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Insulin and Muscle Growth: What's the Connection?

With everything that's going on in the world today, we're sure you're familiar with insulin when it comes to blood sugar, diabetes, weight loss, and all of that. But did you know that insulin plays a very specific role in muscle growth? It's true! Today, we're going to take a closer look at what that role is - and whether that role is good or bad for your health.

The Impact of Insulin on Muscle Growth

There are two schools of thought in the bodybuilding community when it comes to building muscle: those who believe you can bulk and cut at the same time, and those who scream and screech angrily at such perceived blasphemy. For those who don't believe that it's possible to bulk and cut at the same time, they struggle to manage a very complicated love-hate relationship with insulin. They love it when they're trying to build muscle because of its anabolic, anti-catabolic nature. But they hate insulin with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns when it comes time to cut calories, lean out, and get the vascular, shredded physique they dream of.


On the other side of that fence, the bodybuilders who believe that you can bulk and cut at the same time have a very different relationship with insulin. Their interaction with this hormone requires deftness and balance, not unlike two dancers trying to perform the perfect Tango. They argue that we know just enough about how insulin reacts in the body to be able to Control it. Their theory is that if bodybuilders consume certain macronutrients in a precise way, they can take advantage of insulin's anabolic benefits While also staying lean or - gasp - getting leaner!

So who's right, and who's wrong? That's a good question. In order to answer it, though, you need to take a closer look at how muscle development happens and how insulin influences it. More on that below.

Do You Need Insulin for Muscle Growth?

This is the crux of another heated debate within the bodybuilding community. Many gym bros insist that you cannot build muscle without insulin. Others are more like "nah, brah, it ain't that serious." So who should you believe? Well, that depends on how big of a science nerd you are, we guess.

Those on the pro-insulin side of the debate like to quote the Guyton and Hall Textbook of Medical Physiology which says: "In some unexplained way insulin 'turns on' the ribosomal Machinery. In the absence of insulin, the ribosomes simply stopped working, almost as if insulin operate as an 'on-off' mechanism." After reading that quote out loud, many of pro-insulin bros like to slam the textbook shut, declare victory, shove the nearest scrawny kid into the nearest locker, and walk away with their fists in the air as 80s music plays in the distance. But it turns out there's a little more to it than that.

The reason this is such a heated debate is because of the ever-growing prevalence of low carb bodybuilders in the fitness community. But according to the pro-insulin crowd, if you aren't eating carbs, you can't spike your insulin. If you can't spike your insulin, then you can't get those cellular Oompa-Loompas (more commonly referred to as "ribosomes") to start synthesizing your protein. So you can't make any sick gains without the carbs, bro. At least, that's what some say.

But there's a little something called IGF-1 which throws a wrench into this theory. Those first three letters are short for "insulin-like growth factor" which - bear with us on this, because the logic can be a little hard to follow - is a hormone which acts like insulin in order to grow tissues in your body. We know, we know. It sounds crazy. But this hormone actually does exist, as do successful low-carb bodybuilders. While it may take a little bit longer to synthesize protein and build muscle in a hypoinsulinemic environment, it is certainly not impossible. And it may even be a healthy alternative to growing muscle quickly through targeted, carb-fueled insulin spikes.

Short-term Gains Vs the Long-term Health Consequences

Are you sacrificing your long-term health for the sake of quick, short-term gains? Some people may think so. In order to build lots of muscle quickly, most bodybuilders eat high carbohydrate meals several times a day because it is constantly spiking their insulin levels. In athletic individuals who lift a lot of weight and spend a lot of time in the gym, this builds muscle. But what does it do in inactive people with sedentary lives? According to medical experts, it causes something called type 2 diabetes.

So how come professional bodybuilders aren't diagnosed with type 2 diabetes left and right? Well, maybe they are, and they're good at keeping it a secret. But the most common explanation is that - in the short-term, at least - their relationship with blood glucose and insulin stays relatively healthy because most of the carbohydrates they're eating get absorbed and burnt quickly. They don't hang out in the bloodstream and overstay their welcome like the really sad guy who tries to stay past closing at the bar. They're in, their out, they do their job, it's done. But for people who are constantly spiking their insulin and not burning that glucose, the blood sugar lingers and causes lots of acute tissue damage. Over time, the body needs to produce more and more insulin in order to get rid of this glucose. This produces a medical phenomenon called insulin resistance.

So what happens to bodybuilders when they stop building their bodies? Unless they drastically change their diet, the insulin resistance they've built up over time chasing those gains is going to bite them in the ass harder than an anabolic steroid shot. If you don't believe us, just look at how many Biggest Loser contestants there have been who bragged about how athletic they were in high school/college and nearly a decade later weight over 300 lbs. Or maybe you've seen similar anecdotal examples in your own life? The correlation is popular enough that it's worth doing some studies and discovering whether or not there's some causation in there.

Well, there you go! There's everything you ever wanted to learn about insulin and muscle growth. No matter what your diet or exercise routine is like, we hope this provided some valuable information for you. The more information you have about health and wellness in general, the easier it will be for you to sculpt the muscular physique you want and live a happier, healthier life.