The KEY to long-term fat loss: Optimising Insulin Sensitivity

The KEY to long-term fat loss: Optimising Insulin Sensitivity


What if we told you that this article could dramatically improve your health, your fitness, your physique, and indeed your long term quality of life?

…interested? Read on!

One of the most imperative solutions to taking control of your body and its response to nutrition & training is optimizing your Insulin Sensitivity. The ability to actually use the nutrients that we consume in our diets effectively and efficiently is of paramount importance to everyone.

If you are looking to put on quality lean muscle, for example, your primary concern in regard to nutrition needs to be providing your body with sufficient protein to synthesize new muscle tissue, and secondly, providing it with adequate carbohydrate to replenish your energy stores so that you can consistently train at a high enough intensity to continually make improvements. What is the key? – That your muscle (& liver) cells are sensitive to the Insulin that your body releases in response to the intake of nutrients and that your body can actively bring those nutrients into the muscles so that they can be put to good use.

Or alternatively, if you are looking improve your body composition (shaping/ toning up) by dropping body fat and maintaining muscle mass, you need to ensure that your body is using the fuel that you are providing to it in an efficient way. What is the key? Again, your muscles (& liver) being responsive to the Insulin that you produce so that the nutrients you take in are put to good use. If they are not responsive to insulin you will store much of the nutrients as fat or worse it will remain in your blood stream.

Or perhaps, you are an athlete or sports player? Well, guess what, one of your major requirements is getting sufficient carbohydrates, proteins & overall calories into the muscle & liver cells allow the body to recover, replenish and adapt in response to training. What is the key? Surely I don’t need to tell you by now?!

So, still interested? Want to know what you can do to optimize your insulin sensitivity to maximize the effectiveness of your nutrition and success in your fitness goals… and your overall health?!

First, a bit of helpful and informative background info, then the 5 THINGS YOU NEED TO BE DOING to enhance your insulin sensitivity.

Firstly, what is Insulin Sensitivity?

Insulin Sensitivity (IS), as you might have gathered, is how responsive your body is to the effects of Insulin. But, to truly understand the concept we must know what insulin is and how our body uses it:

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows your body to store or use glucose (along with some proteins). It monitor’s our blood sugar levels and prevents them getting too high (hyperglycemia) or dropping too low (hypoglycemia).

Our body uses insulin as a key. We require glucose in order to produce energy within our body and to fulfill this need we consume foods. But as we eat glucose begins to enter our bloodstream and our blood sugar levels rise. Alone, glucose cannot actually enter the cells or be productively used. However the rise in blood sugar levels does signal beta cells in our pancreas to release insulin. This insulin then reaches the cells and “unlocks” them allowing the glucose to be absorbed from the bloodstream.  The amount of insulin released is directly correlated to how much the blood sugar levels rise. Therefore insulin is an important hormone that that helps to monitor, maintain and balance blood sugar levels.

Ok, got that? Now what is the scale of Insulin Sensitivity? As expected everyone has a different level of insulin sensitivity but ultimately the goal is to keep blood glucose levels between 70 to 100 mg/dL.If your body requires small amounts of insulin to lower blood glucose levels after food consumption then you are said to be Insulin Sensitive. If not extreme, this is typically a sign of good health.

Whereas if you require larger amounts of insulin to decrease blood glucose levels then you are said to be Insulin Resistant. This means your body has a decreased ability to respond to the effects of insulin so greater amounts of the hormone must be released to achieve the desired affect. If this intolerance continues to occur without treatment then, over time health complications will arise.

Insulin and blood sugar

Now, here are the Top 5 tips!

1. HIIT it! 

High Intensity Interval training (HIIT) has recently been shown to have dramatic effects on insulin sensitivity highlighting, again, how useful a tool it can be in your fitness arsenal. Babraj et al. (2009) demonstrated that doing just6 sessions of HIIT (3 sessions per week for 2 weeks) enhanced insulin sensitivity by an average of 23%in previously inactive males! Those HIIT sessions were simply 4-6 repetitions of 30 second sprints on an exercise bike, with short rest periods between reps.

2. Lift!

Numerous studies have shown that resistance training can also be hugely beneficial in this matter. One such piece of research (Ibanez et al., 2005) showed that in a 16 week progressive programme of simple resistance training (2 sessions per week) enhanced measures of insulin sensitivity by a whopping average of46.3%! Whilst also reducing subcutaneous & visceral abdominal fat by 10-11%. It has also been reported that heavy, explosive lifting may be an even more effective means of resistance training for improving insulin sensitivity.

3. Right, let’s talk Carbohydrates!

Excessive carbohydrate intake is the number one cause of significant fat accumulation & obesity. Why? – Because continual excessive carbohydrate consumption will desensitise muscle cells to insulin whilst increasing the sensitivity of insulin receptors in your fat cells (adipose tissue). All of this means that the more carbohydrate (especially sugars which lead to larger spikes in insulin) that you take in the more likely it will be stored as fat by the body.

Now, the body does need carbohydrates to function and perform optimally, but it doesn’t need them 24/7. One way to enhance Insulin sensitivity (in the muscles & not fat cells!) throughout the day is to use a  ‘carb-backloading’ strategy whereby you start your day with a breakfast of healthy fats, proteins & fibre (read my related article here!), and then continue to use a fairly low carb, high fat & protein eating pattern until you workout (or until mid afternoon/evening). Doing this will greatly enhance your body’s receptiveness & abilities use to carbohydrates effectively, particularly when combined with resistance or HIIT training. Then post workout (the time of day you will always be most sensitive to carbs!), you can begin to consume the majority of your daily carbohydrates, including faster acting sugars, and your body willuse them instantly. This can then be continued through until bed time, especially as carbohydrates can help to relax you and aid in getting you to sleep.

[Bonus tip on carbs: Adding cinnamon to meals can significantly enhance the body’s ability to metabolise carbohydrates. In fact, it has been shown that cinnamon (or cinnamon extracts) can actually decrease your body fat by nearly 1% and increase muscle mass 1% without any other changein diet or any exercise taking place! (Zeigenfuss et al., 2006). You might want to take a look at apple cider vinegar in relation to this too!]

4. Green Tea   

We all know that green tea is supposed to be good for us right? Well, I’ll keep it short and sweet; yes it is very good for us! Particularly in relation to fat loss & insulin sensitivity! A quick example, Ashida (2004) has shown that drinking green tea significantly aids the efficient uptake of carbohydrates into muscle cells (where we want them!) whilst, simultaneously, drastically reducing the ability of adipose tissue to uptake carbohydrates and store them as fat.

5. Fish Oils

There has recently been quite a lot of promising research done on the use of fish oil supplements and insulin sensitivity (amongst many other things). One such study reported increases of 0.5kg on average in lean mass (muscle tissue) alongside decreases of 0.5kg on average in fat mass, which therefore decreases body fat percentages! (Noreen et al., 2010). Frankly alongside this, there are so many other health benefits to fish oil supplementation being discovered almost daily, that it is starting to become a bit of a no brainer!  

So there you go, you know all about Insulin sensitivity and how to optimize it! Give it a go and let us know what you think in the comments section below..

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About Alexa and Roy

ALEXA PASSINGHAM: "I am an ambitious 20-year-old student athlete from Market Harborough, Leicestershire who has a strong passion for everything health, fitness and sport related. I am currently attending East Tennessee State University in America where I am studying for a B.Sc. in Exercise Science with a minor in Entrepreneurship, whilst playing for their NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer team. Prior to this I played for the Arsenal Ladies Academy alongside studying Sport and Exercise Science at Oaklands College, Hertfordshire. Linking my participation in sport to my education has allowed me to practically apply my acquired knowledge and develop a comprehensive understanding of the field. Wanting to share my expertise I recently completed my Gym Instructor qualification and I plan to become a personal trainer in the near future. Alongside coaching, nutrition is a particular interest of mine as it can heavily contribute to health and wellness as well as providing that extra advantage in elite performance." ROY BARBER: "‘I am aspiring athlete and fitness enthusiast, currently studying Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University, widely regarded as the best course of its type in Europe. I am currently a 3 time County Athletics gold medallist over the sprint disciplines at junior level and am working hard every single day to continually improve myself mentally, physically and athletically. With a great passion for all things fitness and sport, I hope over the coming years to forge a successful and fruitful career in sport, dealing with a variety of aspects such as strength and conditioning, nutrition and recovery. "
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