When we consume carbs, insulin is released by the pancreas in response to glucose being present in the blood. From here, it helps the glucose get into various tissues of the body such as muscle, the liver or potentially body fat.
When carbohydrate amounts are high and unmanageable, this natural process becomes a problem. The cells become non receptive to the glucose, making insulin ineffective. Result? A condition called insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is the inability of insulin to effectively rid the blood of blood glucose. When this occurs, we are at increased risk of health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.
Are you at risk?
Some of the most common risk factors for insulin resistance are:
- Being overweight
- Consuming diet chronically high in carbohydrate and refined sugar
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Chronic stress
If you are at risk, there are numerous strategies you can incorporate into your lifestyle to improve it. I highly recommend making these lifestyle changes sooner rather than later.
Opt for low GI carbs
The amount of insulin produced and released into the circulation is dependent on the amount and speed at which glucose enters the bloodstream. Slowly digesting carbs means a smaller and slower insulin response (1).
For example, consuming a white bread will cause a faster and larger insulin response than consuming a whole meal bread.
Another example will be consuming whole fruit instead of fruit juice. Whole fruits are fibrous and lower GI.
Use weight training/ Fasted state cardio
As you already know weight training depletes muscles of the glycogen storage making them more sensitive to the available glucose which increases glucose uptake.
In addition, weight training is the most potent stimulus to increase skeletal muscle GLUT4 receptors (these are transporters within cells that allow glucose to enter the cell, independent of insulin). This may partly contribute to improved insulin uptake and enhanced muscle glycogen storage following weight training (2).
Weight training is also proven to help with better fat loss which in turn improves insulin sensitivity.
While exercising on empty stomach does not suit everyone, it can be a great way to improve your insulin sensitivity if it does suit you. Fasted exercise can aid insulin sensitivity. The body taps into the muscle glycogen stores when you are training fasted, due to this muscles are much more receptive to the glucose uptake which in turn improves insulin function.
While both aerobic and resistance training increase insulin sensitivity, combining both in your routine appears to be most effective (3).
If you do tolerate fasted exercises, add 30-45 minutes of fasted cardio at least 3 times a week.
Improved sleep is a very obvious way to improve not only insulin sensitivity but overall health and wellbeing. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation caused a significant reduction of insulin sensitivity and increased risk of type 2 diabetes (4). Aim for the quality of sleep not just the duration as that is more important. Find ways you can optimize sleep and reap the benefits it has to offer.
Use cinnamon/Vinegar or supplement
Studies have shown that ingestion of cinnamon helps insulin do a better job of removing glucose from the blood more effectively (5,6).
In addition, cinnamon slows down the rate the carbohydrates are digested, meaning blood sugar rises slowly (6,7).
You can use cinnamon in your daily cooking or take a supplement containing cinnamon prior to a carbohydrate-heavy meal.
Some studies have indicated that ingestion of vinegar, along with carbohydrates can actually improve insulin sensitivity for a wide range of people, even those with Type 2 Diabetes (8). Interestingly this works best on overweight or diabetic individuals.
You can add vinegar in salads as dressing, drink it straight or take it as a supplement (capsules).
- Radulian, G., Rusu, E., Dragomir, A., & Posea, M. (2009). Metabolic effects of low glycaemic index diets. Nutrition journal, 8(1), 5.
- Richter, E. A., & Hargreaves, M. (2013). Exercise, GLUT4, and skeletal muscle glucose uptake. Physiological reviews, 93(3), 993-1017.
- AbouAssi, H., Slentz, C. A., Mikus, C. R., Tanner, C. J., Bateman, L. A., Willis, L. H., ... & Huffman, K. M. (2015). The effects of aerobic, resistance, and combination training on insulin sensitivity and secretion in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT: a randomized trial. Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(12), 1474-1482.
- Shan, Z., Ma, H., Xie, M., Yan, P., Guo, Y., Bao, W., ... & Liu, L. (2015). Sleep duration and risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Diabetes care, 38(3), 529-537.
- Jarvill-Taylor, K. J., Anderson, R. A., & Graves, D. J. (2001). A hydroxychalcone derived from cinnamon functions as a mimetic for insulin in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 20(4), 327-336.
- Shihabudeen, H. M. S., Priscilla, D. H., & Thirumurugan, K. (2011). Cinnamon extract inhibits α-glucosidase activity and dampens postprandial glucose excursion in diabetic rats. Nutrition & metabolism, 8(1), 46.
- Adisakwattana, S., Lerdsuwankij, O., Poputtachai, U., Minipun, A., & Suparpprom, C. (2011). Inhibitory activity of cinnamon bark species and their combination effect with acarbose against intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 66(2), 143-148.
- Mitrou, P., Petsiou, E., Papakonstantinou, E., Maratou, E., Lambadiari, V., Dimitriadis, P., … & Dimitriadis, G. (2015). The role of acetic acid on glucose uptake and blood flow rates in the skeletal muscle in humans with impaired glucose tolerance. European journal of clinical nutrition, 69(6), 734.