Insulin and Fat Loss. A Simple Explanation.

August 5, 2008

If you are like me, you sometimes “zone out” a bit when articles talk about things like insulin. It reminds me of reading a textbook in college or high school, where your mind wanders while reading a page. You have to go back and re-read that page to understand the concepts. It doesn’t help to read the words if you don’t pay attention to what is being talked about. I’m going to attempt to write a very simple, straightforward article on insulin and how it effects fat loss.
sexy teacher
[Students Pay Attention! The teacher has arrived.]

A Simple Explanation of Insulin

Insulin is an important hormone in your body. It is at a higher level after you eat and a lower level when you are fasting. The simplest explanation…insulin helps store the nutrients from the foods you eat.

A High Level of Insulin = A High Level of Storage

Want to gain a lot of body fat? Then you will want to keep your insulin levels high all day long! Eat lots of food all day long and you will insure high insulin levels. Another way to insure high insulin levels is to eat foods like candy and simple carbs. This increases your blood sugar level quickly and as a response, you body releases a large volume of insulin. Then it is time to store that food as body fat.

A Lower Insulin Level = The Ability to Lose Body Fat

Your body cannot burn body fat if your insulin levels are too high. You can exercise and do everything else right, but if your insulin levels are high…you will not burn body fat. The best way to insure low insulin levels is either by eating foods with a low Glycemic Index or fasting…not eating food at all for a period of time.

Note: I just wanted to make this post short and simple. I have a more detailed post on insulin and low GI foods here —-> High Insulin Levels Stop Fat Loss and Cause Weight Gain

Just a Bit More Info About Fasting

I’ve been communicating with Brad Pilon a bit about his brilliant book, Eat Stop Eat. He has done an excellent job laying out a really simple plan on fasting just twice per week to lose body fat consistently. It uses a strategy to keep insulin levels low for 24 hours at a time. This diet is a lot more realistic and doable than the Warrior Diet. Go over to his site and opt-in to his free newsletter. If you like that, you will really enjoy his book.

Important Message: Although this site has received 25+ million visitors, I am starting from scratch and abandoning it. This site is dated and old school looking, terrible to read on mobile, etc.

It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.

Starting Over...R.I.P. Fitness Black Book!


Thanks for reading all these years!



 

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Helder August 5, 2008 at 6:05 pm

A simple explanation so that everyone can understand, that’s one of the many good things about you and your blog Rusty, you keep things simple, some so called gurus like to pretend things are very complex and that only them can explain and guide people. You simply put things the way they are.

Yash August 5, 2008 at 11:47 pm

Rusty,
you are truly a genius, or at the very least a man who has done his research which i appreciate since now i don’t ahve to go looking for it myself =P i’ve been using your carb depleting strategy for 4-5 hours before my workouts and combining it with 2-3 HIIT sessions a week and i’ve lost almost 10 punds in 2 weeks. [i’m almost a little concerned since i feel like some of it might be muscle tissue, but i’ve been doing weights and eating a diet somewhat similar to the high protein low carb diet mark sisson talks about so i’m most likely maintaining my muscle mass]

it’s truly incredible what learning a few key things that aren’t out there in the mainstream can do for you. actually a lot of these things are out there but you just don’t know what to believe until you find a site or a person you trust. and the second you wrote a post about the benefits of beer and having fun in college, i knew you were that guy haha

Thanks for all your help and keep it up
Yash

Yash August 5, 2008 at 11:49 pm

also i forgot to ask, whats the best way to make sure i’m not losing muscle while losing fat? and as long as i give my body proteins at the right times [ie after workouts and before bed and such] i should still be able to build muscle while losing weight right?

eric August 6, 2008 at 1:15 am

hi rusty!
does it mean you are not on warrior diet in the moment? is it really that hard for you to follow? i am doing it now most of the time and i adore it! i do not put on seroius weight although i can not perform any cardio because of an operation on my foot…i am very excited about this diet..but i have to confess that i do have a bad conscience sometimes, because i allow myself the luxury of adding cereals to my night meal…i really get skeptical about this diet…..there you has to be a boost of insulin in my bloodsugar in the evening after my eating..or does it not has any bad consequence on fat loss because there is just one increase of insulin per diem?!

