Secrets of Nutrition
& Sports Supplements






Articles Written by Rehan Jalali


Supplementation Articles


The Power Of Insulin: Supplements to maximize insulin and blood sugar levels to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat


Is Insulin good or bad? Many people talk about controlling blood sugar levels and hence insulin levels to prevent fat storage, reduce cravings, and sustain energy levels. Other diets have you cut out carbohydrates all together to minimize and control insulin levels. But can insulin really help you build more muscle mass? Will it just cause more fat storage and halt your fat loss goals? Insulin is a hormone that has been discussed heavily in the bodybuilding and health communities. It’s time to set the insulin record straight and find out more about this intriguing hormone and the supplements that can help you positively manipulate it.

Let’s dive into the functionality of insulin including biochemistry (for all those non-techies, you can skip this detailed section) and see exactly how it works in the body and its metabolic consequences. Insulin is a peptide hormone that is released from the beta cells of the pancreas. It is released due to a rise in blood sugar levels in the body that is induced mainly by eating carbohydrates but to a lesser degree by some amino acids in protein sources. This hormone is primarily responsible for the direction of energy metabolism after eating. Insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels and helps keep them in the range of 75-120 mg/dl. Individuals with metabolic disorders such as type I and type II diabetes mellitus cannot endogenously produce insulin so insulin shots are necessary or they cannot use their insulin properly and may have insulin insensitivity. Insulin binds to specific receptors in cell membranes and helps drive glucose into the cell. Normally the cell membranes are impermeable to glucose, but when a cell receptor is activated the membrane allows for a rapid entry of glucose into the cells. Insulin also helps activate glycogen synthase (1) —which helps make glycogen to be stored in muscle tissue (2/3 of glycogen is stored in muscle tissue while 1/3 is stored in the liver). Liver glycogen is mainly used to help keep blood sugar levels stable. Insulin allows cell membranes to become more permeable to certain amino acids, creatine, and some minerals. Insulin causes glucose transport proteins (GLUT) to increase their activity allowing for increased glucose uptake by muscle cells. Two of these transporters have been found in skeletal muscle : GLUT 1, which is present in low levels, and GLUT 4, which is the major isoform in muscle and is responsible for the increase in glucose transport in response to insulin and muscle contractions (1,2,3,4). It is believed that both insulin and exercise stimulate the translocation of GLUT 4 transporters from an intracellular pool to the plasma membrane of skeletal muscle (5). Both exercise (muscle contraction to be specific) and insulin stimulate an increase in glucose uptake by muscle. There is ample evidence which suggests that exercise during recovery impede glycogen synthesis. This is why I recommend that you refrain from any cardiovascular work right after resistance training. It may inhibit glycogen resynthesis and not let you recover from your weight training session properly.

Although insulin helps dispose of blood glucose by either storing it as glycogen in muscle tissue and the liver, it can also convert the excess to fat. Insulin is truly a double edged sword due to this effect. Insulin seems to increase fat storage and fatty acid synthesis by activating the activity of lipoprotein lipase enzyme and acetyl CoA decarboxylase (6). What many people don’t know is that insulin supports amino acid uptake into muscle tissue as well allowing the muscle cells to have more amino acids available to help in the growth and recovery process. So you have a hormone here that can enhance glycogen levels in the muscle cells, thereby creating a more favorable environment for growth not to mention causing cell volumization or cellular swelling (for every gram of glycogen stored in the muscle cell, there are 3 grams of water stored as well). This can have a hydrating effect on the muscle cell and also create more stored energy to be used later. Plus, some athletes report a better “pump” when using insulin boosting supplements.

Insulin’s opposing hormone is glucagon which is activated when blood sugar levels are too low—this hormone can break down muscle tissue and reduce glycogen stores so it is important to control it.

Insulin release has also been shown to help transport more creatine into muscle tissue. That is why it is theorized that taking “insulin mimicking” supplements can help creatine transport as well. More research definitely needs to be done on these compounds to clarify their effects on creatine transport.

