What Is Insulin And Why Is It Important For Building Muscle?

If you are into fitness or have been trying to become more healthy, you have probably heard the word “insulin” being thrown around. What is insulin and what role does it play in your body?

If you read some nutrition β€œgurus”, insulin gets a bad rap. Especially guys who argue that carbohydrates are evil and push low-carb diets, try to point the finger at insulin as one of the main causes of people getting fat. They argue that carbs are bad and insulin is bad by association.

However if you look at their arguments more closely, you can see that they make pretty sketchy connections and their conclusions are pretty much BS.

In order to be able to analyze all the different diets that people are hyping-up and make an informed choice on which is the best for you, you need to know what insulin is and how it works.

Let’s start by listing the main roles of insulin in the body:

1) push glucose into cells, in order for it to be used as energy

2) push other types of nutrients (for example proteins), in order for them to be used by the cells

3) store excess glucose for later use (either as glycogen or fat)

Remember these roles when reading the rest of the article, as this is crucial for understanding the importance of insulin in different bodily processes, and especially in what role it plays in getting bigger muscles and losing fat.

Insulin is one of the most important hormones for your metabolism. The different cells in your body need glucose for energy and insulin promotes the absorption of glucose by them (either for energy or for storage – glycogen, fat).

It is a peptide hormone, which means that it’s a functional protein. It is produced in the pancreas by beta cells and serves many functions in your body. You can think of it as the main regulator of your body.

Insulin is released into the bloodstream when glucose is present, whether due to food getting ingested or due to different stress hormones flooding the body.

What happens is that when you are eating, the food is broken down into its more basic constituent parts, and the pancreas starts releasing insulin into your bloodstream. The insulin then directs the transport of these nutrients either into the cells or for storage. Once the level of these nutrients in the blood drops, then the amount of insulin drops as well.

Let’s use an analogy in order to illustrate how insulin works. Imagine that insulin is a small spaceship that travels through your blood and muscle cells are big space factories. These space factories have docking stations (insulin receptors) that the insulin spaceship periodically visits and docks at them.

In the process, the insulin acts as a sort of key, unlocking the doors to the cells. Once these doors are unlocked, nutrients such as glucose or amino acids can enter the cells, bringing energy and also different building blocks for their internal processes.
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Which Nutrients Are Important For Your Brain Health?

According to recent statistics, over 1/4th of all Americans suffer from some sort of a mental disorder. Furthermore, around 6% of the US population has been diagnosed with what could be termed as a serious mental illness and that percentage is on the rise. There are similar trends in other countries around the world. A huge epidemic of people with mental diseases seems to be taking over society and many people are becoming sick in the brain.

What is the reason? There are several things that are behind this, but one culprit seems to be the diet. Recent scientific studies point to improper nutrition as one of the main explanations of why there has been such an abrupt rise in mental illnesses among the population in the past few decades.

Nutrients are not only important for growing a big and healthy body, but also promote healthy brain functions, which allows you to do all your mental activities better. Healthy eating is a prerequisite for maintaining a healthy body and is also an important prerequisite for maintaining a healthy and functioning mind.

Unfortunately, many people don’t get their required amount of nutrients for proper brain functioning. In the modern era, the diet of many people has become very unbalanced and does not include many of the important elements that it should. This imbalance can become quite critical for the brain, since it demands around 20% of the total nutrient intake of the body in order to function properly.

Coupled with instant gratification behavior (which is growing stronger partially due to changes in technology) and a loss of values, the lack of a proper diet is another one of the culprits of the decline of mental health, a rise in different mental disorders and also the rise of depression.

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How Perception Can Make Or Break Your Training

Objective factors are not the only ones that have an impact on your training results. Recent scientific studies show that subjective factors, such as perception, can have an important physiological impact as well. We have all heard the mantra of needing to eat big and lift big in order to gain weight and muscles, but for example what happens when you drink a milkshake that contains 400 calories, but you think it only contains 150?

Is there a difference between drinking a 400 calorie milkshake and thinking it contains less calories, or drinking the same milkshake and being aware of the fact that it contains 400 calories?

A study from 2011, set out to measure exactly that. The participants were divided into two groups and given milkshakes of 380 calories. One group was told that their milkshake was 620 calories and “indulgent”, while the other group was told that their milkshake contained 140 calories and was “sensible”.

