For most people, the term “insulin” immediately brings about mental images of syringes and the injections diabetics must give themselves to survive. Though this is a very accurate description of the hormone, it isn't the only one. Bodybuilders and athletes must also think about insulin and their insulin sensitivity. It plays a very important role in your ability to work out, recover, and therefore build muscle tissue.
What Is Insulin, Anyway?
Insulin is a hormone that your body produces and releases in response to an abundance of sugar in your bloodstream. Insulin's main function is glucose metabolism; it determines whether the sugars you consume are stored as fat or burned for energy by stimulating various cells in the body to absorb those sugars. Aside from this, when there is an abundance of sugar in your bloodstream, insulin also stops the liver from producing more. Too much sugar can lead to illness, coma, and even death, and that's why it is so important for people who have type 1 diabetes to take regular insulin injections.
Some bodybuilders actually encourage increasing their insulin levels because along with increased insulin comes increased stamina and endurance. However, one can't simply go out and buy insulin like they can buy other hormones, such as human growth hormone for sale. Instead, they have to find a way to balance their insulin levels naturally.
What Triggers an Insulin Response?
When you were a child, there's a good chance someone in your family told you that eating too much sugar would give you diabetes. This may be true to a degree, but in most cases, it's not just the sugar that causes problems for diabetics – it's also carbohydrates. At their most basic form, carbs are sugars divided into two categories – simple and complex. The simpler a carbohydrate, the higher it climbs on the glycemic index. High-glycemic foods trigger a tremendous insulin response, too. The more complex a carbohydrate, the lower it falls on the glycemic index. Low-glycemic foods trigger little to no insulin response.
This is because simple carbs are almost immediately broken down into sugars after you eat them, and according to numerous studies carried out by some of the world's top nutritionists, there's very little difference between eating a giant slice of chocolate cake or a huge plate of plain white pasta. They both stimulate the same insulin response in your body.
Why Too Much Insulin is a Bad Thing
You may find yourself wondering why insulin is such a bad thing at this point. After all, it's there to deal with the sugar you eat so it doesn't make you sick – right? To a degree, there's nothing at all wrong with insulin, and it does exist for a reason. However, when there is too much insulin in your body over too long a period, negative effects occur, and this is especially true for bodybuilders or people who want to lose weight.
The sugar has to go somewhere. Though sugar is your body's main source of energy, if there's too much of it, you can't possibly use it all as energy. In this case, insulin stimulates fat cells to absorb the sugar from your carb-rich meal, and this leads to weight gain.
It can trigger the release of cortisol. Insulin and cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone” go hand in hand. Because cortisol leads to catabolism rather than anabolism, it can hinder your efforts to gain mass or even maintain your existing mass.
You Still Need Carbs!
With all this information in mind, you shouldn't swear off carbs eternally and expect to live a happy, energetic life. In fact, without carbs, you'd probably feel sick and you definitely wouldn't grow. Instead, look for foods that are low on the glycemic index. These are considered more complex carbs that your body can break down far more slowly. For instance, swap your white potatoes for sweet potatoes and your white rice for brown rice. The less processed your carbohydrate, and the less “white”, the more complex it will be. These carbs fuel your muscles and they do trigger an insulin response, but the response is much slower – exactly what you want.
Insulin isn't just a concern for people who have diabetes. In fact, it should be a concern for everyone, whether they carry 100lbs of lean mass, they're 100lbs overweight, or they simply want to maintain their current healthy state. Complex carbohydrates are the way to go 90% of the time, but you can still have simple carbs if you time them right and don't go overboard.
Most people are aware that if they feed their bodies the right nutrients and participate in the right workout program, they will experience muscle growth. However, very few people are aware of the science behind it. The muscle building process is quite the interesting one, and learning more about it can help you make more informed decisions about your workouts, nutrition, supplements, and more.
Different Types of Muscles
There are different types of muscles in the human body. These include smooth muscle and skeletal muscle. The latter of these is of interest to those who want to add bulk, and it's also important for anyone who is interested in losing weight. Trading body fat for skeletal muscle can improve your metabolism, thereby allowing you to burn more calories more quickly, speeding your weight loss. There are some 650 skeletal muscles in the body, and signals from your brain tell those muscles when to contract and when to relax at your command.
Muscle Building Basics
During a workout, you essentially cause damage to skeletal muscle fibers at the microscopic level. After your workout, during a period called recovery, your body creates myofibrils, which are new protein strands, that fuse to the damaged fibers and help heal those tiny tears. When the new myofibrils join with the older ones, they increase in number and size. To put it as simply as possible, muscle growth occurs whenever your body can make muscle protein faster than you can break it down in the gym.
Other Factors Involved in Muscle Growth
Aside from protein synthesis, there are a few other factors that lend themselves to muscle building. These are satellite cell activation, metabolic stress, and muscle tension.