So now the key question becomes, how do you use insulin to your advantage and minimize its fat storing effects?

First of all, it is important to raise and lower insulin levels at different times in the day. For example, insulin sensitivity is high first thing in the morning and right after a workout (It is a good idea to take creatine at these two times to maximize absorption). Knowing this, it is important to maximize the use of insulin to drive nutrients into muscle cells during these key times. Spiking insulin levels after a workout by consuming simple carbohydrates and protein (preferably in a liquid form) can block the catabolic effects of the hormone cortisol and allow for key nutrients to replenish muscle cells. Nutrient uptake is very high after a workout due to heightened enzymatic activity and as mentioned previously, higher insulin sensitivity. Spiking insulin levels after a workout can also enhance protein synthesis and lower the breakdown of protein secondary to weight training. Bottom line—Take a good high carb/moderate protein drink within 15-20 minutes after a workout session. Just like there are times you want to spike insulin levels to maximize nutrient uptake, there are also times you want to lower insulin as much as possible to prevent fat storage from occurring. One of these key times is at night before bed time. Spiking insulin levels near bed time can actually decrease or even suppress GH (growth hormone) levels (high insulin levels block GH (7) -that is why GH levels are higher after a fasting state of 2-4 hours because insulin levels are lower) which can in turn lower the recovery process as well as impede muscle growth. Since metabolism is generally slower at night, eating carbohydrates or certain amino acids (like the BCAA’s –leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that can cause an insulin response may allow for greater fat storage at this time. It is a good idea to lower carb intake at night and eat more fiber and protein.


Supplements to help maximize optimal insulin and blood sugar levels

TIP: Since these supplements help stabilize blood sugar levels and support insulin release, it is a good idea to take them with carbohydrate containing meals. (Dosages need to be adjusted for body weight)

Alpha lipoic acid

Also known as lipoic and thioctic acid, this sulfur-containing antioxidant is produced naturally by the body, and can be found in foods such as liver, brewer's yeast, and potatoes. Alpha lipoic acid is a unique and powerful antioxidant, insulin mimicker, and plays a key role in producing cellular energy (8). It is actually prescribed in parts of Europe for blood sugar disorders! In the metabolic cycle, Alpha Lipoic Acid acts as a coenzyme in the production of energy by converting carbohydrates into energy (ATP). In a series of steps, carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, which results in pyruvic acid, which in turn breaks down to an enzyme complex that contains alpha lipoic acid. The end result is more energy. This action is considerably important for people who exercise, since higher levels of energy may be desired, and often required. These research discoveries conclude that Alpha Lipoic Acid is a necessary component of the energy transport reactions that allow for glucose to be metabolized into energy (ATP). Alpha Lipoic Acid can also help your fitness efforts by normalizing blood-sugar levels, while metabolizing sugar into energy and increasing energy levels. It can help regulate blood sugar levels and thus is sometimes called an “Insulin-mimetic compound”. A good dose is 100 mg taken 3 times daily with meals.


This trace mineral comes in various forms and the chromium polynicotinate form seems to be best. Chromium (Cr) is an essential trace element for normal protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism. Chromium is important for energy production, and also plays a key role in regulating appetite, reducing sugar cravings, and increasing lean body mass. Chromium helps insulin metabolize fat, turn protein into muscle, and convert sugar into energy. The primary function of chromium is to potentiate the effects of insulin and thereby enhance glucose, amino acid and fat metabolism. Chromium enhances insulin sensitivity. Exercise induces chromium losses in athletes and may lead to chromium deficiency resulting in impaired insulin function. The biologically active component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which potentiates insulin activity and is responsible for normal insulin function, is dependent on the essential trace mineral chromium. Due to the excessive chromium loss during vigorous exercise, athletes may have an increased requirement for chromium, since insulin effects on carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism are dependent upon the maintenance of adequate chromium stores. Chromium polynicotinate (or nicotinate) has been shown to ameliorate type II diabetes, reduce hypertension, help decrease fat mass, and increase lean body mass, as well as reduce weight (9). A great time to take chromium is after a weight training session to further enhance insulin sensitivity and improve nutrient transport. Taking 200 mcg 3-5 times daily can be useful. Take 400 mcg after a weight training workout.

Vanadyl Sulfate

This is a form of the trace mineral vanadium. It is theorized that it helps increase glucose transport into muscle cells. It may preferentially allow for glucose to be stored into muscle cells versus fat storage. Many users have reported a greater ‘muscle pump” after taking this product. It is considered an “insulin mimetic” but the higher doses that have this property may be toxic to humans. It also has poor bioavailability. It may have potential as less toxic forms of vanadium are being discovered like bis (maltolato) oxovanadium (BMOV). It has been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics and may increase insulin sensitivity up to four weeks after vanadium supplementation has ended. It is important to note that just because an ingredient can mimic the effects of insulin, it may have no effect on body composition or exercise performance. For example, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition showed that vanadyl sulfate supplementation had no significant effect on body composition or exercise performance in weight training athletes (10). This nutrient really has not lived up to its hype but it still can be useful in some forms. Typical doses range from 45 mg of vanadyl sulfate taken twice daily.

Gymnema Sylvestre

Gymnema Sylvestre is a woody, vine-like plant that has been used for centuries. The medicinally active parts of the plant are the leaves and the roots. Clinical tests show that regular use of gymnema over a period of three to four months helped to reduce glycosuria, or the appearance of carbohydrates in urine. Recent clinical trials conducted in India have shown that an extract of gymnema sylvestre is useful for controlling blood sugar. Gymnema sylvestre has an active compound called "gymnemic acid." The gymnemic acid is made up of molecules that are similar to that of glucose molecules. Those molecules fill the receptor locations on the taste buds for a period of one to two hours, thereby preventing the taste buds from being activated by any sugar molecules present in the food. Similarly, the glucose-like molecules in the gymnemic acid fill the receptor locations in the absorptive external layers of the intestine, thereby preventing the intestine from absorbing the sugar molecules. Gymnema sylvestre significantly reduces the metabolic effects of sugar by preventing the intestines from absorbing those sugar molecules during the digestion process. Due to the change in the absorption of sugar, there is a consequent change in the blood sugar level. The recommended dose is 150 mg (standardized to 75 % gymnemic acids) taken 3-4 times daily with carbohydrate containing meals (especially sugar).

Glucosol™ (corosolic acid)

This unique ingredient containing Lagerstroemia speciosa L., is a raw material from OptiPure™ that acts as a glucose transport stimulator. Several types of glucose transporters are known in cell membranes of mammalian tissues. A glucose transporter is important in regulating the level of intracellular glucose. Glucose transport is one of the most important functions of all cells to acquire energy. Modifications of the activity of glucose transport would cause several physiological effects, such as lowering blood glucose level. Until now, only a few compounds have been known to affect glucose transport activity. Dr. Yamasaki, Professor of Pharmaceutical Science, Hiroshima University School of Medicine, Japan, studied the beneficial effects of corosolic acid, an insulin-like principle in Glucosol™. His studies indicate the triterpenoid, corosolic acid, is an activator of glucose transport which results in hypoglycemic effect or low blood-sugar level. Glucose transporters are important in regulating the level of intracellular glucose and, as noted above, insulin increases this glucose transporter activity. Glucosol™ is called phyto-insulin or insulin-like principle because of its ability to aid in blood sugar regulation (11). Because of its ability to mimic the actions of insulin, it may also aid in creatine transport into muscle tissue. This amazing compound can also increase energy levels by increasing carbohydrate stores in the muscle (glycogen). Dosages for weight loss are 16 mg taken 2-3 times daily, one especially after a workout.