After they had drunk the milkshakes, the ghrelin levels of the participants were periodically monitored. Ghrelin is sometimes called the “hunger hormone”, as it is secreted when the stomach is empty. Its secretion stimulates the feeling of hunger, so the more of it is released, the hungrier you feel.

The results of the monitoring were pretty interesting. The ghrelin levels of the people who drank the supposed 620 calorie milkshake dropped and they reportedly felt more full, while the ones who drank the 140 calories reported feeling hungrier and had higher levels of ghrelin.

The only difference here was perception. Both groups drank exactly the same milkshake, but the physiological reactions in their bodies were different.

How can this be? “Mind over matter”. The brain is a powerful organ in your body and can do many incredible things. What is happening here is akin to the placebo effect.

The placebo effect has been reported in certain clinical trials, where the test subjects were given a placebo, but their body reacted as if it had been given a real medicine. One possible explanation of this is based on expectations. Possibly, if the patient is expecting something to happen, he can subconsciously will his body to produce similar effects as that of a medication. The mind can produce its own cure.

The brain can also play other little neat tricks, which result in actual physiological processes. Some people actually experience the feel of being touched, when they see others being touched. This is called mirror touch synesthesia and is due to the activity of mirror neurons. Not all people experience this, but many do and maybe you are one of them. πŸ™‚

What about the placebo effect directly in working out? Another study was carried out with a group of power lifters. Each member of the group was given placebos (saccharine) and told that they were getting steroids.

After a period of training, these lifters were told to try to do a one rep max test. All of them lifted heavier than ever before and created new personal records in all the lifts tested.

After that the group was divided into two, with one group being told that they had in fact been given placebos, while the other group continued on believing that they were taking steroids. The results were interesting. The group that was told they were given placebos, lost all their gains and returned to their pre-placebo levels, while the group that continued on believing that they were taking steroids kept their gains or created even better personal records.

The only difference here was mental.
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Why Are Dutch People So Tall?

dutch flag, tall dutch people

I spent a year living in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The first day when I arrived I had to go the bathroom. I went in, found the urinals and unzipped. Then I noticed a very unusual thing. The urinals seemed to be a lot higher than what I am used to.

I am above average height for most countries (6’1 or 184cm), however in the Netherlands I was just average (sometimes I felt even below average). I am used to urinals being way below my crotch level, however here it felt like I almost had piss up instead of down. πŸ™‚

This is one of the first things that you notice when you arrive in the Netherlands (besides the fact that everything is flat and there are bikes everywhere), the people are much taller than in other places.

They seem to tower above you. They are quite lanky and not too built, but they are tall. I remember my first day at school, sitting down at a table next to one Dutch guy. He seemed pretty thin and not very big, so I did not pay particular attention. Then he stood up from his chair and was almost a full head taller than me! While sitting down he seemed small, but when standing up you had a completely different image of him.

It wasn’t always so. In fact a few generations ago, the Dutch were one of the shortest people in Europe. Almost all the other countries had on average taller people. This changed rapidly, especially after World War 2.
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In Order To Get Big You Need To Eat Big

monkey eating to gain weight

The number one mistake that people who want to gain weight and muscle make is that they simply aren’t eating enough. Most of the time they don’t even realize that they are making this mistake. They might think that they are stuffing themselves, however in reality they are not eating the amount required for them to gain weight.

In order to gain weight, you need to eat more than your maintenance calories. This is the most important advice that anyone can give you. Most people always want to know what kind of a routine they should do, how many reps, what exercises and stuff like that. It doesn’t matter what type of a routine you are doing, if you are not eating enought. Eating above your maintenance level is the basic prerequisite for any routine to work.

For most beginner and even intermediate lifters, basically any type of routine will help them pack on weight and muscle. Of course some might be better at it than others, however if your routine meets some basic principles, then it will help you. It’s the eating part that will be the main difference maker.

The importance of eating cannot be understated. Most of the time when people failed to gain weight, it is because of the fact that they were not eating enough. If you are lifting hard and still fail to make progress on gaining weight, then you need to reexamine your diet. Track it for a week and see what you are eating and how many calories per day in total it is.

