Understanding Insulin Resistance
What is it?
Insulin resistance (IR) refers to an impaired ability to process carbohydrates as a result of the cells failing to respond to the actions of the hormone insulin. The body produces insulin, but the cells are unable to respond to it. This leads to hyperglycemica (increased glucose in the blood) and an increased secretion of insulin in an attempt to get the job done, known as hyperinsulinemia.
Why is it bad?
In addition to being an early warning sign on the path to developing type II diabetes, there are also other ways IR can dramatically change the way an athlete diets for a competition.
If the muscle cells are unable to take up nutrients from a meal because they are not responding to insulin, these nutrients are then allowed to remain in the blood where they can be passed along and converted into free fatty acids and stored in fat cells …. Because fat does not require much insulin to be stored in adipocytes, it becomes an easy pathway and final end destination for many of the foods a person with IR eat. In other words, your muscle cells are not great at taking up nutrients, but your fat cells are excellent at it.
How does it develop?
There are a few ways someone can develop insulin resistance.
- Genetic/metabolic disorders. Some people are predisposed to IR
- Weight gain
- Overconsumption of simple sugars (including fruits)
- Overconsumption of refined and processed foods
- Overeating for a period of time
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Going extended periods of time without the consumption of carbohydrates can also cause issues if the person reintroduces carbs in a manner that the body is not equipped to process.
Signs and Symptoms of IR
- Brain fogginess and inability to focus.
- High blood sugar.
- Intestinal bloating – most intestinal gas is produced from carbohydrates in the diet, mostly those that humans cannot digest and absorb.
- Sleepiness, especially after meals.
- Weight gain, fat storage, difficulty losing weight – for most people, excess weight is from high fat storage; the fat in IR is generally stored in and around abdominal organs in both males and females. It is currently suspected that hormones produced in that fat are a precipitating cause of insulin resistance.
- Increased blood triglyceride levels.
- Increased blood pressure. Many people with hypertension are either diabetic or pre-diabetic and have elevated insulin levels due to insulin resistance. One of insulin’s effects is to control arterial wall tension throughout the body.
- Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with cardiovascular disease.
- Due to the deranged metabolism resulting from insulin resistance, psychological effects, including depression, are not uncommon.
- Increased hunger.
What can be done about it?
Don’t make the problem worse…
Avoid processed food
Avoid higher glycemic carbs
Avoid artificial added ingredients
Steps to improve insulin resistance….
Perform muscle glycogen depletion type of workouts with lots of reps and sets – this creates the need for carbs.
Perform H.I.I.T. cardio. Studies show this can improve insulin resistance.
Follow a controlled carbohydrate diet designed to minimize insulin secretion
When you do eat carbs, make sure it is in the post-workout period when insulin sensitivity is highest
When you do eat carbs, make sure the source is natural and un-refined.
When you do eat carbs, include a source of fiber with that meal to improve the insulin response
Include healthy fats to run on for energy through the day
Focus on polyunsaturated fats. Avoid trans and saturated.
Drugs are prescribed for IR (metaformin) .. this would be the final and last resort if all else fails.
Supplements that can help…
Alpha lipoic acid / r-ala
Cyanidin 3-Glucoside aka C3G
Can it be fixed?
Yes, insulin resistance can be improved and even reversed with time. Your body weight and body fat percentage levels have a corresponding relationship with insulin resistance. As you drop fat and weight, your body will gradually improve insulin sensitivity. Hence the term “Earn your carbs” came into my vocab. Drop the fat (especially around the midsection and torso) and you can progressively and strategically reintroduce carbs back into your diet. The fat we carry on the torso can negatively impact the way we process carbs – get rid of that and you can improve your ability to process carbs.
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