Chris August 6, 2008 at 2:21 am

This is a great post, its sometimes easy to forget why we want to keep insulin levels low which is especially important for those of us not so lucky genetically who cannot afford to have high levels of insulin flowing around the body.
Eat stop eat is great thanks for the link.

karie August 6, 2008 at 6:51 am

great article. it is so easy to understand. i always read the old way of eating 6 meals a day to keep insulin stable so you don’t store fat. the article you posted explains why that method wasn’t working for me. thanks

romesaz August 6, 2008 at 11:23 am

I wish I had teachers like the one above 🙁

*drool*

BurritoKid August 6, 2008 at 2:34 pm

So what happens to someone who eats a lot of white bread, sugar, simple carbs but is in a calorie deficiency? for extended periods of time too.

AA August 7, 2008 at 2:11 pm

My main problem with the Warrior diet is it’s anti-pork bias. I eat a lot of pork and stay lean and toned. Traditional Okinawan diet uses a ton of fatty pork and they were the longest living people until they got addicted to fast food.

People are getting fat and coming down with diabetes because of the increased consumption of wheat and sugar and decrease in dairy and fatty meat. The latest food production statistics bear this out. Check out this very interesting New York times colourful analysis of the American dinner plate.

romesaz August 8, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Hey AA,

Isn’t the only reason pork consumption is usually recommended to be limited due to all the crap they feed the pigs? i.e. tons of hormones and such? I don’t think that’s to do with specifically the fat content of the meat, but rather just how it’s grown in most parts of the world.
I’m sure if ‘organic’ pork is considered, it wouldn’t be an issue.

The same can be said about most meats, I just think it may be due to more chemicals and such used on pigs.
Do the Okinawan people mass farm pigs as they are in say North America? Or is it a more natural, dare i say, organic(for lack of a better word) process?

Feel free to correct me. I’m not 100% sure, just something that i’ve read/heard on sites such as this, so any info is appreciated.

AA August 8, 2008 at 6:27 pm

I got this from Ori’ blog:

Some animal fat is fine while certain animal fat is very bad. Certain vegetable fat is very bad while raw dairy fat is good. As for eating meat, here are the facts: pork is bad for you. Sorry about that. Pork has the highest concentration of naturally occurring estrogen.link

I’m interested in longevity more than a Hollywood look and suspect that natural estrogen may not be detrimental in this respect. Of course organic pigs that have been well fed and well treated would be best to eat as their flesh is similar to that of humans – some people even have bits of pig transplanted into them.

Kevin August 8, 2008 at 8:43 pm

If people are really serious about losing weight they need to learn about insulin. Great article.

Tom Parker August 9, 2008 at 7:32 am

Nice post as always Rusty. I’ve just got one question. I’ve recently been doing a lot of posts on the topic of diabetes. If anyone does not know about diabetes, a simple explanation is that it’s a condition where the body fails to produce sufficient insulin, causing blood sugar levels to increase greatly.

So my question is…would your approach be safe for people with diabetes? This applies in particular to type 1 diabetics who have to inject insulin? Surely it would not be safe for them to reduce their insulin levels?

admin August 9, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Helder,

People tend to skim these days on the internet. This is why I break my paragraph into short paragraphs with a bold paragraph summary ahead of that.

Yash,

The best time to eat to insure that you don’t lose muscle…while still burning body fat is about an hour after working out and again 1-2 hours after that. You are taking advantage of a window of opportunity for your body to absorb more nutrients. Some people will say to eat right after your workout. You can use that strategy once you get down to a low body fat level. As far as staying fit while partying in college…just something I believe in 🙂

eric,

I do a diet more like Eat Stop Eat…since it is a bit more flexible. Eat Stop Eat is a version of the Warrior Diet. They are both different versions of Intermittent Fasting. Both work, but Eat Stop Eat fits my lifestyle better.

Karie,

It will probably be 10 more years before the general population understands how silly the 6 meal per day method really is. That is basically eating all the time. I don’t know how people do it.

Burrtiokid,

Someone who is under a calorie deficit, but eating nothing but High GI carbs is typically “Skinny fat”.