Based on this tracking, you can then prepare your diet plan. Calculate your maintenance calories and try to eat anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories above that one. Start off slow, the first week, maybe add just 250 calories above maintenance and consistently keep adding more, until you reach an optimum level, where you are adding weight, but not too much fat. When packing on weight, you are bound to gain fat as well, however by eating clean, you can minimize this fat gain. You can always lose a lot of this fat in a fat-cutting phase later.
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GOMAD – Drinking Milk To Gain Weight Fast

hulk, gain weight, muscle, strong, big

GOMAD, milk, how to gain weight and muscle

For some reason whenever I read the words “GOMAD“, I tend to think of the guy that transforms himself into the Incredible Hulk. I have a mental picture of a huge green guy growing larger and then ripping off his shirt and screaming. Actually with GOMAD you won’t turn into the Incredible Hulk, but you can come close! πŸ™‚ GOMAD is not some super secret military program, but instead stands for “gallon of milk a day”. This means drinking a gallon of milk a day in order to gain weight. It’s a simple, yet very effective strategy.

hulk, gain weight, muscle, strong, big

This is actually the strategy that some people (for example Rippetoe) advise for hardgainers who are struggling to gain weight. It means basically to drink a gallon (or around 4 liters for all of you outside the US) of milk a day, in addition to your regular meals and exercise routine. That is a huge amount of calories!

This strategy has its pros and cons. First of all, it will be really hard to force down all that milk. It’s also not really a good strategy for those that are lactose intolerant, but even those that are lactose tolerant might have some side-effects. For example, it might make you feel bloated and gassy! So don’t use this strategy if you plan to be around people too much. We don’t want you to stink up the room. πŸ™‚

Milk is a very good source of all kinds of macronutrients and micronutrients. It is made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. So you get all your basic macronutrients there. For example both whey and casein protein come from milk and so if you drink a lot of milk, you can get them in that way, instead of buying expensive protein powders. Milk also contains such goodies as vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, and many other healthy things. It is also a good source of fluids and can keep you hydrated.
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The Return Of The Purple Carrot

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It’s back! πŸ™‚

When you think of carrots, immediately the color orange comes to mind. Well guess what, back in the day, all carrots used to be purple! The carrot actually was first cultivated in Afghanistan and was purple. After a while, it got transported to other parts of the world and different types of carrots arose. The orange carrot came to dominate over all the other carrots and in fact this domination was so complete, that when someone hears the word “carrot” today, almost everyone in their mind pictures a long orange thing. Well, purple carrots still exist and they are making a slow, but steady comeback.

Purple carrots are very healthy for you. Not only do they have the vitamin A and beta-carotene of ordinary carrots, but they also have anthocyanins. It is these anthocyanins that give purple carrots their purple color. Purple carrots also contain all kinds of anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibers.

By eating purple carrots, you will get a lot of benefits. They are good for fighting cancer, but also improve memory and vision. They can also strengthen your immune system and help you fight all kinds of germs and bacteria, which want to invade your body and feast on it. πŸ™‚

So for your next healthy meal, you should include some purple carrots. Hopefully, the next time that someone mentions the word “carrot”, you won’t immediately think of something orange, but instead come up with all the different colors that carrots can come in, including purple. I will bet that most of the people reading this post had no idea that carrots can be purple. If you did not know this fun fact, then post a like for this article on facebook. πŸ™‚ Now you know a new fact and maybe it will make you healthier. At the very least you can have a fun little conversation topic to impress people with. πŸ˜›

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The Different Types Of Protein Supplements

protein powder, protein shake, how to gain weight, gain muscle, bulk up, whey, casein, protein supplement

protein powder, protein shake, how to gain weight, gain muscle, bulk up, whey, casein, protein supplement
One of the most important macronutrients for muscle building is protein. Proteins consist of amino acids, which are the main building blocks of your body. Most protein in your diet should come in the form of normal food, but you can also supplement it with various forms of powder supplements. Protein supplements are composed of dry protein powder that is derived from dairy (milk), eggs, soy and other things.

Most well-known proteins are derived from milk. Cow milk is composed of carbohydrates, but also two main proteins: whey and casein. The percentage of casein in cow milk is 80% and of whey 20% (interestingly in human milk whey protein is the more prevalent protein). When the milk is coagulated, the two different proteins are divided out, with casein becoming a semi-solid clunky lump and whey a liquid.

