If you’re a regular here at Plato Weight Management, you’ll have seen us often referring to the role that insulin plays in weight management. However, insulin may also have effects on muscle growth, but not without risks.
Therefore, in the blog post, we’ll discuss:
- What is insulin
- Pharmaceutical insulin risks
- Insulin supplementation
- How insulin may enhance muscle growth
What is insulin?
Let’s start with a refresher on what exactly insulin is.
Your pancreas organ contains a group of cells known as islets of Langerhans, which contain beta cells which are what produce the peptide hormone insulin.
Its main role is to let cells uptake and store sugar (glucose) from your bloodstream while encouraging cells to uptake amino acids (proteins) and lipids (fats) too.
Additionally, the hormone stops stores of fat, protein and glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate) from being broken down.
In people who don’t have diabetes, insulin will be primarily secreted when there is more glucose in your blood than usual, like, directly after a meal when you have consumed carbohydrates because this is the nutrient where glucose comes from primarily.
The reason why I say “In people who don’t have diabetes” is because if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you’ll have a problem concerning insulin.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune response that targets and impedes insulin production in the pancreas.
On the other hand, in Type 2 diabetes, insulin is still made in the pancreas, but the body’s cells become insulin resistant (meaning the cells do not optimally uptake blood sugar as they should).
So, in diabetes, blood glucose levels are high (hyperglycemia) because cells are unable to optimally take up glucose.
This is troublesome for health as if hyperglycemia is not treated, it can damage organs, blood vessels, nerves and tissues.
Consequently, this can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as eye and kidney damage.
Therefore, in order for diabetics to ensure their cells are taking in enough glucose for usable energy to stay healthy and reach a better blood glucose level, they usually receive a prescription for pharmaceutical insulin or alternative medication from a medical professional.
There are several types of pharmaceutical insulin on the market today, which differentiate depending on their onset, peak and duration times, including:
- Rapid-acting: Onset = <15 minutes, peak = 30-90 mins, duration = 2-4 hrs
- Short acting: Onset = 30 mins, peak = 2-3 hrs, duration = 3-6 hrs
- Intermediate-acting: Onset = 2-4 hrs, peak = 4-12 hrs, duration = 12-18 hrs
- Long-acting: Onset = Several hrs, peak = minimal, duration = >24 hrs
- Ultra long-acting: Onset = 6 hrs, peak = none, duration = >36 hrs
- Biphasic: Contains both long-acting and short-acting insulin for certain cases of diabetes.
Therefore, mainly it is diabetics who use pharmaceutical insulin for health, although some bodybuilders use it to support muscle growth too, which can be harmful.
If you would like to read about the differences between tennis elbow and Golfer’s elbow, please follow the link here.
Pharmaceutical insulin risks
Unlike diabetics who first need the go-ahead from their doctor in order to be able to purchase pharmaceutical insulin, bodybuilders often purchase it illegally as doctors won’t prescribe insulin for them because of the associated risks it has on health.
In contrast to diabetics who use pharmaceutical insulin to reduce the negative impacts on health that come from hyperglycemia, there are negative impacts on health that come from too little glucose in the blood (hypoglycemia) also and is the main potential risk associated with pharmaceutical insulin.
While diabetics frequently require pharmaceutical insulin to help reduce their blood sugar, those who aren’t diabetic generate enough insulin and therefore have the desired range of blood glucose already generally.
So, if you aren’t diabetic but you use pharmaceutical insulin to increase muscle gain, this will result in a higher likelihood of running too low in blood glucose.
This can result in symptoms such as paleness, weakness, hunger, sleepiness and irritability.
If this does happen, one thing to do is to intake carbohydrates as the glucose will help bring your blood glucose level back to normal and accordingly alleviate these symptoms.
However, be aware that hypoglycemia is a serious condition that can also cause seizures, confusion, unconsciousness, blurred vision and in some instances, even death (Thompson, 2015).
Therefore, we strongly advise against the use of insulin for muscle gains and recommend you to contact your doctor before any use of pharmaceutical insulin.
Furthermore, be aware that you should never take insulin before going to bed.
This is extremely dangerous as it could result in a coma or, worse, death.
This is due to the fact that you would be unable to identify the symptoms of hypoglycemia noted above if it occurred while you were sleeping.
