Insulin…an Undeserved Bad Reputation

The following is a great series by James Krieger, founder of Weightology, that goes into great detail on what insulin is and what it actually does versus the many myths about this misunderstood hormone.

I feel sorry for insulin. Insulin has been bullied and beaten up. It has been cast as an evil hormone that should be shunned. However, insulin doesn’t deserve the treatment it has received.

Insulin: A Primer

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the levels of sugar in your blood. When you eat a meal, the carbohydrate in the meal is broken down into glucose (a sugar used as energy by your cells). The glucose enters your blood. Your pancreas senses the rising glucose and releases insulin. Insulin allows the glucose to enter your liver, muscle, and fat cells. Once your blood glucose starts to come back down, insulin levels come back down too. This cycle happens throughout the day. You eat a meal, glucose goes up, insulin goes up, glucose goes down, and insulin goes down. Insulin levels are typically lowest in the early morning since it’s usually been at least 8 hours after your last meal.

Insulin doesn’t just regulate blood sugar. It has other effects as well. For example, it stimulates your muscles to build new protein (a process called protein synthesis). It also inhibits lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and stimulates lipogenesis (the creation of fat).

It is the latter effect by which insulin has gotten its bad reputation. Because carbohydrate stimulates your body to release insulin, it has caused some people to argue that a diet high in carbohydrate will cause you to gain fat. Their reasoning, in a nutshell, goes like this:

High Carbohydrate Diet -> High Insulin -> Increased Lipogenesis/Decreased Lipolysis -> Increased Body Fat -> Obesity

Using this same logic, they argue that a low carbohydrate diet is best for fat loss, because insulin levels are kept low. Their logic chain goes something like this:

Low Carbohydrate Diet -> Low Insulin -> Decreased Lipogenesis/Increased Lipolysis -> Decreased Body Fat

However, this logic is based on many myths. Let’s look at many of the myths surrounding insulin.

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3 Responses

  • Hi VG,

    Again another great post!

    I knew that protein could cause insulin spikes just like carbs do but I didn’t know to what extent. It was these protein induced insulin spikes that I had already started to pin my problems on, of crashing and feeling tired after a meal due to a large insulin spike.

    The reason I say this is because quite often, in fact most times when I would feel really tired and need to sleep would be after eating a meal with a large protein content and quite low carb content.
    My solution to this has been to eat more carbs, especially in the morning before and immediately after training and to try to keep an even, constant and higher intake of carbs over the day. This has helped a bit as I think Glycogen and energy stores are now generally higher each day.
    I have found that this approach has left me looking leaner, loosing fat and looking bigger/ more pumped! I also have greater energy for my workouts and feel much brighter and happier through the day. I still crash with an insulin spike occasionally but not as often.

    The Bro Science about consuming Low carbs is in my opinion (for my metabolism) wrong and more a question of the right balance of macros. And calories in versus calories out to control fat. Ok carb cycling can be a good effective tool which I have tried myself with, I think, good effect.
    Just the feeling of more energy and generally feeling brighter, oh and of course being able to train much harder for longer has convinced me that I’ve made the right decision to change my diet/macro intake.

    Prior to these changes I would probably eat on average I guess 100g of carbs/day but now I try to consume at least 200-250g of carbs/day. With a carb up day once or twice a week. I also keep a close eye on fats and have started to eat a lot more reduced or fat free products to keep fats in check. I do have a good amount of fat as most protein contains fat (unless it’s whey which is very low in fat). I would say I normally consume between 50-100g of fat/day, although 100g or above would be quite high so on these occasions I might reduce carbs a bit the next day to try to compensate and even out the calories over a week.
    Also on a higher carb day I would try to keep lower.

    Just so some of these figures might make sense to you, I am currently;

    5′-9″ and weigh 168/9 lbs.

    I was about 173/4lbs about 3-4 months ago but the change in macros and the change in workout style from a single body part/day to upper/lower light and heavy in a week has made a huge difference.
    I am now looking to tweak the workout more and try to put periodised training approach in place to see what effect that has.

    Kind regards, Graham.

  • Some great information and insight Graham, I appreciate you sharing and the best part is you are seeing positive results because of it!

  • Thanks for the feedback.
    It might be a good idea to start a thread on this on the forum and try to encourage others to reply and contribute so that we can see if others have similar problems of have experienced anything like this in the past.

    Doing two contest preps must have taught you a lot about your metabolism and how it copes with different diet conditions.
    What I think I have learnt recently is that it’s not just about body fat %’s but also about Glycogen and energy levels. Because without these levels being in a good state you don’t have the best available energy stores to train hard and make good progress and reduce body fat levels and gain muscle.

    Regards, Graham.

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