This is a relatively new and excellent supplement which has a lot of potential for athletes and individuals involved in a fitness routine. Pinitol is a methyl ether of D-chiro-inositol. It is contained in pine wood and legumes but is derived from soy for manufacturing. It has been shown to decrease blood sugar levels and free fatty acid levels--great news for someone trying to lose body fat. It has been patented by Humanetics for several uses; one describes administration of a supplement for the therapeutic treatment of insulin-resistant type II diabetes comprising of D-chiro-inositol. Two of its most significant effects for athletes are its ability to increase glucose uptake by the muscle cell and to enhance glycogen storage (carbohydrate storage in the muscles). This can lead to greater energy levels and a more stable blood sugar level. It has been shown in clinical research that Pinitol can improve insulin function by increasing insulin sensitivity, thereby allowing insulin to work more efficiently (12). What’s more interesting is that a study published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology online in November 2001 showed that D-pinitol supplementation can help enhance creatine retention. There was a synergistic effect when D-pinitol was taken with creatine. This is good news for anyone who wants to avoid taking high doses of sugar with their creatine to enhance creatine transport and retention. In fact, the researchers of this study including noted scientists like Richard Kreider, PhD, mentioned that “results suggest that ingesting creatine with low doses of D-Pinitol may augment whole body creatine retention in a similar manner as has been reported with co-ingestion of high levels of carbohydrate or carbohydrate and protein.”
A good dose is 250 mg taken 2-3 times daily with meals and one dose with post-workout creatine. Quality products that contain this nutrient are Synthevol 2 by EAS and Nitro-Tech by MuscleTech.

Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek seeds contain a high proportion (40%) of a soluble fiber known as mucilage. This fiber forms a gelatinous structure (similar to guar gum) which may have effects on slowing the digestion and absorption of food from the intestine. Dietary fiber has been shown in many clinical studies to help control blood sugar and insulin levels (and even cause weight loss to occur). Some studies indicate a beneficial effect of fenugreek in reducing blood glucose levels and improving glucose tolerance in patients with diabetes. In terms of weight control, the soluble fiber in fenugreek seeds can reduce dietary fat absorption by binding to fatty acids as well as create a sensation of "fullness" and reduced appetite—always a good thing when trying to control blood sugar levels! There is a very interesting amino acid that is extracted from fenugreek seeds called 4-hydroxyisoleucine. This ingredient may stimulate insulin secretion (direct beta-cell stimulation) and help control blood sugar levels (13). A good dose is 300-500 mg daily of 4-hydroxyisoleucine preferably after a workout with carbohydrates and creatine.

Momordica Charantia (Bitter melon extract)

This is yet another “insulin mimicking/blood sugar regulating” compound that has good research behind it. It is actually a common vegetable that has a bitter taste (hence the name bitter melon). It lowers glucose concentration, improves glucose tolerance, and promotes glucose disposal into muscle tissue. What’s interesting is that even after discontinuing this nutrient for a few weeks (after taking it for 30 days), its effects can still be seen (14). According to some research, it works by improving insulin secretion by the beta cells of the pancreas or by possibly improving the action of insulin itself (14). This nutrient is especially useful to people who have late night cravings or have blood sugar imbalances. In fact, this nutrient has been extensively studied in diabetics (15). A good dose is 100 mg taken 1-3 times daily with meals (using a 4:1 standardized extract).

Again, dosages will vary on these supplements so it is best to contact your physician to discuss based on your medical history.

I hope the message of this article is clear—Insulin can be a powerful ally in building muscle mass and reducing body fat. It is now up to you to use the information in this article and apply it in your program. Controlling insulin and blood sugar levels can go a long way in building a great physique!


Quality Blood Sugar Regulating Supplements

InsuLene Poppers by Pinnacle

This is a quality product that can help support energy levels, regulate blood sugar and insulin, and increase nutrient transport into muscle cells. It contains good doses of chromium (1000mcg/serving) and Glucosol™(30 mg/serving). It also contains alpha lipoic acid, gymnema sylvestre, and d-pinitol but the amounts are too low to have any real effects.