AA,

I eat pork and other meat. I tend to eat mainly chicken, but I like pork as well. Thanks for the links to the great articles!

Tom,

I don’t like to give advice to people with diabetes, because I’m cerrtainly not an expert on it, but Ori talks about how his diet has helped people with certain types of diabetes. To me it makes sense that it would work, but I can’t say for certain.

Rusty

Will August 10, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Rusty, not to get into an argument with you, but youre off on a few things. #1 insulin does not matter as much as being in a calorie decifit when you wanna lose bodyfat. #2 most nutritionists, bodybuilders, etc know that you need to eat before an intense workout no matter what. you dont boost hgh levels if you do cardio or weight lifting on an empty stomach. i have no idea where you got this, but youre wrong my friend. eating a lil something before any kind of exercise is the right and smart thing to do. remember, food is energy. thinking that youre body is gonna burn more fat exercising on empty is misleading to say the least. you need food to give you the energy you need for intense exdercise. not to mention, doing any intense exercise on empty is gonna make you lose some muscle as well.

admin August 10, 2008 at 11:34 pm

Will,

I agree with calorie deficit being a major part of the fat loss equation, but steady insulin levels will provide even better results…plus it is just a healthier way to live.

I know that “most nutritionists and bodybuilders” believe that you need to eat before training. I completely disagree with this advice. These are myths that have been perpetuated for years. I base my advice on scientific studies, not common advice.

The body releases HGH when it is in a fasted state. It is the body’s natural mechanism to make insure that fat loss comes from body fat and not muscle mass. The are several studies where participants went up to 40 hours without losing muscle mass. These studies show that fasting increases HGH and helps the body hold on to muscle even while fasting.

The Protein-Retaining Effects of Growth Hormone During Fasting Involve Inhibition of Muscle-Protein Breakdown.

Effects of GH on protein metabolism during dietary restriction in man. Growth hormone & IGF Research 2002

admin August 11, 2008 at 12:13 am

…continued

Here is a Study on Intense Exercise Releasing HGH:

The Exercise-Induced Growth Hormone Response in Athletes.

HGH will not get released when your system is “carbed up” or your insulin level is too high. That is why I recommend doing intense exercise in a fasted state. You maximize HGH release…meaning you will burn more body fat while sparing lean muscle tissue. I have many, many, more studies that back this up.

Excerpt from Lyle McDonald’s incredible book: Stubborn Fat Solution… “GH is sensitive to diet of course, typically going up when carbohydrates are restricted to help mobilize fuel. Exercise of just about any sort raises GH as well.”

So obviously I disagree with most of the mainstream advice out there.

Rusty

BurritoKid August 11, 2008 at 12:36 am

hows that book going so far? i ordered the ultimate diet 2.0, since I’m not as lean as you are. I figure, it couldnt hurt learning some of his advanced techniques tho?

Mikey D August 14, 2008 at 9:19 pm

Hey Rusty, I’ve been in a hole in the ground recently and am a newbie to the idea of a post workout insulin spike. Looking around, I found a few postings about how blood glucose and insulin levels are highly correlated in general but not always the same, e.g. dairy significantly raises insulin while being a low GI food. Have you heard about this idea of an insulin index as opposed to the GI index (wikipedia have a few sources listed on the idea)? I ask because I’ve been eating lots of brown rice which is much lower on the insulin index than the GI index, and I’d much prefer to have a thing of yogurt instead. Also, does higher insulin response always equal better for muscle repair? In other words is it better for me to get used to jelly beans and smarties immediately after a workout then waiting to have a bowl of cornflakes or something not as high 30 min after lifting?

Mikey D August 15, 2008 at 10:15 pm

And while I’m at it…in what order do the following two things happen: 1) you stop burning fat post-workout and 2) your body will start breaking down muscle for energy? In other words, should I immediately get my insulin levels higher after lifting to get glycogen to the muscles, or should I wait some time to get an “afterburn” of fat? My understanding is that once insulin is ingested, the body will stop searching for fat to burn and hence my confusion.