Metabolic Stress – Metabolic stress may seem like an unfamiliar term, but it's actually the scientific name given to the feeling you may know as “pumps”. This stress causes the cells around the muscles to swell, and some studies have indicated that this may lend to muscle growth, as well.
Muscle Tension – Simply put, you generate muscle tension when you put stress on your muscles in the gym. You can do this in any number of ways, which include lifting a small amount of weight over and over again, or lifting a very large amount of weight only a few times. Putting tension on your muscles regularly actually changes the chemistry and metabolism going on inside your muscle cells, which can improve the next factor – satellite cell activation.
Satellite Cell Activation – At the most basic level, satellite cells are “blank” cells that your muscles can use as they see fit. When you manage to activate these, usually through increased muscle tension, they help build more muscle cells, thus improving growth. Some studies have suggested that satellite cell activation rates are genetic, or inherited, which is why some people seem to bulk easily and others struggle to add a single pound of mass.
Hormones are also required for muscle growth, and the two most vital hormones are testosterone and IGF-1, or Insulin Growth Factor. Testosterone enhances your metabolism and recovery rate, which can have a tremendous impact on muscle growth. IGF-1, on the other hand, improves your body's insulin sensitivity, which allows your body to produce more of the vital energy it needs to work out and to recover. Strength training can boost blood concentrations of both hormones for some men, but for others, increasing hormone levels is more difficult. That's why so many people buy testosterone they can use exogenously; it helps them regain their youthful ability put on muscle with ease.
This can be dangerous, though, so it is best to follow your doctor's advice for hormone replacement therapy if needed. The processes behind muscle building may seem quite complex, but they are quite simple to understand. With the right diet and the right exercise program, you can improve your body's metabolic rate, which will lend to tremendous muscle growth.
When you take the time to think about muscle growth or maintenance, there's a good chance that your primary concern is always going to be protein. Nitrogen, a molecule that is unique to the protein macronutrient, is a great way to measure your body's muscle-building capacity. Learn more about nitrogen here and how to create a positive nitrogen balance without relying on anabolic steroids for sale.
Nitrogen and Protein Go Hand-in-Hand
You can visit macro calculators online, you can measure every gram of food you eat, and you can keep careful track of every gram of protein you put into your body, but none of this tells you whether you're actually getting enough protein for your unique needs. Remember that macro calculators are only guidelines and they are in no way 100% accurate based on your personal needs and metabolic rate. Many bodybuilders rely on a process known as nitrogen testing to determine whether they're getting enough protein from their diets and supplements.
While all three of your macronutrients contain hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon molecules, only protein contains an added nitrogen molecule. Thus, when you have your blood drawn and a laboratory checks the amount of nitrogen present in a blood sample, that lab can also determine exactly how much protein is in your body. Then, when you think about the fact that protein is the second most abundant molecule in your body (second only to water), and when you consider the fact that more than 70% of all the protein in your body is found in your muscles, things start to click. The amount of nitrogen in your bloodstream acts as a direct indicator of your body's ability to build muscle.
The Importance of Nitrogen Balance
If you're interested in gaining or maintaining muscle mass, then your nitrogen balance is a vital consideration. There are three different states of nitrogen balance, which are equilibrium, negative, and positive. As these names would suggest, equilibrium means that there is just enough protein in your body to maintain your existing mass, negative means there isn't enough protein in your body to support your existing mass, and positive means there's more nitrogen present than your current muscle mass needs. The latter of the three is the state of nitrogen balance you should aim for if you want to build muscle.
The goal here is to take in more nitrogen than your muscles need. This facilitates muscle growth by enhancing the rate at which your body can recover from workouts – essentially speeding muscle growth and repair. Doing this may seem tricky, but there are a few tips for creating a positive nitrogen balance.
Drink a high-carb, high-protein shake about 60 to 90 minutes before you work out. This will increase insulin in your bloodstream, which in turn prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue during your workout.
Have another high-carb, high-protein shake immediately after you work out – preferably before you even leave the gym. Again, this feeds your muscles much-needed amino acids and helps boost the muscle-building process.
Finally, have a shake that contains both fast-acting whey protein and slower-acting casein protein just before bed to keep your muscles fed throughout the night while you sleep. This is when most of your recovery (and therefore muscle building) takes place.
Get plenty of rest, and be sure you take recovery days. Sleeping seven to nine hours each night is a die-hard rule among professional bodybuilders for a reason, and recovery days give your body a chance to recharge and grow.
As you can see, nitrogen plays a key role in your body's ability to gain or even maintain muscle mass. Your goal should be to maintain equilibrium if you're just trying to maintain mass, but if you want growth, you'll need to follow the tips above to create a positive nitrogen balance.