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.
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