It’s easy to mix up the terms insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance.
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Here’s a quick reminder.
- Being insulin SENSITIVE is a good thing.
- Being insulin RESISTANT is bad.
When I first began working out and getting into fitness 30+ years ago, insulin wasn’t even discussed often.
I plan on discussing insulin but will break this post up with some killer music videos.
A few epic 80’s new wave songs.
Let’s talk about insulin resistance (a bad thing) first.
I’ll use the Web MD definition:
Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar levels go up.
At some point, the pancreas can’t make enough insulin to clear out glucose in the blood.
Basically, insulin isn’t operating correctly.
Here are two studies that examine this:
- Intramyocellular lipid kinetics and insulin resistance
- Insulin resistance in morbid obesity: reversal with intramyocellular fat depletion
Insulin acts as a key to allow glucose to enter the cell.
Insulin resistance happens when excess fat gums-up the insulin receptors over time.
The insulin key stops working properly, so your body has to release more to get the job done.
Now let’s discuss insulin sensitivity (a good thing).
Being insulin sensitive means that insulin works well in getting glucose into your muscle cells.
The insulin receptors are mainly clear of fat.
This allows efficient transport of nutrients into your muscle cells.
Increasing insulin sensitivity improves nutrient partitioning: Calories from food are more likely to get shuttled into the muscle cell instead of being stored as fat.
This is how insulin sensitivity can help you get lean.
Being insulin sensitive is good for long term health as well.
Insulin resistance is a path to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.
Exercise is one way to increase insulin sensitivity.
If you only diet to lose weight or improve health, you are messing up.
Not only will exercise help maintain muscle…
It can improve insulin sensitivity.
A large meta-analysis study found that regular exercise can improve insulin sensitivity for up to 72 hours.
Our study found that regular exercise has a significant benefit on insulin sensitivity, which may persist for 72 hours or longer after the last training bout.
Both cardio and resistance training are effective at improving insulin sensitivity.
This study found that combining cardio with resistance training created the most significant positive effect.
In summary, only AT/RT (which required twice as much time as either alone) led to significant acute and sustained benefits in insulin sensitivity
Cardio isn’t trendy now, but…
I highly recommend doing a combo of lifting weights AND cardio to increase insulin sensitivity to the greatest degree.
So lift weights.
Then work up a sweat with some cardio.
You can also increase insulin sensitivity with your diet.
Before I go into more detail in your overall diet, here are a couple of foods you can eat to improve insulin sensitivity.
- 2 tablespoons of vinegar per day. I wrote a detailed article on why this doesn’t have to be apple cider vinegar.
- 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon each day.
The best way to eat to improve insulin sensitivity is to eat a low-fat diet.
It is dietary fat that can gum-up the insulin receptors and is one of the causes of insulin resistance.
The worst combo is when you combine high fat with high carbs.
The glucose from the carbs needs to get stored in the muscle cells.
Fat interferes with insulin’s ability to store nutrients in your muscle cells, so the glucose floats around.
This leads to high blood sugar issues, increased body fat, etc.
One way to approach this is to avoid sugar and carbs… the low carb Keto style of dieting.
This lowers the amount of glucose that your body has to store.
This stops the need to be insulin sensitive.
The problem is that the underlying issue is still there…
The body is still insulin resistant.
Which is why a person who has been eating low carb, has issues with high carb meals.
They feel like crap after eating potatoes or rice.
The reason for this is that their body is in an unhealthy state.
The glucose from the carbs doesn’t get stored properly, because they are insulin resistant.
If you eat a low-fat diet where fat is under 20% of daily calories, you can significantly improve insulin sensitivity.
When dietary fat is low, excess fat clears out of the insulin receptors.
They begin to work properly.
You become insulin sensitive.
This is why insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes is practically nonexistent in places like Okinawa.
The traditional Okinawan diet is 8% fat.
They eat a high carb diet.
Because they limit fat to under 10% of their daily calories, there is little chance that fat can cause insulin resistance.
Their bodies can quickly get glucose from carbs into their muscle cells.
