By Josh Hodnik Iron Magazine
Don’t let insulin resistance turn a bulking cycle into a fat storing cycle! Bulking diets, where a surplus of calories is consumed for size and strength have existed for about as long the barbell. With the way most of these diets are followed, the bodybuilder often stores excess body fat along with the muscle mass gained. The storage of body fat is obviously a result of consuming too many calories, but gaining an abnormal amount of fat is probably as a result of insulin resistance setting in.
Insulin is a storage hormone, and it also transports nutrients to cells. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are converted by the body into glucose. The glucose circulates the bloodstream as is used by all the cells in the body. Insulin stores the extra glucose that isn’t used as fuel. The body has a limited capacity on how much glucose it can hold, and once it reaches the limit, the extra glucose is stored as body fat. When food is digested and the insulin that was released to regulate glucose has left, the hormone glucogen begins its job. Glucogen helps to bring out the energy potential in the food consumed and the food stored in fat cells. Excess insulin in the body, due to stress or overeating, hinders glucogen.
Once insulin has been released in excess levels enough times, the organs and muscle tissue will defend itself by attempting to shield against insulin. When this happens, insulin can’t get enough glucose into the organs and muscle tissue, and this results in the excess blood sugar being stored as fat. As a result, excess pounds in the form of fat cells, especially around the waist, sets off a series of events that are part of the body’s inflammatory response. These fat cells secrete cytokines, which causes chronic inflammation, which helps to keep the insulin resistance cycle going.
Many people who start a bulking diet usually take one of two approaches. One would be to consume as many calories as possible in an attempt to gain large amounts of muscle mass in a short period of time. When a person gorges with excess calories, the insulin floodgates are opened and subsequent insulin resistance occurs. This creates an environment that favors fat storage, and the bodybuilder will often gain more body fat than muscle. This leaves you with the dilemma of trying to lose the body fat that was gained while trying to spare the newly acquired muscle. Now that insulin resistance has occurred, and extreme deficit in calories will most likely have to occur in order to shed the body fat gained while bulking. Starving the body in this manner will lead to muscle loss. This will leave the bodybuilder discouraged after spending so much time and effort attempting to add more muscle with not much to show for once the fat is stripped off.
The second most common approach to bulking is to consume a limited amount of calories. The calorie count will not only be limited, it will consist of a certain ratio of macronutrients. This type of bulking diet requires much more work and discipline. Attention to detail is required in buying food and preparing your meals. This approach to bulking appears to be a better choice, but it still has faults. Since the calorie increase is not as extreme as the bulking diet, many believe this diet can be carried out for longer periods of time without large amounts of fat being gained. The first 4-6 weeks of bulking have proven to be effective. Lean muscle is often gained without much fat storage. Beyond this time frame, many people will feel like they have hit a wall, as progress slows or stops completely. Again, insulin resistance is the culprit. The consumption of higher amounts of carbohydrates and saturated fats for an extended period will cause you to become more resistant to insulin, resulting in more fat storage and less muscle growth. Not as much body fat will accumulate with this approach to bulking in comparison to the first approach, but it is still heading in the wrong direction as far as body composition is concerned.
This bulking phase can be followed by a fat-loss phase, but deficit in calories can result in muscle loss and not much fat-loss. The good news is that insulin resistance can be reversed over time with proper diet. Even better, insulin resistance can be avoided altogether while bulking.
In order to gain quality muscle, without fat storage, insulin sensitivity needs to be to be high. Insulin sensitivity is the opposite of insulin resistance. When insulin sensitivity is high, less insulin is needed to store carbohydrates. With high insulin sensitivity, insulin levels are low and growth hormone levels are high. This is reversed with insulin resistance. Insulin is a fat storage hormone and growth hormone releases fatty acids in an environment of low insulin.
Insulin resistance can be reversed, and a year round plan of action can be taken that does not cause insulin flooding and subsequent insulin resistance, but still promotes muscle growth. The body will usually make adjustments to a caloric increase or decrease after approximately 30 days. This is why progress in the form of fat loss or muscle gains will slow considerably or come to a halt. The best way to avoid this is by avoiding insulin resistance, and this can be accomplished by cycling caloric intake long before insulin resistance has a chance to set in. For bulking purposes, a full cycle would be 3 weeks, with 2 weeks of higher calories followed by 1 week of restricted calories. The cycle will start over following the 1-week of calorie restriction.
The following is an example of how calorie cycling should be followed for bulking:
Calories: 20 to 25 per pound of body weight. It is advised to start with 20 per pound, and only move up if progress slows or stops.
Protein: 30% total calories
Carbohydrates: 50% total calories
Fats: 20% total calories
Calories: 12 per pound of body weight
Protein: 55% total calories
Carbohydrates: 20% total calories
Fats: 25% total calories
All chemicals that the body produces are manufactured with good intentions, but when they are over produced and released into the body, they can wreck havoc. This is the case with insulin and the result of insulin resistance. Caloric cycling will keep insulin sensitivity high while avoiding insulin resistance. This will allow you to gain muscle without fat storage.