5 Ways to Improve Blood Sugar and Insulin Sensitivity
by UP Fitness February 8, 2017
If you want to achieve your ideal physique and bolster your long-term health, then optimising your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity is critical.
It's something we work closely on with our body transformation clients to improve at Ultimate Performance.
If these two things are functioning correctly, you will avoid many health problems, reduce disease risk, improve exercise performance, increase muscle growth and enhance fat loss.
In contrast, if you have poor blood sugar and insulin function you will have a higher disease risk and have a harder time staying lean or in good shape.
For example, research has suggested that you are likely to drastically increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and many other diseases.
As you can see, improving blood sugar and insulin sensitivity should be at the top of your priority list.
Luckily, this article is going to give you the tools and knowledge to optimise them. Here’s what you need to know.
What is it and how does it work?
Your blood sugar level refers to the amount of glucose in your bloodstream at any point in time. This glucose is used by most cells in the body for energy and is especially required by the brain which cannot easily use any other energy source.
A constant blood sugar supply is vital, and it must stay within a tight range. In fact, if it goes too low or high, severe illness and, potentially, even death can occur.
Insulin is the hormone which controls how our body responds when blood sugar is high. When functioning correctly, insulin will act as a ‘gatekeeper’ or commander, telling our body to shuttle blood sugar into various tissues in the body.
For this reason, insulin levels will spike up when blood sugar levels elevate, usually after eating carbohydrates. This increase will then tell our body what to do with the extra blood sugar – remember, it’s important we keep it within a normal range.
Insulin sensitivity basically describes how receptive our cells are to insulin. If we are sensitive, it doesn’t take large amounts of insulin to get the job done.
In contrast, if we are insulin resistant our cells will ignore this signal and insulin will continue to increase until our body responds.
After some time, insulin resistance can cause serious health issues. These are caused by both the physical presence of excess glucose in the blood and by constantly elevated insulin levels causing an immune response and inflammation.
High-Intensity Resistance Training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways to not only shred fat but also to improve blood glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.
For your physique, we want to optimise insulin sensitivity, which means your muscles will quickly suck up any excess blood sugar into the cell for future use when exercising, or for fuel, recovery and growth. Additionally, broken down proteins, known as amino acids, are also directed by insulin. Therefore, if you are insulin sensitive you can also shuttle all those key muscle-building proteins to exactly where you need them – the muscle.
1. Perform High-Intensity Weight Training
High-Intensity Resistance Training, like the type of training we use here at UP, is an incredibly effective fat loss tool. But it is also useful for helping to improve your blood glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.
This is because weight training activates your GLUT 4 receptors and sends them to the edge of the muscle cells, allowing the blood sugar to flow in. When we train, this can occur without the presence of insulin, so, even if your insulin function is poor, you can improve your carbohydrate metabolism with training.
All weight training can be beneficial; however, some higher rep and more metabolic-style training will likely maximise carbohydrate tolerance by depleting glycogen and energy stores and will enhance insulin sensitivity, which is just one of the reasons that it plays a key role in our training with clients here at UP.
When training with your own routine or plan, bear in mind these effects are primarily found in high-intensity training.
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2. Reduce your carb intake and or go low carb
As blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity are directly related to your carbohydrate intake, it would, of course, make sense to drop carbs out from the diet to improve insulin and blood sugar function.
By lowering carbs, you will be giving your receptors and insulin-producing pathways a rest. Just like taking a few days out from the gym where you come back refreshed and stronger, the lower carb state can help you lose fat, improve metabolic flexibility and restore insulin function.
Importantly, the reduction in carbs is often associated with a reduction in calories and calorie-dense food as well, which also plays a key role in improving blood sugar control and insulin function.
Several research studies, and work with thousands of clients here at UP, have proven this to be an effective strategy. Here are just a few of the highlights:
One 14-day study found a significant improvement in blood sugar control, a 75% improvement in insulin sensitivity and a 35% decrease in triglycerides and 10% reduction in cholesterol.
