Blood Glucose, Insulin Resistance, and Performance
By Jared Boynton
The first thing that comes to mind when you mention blood glucose is unquestionably diabetes. “Monitor blood glucose? I’m not diabetic,” you’ll say.
If you’re truly serious about maximizing your performance, though, it should absolutely be monitored. A blood glucose meter is cheap, and they’re most certainly not only for diabetics. Used wisely, a glucometer can be a useful tool for:
What is Blood Glucose, how do I monitor it, and why should I care as a physique or performance athlete?
The blood glucose reading numeral spit out by your blood glucose meter is a gauge of how much glucose (the fully digested, prepared, and ready-for-use-by-the-body carbohydrate) is circulating in your bloodstream. In the US, the quantity is read in mg/dL, or milligrams per deciliter.
If the number is too high (above 100 while fasted), pre-diabetes or diabetes type II is the culprit, and a number of horrible things are happening within your body due to insulin resistance.
High blood glucose symptoms aren’t anything to scoff at – but the main thing we’re interested in here from a performance and physique standpoint is the former. Without enough insulin sensitivity, your body will simply not be able to use the food you eat on-demand to fuel and grow your tissues. This will result in suppressed strength, decreased endurance, and decreased muscle mass.
What if it’s high?
If it’s “prediabetic high”, i.e. within the rough range of 101-125, diet and training changes are the recommended course of action.
Curbing carbohydrate intake during periods of inactivity is key. If your levels are high, modify your dietary regimen to keep your carbohydrate intake centered on the periods of time during which your insulin sensitivity would be highest – your periworkout (before, during, and after workout) period. Maintaining a carb-fasted state for the rest of the day will have little impact on performance, and would do wonders for increasing insulin sensitivity.
Resistance training and HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training, are also valuable tools for combating pre-diabetic insulin resistance as well; and not only will they assist in increasing insulin sensitivity, but they’ll do it in a targeted fashion. Insulin itself is a non-discriminatory hormone, and will shuttle nutrients into any cell (fat or muscle) that is most convenient. Resistance training and HIIT will increase insulin sensitivity specifically in the associated muscle tissues, thus creating a climate where it’s most efficient for insulin to shuttle the consumed nutrients into muscle cells instead of fat. This is ideal for avoiding fat storage while maximizing growth.
There is a third, non-prescription-based option: glucose disposal agents. These range from compounds as familiar as cinnamon to those as foreign as NA-R-ALA, and all of them have different levels of effectiveness for different individuals. If an athlete decides to go this route, it’s best to go through this list and test how effective each ingredient is for you at reducing blood sugar:
How Does Blood Glucose Throughout the Day Affect Meal/Training Timing?
Meal timing, resistance training, and cardiovascular activity all rely upon the same hormone to dictate optimal conditions – Insulin. In a healthy individual, if blood glucose is high, you can be assured that blood insulin levels are also elevated and the body is primed for protein synthesis. If blood glucose is low, blood insulin levels are likely low as well and the body is primed for lipolysis (fat burning).
According to research done by CG Proud in 2006, insulin is necessary to activate the conduits necessary to build muscle tissue from amino acids present in the blood stream. In Guyton and Hall’s Textbook of Medical Physiology, it’s stated simply: “In some unexplained way, insulin ‘turns on’ the ribosomal machinery. In the absence of insulin, the ribosomes simply stop working, almost as if insulin operates an ‘on-off’ mechanism.”
Insulin does have a few other positive effects for athletes:
This means that without insulin present in the bloodstream muscle protein synthesis simply cannot occur at all. The key to maximizing growth and progress through resistance training is to ensure that your body has a sustained source of glucose (or enough of an excess of amino acids to convert to glucose through other pathways) before, during, and after exertion. Perform resistance training when blood glucose is in an elevated state.
While heavy resistance training is best done during periods of high blood glucose, the opposite can be said for fat-loss-centered cardiovascular sessions. While performance may suffer due to a lack of ATP created from glucose, the lack of active insulin in the blood stream will allow for hormone-sensitive lipase to do its job. Typically inhibited in the presence of insulin, HSL is responsible for breaking triglycerides (stored fat) into free fatty acids (“bloodstream” fat) to prime them for burning. Without this mechanism, athletes won’t be able to burn fat for fuel during cardio. The takeaway here: when fat loss is the goal, performing cardio in a carbohydrate-fasted state where blood glucose is low is the most effective way to release and oxidize fat stores.
Moving Forward Without Blinders
Glucose (and indirectly insulin) monitoring is a valuable tool in your arsenal. Through proper measurement and manipulation, you can develop a plan that allows you to control body recomposition; the holy grail of physique-centered effort. Head out to your local grocery store, stop by the pharmacy, and pick up a glucose meter ASAP – until you do, your diet and training is nothing more than an educated shot in the dark.
Jared Boynton holds a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Tennessee, and is an internet-based performance and conditioning coach and the owner of Genomax Performance Coaching. His experience has been accrued through years of real-world implementation with both his own physique and the physiques of numerous clients. You can contact Jared via email at email@example.com or via his website, www.GenomaxCoaching.com.
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