My primary objective is to lose a few more % points of body fat (currently stuck around 10-11%), but I also do not want to start breaking down muscle waiting to eat. I started doing minimal calorie consumption before workouts, so I go into the gym hungry as a mother. And for the past 2 weeks I’ve been doing 2/3’s of my lift, cardio 15-20 min, finish the lift. Maybe there’s not much difference either way, but I naturally try for efficiency.

–new fan

Trevor August 26, 2008 at 7:26 pm

does GI compound?

for example, i am going to nyc on thursday, and will probably eat and insane amount of pizza because i can’t get tolerable pizza in boston….does it really matter if i have 1 or 12 slices? will the spike last longer? be harsher?

i know i don’t have to worry about one day, but i’m just curious.

thanks

admin September 5, 2008 at 12:19 am

BurritoKid,

Did you like Lyle’s book? I think all of his stuff is stellar! I’m a big fan.

Mikey D,

My physique made a huge change for the better, when I stopped eating high GI carbs right after working out. I could never get lean following that advice. To be honest, the strength training I recommend doesn’t damage the muscles anyway, so no need to replenish the glycogen stores. This method is good for someone looking to put on mass quickly, but I would avoid it after you reach the size you desire.

Trevor,

The insulin spike should be the same. Enjoy the pizza…you will be able to work it off quickly! I’ve never had New York Style Pizza. I’m a West Coast guy and from what I understand, I’m missing out bg time!

Cheers,

Rusty

Alecia September 5, 2008 at 1:58 pm

I would love your opinion on something. My goal is to get to about 12% bf. I am female 5’4″ 126lb and about 18%bf i think. Am I on the right path doing SFP in the morning(15 min HIIT followed by 20-40min steady state) then 4 days weight training in the evening 7sets 5 reps and doing eat stop eat kind of warrior style mixed in. avoiding carbs and sugar….how does all that sound? should I change something? focus on something i’m missing. Do you think this will take me a long time? Is there something I can do to be more efficient? Can’t wait for your reply! thank you

EC September 17, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Hi Rusty:

Just found your site recently, what a godsend. I know this is an old post, but I’d love your advice, in general:

I’m a lifelong runner, never struggled with my weight until recently. It’s almost as if my body has adpated to XX running and simply doesn’t want to lose fat. In fact, I’ve gained 9lbs. in the past 3 months training for a marathon. I’ve begun a twice-weekly PT program including resistance training to try the ol’ muscle confusion approach. I’m also going to give your HITT approach a go. My question is: what is the best way to break through a plateau like mine? My cardio is on-par. My diet is decent (always room for tightening). I just can’t seem to get below 20is% body fat w/o severe caloric restriction. 10-15lbs stands b/t me and my goal.

Thanks for any insights.

Brandon B December 14, 2008 at 11:22 pm

Amazing article! Insulin is THE key factor for fat loss. I hope this will inspire readers to delve a little deeper into the hormonal factor.

If anyone is interested… there is a book called, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes that gives some good information in regards to insulin and weight loss.

Rusty, I know this blog must take ALOT of your time, but you are much appreciated! You give great advice on achieving a “model” body. Keep up the good work!

admin December 16, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Brandon,

Thanks for the compliment. I just gave up TV (except for “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, “The Soup”, and “The Daily Show”) and try to assist people in getting in great shape instead. It does take time, but doesn’t feel like work. It has been rewarding beyond my expectations.

Rusty

Razzi February 9, 2009 at 5:54 pm

You are a genius Rusty. I discovered this type of workout by accident, but it works great.

Thanks for showing the scientific support. You are the man!

Mikha April 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Here’s this for whoever is interested:

The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories: by Gary Taubes

1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.

John June 2, 2009 at 9:39 pm

So I guess the question is without eating before a workout and keeping your insulin levels similar to a diabetic. You see without food your body goes into a stage of shock. Realsing a hormone known as cortisol, Cortidol feeds of the muscle in your body to prevent starvation. So the truth is your are definately losing muscle when people go on these no carb diets. once again its all about keeping homeostasis.

