Dealing with Insulin Resistance Diets & Foods in Bodybuilding

Insulin Resistance

Understanding Nutrition is Essential for Success

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.

Insulin Resistance: How Did it Happen?

Insulin is the bully of a lot of chemicals in the body. It can actually force other hormones to help prevent fat from leaving fat cells during a diet. This process is fairly simple. Once the food is digested and the insulin released to regulate blood sugar has dissipated, the hormone glycogen goes into action. It helps bring out the energy potential in the food you just ate and the food that has been stored in your fat cells. Thus it can move to the appropriate place (muscle and organs) for fuel and restorative purposes (rebuilding during recovery). A constant excess of insulin in the body, because of stress, overeating and taking in the wrong foods, which is continually being dumped into the bloodstream, hinders the glycogen. That means the natural storage that insulin creates is never released and spent by glycogen. It ultimately becomes just one big storage house of fat.

This is the process that causes insulin resistance, and it's not a good situation to get into. Once you go overboard enough times with insulin, your organs and muscle tissue will defend themselves against this overabundant presence of it by shutting down. They no longer allow enough insulin to come into the picture. When insulin can't get enough blood sugar into the organs and muscle tissue, it convinces the body that it needs to store the excess blood sugar as fat.

Ever heard a fat person say, "But I don't eat that much and I still gain weight"? Well, he or she may not be lying. The more insulin resistant you are, the more easily you'll gain weight. If you're not exercising and your diet isn't perfect, you're likely going to just get fatter and fatter and more and more insulin resistant as a result. You find yourself with a mountain of problems. Most people throw up their hands in despair because they don't understand why it's happening to them.

I currently have a client who is experiencing this problem. Since I have understood insulin resistance for several years, I know how to help her. Despite what others in her life believe because of her slow or standstill weight-loss status - she is actually doing what she's being told to do with diet, even though she isn't seeing any initial results. I see how hard she's working in the gym five days a week, both with me and on her own, and how hard she struggles with few rewards. I honestly don't believe she's a closet eater or has an eating disorder because I can see what precipitated her problems, and they all add up to insulin resistance. The cycle she and many other have set up for themselves is difficult to overcome. Yet I keep telling her to hang in there and continue doing everything right, consistently, because eventually order will be restored in her body. We occasionally tweak her diet, but it's the right diet and she's following it correctly.

This woman's insulin response did not be-come damaged overnight, and she will need a while to repair it. The sobering truth is, nine to 12 months of consistency will be required be-fore she'll begin seeing the body she wants to see. She is only about 35 to 40 pounds over-weight. Most male bodybuilders lose that much in 16 weeks! Unaffected women can easily lose that kind of weight in five months. However, she and the many others like her face an uphill battle in the beginning. Provided she continues to implement the diet she needs to create insulin sensitivity again, she will overcome her insulin resistance and become more normal again.

Legions of people out there are chastised daily by their training partners, husbands, wives or friends, and seen as lazy, incompetent or failures at dieting when really they are just suffering from severe insulin resistance. They need to get a great book that deals with these issues and sets them on the right path. Normal diets that are simply carbohydrate restrictive aren't going to do the trick. The plan must be much more encompassing in its attack on this problem, not just on bodyfat alone. And believe me, that information is hard to find!

For years now, though I respect writers like the late Dr. Atkins (New Diet Revolution) or Dr. Sears (The Zone), I have turned to writers who address this problem as an actual condition and result of insulin resistance, rather than just an issue of taking in too much starch and sugar. Sure, Atkins comes as close as anyone to tackling the real problem, whereas Sears discusses unapproachable topics like obscure hormones called eicosanoids, but other authors, such as Dr. Diana Schwarzbein (The Schwarzbein Principle) and Drs. Richard and Rachel Heller (The Carbohydrate Addict's Lifespan Program) come a lot closer yet to actually explaining how to remove yourself from the insulin-resistant list and put yourself back on the insulin-sensitive list. Believe it or not, that's where you want to be.

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