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Carbohydrates, The Insulin Response & Its Role In Bodybuilding

Posted on June 6, 2018

Carbohydrates, The Insulin Response & Its Role In BodybuildingDividerimage

Many athletes understand the importance of the inclusion of quality protein into their diet to support muscular adaptation and overall well-being. Carbohydrates, however, are often overlooked, and sometimes, avoided altogether due to health concerns. If after your workout you feel fatigued, unmotivated and heavy legged, you are most likely in a carbohydrate depleted state. Carbs are important to fit into your diet if you are working out as they help to stabilise blood sugar levels, help digestion, boost endurance, combat infections, aid muscle growth and repair, keep your workout temperature regulated, and boost your mood. Carbohydrates are actually the preferred fuel source for the human body and are incredibly important to performance and recovery, alongside protein.


For a bodybuilder maintaining an anabolic state is of paramount importance, as it governs how muscle is able to develop and adapt to your exercise. Inulin is one of the major hormones involved in creating an anabolic state. Research shows that insulin is a direct inhibitor of muscle protein breakdown, which helps us to keep our muscle size high. This was reported in Diabetologia in 2016. After a meal, or a protein shake, or ingesting essential amino acids, insulin also then becomes directly involved in the building of muscle tissue as well. Not bad for one hormone- it can build and reduce breakdown at the same time.


Maintaining a healthy insulin response is also very important. And this is one of the reasons many people are trying to avoid carbohydrates these days, instead relying on protein and fats as fuel sources. These types of diets are important for specific conditions, one of which is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance, also known as prediabetes, is a condition in which the cells begin to lose their responsiveness to this hormone. As a result, the pancreas has to produce more and more insulin in order to keep the blood sugar under control. Eventually, insulin is unable to do its job correctly and blood sugar levels begin to rise, as is the case in type II diabetes. So, as a bodybuilder, it is important to also keep insulin functioning with some potency if you want to maximise the anabolic and anti-catabolic signals that it can naturally deliver. Here are just a few of the discovered nutrients and herbal medicines that have been shown to help combat insulin resistance:

Lipoic Acid



Gymnema sylvestre

Cinnamomum cassia

Bitter melon



Eating the correct nutrients is important to maintaining and benefiting from insulin. Consuming enough quality carbohydrates, alongside protein and beneficial fats, is incredibly important for muscle growth during the building phase. The release of insulin from the pancreas is stimulated by the consumption of carbohydrates. Insulin is dispersed throughout the body to specific receptor sites, which in turn allows for the successful absorption of nutrients, such as glucose and amino acids.


All carbohydrates are converted into glucose with the exception of fibre, which is the body's preferred fuel source. Glycogen, which is found in skeletal muscle tissue and the liver, is composed of long chains of glucose units, much like a starch. Glycogen is simply a storage form of glucose. When we eat a carbohydrate food, our blood glucose (sugar) levels increase, which can then be used for immediate energy, or stored as glycogen as a result of a process called glycogenesis. If the body has more than the amount needed for immediate use or storage as glycogen it is turned into fat.


Glycogen is a form of energy which is easily accessible. It is the energy source most frequently used in exercise, though the phosphocreatine and beta-oxidation pathways are also quite active, depending on the form of exercise. As you well know, we need plenty of energy during a workout, unless that workout consists of a nap. If you have ever experienced the major energy dip called 'hitting the wall', sometimes boosting up the blood sugar can be helpful here.  Consuming carbohydrates before your workout can also help to prevent this, and can also lead to more productive and longer-lasting workouts. Trying to power through a workout with low blood sugar can be difficult and ineffective.


A good rule to remember is that the main functions of a carbohydrate are to provide energy, while the main functions of protein are to promote growth and body structure. Carbohydrates play a positive role in muscle development, through not only fueling exercise, but also leading to greater insulin release. Insulin not only allows glucose to be taken up by the muscle cell, but also amino acids, like the tripeptide creatine. This is why so many people like to stack their creatine with sugars, as this creates an insulin release, allowing the muscle to uptake more creatine.



Training with carbohydrates, literally-

bundles of rice at harvest time.

Introducing a pre and post workout routine, which includes carbohydrates, helps to increase muscle protein anabolism and reduce breakdown. This coupled with the benefits including stabilised sugar levels and raised energy levels indicate that carbohydrates should not be overlooked. The production and regulation of insulin is governed by your carbohydrate intake. Protein may be an incredibly important nutrient for any athlete, but needs to be used with other nutrients for the full effect. Carbohydrates help to regulate how nutrients are distributed, as a result of the production of insulin. Ensuring you don't burn fat or protein, but use glucose as your fuel, results in a more controlled performance and improved results.


So, should we all start tearing packets of 100% pure dextrose open and chugging them down every ten minutes? Well, that’s not recommended. Remember, we don’t want to eat too much or too little, as both take us away from the most benefits. Ideally, stick to low glycemic index carbohydrates with meals, such as sweet potato, kipfler potatoes, wild rice and brown basmati rice, and have your high glycemic index carbohydrate, like pure dextrose powder, before, during and after exercise. After all, too much of a good thing, and we will slowly, over time, push ourselves towards insulin resistance.