John June 2, 2009 at 9:56 pm

eating small amounts of carbs pre workout helps maintain a consistant level of insulin. Which in turn blocks cortisol helps you retain muscle. We all know lean muscle burns body fat. workout with extreme intensity and no carbs vs a lil bit of carbs and an intense workout. Instead of these stupid and people saying they go of science let your body determine which is healthier. I have been in body building 14yrs I did the no carb thing forever and lost mad muscle.

pjnoir July 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I have tried both diets. Still a low carber becauase of my diabetes. Warrior diet for four months and ESE for the last two. Warrior Diet seems to be easier to have a social life then ESE. It seems the day you can’t eat is the day of an ESE fast. With Warrior- if in the under-eating phrase you can still eat with colleagues. Low Carb is still the backbone of any diet.

pjnoir July 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm

John- It is LOW carb not NO carb.

Tom October 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

However i do agree with the low GI. But really people should be following the GLYCEMIC LOAD not INDEX.

Jim December 28, 2010 at 12:24 am

Let me clear up some confusion. This is in regards to John’s post. Cortisol is not released until high amounts of physical stress. Even a high intensity workout is generally not enough. However if you go into prolonged starvation, accelerated by intense workout then yes, muscle loss will result. The body naturally feeds from body fat, but the body is worried about LONG TERM survival. When the body is around 5-8% body fat, mucsles will be metabolized. Also, the body does require SMALL amounts of sugars ( for mucsles and some for the brain. Majority of brain can use ketones. ) However, those following zero carb and/or low carb will still get sugar ( excess protein consumed can slowly convert to glucose.) Extended high intensity workouts are actually against our survival methods. Those performing such activities are suggested to maintain high fat consumption to metabolize more triglycerides for enegry replacement. //PhD

no July 21, 2011 at 2:49 am

it doesn’t matter how high your insulin levels are, if you are at a caloric deficit you cannot gain fat. Conversely it doesn’t matter how low your insulin levels are, if you are at a caloric surplus (and that surplus isn’t being completely contributed to something else like muscle synthesis through getting enough protein and doing some sort of weight training) then there is no way to avoid putting on fat.

no July 21, 2011 at 2:52 am

“Mikha said:
Here’s this for whoever is interested:
The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories: by Gary Taubes
1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.
2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.
3. Sugars—sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically—are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.
4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.
7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.
8. We get fat because of an imbalance—a disequilibrium—in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.
9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.
10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.”

LOL Biggest crock I have ever read….

TRIGYY November 15, 2011 at 7:43 am

i have tried in diet with low insulin level. now, i lost my weight.. hehe.. thanks for this tips

Jeanine July 10, 2012 at 1:03 am

I would like to share some experience I learned from my husband. Before, in his running workouts, he always do it very fast and eat lots of carbo before and after the workout (he looks sugar-starved after the workout). He lose a little on overall weight but is not happy with the %BF result.

He then changed his strategy to running aerobically for six months and always doing the workout 7 to 8 hours after the big meal. He seems inspired from Mark Allen heart rate training technique for triathletes.

The running/bike workout is rather long at least 40 to 60 minutes. Some could last up to 4 hours during the time he trains for the marathon.

The strategy works as he drops his %body fat to around 6-8% while maintaining overall desired weight. The muscle mass looks preserved because of his very high protein intake (instead of always eating heavy carbs) after the workout and during the meal. He starting to dislike carb and sweet foods like ice cream, etc before any workout.

He only eats one very heavy meal per day and he is been doing that for years since before we married. He is also asthmatic and looks very unfit 5 years before (couch type individual), he decided to train in running and cycling to stay fit and seems very happy doing it now.

So this means to say, Rusty is very correct in saying running on low insulin levels allows him to burn more fat during the workout. I stumble on this page to confirm that this is correct and there are lot of misconceptions out there.

http://powerpumpxlblog.net May 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

a week and also transform your physique very quickly. There’s a clever little line in the Jimmy Buffet lyrics “Fruitcakes” when his ‘lady’ is lamenting: “I treat my body like a temple, You treat yours like a tent”. Figuring out how much protein you should be eating can be tricky.

Keeon Taylor December 14, 2013 at 8:27 am

Short and to the point. People need to make better choices when it comes to choosing the foods that they eat. This short article will inform why they should. Good stuff!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: