Every part of your body, including the brain, heart and muscles, needs energy to function properly and thrive. This energy, naturally, comes from the food we eat.
Excess food consumption, however, leads to the extra calories being stored as fat. But if you eat smart, improve the balance of your hormonal activity and train regularly, the extra calories you consume will be used to support lean muscle growth.
In this article we’ll share 5 important tips on how to turn food into muscle instead of new slabs of fat.
Insulin is a double-edge sword
We digest the food we eat by mixing it with digestive juices which contain acids and enzymes in the GI tract. In this process, large molecules of food are broken down into smaller ones.
For example, the carbohydrates in the food break down into another type of sugar, called glucose, which is then absorbed by the stomach and small intestines and released into the bloodstream. Once it gets in the bloodstream, glucose can be immediately used for energy or stored for later use.
Here comes the crucial role of insulin – without insulin, glucose would stay in the bloodstream and your blood sugar would stay elevated. In short, insulin’s job entails helping glucose get into body cells and turning the excess glucose into fat reserves as well.
And that makes insulin a double-edge sword in its own right – you can either manipulate it in order to increase lean mass gains or allow it to build unwanted pockets of body fat, and it all pretty much depends on your insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.
In this way, insulin is a very important but often neglected part of muscle growth. If your insulin sensitivity is low, a big chunk of the food you eat won’t be used to fuel muscle cells, but it will end up being stored as fat instead.
In this case, it doesn’t matter how much protein you eat over the course of a day because it won’t get delivered to your muscles. Unaware of this, many people tend to reduce insulin release by eating very low-carb diets which actually makes the problem worse and impairs their muscle growth.
The thing about insulin that many people don’t know is that it causes amino acid uptake into muscle tissue, providing muscle cells with more amino acids to help in the muscle building process.
When insulin docks onto the muscle cells, it initiates biochemical reactions that increase protein synthesis, i.e. building of muscle out of the amino acids that have entered the muscle cells. And by controlling your insulin you can improve your body’s ability to build muscle and burn fat daily.
So what can you do in order to take advantage of the growth-promoting side of this essential hormone, while reducing its effect on fat storage?
First, keep in mind that avoiding carbs is not the answer, it’s actually a part of the problem. Then, optimize your insulin sensitivity and learn how to raise and lower insulin levels at different times in the day. This will enhance the results of your training efforts and allow for greater muscle gain and more efficient fat burning.
Not sure how to do that? Here are five highly effective strategies that will help you make insulin work for your goals.
Eat protein and fat before carbs
The first important thing that can help you lower post-meal glucose and insulin levels is eating your protein and fat before the carbs. So whenever you sit down for a meal, instead of avoiding carbs altogether, eat your non-carb foods first and put carbs at the end of the line.
That way you can maximize blood sugar control while meeting your daily requirements of carbs as well. In addition, eating different foods in this order will interfere with the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin in a beneficial way, making you less sleepy after a big meal.
However, before and during your workout is the time of the day when carbs should come absolutely first.
Creating an insulin surge before your workout will optimize nutrient uptake into your muscles, which will in turn increase your performance and improve your muscle building ability. Also, in order to replenish the muscle glycogen that you burned during your workout as fast as possible, your post-workout meal should be a high-carb one as well.
Supplement with Cyanidin 3-Glucoside (C3G)
Cyanidin 3-Glucoside is a naturally occurring anthocyanin found in blue-black fruits and berries as well as some purple vegetables that’s not only highly effective at lowering blood glucose levels, but it can also improve vision, reduce memory loss, improve blood circulation and enhance motor skills.
When taken in adequate quantities in supplement form, which increase its bioavailability, it exhibits powerful anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Certain lab experiments have confirmed its ability to decrease blood glucose levels up to 51%, which led the authors to the conclusion that its effects are superior to glucose-disposal pharmaceuticals.
But the reason why C3G is great news for athletes looking to improve their body composition is that it acts differently than similar insulin-regulating substances.
