Possibly the hardest challenge a bodybuilder has to face: gaining muscle without gaining a lot of fat in the process.
Hmm well, losing body fat while retaining all that iron-earned muscle is no walk in the park either.
Both of those tasks can be frustrating, depressing even. The cool thing is that both goals can also be achieved if you learn to do one thing: manage your insulin sensitivity.
This means making your body more sensitive to the insulin it naturally releases when you eat (or that you inject). That way you can take advantage of the anabolic nature of insulin in muscle tissue and avoid the fat-gaining effects of producing (or injecting) too much insulin (being insulin resistant).
Most real nutrition experts believe that if you're more insulin-sensitive during a mass program you'll gain more muscle than fat. And if you're dieting, the insulin-sensitive guy will lose more fat than muscle. Real world feedback confirms the theory.
In my best Young Frankenstein's voice...IT – COULD – WORK!
A primary principle in any bodybuilder diet plan is nutrient timing. We basically eat different foods at different times of the day in order to optimize the effect of circadian and behavioral hormonal changes for maximum fat loss and muscle development.
The rationale behind nutrient timing has mostly to do with enhancing glucose control and insulin sensitivity so that the carbohydrates we eat are used to make us look more like a muscle-man and less like the average lardass couch potato.
You've likely heard over and over again the usual advice: Exercise to increase insulin sensitivity. Sure, great, but let's assume you're already doing that as expected.
The next piece of advice would be to eat more often. You've likely heard this one too: Eat six smaller meals per day instead of two or three big ones and you'll improve insulin sensitivity. So time to go beyond that vanilla advice and look at some other avenues to improve glucose control and insulin sensitivity, including a novel concept regarding antioxidants timing. Let's start just there.
1 – TIME YOUR ANTIOXIDANT SUPPLEMENTS CONSUMPTION
When I first got interested in bodybuilding I read stories about professional bodybuilders and their tackle boxes full of vitamins. Most would go through a pre/post-workout ritual of pill popping, including vitamins E and C + other antioxidants like NAC.
Looking at their physique it would be hard to question their methods, but what if said pre/post-workout E and C and NAC supplementation was actually hindering potential results and decreasing insulin sensitivity?
I guess you think it sounds ludicrous. Well, read further then.
It should now be common knowledge that one of the benefits of training is that it increases insulin sensitivity. We can take this ad a given. A couple years ago a group of German exercise physiologists examined how supplementing with vitamin C (1000mg) and vitamin E (400 IU) affected the post-workout boost in insulin sensitivity.
In this study, 40 young men exercised five days a week (50 minute sessions including circuit training) for four weeks. The addition of vitamin C and E supplementation in that group completely ABROGATED the beneficial insulin-sensitizing effects of exercise. YIKES.
It seems that the post-workout increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), which is blunted by C and E supplementation, is a necessary phenomenon for increasing insulin sensitivity. The argument for the -TEMPORAL- benefit of ROS post-workout is strengthened by the fact that long term antioxidant supplementation has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity.
All nice and well, but what do you actually do with this info?
If you're looking for an extra potential edge, then I'd avoid antioxidant supplements and high antioxidant foods around and directly after your workouts. This will allow for the natural post-exercise rise in ROS and improvement in insulin sensitivity, while supplementation far away from lifting actually enhances these effects too.
2 – SPRINKLE YOUR MEALS WITH CINNAMON POWDER
Besides flavouring your pumpkin pie, you probably never give cinnamon a second thought. However, the simple addition of cinnamon to your diet has been shown in several studies to delay gastric emptying, lower blood glucose levels following a meal, reduce fasting insulin, and maybe even make up for temporary insulin resistance due to lack of sleep. It's powerful, no doubt about that.
In order to reap the glucose-disposing benefits of cinnamon you'll need to use 3-6 grams (approx 2-3 teaspoons). Adding a couple teaspoons of cinnamon to your morning oatmeal is a no-brainer, so you have no excuse not to add this to your dietary arsenal. If for whatever reason you just can't stand it, you have no excuse either since you can use cinnamon powder/extract capsules and they cost next to nothing.
3 – ADD ALPHA LIPOIC ACID (ALA) and ALCAR
ALA is a naturally occurring antioxidant found in some vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes and broccoli. However, the clinical trials done with ALA use 500-1000 times more than you get in your diet, so if you want to use ALA to boost your insulin sensitivity then you're necessarily going to need to supplement.
In several studies with Type II diabetics (those who produce too much insulin but their cells are desensitized to it), the addition of ALA increases insulin sensitivity by a whopping 18-57%. While the ALA dosages in these studies vary, 600mg per day may be the maximum effective dosage. I'd prefer that you start with a lower dosage like 200-300mg per day (the amount recommended for antioxidant purposes) and move up from there.
I recommend pairing ALA with acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR).
Supplementation of Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) alone increases oxidative consumption (indicative of metabolic activity) in a similar manner to L-Carnitine, which improves functional performance. ALA can also curb the pro-oxidative effects of L-Carnitine, demonstrating practical synergism.
Studies found that this form of carnitine improves insulin sensitivity and glucose disposal in healthy subjects, not just in diabetic individuals. A recent study also found that acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) increases glucose utilization using a different pathway, possibly restoring the glycogen synthase activity.
4 – DO NOT FORGET YOUR POST-WORKOUT SHAKE
Providing high quality protein and carbohydrates to your system around the training period is important, as you probably know.
As a matter of fact, the ability to replenish glycogen stores decreases by 50% if you wait two hours after training to load up with the right stuff. To give you an idea of how big the deal at hand is, the difference between taking a protein supplement immediately vs. waiting three hours is the difference between experiencing a 300% increase in protein synthesis and being stuck with only a 12% increase. Pretty mind-blowing.
Noteworthly, this practice boosts immensely protein synthesis and glycogen replenishment -WITHOUT- impairing the improved insulin sensitivity induced by exercise, as glucose uptake in this stage is a non-insulin-mediated effect, happening through increased substrate penetration due to contraction and improved perfusion to muscles. With muscular contractions (ie, physical activity, exercise), glucose uptake increases up to 50-fold (!!!) without the need for insulin.
So don't skip the workout drinks, all gain no pain.
At the end of the day, optimizing/maximizing insulin sensitivity is all about getting the upper hand and giving yourself the edge over those poor SOB's in your gym with no clue. Put these tips into action, improve your nutrient partitioning, and reap all the benefits. Now put that cookie down, NOW!