So even though we strongly advise against the use of pharmaceutical insulin, if you still decide to use it, ensure to use it during the day when you can compensate for low blood glucose with carbohydrates.
To read our blog about why we get food comas if food gives us energy, please follow the link here.
There are also insulin supplements that are on the market today, which help with insulin sensitivity (how responsive your cells are to insulin).
Still, they might come with their own associated risks also.
Further, the studies have primarily been done on diabetic individuals who have high blood glucose levels, so their effect on insulin sensitivity in people with a normal range of blood glucose remains questionable.
Here are three examples of supplements that may be beneficial for insulin sensitivity.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an organic molecule produced within the mitochondrion of all human cells, where it aids enzymes in the conversion of nutrients into energy.
Because alpha-lipoic acid is both water and fat-soluble, it may act in every cell.
This is relevant as the majority of other antioxidants are either water- or fat-soluble, with vitamin D being only water-soluble while vitamin E being only fat-soluble.
Alpha-lipoic acid is only produced in trace quantities by humans.
As a result, some people turn to specific meals or supplements to maximize their levels.
Alpha-lipoic acid is available from red meat but is also found in plant foods such as broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.
However, it’s noteworthy that supplements can contain up to 1,000 times the amount of alpha-lipoic acid found in food (Gorąca et al., 2011).
When type 2 diabetics took Alpha-lipoic acid with their usual diabetes treatment for 24 weeks, fasting blood sugar and A1C decreased more as the quantity rose, indicating an effect on insulin sensitivity (Porasuphatana et al., 2012).
However, alpha-lipoic acid may impede hyperthyroid or hypothyroid treatment, and large quantities should be avoided if you have vitamin B1 deficiency or have trouble with alcoholism (Segermann et al., 1991; Packer et al., 1995).
Cinnamon supplements are made from cinnamon powder or an extract.
People with prediabetes who took 250 mg of cinnamon extract prior to breakfast and supper for 12 weeks had an 8.4 percent reduction in blood sugar compared to those who didn’t (Ziegenfuss et al., 2006).
Another 12-week study by Rafehi et al. (2012) found that type 2 diabetics who took 360 mg of cinnamon extract before breakfast had a 14 percent reduction in blood sugar compared to those who didn’t.
Medagama (2015) suggests that this decrease in blood glucose seen may be due to cinnamon allowing cells to respond better to insulin.
However, the Cassia kind of cinnamon has more coumarin, a chemical that can be harmful to your liver in large quantities. Alternatively, Ceylon cinnamon has a low coumarin content, so it may be less harmful.
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Magnesium contributes to regular blood pressure, healthy bones, and a stable heartbeat.
A systematic review by Morais et al. (2017) found that providing magnesium supplements to healthy persons or those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes for 6–24 weeks helped lower blood glucose quantities when compared to people who didn’t receive magnesium.
In addition, each 50 mg increase in magnesium consumption resulted in a 3% drop in blood glucose in individuals who started the study with low magnesium levels. So it may be said that Magnesium is involved in normal insulin secretion and insulin action in your body’s tissues.
However, make sure to keep clear of magnesium oxide, which can increase the chance of diarrhea. Magnesium supplements may interact with several medications too. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
But again, make sure to consult your doctor before intaking any new supplements you are unfamiliar with.
If you would like to read our blog post about the reality of Crohn’s disease and how to help it, please follow the link here.
How insulin may enhance muscle growth
But exactly how might insulin help increase muscle mass stores?
Well, insulin is an anabolic hormone, meaning it centres around growth and building, just like estrogen, growth hormone and testosterone.
So apart from helping to use blood sugar for energy, it also helps with muscle protein synthesis.
One study in 2006 by Fujita et al. found that individuals who received intermediate-acting insulin supplementation enhanced muscle protein synthesis while reducing the amount of muscle being broke down.
In comparison, Abdulla et al. (2015) indicate that as long as you consume adequate quantities of protein daily, insulin is optional for muscle growth.
This means that insulin may only facilitate muscle growth rather than having a direct effect on it.
It’s noteworthy that regardless of whether someone uses insulin or not for muscle growth, the adequate-protein intake needs to be at the forefront of any muscle-building program (Bell et al., 2005).
In addition to insulin’s influence on muscle protein synthesis, it may also contribute to muscle growth due to its promotion of carb storage.
