Maximizing Insulin Efficiency


by Mike Arnold

As with any performance enhancing drug, it is not what how much you take that matters, but how much your body can effectively use that determines the end result. Nowhere is this basic truth more evident than with insulin. While the more is better mentality may pay dividends with most other PED’s (side effects notwithstanding), this is not necessarily the case with insulin. When insulin is misused, a condition known as insulin resistance can develop. Depending on the severity, this can have serious, wide ranging implications on not only your health, but on your ability to build muscle tissue.

Clinically, insulin resistance is defined as a state in which a given concentration of insulin is associated with a subnormal glucose response. In laymen’s terms, the body no longer responds to the actions of insulin as well as it used to. As a result of this reduced response, insulin concentrations which were previously sufficient for the regulation of blood glucose become inadequate, causing blood sugar to rise above normal. The body’s initial response is to normalize these levels through the production of additional insulin. However, this does not correct the underlying problem, it simply manages the symptoms.

I am not going to use this article as a health scare, but let it be known that exogenous insulin abuse has the potential to cause/contribute to a variety of health problems, which include but are not limited to, glucose intolerance, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Even if you count yourself among the “get big, die young” crowd and are willing to sacrifice just about anything to achieve your BB’ing dreams, consider the following. There is a direct correlation between insulin resistance and muscle growth, which should prompt every BB’r to take steps that ensure the optimal utilization of this hormone, but before we go further, let’s take a look at what insulin is and why it is so important to the BB’r.

Produced by the beta cells of the pancreas, insulin is a polypeptide hormone responsible for the regulation of nutrient metabolism. When correctly manipulated, insulin can serve a safe and effective BB’ing tool for promoting recovery, improving growth rate, and enhancing muscle fullness, although the manner in which it accomplishes these things is a bit more complex than it might seem. In reality, insulin works to build muscle tissue both directly and indirectly through multiple, distinct mechanisms. Perhaps the most widely recognized of these is its ability to stimulate the uptake of both glucose and aminos acids into muscle cells. This what BB’rs commonly refer to as nutrient shuttling and it is responsible for most of the immediate effects we experience after administering an injection of insulin.

While the body can accomplish this task on its own, it is limited in the amount of insulin it can produce over a given period of time. Through the use of exogenous insulin, we are able to induce a state of hyperinsulinemia that, when in the presence of sufficient carbohydrates and aminos acids, results in an increased rate if of both protein synthesis and glycogen deposition.

In addition to increased nutrient transport, insulin also works to build muscle tissue by inhibiting muscle protein breakdown. The body is in constant state of flux between breakdown and synthesis, as it attempts to maintain balance between these two necessary and inter-dependent processes. The more we can shift this balance in favor of synthesis, the more rapidly we can accumulate muscle tissue. While this effect is rather short-lived (with shorter acting types of insulin), it manifests quickly and continues to exert this effect as long as insulin is present.

While the majority of insulin’s growth promoting effects are mediated through indirect mechanisms, it ability to increase protein content via DNA transcription and RNA translation is the exception. However, this mechanism is not thoroughly understood, as a proportionately larger amount of research has focused on glucose and lipid metabolism. This is understandable, given the common and potentially life-threatening conditions associated with some of these physiological processes (e.g. diabetes).

Lastly, insulin directly increases IGF-1 bioavailability by reducing IGFBP (insulin growth factor binding protein) concentrations. In the same way that free testosterone is regulated by SHBG, free IGF-1 is also regulated by binding proteins; six of them, to be exact (IGFBP-1 to IGFBP-6). The good news is that insulin inhibits the production of both IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2. Therefore, elevated insulin levels may lead to a reduction of circulating IGFBP-1 and IGFBP-2 concentrations, consequently increasing IGF-I bioavailability.

With so many potential benefits, it is easy to see why this hormone has been abused. It is natural to assume that if a little is good, more is better…and this would be true if it were not for the body’s negative feedback system, which effectively prevents the indiscriminate use of exogenous insulin via metabolic dysfunction. However, many of the warning signs associated with this dysfunction are internal and therefore often go unnoticed by those who lack the education necessary to discern them. This seeming lack of consequences has led many to pursue chronic use, which unfortunately, leads directly to insulin resistance and subsequent growth impairment.

