gorging and starving during the year, creates a change so powerful within the body that it is hard to set right. Eventually many bodybuilders retire, fatter than when they began, and wish they'd never encountered the sport.
They could have avoided all this trauma if they had adhered to a year-round plan of action that met their needs without causing insulin flooding and subsequent insulin resistance. Since this is such a new field, relatively speaking, not many athletes have understood how damaging the gorging and starving cycle really is.
Most bodybuilders probably think they have nothing in common with the obese. From the outside they appear to be from opposite worlds. But talk to anyone who's obese and you'll find a partner in commiseration where insulin is concerned. The line that separates an insulin-resistant bodybuilder from a victim of obesity is very thin. Only the bodybuilders' consistent cardio, training and vanity keep the two groups apart. Still, they have the same problem. Insulin resistance can cause the onset of obesity, or at least lead to the storage of unwanted fat in a person who is otherwise not genetically predisposed to being overweight. Now that that reality is out in the open, we can discuss the ways insulin can be released in large quantities and dumped in the body. Guess what? The culprit is not just starchy or sugary foods!
Sugar / Nonnutritive Foods - Most books touch on whether foods are high or low on the glycemic index. Sugars and nonnutritive food sources are always the highest and therefore the greatest cause of insulin overflow in any diet. Is sugar evil? No. But constant sugar intake and poor dietary habits are!
Sugar Substitutes - Think you can cut out sugar and just replace it with Nutrasweet, saccharine and Splenda? Think again. Sweet is sweet is sweet when the body recognizes a substance as needing additional insulin. Though these substitutes technically are good for a diet, they create the same relative effect. Because they are unnatural chemicals, they also set of insulin response.
MSG - This is a seasoning used in a lot more foods than you may think, including lunch meats, Chinese food, canned and frozen meats and fish, dry salad dressings, and canned soups. It also causes the release of insulin almost immediately. Part of the weight-gain issue is sodium, but part of it is due to insulin. Try to minimize contact with it if possible. That can be hard, too, considering food labels may list it as hydrolyzed food starch or natural flavoring!
Starches - Use anything that is a starch - like bread, grains (other than oats), rice, potatoes, pasta or any food containing flour - in moderation only. We might reason that rice and grains are good for us, but there are many other ways to meet these same dietary needs. Still, you should not need to totally eliminate any food from your diet. When you're in balance, you can have these foods once a day and be just fine.
Alcohol - The body sees alcohol the same as a starch. In fact, alcohol is a sugar. Minimize consumption of it to reduce that extra release of insulin.
Inactivity - Although it's probably not a huge issue for most bodybuilders, inactivity is one of the greatest releasers of insulin. During the offseason, you still should do a little cardio to keep your insulin level from getting too high after meals and during periods of growth.
Stress (work or life related) - Stress causes the body to produce an excess of insulin to regulate the moods it perceives during a stressful period.
Quitting Smoking - When a smoker gives up the habit, an elevated level of insulin occurs in the blood because the adrenal glands and central nervous system are no longer stimulated by nicotine. This situation causes a stress response as well as overcompensation by the liver to deal with a new imbalance. Quitting is still a good idea, but perhaps you should not do it without gaining control of insulin first.
Medications / Prescriptions - Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs (steroidal and non-steroidal), female hormones, diuretics, antacids, anabolic steroids, beta blockers, and anti-hypertensive drugs, to name a few, can all cause the release and continuous circulation of insulin.
Factors you can't do anything about unless you develop a plan of living to counteract them and soften the blow
Age - Inevitably we're all going to age. If you follow a consistent diet and exercise regimen and seldom deviate from it, insulin won't be a large factor in whether you look good into your 50's and 60's.
Depletion of Chromium - By adding chromium to your diet, you can counteract insulin release and circulation. Taking it 30 minutes after a meal that contains carbohydrates is important in controlling insulin.
Illness - Any stress on the body, such as illness or surgery, or anything that keeps you inactive or drains your body's nutrients and causes chaos is sure to encourage insulin release. This effect is unavoidable but not insurmountable. Maintain a good diet while ill and try to get non-stressful exercise, such as walking, into your program of recovery.
Hormonal Changes - Menopause and other hormonal changes can cause the release of insulin. After all, its a hormone too and can greatly influence, or be influenced by, other hormones circulating at the same time. You can't regulate these changes except for being able to control insulin itself.