When trying to build muscle, you’ll probably be aware of the importance of loading up on carbs before a workout to fuel your muscles with glycogen, your ready-state energy.
Likewise, following a workout, it’s important to replenish these used glycogen stores with carbs in order to aid the growth of the muscles you’ve just exercised.
So, another way people may make use of insulin is by administering it post-workout, as it may help to increase this glycogen storage to support muscle protein synthesis even further.
Insulin is a pancreatic anabolic hormone that is necessary for blood sugar regulation.
Pharmaceutical insulin is frequently used by diabetics whose cells can’t uptake enough glucose, as insulin helps with this. Usage of insulin by bodybuilders is also frequent since it may boost muscular growth and promote glycogen storage.
However, insulin administration is associated with a number of significant health concerns, the most serious of which is hypoglycemia. As a result, we highly advise against taking it for muscle growth.
Eating a mix of whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables is the best and safest approach to maintain balanced insulin levels throughout the day.
In fact, the only time you should intentionally raise your insulin levels is after an exercise.
If you are interested in undertaking one of our evidence-based and results-backed Plato Weight Management programs, please make sure to check what program may be suitable for you at this link or contact us here!
You can find out what some of our previous clients had to say about the program on our success stories page!
Thompson, A. E. (2015). Hypoglycemia. JAMA, 313(12), 1284. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2015.0876
Abdulla, H., Smith, K., Atherton, P. J., & Idris, I. (2015). Role of insulin in the regulation of human skeletal muscle protein synthesis and breakdown: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia, 59(1), 44–55. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-015-3751-0
Fujita, S., Rasmussen, B. B., Cadenas, J. G., Grady, J. J., & Volpi, E. (2006). Effect of insulin on human skeletal muscle protein synthesis is modulated by insulin-induced changes in muscle blood flow and amino acid availability. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 291(4). https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00271.2005
Bell, J. A., Fujita, S., Volpi, E., Cadenas, J. G., & Rasmussen, B. B. (2005). Short-term insulin and nutritional energy provision do not stimulate muscle protein synthesis if blood amino acid availability decreases. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 289(6). https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00170.2005
Gorąca, A., Huk-Kolega, H., Piechota, A., Kleniewska, P., Ciejka, E., & Skibska, B. (2011). Lipoic acid – biological activity and therapeutic potential. Pharmacological Reports, 63(4), 849–858. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1734-1140(11)70600-4
Porasuphatana, S., Suddee, S., Nartnampong, A., Konsil, J., Harnwong, B., & Santaweesuk, A. (2012). Glycemic and oxidative status of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus following oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid: a randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled study. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 21(1), 12–21.
Segermann, J., Hotze, A., Ulrich, H., & Rao, G. S. (1991). Effect of alpha-lipoic acid on the peripheral conversion of thyroxine to triiodothyronine and on serum lipid-, protein- and glucose levels. Arzneimittel-Forschung, 41(12), 1294–1298.
Packer, L., Witt, E. H., & Tritschler, H. J. (1995). Alpha-lipoic acid as a biological antioxidant. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 19(2), 227–250. https://doi.org/10.1016/0891-5849(95)00017-r
Ziegenfuss, T. N., Hofheins, J. E., Mendel, R. W., Landis, J., & Anderson, R. A. (2006). Effects of a Water-Soluble Cinnamon Extract on Body Composition and Features of the Metabolic Syndrome in Pre-Diabetic Men and Women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-3-2-45
Rafehi, H., Ververis, K., Balcerczyk, A., Ziemann, M., Ooi, J., Hu, S., Kwa, F., Loveridge, S. J., Georgiadis, G. T., El-Osta, A., & Karagiannis, T. (2012). Investigation of the biological properties of Cinnulin PF in the context of diabetes: mechanistic insights by genome-wide mRNA-Seq analysis. Pathobiology of Aging & Age-related Diseases, 2(1), . https://doi.org/10.3402/pba.v2i0.11905
Medagama, A. B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutrition Journal, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-015-0098-9
Morais, J. B., Severo, J. S., de Alencar, G. R., de Oliveira, A. R., Cruz, K. J., Marreiro, D. do, Freitas, B. de, de Carvalho, C. M., Martins, M. do, & Frota, K. de. (2017). Effect of magnesium supplementation on insulin resistance in humans: A systematic review. Nutrition, 38, 54–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2017.01.009