Namely, C3G has a potent ability to increase glucose and lipid uptake specifically in muscle cells, while also reducing body fat storage by simultaneously raising adipokinectin levels and decreasing leptin levels.
To harness these benefits, make sure to take between 2400 and 3600 milligrams of a good quality C3G supplement thirty minutes before the biggest meal in your day.
Apple cider vinegar is pretty powerful at raising insulin sensitivity and significantly lowering blood glucose and insulin responses. Some of it numerous benefits for insulin function include improving insulin sensitivity during a high-carb meal and reducing fasting blood sugars by 4%. One study even reported that vinegar raised insulin sensitivity by a staggering 34% in the first post-meal hour.
This benefit comes from the acetic acid found in vinegar, which has the ability to suppress disaccharidase activity and stimulate effects similar to those of the anti-diabetic drugs acarbose or metformin.
Another study divided 29 participants into three group: one group with type II diabetes, one with pre-diabetic symptoms and one without any signs of diabetes.
All three groups were given apple cider vinegar before a meal, after which their blood sugar levels were measured.
The results were as following: while all three groups had lower blood sugar levels, the people in the group with type II diabetes had improved blood sugar by 25% and the people in the group with pre-diabetic symptoms had lower blood sugar than those in the group without any symptoms of diabetes, as their blood glucose concentrations dropped by almost 50%.
Because adding apple cider vinegar to your food more often is the cheapest, easiest way to improve your insulin sensitivity, make sure to consume it in generous amounts before eating your most caloric, carb-dense meal every day.
Take psyllium twice a day
Studies have shown that psyllium, the seed husk of the Plantago ovata plant which is known for its amazing ability to absorb water rapidly and increase its soluble fiber content tenfold, has even more to offer than an efficient treatment of diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome, which are the most common uses of this gel-forming compound.
Most notably, psyllium is now more and more recommended for patients with diabetes and people with pre-diabetic symptoms because it’s also very powerful at improving glucose response and insulin release. Although the exact mechanism is still unknown, it’s generally thought that psyllium positively affects blood glucose by decreasing its absorption from food.
One study, in which 43 people with type II diabetes were randomly assigned to receive 5.1 grams of psyllium or placebo twice a day for 8 weeks, showed that psyllium decreased post-meal blood sugar levels by 19.2% and reduced all-day blood sugar levels by 11%, compared to a placebo. In addition, researchers have discovered that psyllium makes dietary fat more difficult to digest, thereby increasing the amount of fat lost in the stool.
For best results, take one teaspoon of psyllium with water twice a day, but avoid taking it before your pre-workout or post-workout meal.
Boost your fish oil consumption
Fish oil seems like the ultimate supplement of the modern age, and scientific evidence strongly supports its status of a cure-all. One of its many great benefits is improving the activity of insulin and enhancing your metabolism. The body uses the fat from fish oil to fortify the outside lipid layer that protects our cells, enabling them to function optimally and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. It also decreases the levels of cortisol, which is a catabolic hormone associated with muscle degradation, fat gain and poor mood.
But when it comes to blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, the positive effects of fish oil are so powerful that they almost rival the effects of exercise, while a large new study showed that the synergistic blood sugar-lowering effect of fish oil and regular exercise is more than impressive.
The long-chain fatty acids found in fish oil increase the levels of the hormone adiponectin, which has protective effects on insulin sensitivity. In addition, fish oil reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, which are two of the key contributing factors to insulin resistance and many serious diseases, and significantly lowers triglyceride levels, whose presence in the body is associated with high levels of insulin.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil make cells more insulin sensitive by increasing cell membrane permeability, thereby boosting the metabolism and preventing obesity. Furthermore, fish oil doesn’t only make cells more sensitive to insulin, it also reduces the production of insulin by the pancreas.
For the purpose of improving your insulin sensitivity, take 3 grams of combined DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis, but avoid taking them before your pre-workout or post-workout meals.