This way of eating creates a slim and healthy society.
Keto and higher fat diets CAN work for fat loss.
Here’s an image from my course, High Carb Fat Loss.
I’m showing that an extremely high-fat diet of over 65% can work for fat loss since meals are avoided that raise insulin.
I’m also showing that low-fat diets work for fat loss since they improve insulin sensitivity.
They both work well for getting lean.
The problem with the high-fat keto approach is that fat loss happens while the body in an unhealthy state.
If the keto dieter ever wants to eat high carb meals, they will likely have a lot of insulin and blood sugar issues.
I meet people all the time that tell me things like…
- “I love pasta, but it makes me feel terrible.”
- “As soon as I eat a spoonful of rice, I feel puffy and fat.”
- “If I even look at bread, I gain weight.”
These are all symptoms of being insulin resistant.
Their current way of eating has caused a buildup of Intramyocellular fat.
Your body is meant to be able to handle glucose.
The way to gain this ability back (insulin sensitivity) is to eat a low-fat diet and get the body functioning the way it is supposed to.
You absolutely should be able to eat fruit, grains, potatoes, and beans without having insulin and blood sugar issues.
The way to do this is to eat plenty of carbs and limit fat intake.
This is also the secret of the healthiest long-living populations: 5 areas of the world called the “Blue Zones.”
1. Okinawa, Japan: A diet of sweet potatoes, rice, vegetables with very little meat, and only 8% fat.
2. Loma Linda, California: Mainly populated with Seventh-day Adventists who support a biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables.
3.Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica: For most of their lives, Nicoyan centenarians ate a traditional Mesoamerican diet highlighted with the “three sisters” of agriculture: squash, corn, and beans.
4. Icaria, Greece: Lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil.
5. Sardinia, Italy: The classic Sardinian diet consists of whole-grain bread, beans, garden vegetables, fruits, and, in some parts of the island, mastic oil.
I mainly bring up the Blue Zones when discussing a high carb diet.
The healthiest people on the planet eat plenty of fruits, grains, and potatoes but…
“Aunt Linda dropped 5 pounds in a week eating an all-bacon dinner and melts 1,000 calories worth of butter into her coffee to become ‘fat-adapted’… plus Kim Kardashian is keto too.”
This type of eating is basically asking to become insulin resistant.
The scale moves quickly at first due to water weight loss (muscles flatten out a bit due to less glycogen).
It just puts the body in a risky state.
I don’t want to harp too much on keto.
It just drives me nuts that I get called out for recommending “harmful” foods like rice, bread, and potatoes.
High Carb Fat Loss is a pretty darn low-fat diet aimed at getting the body back to a healthy state while getting lean.
I recommend keeping fats to around 10% of your diet to become insulin sensitive at the fastest possible rate.
Once you get as lean as you desire?
Feel free to get fat as high as 20% of your daily calories.
This is still a low-fat diet, but with more flexibility.
For long term health and longevity, I would stick to keeping fats at 20% or lower most of the time.
If you follow this high carb style of eating, it is fine to have a few high-fat meals per week.
You have to live.
The majority of people who have success with High Carb Fat Loss still have 1-2 days where they relax a bit when it comes to diet.
How to increase insulin sensitivity summary.
Improving insulin sensitivity makes it easier to get lean and stay lean because nutrients get directed into the muscle cells instead of becoming body fat.
Here are some ways to accomplish this:
- Perform both resistance training and cardio in your workouts.
- 2 tablespoons of vinegar per day.
- 1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon each day.
- Keep fats under 20% of daily calories (10% for faster results).
This information isn’t mainstream and definitely isn’t what your Aunt Linda believes.
She’s all about the keto and bacon fat.
Don’t be too hard on old Aunt Linda.
It takes 7-10 years for current research to make it into mainstream health and fitness publications.
She will most likely hear about this in 2030.
BIG Favor: Can you forward this to your Aunt Linda? I really don’t want her eating bacon twice per day for the next 10 years.
Maybe we can help her out?
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
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