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