Insuload HP by EAS

This is the first product that contains pure 4-hydroxyisoleucine. The EAS researchers have really done it on this one! This product contains 375 mg of 4-hydroxyisoleucine (extracted from fenugreek seed) per 3 capsule serving which is a good amount. It can be taken post workout with creatine (EAS also has a new product called Phosphagen XT that contains both creatine and 4-hydroxyisoleucine).

Vanadyl Powder by AST

I like the fact that this is a powder that can be mixed with other drink mixes and once it is mixed, the liquid can be more rapidly absorbed. It contains efficacious doses of vanadyl sulfate and chromium. It also contains good doses of the amino acid taurine (2 g/serving) and the mineral selenium (94 mcg/serving), both of which have “insulin mimicking” properties plus anti-oxidant effects—a great bonus!

Glycemet IGF by Met-Rx

Not only does this product contain a good amount and source of fiber, it also has blood sugar regulating agents in it. Fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels and increase satiety (the feeling of fullness). It contains efficacious doses of alpha lipoic acid (100mg/serving), Glucosol™(48mg/serving), and chromium (200 mcg/serving). They certainly did not skimp on quality here. This is a solid product. The taste is not so good but its bearable considering the ingredients in this formula.


1. Newsholme EA, Leech AR. (1984). Biochemistry for the medical sciences. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 38-42; 312-30; 444-454
2. Friedman JE, Neufer PD, Dohm GL, “Regulation of glycogen resynthesis following exercise. Dietary considerations,” Sports Med (1991) 11.4: 232-243.
3. Rodnick KJ, Henriksen EJ, James DE, et al., “Exercise training, glucose transporters, and glucose transport in rat skeletal muscles,” Am. J. Physiol. (1992) 262.1 : C9-C14.
4. Klip A, Ramal T, Young DA, et al.,”Insulin-induced translocation of glucose transporters in rat hindlimb muscles,” FEBS Lett. (1987) 224.1: 224-230.
5. Wallberg-Henriksson H, Constable SH, Young DA, et al., “Glucose transport into rat skeletal muscle: interaction between exercise and insulin,” J. Appl. Physiol. (1998) 65.2 :909-913.
6. Groff J, Gropper S, Hunt S. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism 2nd edition. (St. Paul, MN: West publishing, 1995).
7. Jamieson J, Dorman L, Marriot V. Growth Hormone: Reversing human aging naturally. (East Canaan, CT: Safe Goods, 1997).
8. Packer L, “Antioxidant properties of lipoic acid and its therapeutic effects in prevention of diabetes complications and cataracts,” Annals NY Acad Sci (1994) 738: 257-264.
9. Grant KE, Chandler RM, Castle AL, Ivy JL, “Chromium and Exercise Training: Effect on Obese Women,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (1997) 29:992-998.
10. Fawcett,JP, et al.,”The effect of oral vanadyl sulfate on body composition and performance in weight-training athletes,” Int J Sport Nutr. (1996) 6.4:382-90.
11. Ikeda, Y, “The clinical study on the water extract of leaves of lagerstroemia speciosa L for mild cases of diabetes mellitus,” Jikeikai University, Tokyo. 1998.
12. Narayanan C, “Pinitol-A New Anti-Diabetic Compound from the Leaves of Bougainvillea,” Current Science (1987) 56:3 :139-141.
13. Broca C, et al., “4-Hydroxyisoleucine: experimental evidence of its insulinotropic and antidiabetic properties,” Am J Physiol. (1999) 277:4.1: E617-23.
14. Wong CM, et al.,” Insulin-like molecules in Momordica charantia seeds,” J Ethnopharmacol (1986) 15.1: 107-17.
15. Welihinda J, et al.,” Effect of Momordica charantia on the glucose tolerance in maturity onset diabetes,” J Ethnopharmacol (1986) 17.3 : 277-82.


Back to Articles Page




© 2002-2005 Supplement Research Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and does not replace the advice of a qualified physician.

Please consult a doctor before starting any nutrition, training, and supplementation program.