While there are several factors which can have a negative effect on insulin sensitivity (e.g. obesity & the overconsumption of refined, high glycemic carbs), the use of exogenous insulin can in itself lead to insulin resistance. By using too much too often, the body’s response to this hormone is diminished. As a result, the individual will require additional endogenous/exogenous insulin in order to achieve the same effect. For the insulin user, the typical (although wrong) solution is simply to use more insulin, which temporarily solves the problem, but as mentioned previously, this does not correct the underlying issue. In reality, it only makes the problem worse by causing further insulin resistance and once again, the BB’r must increase the dose in order to achieve the same effect.

If this pattern isn’t broken, it can progress to the point where the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels during the absence of exogenous insulin. This can lead to beta cell burnout, the chronic elevation of blood sugar, and eventually, self-induced diabetes. Depending on the severity of the condition, it is not uncommon to witness a BBr’s need for insulin increase by 200%, 500%, or in even more in extreme cases. In order to give you an example of how this might play out in the real-world, allow me to provide you with an example. A few years back I knew a BB’r who decided to add insulin into his program. Without taking the time to fully educate himself, he began with a fairly normal dose of 12 IU, which was administered in conjunction with his post-workout shake containing about 50 grams of carbs and 25 grams protein. At this time his insulin sensitivity was within the normal range, which was evidenced by the fact that this shake was barely sufficient for avoiding mild hypoglycemia.

Fast-forward 3 years and this same BB’r was now injecting 60 IU with his post-workout shake (225 IU per day, total), without experiencing any additional drop in blood sugar. His response to insulin had become so compromised that he now required 5X his previous dose to provide the same effect. Remember, insulin is what drives nutrients such as glucose and aminos acids into muscle cells, where they are used for growth & repair. If the body is not able to effectively deliver these nutrients into the muscle cell due to insulin-induced insulin resistance, then it defeats the entire purpose of using insulin in the first place. Sadly, too many BB’rs fail to understand this simple concept and continue to believe that total dose is all that matters when attempting to facilitate muscle growth.

When seeking to maximize muscle gains, our focus should not be on using as much insulin as possible. Rather, our priority should be extracting maximum benefit from the insulin we do use without jeopardizing insulin sensitivity. Of course, some individuals may need to adjust their dose upward or downward based on their predisposition for adding bodyfat, but this is a secondary consideration. While a glucose tolerance test is the only foolproof method of determining if an insulin program is suitable for maintaining insulin sensitivity, as a general rule, I have found that sensitivity will begin to deteriorate when administering insulin (Humulin R) more than about 5-6 times per week (about 25-30 hours of total activity).

Most BB’rs simply accept these inherent limitations or deal with the consequences of abuse without considering their options, but there is a better way. Through the concomitant use of insulin sensitizers, which decrease/prevent insulin resistance by improving the body’s response to exogenous/endogenous, we are able to maximize insulin efficiency. Of all the compounds available within this class, Metformin (Glucophage in the U.S.) is the most widely prescribed and perhaps the most effective. Originally formulated decades ago, it wasn’t until around the turn of the century that it became the #1 most prescribed insulin sensitizer in the world. There are very few side effects associated with the use of Metformin. Benefits include an improved lipid profile, possible fat loss, and obviously, improved blood sugar regulation. Typical dosing is 500 mg, taken 2-3X per day.

For those individuals who refuse to reduce insulin their usage in accordance with more reasonable guidelines, Metformin therapy can prove invaluable, potentially preventing the individual from progressing to the point of clinical insulin resistance or beyond. While there are other prescription sensitizers that can be used in conjunction with Metformin to great effect (e.g. Pioglitazone), I usually suggest avoiding them in all but the most extreme cases, as liver toxicity and cardiovascular side effects tend to plaque this particular group of medications.

For this reason, I generally recommend that Metformin be combined with various OTC supplements, such as alpha lipoic acid, which has been shown in clinical studies to significantly increase insulin sensitivity compared to placebo. Don’t underestimate the potency of this drug-like supplement (it has attained prescription status in some countries), especially when paired with Metformin. ALA also displays strong antioxidant activity, qualifying it as multi-purpose supplement and promoting overall good health. A dosage of 600-900 mg/day, taken in 2-3 equally divided dosages, is ideal. Although we won’t discuss them all here, there are several more OTC sensitizers backed by clinical research, which range from mild to moderate in effectiveness.

By taking the steps described above, you will be afforded a decisive advantage over many of your peers, as long-term success with insulin depends on health maintenance, namely insulin sensitivity. Remember, keeping your body functioning optimally when using insulin is not a luxury, but a necessity if you want to capitalize on the full benefits it has to offer. With insulin, sometimes less is more.