Another 15-day diet compared a low carb/high fat vs a high carb/low fat diet and found significant reduction in blood sugar levels (8.76 vs 10.08 mmol/L) and plasma insulin levels (195.0 vs 224.4 pmol/L).
One long-term, 12-month study found around a 40% greater fat loss and a greater decrease in triglycerides levels and hemoglobin a1c, which shows long-term blood sugar control.
In addition to dropping carbs, it goes without saying that a high protein diet is going to be key for improving your physique. However, it also enhances glucose tolerance and insulin function; therefore increasing protein levels while reducing carb intake is a perfect combo to shred body fat while improving your metabolic function.
3. Perform HIIT
HIIT is another extremely effective way to improve blood sugar and insulin function.
Several different studies have shown HIIT can rapidly help you enhance insulin function to a greater extent than regular training. In fact, two studies found an almost 50% improvement in insulin function following several weeks of HIIT training.
The best part of HIIT is it’s extremely quick and easy to implement. Sessions of just 10 minutes after your workout, two to three times per week can yield quick and noticeable benefits.
Much like weight training, it can enhance blood sugar and insulin function by sensitising your GLUT4 receptors. In addition to this, it can also improve mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of our cells and responsible for converting and burning fuel (food) for energy by producing more ATP (the body's energy currency).
There are various machines you can perform HIIT on, including:
Bike/Spin bike sprints
Sprinting/hill sprinting (if you run on a regular basis)
Other forms such as tyre flips, hammer intervals, etc.
4. Sleep More
While most people just tend to focus on diet and exercise, sleep is still one of the most vital parts of health, fat loss, physique enhancement and, of course, blood sugar control.
Research has shown just one night of reduced or bad sleep can impair your carbohydrate tolerance the following day! Over the long term, sleep can also have a massive impact on your insulin function, fat gain, disease risk and ability to maximise performance or muscle growth.
Taking the necessary steps to optimise your sleep should be a priority, which will have an underlying positive effect on every other aspect of your health and body composition.
There are numerous ways to improve your sleep, including:
Improve the bedroom environment, such as room temperature, mattress quality, and lighting.
Eliminate blue light exposure a couple of hours before bed by using orange glasses or apps on your devices such as f.lux and the built-in night mode for Apple products.
Eat your carbs at night. By timing some carbs in the evening, you can increase the hormone serotonin which may improve sleep and relaxation.
Take supplements, including 5-HTP, ZMA, and Melatonin.
5. Take These Supplements
Although supplements should never replace the staples such as a good diet and exercise, you can take your metabolism and blood sugar function a step further with these research proven supplements.
Vitamin D: Is quickly becoming the next super supplement, being shown to improve weight loss, testosterone levels, carbohydrate metabolism, diabetes and even heart disease. Try taking 300-5000IU of Vitamin D3 per day along with getting more sunlight exposure by simply taking a daily walk.
Resistant Starch: This is a special form of fibre that can have a very powerful effect on diabetes, obesity, gut health, and metabolic health. A popular source is to consume around 10-20g of potato starch per day, a flour-like substance you can mix into yoghurts and smoothies, etc.
Berberine: This is another beneficial supplement and has been proven to enhance carbohydrate metabolism. Several studies have noticed drastic improvements, two of which even show some more powerful benefits when comparing it to the diabetic drug metformin! Doses tend to be around 1000-1500mg per day, split into two or three doses.
Omega 3: Commonly from fish oil, Omega 3 is another modern day super supplement, with over 100 studies showing its positive effects on diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol, inflammation, and insulin function.
Other Supplements: Some other supplements including fenugreek, chromium and zinc can also enhance blood sugar and insulin control.
Take the next step
In conclusion, there are many easy ways to improve your body's handling of glucose produced by digesting carbohydrates.
While blood glucose levels may not be a priority for many people because it is not cosmetically visible, it has an enormous effect on both body composition and long-term health.
If you are serious about your physique, then take the steps to optimise your metabolism. As they say, a healthy outside starts from inside.
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