Whey protein is the by-product of turning milk into cheese. It used to be considered a waste in the process, but later the benefits of whey were discovered. It can be quickly absorbed in the body, which means that the body can break it down and use it quickly. Drinking whey protein causes an increase in the level of amino acids in the blood in about an hour after ingestion. This is very good for recovery after a workout, as it maximizes muscle synthesis and repair, and also decreases the breakdown of muscle.

Whey is high in essential amino acids. It is especially high in leucine, which is an amino acid that is key to the activation of protein synthesis. Whey can also reduce stress, because it lowers cortisol levels. There are also several other beneficial properties of whey, some of which are being investigated for potential medical uses.

There are 3 major forms of whey protein :

  1. concentrates – this is a concentrated version of whey protein, however still mixed with a lot of other things such as lactose, fat and cholesterol —> percentage levels of whey protein can vary, so check it before buying
  2. isolates – are processed to take out the fats, lactose…etc., but still contain trace amounts of other things —> about 90% whey protein
  3. hydrolysates – these are whey proteins that are predigested and partially hydrolyzed to ease digestion

The best types of whey protein for post-workout nutrition are either isolates or hydrolysates, however for other parts of the day concentrates are better (since they still contain other nutrients as well).

Casein protein also comes from milk. It is a slowly absorbing protein and it can take the body several hours in order to absorb it. This is because it coagulates or forms a gel in the stomach, which then slowly releases amino acids into the blood stream (can do that for several hours). Casein also contains all the essential amino acids and one of its most beneficial properties is that it is high in glutamine. Glutamine is very important for protein synthesis and also for the release of the growth hormone. Another thing that casein does is that it also slows the process of protein breakdown (there needs to be a balance between protein synthesis and protein breakdown in order to ensure muscle growth).

Casein protein is divided into 2 major types:

  1. micellar casein – purest form of casein
  2. calcium caseinate

There is a bit of a controversy on whether to take whey and casein together or separately. Some people argue that they should be consumed separately, as casein might slow down the fast absorption of whey, however most scientific studies say that they can be consumed together, and that even when mixed they still keep their unique properties.

For me, what I do is get a liquid whey protein right after my workout when I get home. I usually mix a whey isolate powder together with milk (I sometimes add things like bananas or berries for added carbs). While the powder is whey protein, the fact that it is mixed with milk, also adds some casein in there. This helps me get in some quickly absorbing protein in order to help me build muscle. At night, before going to sleep, on the other hand, I take a casein protein powder and mix it with milk and drink it. This way, when I am sleeping, the body gets a steady supply of amino acids throughout the night in order to help me build muscle.
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The Omega-6 To Omega-3 Fatty Acids Imbalance In Your Diet

One thing you probably didn’t know about is the fact that in our modern Western diet, there is a huge imbalance between the amount of omega-6 fatty acids you eat and omega-3 fatty acids. You have probably heard about these types of fatty acids and probably know that both types are good for you.

However that is not the whole truth. The ratio of these matters and if it’s not in balance, then a lot of bad things can happen. Don’t just take my word for it, but also take a look at the scientific evidence.

godzilla, big, huge, gain weight

So what are fatty acids and what about these omegas? Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. They are a long chain of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms which is capped by a carboxyl group at one of its ends, and a methyl group at the other end.

Fatty acids are classified on the number of carbon atoms in the chain, and also how many double bonds are in the molecule. So an omega-3 fatty acid has a double bond (C=C) at the third carbon atom from where the carbon chain ends, while an omega-6 fatty acid has a double bond at the sixth position from the end, with the end being the methyl group which caps off the fatty acid chains.

Omega3_6

The word omega actually signifies the methyl end, while the word alpha is used for the beginning of the chain, the carboxyl group. So that’s where the word omega comes from in the name.

For some reason, whenever I hear these random Greek letters, I think of the Puff Daddy (the artist later known as P-Diddy) song “Come with Me” from the Godzilla soundtrack, which brings me back to my high school basketball days.

Now back to our discussion of the omegas. The most important omega-3 fatty acids for humans are the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Some important examples of omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic acid (LA), and arachidonic acid (sometimes abbreviated as AA or ARA).

Linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid (LA), which is an omega-6 fatty acid, are both considered essential for the human body, meaning that the body cannot manufacture them itself and they need to be taken in from outside sources (food).

So what roles do these omegas play in the human body? They have a variety of roles and functions that have a large effect on how healthy the human body is. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body, keep the blood from clotting excessively, improve the insulin response and also regulate prostaglandin production.

Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, promote an immune response of the body (for example through inflammation), promote the aggregation of platelets (which is good for blood clotting), are good for blood lipids, and also help in the regulation of metabolic functions.

Notice how the roles and effects of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are in many ways opposite to each other. For example, omega-3 reduce inflammation in the body, while omega-6 promote it. Inflammation is good for fighting diseases, however too much of it is harmful for the body.

That’s why the need for a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your body. These fatty acids have competitive interactions between each other and that’s why a balance between them is needed. Health is about balance.

However the balance in our bodies is out of whack, due to our diets. Sometimes the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is 10:1 or even 20:1. This has very serious effects on our health and is a very large contributing factor to people in the developed world suffering from such diseases as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Both omega-3 and omega-6 are important for you body, however they need to be in balance. So how much omega-3 you need to eat is dependent on how much omega-6 you are eating. Because of all the processed foods that are in stores, it is hard to maintain a balance between the two omegas.

Aim for a 1:1 balance, but even a 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 balance is good.

The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 used to be much more in balance in prehistory. Even in some recent hunter-gatherer societies the ratio was favorable. For example, before the 20th century among the Greenland Inuit, this ratio was 1:2 (even 1:4 in some cases) in favor of omega-3 fatty acids (because of a diet rich in fish and seafood).

However, throughout the course of human history this ratio changed and this is probably one of the factors that contributed to humans getting sick more often in modern times. The most significant change was during the industrial revolution, when the ratio changed drastically due to the wide availability of vegetable oils produced.

Among developed societies, the ratio is most favorable in Japan, due to their diet, and you can see that that country suffers much less from diseases such as heart diseases.

So what can you do to bring down this ratio towards a better balance? Well you need to start eating foods higher in omega-3 and bring down the amount of food rich in omega-6. The best source of omega-3 are fish, different types of seafood and marine algaes.

We are especially deficient in EPA and DHA. These can be synthesized from ALA (found in foods from plants such as flax, pumpkin seeds and walnuts), however this process is inefficient and limited. This means you need to eat foods that already contain EPA and DHA (such as fish, seafood, marine algae).

The ALA to EPA and DHA conversion is also highly dependent on such things as iron, zinc and pyridoxine. So you need to have these things in your body as well. Iron can be found in different types of animal sources, but also bananas.

Grass-fed meat is also the way to go (as it is high in omega-3 from the different grasses that the animals ate), however most meat today is from animals fed on grain-based feeds and so lacks the omega-3 component. You can also supplement omega-3 by eating fish oil capsules.

The other part of bringing the ratio back into balance is by eating less foods that have large omega-6 components. This doesn’t mean cutting them out all together, as many foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids are very good for you and omega-6 fatty themselves are also needed by the body.

Look at the chart below and try to cut down on the vegetable oils which have a high omega-6 ratio as opposed to other fatty acids.

fatty-acid-breakdown-of-different-fats

Remember also to cut down on processed foods, as they are also high in omega-6 fatty acids, and are generally considered less healthy.

Eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids also has other benefits. For example, they have a positive effect on the eyes and vision. They can also help you in your quest to gain weight and get big. If your body knows how to partition nutrients well, then you can gain a lot of weight and size based on lean muscle, without adding too much fat.

Insulin plays a large role in this. When you have too many omega-6 fatty acids you can have a chronic inflamed state, which is bad for insulin sensitivity.

So you need to bring the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio more into balance in order to increase insulin sensitivity and to get your nutrients to be partitioned better, leading to lean muscle gains without too much extra fat being stored.

Now that I’ve explained to you the potential dangers of a high omega-6 to omega-3 imbalance and the benefits that omega-3 can have for your body, I hope that you examine your diet and try to bring the ratio to a reasonable level.

Your body needs both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as they both play an important role. However the amount of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that you take in needs to be in balance. That way, you can get the positive benefits of both and be much more healthy than ever before.
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