Here’s how to maximize the anabolic effects insulin produces, minimize unwanted effects, and be successful.
Insulin is a hormone best known for controlling blood sugar, but it also helps with muscle growth. After all, anabolism is the building block phase of metabolism, and it’s triggered by insulin. Let’s quickly review its anabolic effects:
Insulin helps build protein in muscles. It attaches to receptors on muscle cells and initiates pathways that increase mRNA translation, driving protein synthesis, muscle repair and growth.
Insulin stops the system that breaks down most proteins in muscle cells, allowing recovery to occur.
Insulin helps us use glucose and store glycogen in muscle cells. High insulin levels move glucose into muscle cells and convert it to glycogen. This is used as energy during workouts, contributing to high intensity workouts, muscular endurance and the pump.
Insulin increases the uptake of essential amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This makes them easier to use for muscle repair and growth.
Insulin helps produce fatty acids and prevents the breakdown of stored fat. This may not seem directly anabolic, but body fat is necessary for hormone production, including testosterone. Thus, insulin’s effect on lipogenesis can indirectly support muscle growth by ensuring your body has adequate energy stores and hormones, including testosterone.
Trainer Charles Poliquin believes that controlling insulin levels with a low-carb diet can promote muscle growth. key? Maximize your body’s response to insulin by controlling insulin release.
Here’s How to Get the Most Muscle-Building Power From Insulin Without Inducing Physical Growth Insulin resistanceaccording to Poliquin:
Carbs to eat after a workout: This increases insulin levels, which brings nutrients into muscle cells and promotes growth.
Cycle carbohydrates for a better insulin response: Poliquin recommends carbohydrate cycling to improve insulin sensitivity and muscle growth. This means alternating between high-carb and low-carb days based on your workout intensity and goals. Plus, carb cycling can help support energy levels for better workouts.
Insulin Control with a Low-Carb Diet: Poliquin promotes a low-carb and ketogenic diet to help some people manage insulin levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and lose fat. However, he also said that ketosis may only work for some people. Finding the right balance between carbohydrates and your individual needs is important.
Eat high-quality carbohydrates: Poliquin emphasizes the importance of consuming high-quality carbohydrates to improve insulin response. He recommends nutrient-dense, low-glycemic carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and rolled oats. These provide steady energy without causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
Control protein and fat intake for better insulin response: Poliquin also highlights the need for adequate protein and fat in the diet to aid insulin response and muscle growth.Eat high-quality protein sources such as grass-fed beef, game, and Egg. He also recommends eating healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and olive oil to support hormone production.
Customize your nutrition plan: Poliquin knows that not everyone responds to a low-carb diet in the same way. He believes everyone should create their own nutritional plan based on their needs, goals, and genetics. By experimenting with different macronutrient ratios and tracking your progress, you can find the best balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat for your body.
go to sleep: Poliquin also discusses the importance of sleep for muscle growth and performance. Plus, getting enough sleep helps control insulin sensitivity, which supports muscle growth.
Based on the advice of Poliquin Coach and incorporating the latest science, here is a simplified strategy for enhancing the anabolic signaling effects of insulin:
Morning routine: Start your day with a protein-rich breakfast to support repair and growth. Include healthy fats like avocado or nuts to support hormone production.
Before and During Workout: eat a serving Surge® Workout Fuel Take about 15 minutes before a workout to boost energy levels and endurance. Drink another serving during training.
After exercise: Eat a meal rich in high-quality carbohydrates and protein within 30-60 minutes of your workout to boost insulin levels.
all day: Focus on nutrient-dense, low-glycemic carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, quinoa, and oatmeal. Choose high-quality protein sources first. Adjust your carbohydrate intake based on your activity level and individual needs.
Evening routine: A protein-rich meal or snack before bed supports overnight muscle repair and growth. Prioritize sleep to enhance insulin sensitivity.
Despite our best efforts, sometimes our bodies become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. Aging and a high-carb lifestyle combined with stress can trigger a switch — the body begins to ignore insulin’s anabolic signals. To take full advantage of insulin’s muscle-building powers, re-sensitize your body. Here are some tips to help improve insulin sensitivity:
Keep your insulin levels low by reducing your carbohydrate intake, and your body will notice when insulin comes up again. This may take weeks or months. Blood tests (A1C and HOMA-IR ratio) may be helpful.
A CGM device allows you to monitor your reaction to food. Learning how to regulate blood sugar spikes and bring them down quickly after eating can be an invaluable tool. I have successfully used Veri devices with patients and athletes.
Both resistance training and aerobic exercise help your body respond better to insulin. Walking after meals is an important tool for restoring insulin sensitivity.
Intermittent fasting—alternating between fasting and eating—improves insulin sensitivity and helps regulate blood sugar levels for more efficient absorption of muscle nutrients. Weeks of 12-16 hour fasting (4-8 hour eating breaks) can significantly increase sensitivity. Fasting can also be done on specific days of the week, alternating between regular eating and fasting.
Extra body fat reduces insulin sensitivity. Maintaining a healthy weight can enhance your body’s response to insulin.
Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. This has huge anabolic payoff.
Chronic stress can impair insulin sensitivity. Find a stress-relieving activity to keep stress levels under control.
Some supplements, such as alpha-lipoic acid, chromium, and magnesium, may improve insulin sensitivity. I like:
By following these simple tips and improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin, you can maximize your muscle-building potential. Remember that everyone’s needs are different, so find the right balance for your goals and lifestyle.
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