Is This Strategy Really Better Than Steroids?
My college wrestling career ended and I, like almost everyone in the sport, felt I hadn’t reached my potential. There are several reasons for my underperformance; my scant understanding of diet and nutrition may not have been the leading culprit but it was certainly an important factor that made reaching my goals, just that much harder. More about this experience in later posts but for now, let’s focus on what led me to a deeper understanding of weight loss and body composition.
After college, I wasn’t ready to leave the sport of wrestling. I had spent my entire life in the Midwest so something different seemed necessary. I accepted a graduate-assistant coaching (GA) position at a division one school in small town North Carolina. The GA position paid for my master’s degree in Business Administration and in return, I helped coach and train college wrestlers. My two years time in N.C. was spent almost entirely on a select few things; wrestling, coaching and studying for my MBA classes. On the side, studying nutrition and fitness became a regular pastime of mine. The small school where I landed was in a quiet town with few distractions or even options for anything else. As a graduate assistant I was young enough to be in college but had a coach’s role. This meant joining the college kids in the typical Friday and Saturday night activities was out of the question. It was isolation, which sounds bad but I used it for a positive experience to learn about myself and other things I had been questioning. So, using myself as a test subject, I began experimenting with different diets, training regimens, recovery mechanisms, mental training tools, self-communication and everything in between. I read books, blogs and articles. I consumed thoughts from those who had mastered their respected fields, people like Tony Robbins, Dan Gable, Donny Shankle, Ray Lewis and Colonel B.P. McCoy. I observed wrestlers, athletes, coaches and society around me.
I was a twenty-three-year-old man/bro. I had grown up in the culture of college athletics that valued physique, toughness and athleticism. I wanted to learn more about manipulating the human body, generating beneficial adaptations, adding mass, getting stronger, faster, leaning out etc. I had always been aware of the adaptation potential weightlifting could have on the human body. Lifting weights may be the second most useful factor in body composition-I will address the first shortly. It is an extremely useful and effective way to hack your genes, muscle mass, and hormones. I had posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger on my wall at home. My dad grew up in the era that brought bodybuilding to popular culture. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Mentzer and alike were all his idols and that trickled down on me. These body builders had shifted the way America saw men and fitness. These guys were the kings of body composition. Bodybuilders took muscle cultivation and fat burning to a whole new level. It was extreme, even unhealthy. I figured the world of bodybuilding might be a place where I could get some answers to my questions.
The book that taught me an invaluable lesson in fat loss and body composition was Better than Steroids. I learned how steroids worked. I learned how one can use diet to naturally control hormones, the body’s natural steroids. Better than Steroids is a book written by a Dr. Warren Willey, an active body builder but also a well-educated medical professional, medical director and a Board Certified Osteopathic Physician. In Better than Steroids, Dr. Willey lays out the science behind fat loss and muscle growth. At the time that I picked up this book, body composition, muscle gains and fat loss were my main focus. I didn’t so much care about general health, I wasn’t aware of its importance. I wanted the ability to control my body composition; and that is exactly what I got.
So, what are the secrets?
Your body produces hormones all the time. The most important hormone in weight loss or weight gain is, without a doubt, INSULIN. Insulin is activated every time you consume food. Insulin is a storage hormone and without it, fat, protein and carbohydrates have a difficult time sticking to the body. Virtually no fat can be stored on the body if insulin is not activated. So, it is actually very simple. Reduce insulin and reduce fat storage. Ok cool, how do we reduce insulin? Reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet would be the easiest way to reduce insulin productions, specifically simple or starchy carbohydrates. Simple carbs are sugars. Sugars are everywhere in the American diet and they promote the epidemic of almost all age related diseases in our society. Diseases like heart disease, cancer, aging, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and chronic inflammation all thrive in a high sugar, high carbohydrate, high insulin environment.
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ll these extra health benefits were a side bonus; all I cared about was that when over consumed, sugar and starchy carbohydrates were by far the biggest factor in fat storage. This realization triggered the memory of my grandpa, The Big K, and his weight loss story. He cut carbs, lost about a hundred pounds, lost his dependence on his insulin shots and got to go skydiving on this 70th birthday.
When you eat a meal with sugar or starchy carbohydrates your blood sugar temporarily rises. Higher levels of blood sugar signal the pancreas to secrete the hormone insulin which has the job of clearing the sugar (glucose) out of the bloodstream; The sugar is then stored either in the body’s liver or skeletal muscle for later use. If the liver and muscles are already full of glycogen(converted, storable sugar), which is often the case for most people, the body then converts the glycogen to fat and stores it on your body for later use. This is how body fat is most often created. So, to avoid fat storage and push your body into fat burning mode, keep your insulin down by avoiding all sugary and starchy foods. Starchy foods like pancakes, potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, pastries and crackers have high glycemic indexes, which means they are absorbed and converted to glucose quickly. For most people, this leads to an insulin spike and fat storage.
In addition to storing fat, insulin has a significant impact on other hormones. Remember, our hormones are our body’s natural steroids, and insulin often works inversely to many of the most beneficial hormones we produce. Both growth hormone and testosterone production are suppressed when insulin is present in the blood. If you know anything about the current anti-aging craze that is happening right now you know that most of the treatment for anti-aging is done by supplementing exogenous Growth Hormone and Testosterone. Both of these hormones have a positive impact on general body repair, physical recovery, energy, growth, vitality, sex drive, skin, hair, nails, joints and most things similar. Avoiding excess insulin will help keep these two hormones at higher, natural levels. They increase metabolism, help burn fat and help maintain lean muscle mass. In addition to providing a leaner body, with more energy and less aging, testosterone has been associated heavily with many of our society biggest health issues, take a look at thisWebMD article showing the importance of nurturing testosterone levels.
So did it work for me? Sure did. And it is still one of the main concepts I focus on to maintain a healthy body composition. It was a very empowering feeling to know I could control these things that most people continuously struggle with.
How and When to Use Insulin to Induce Muscle Growth:
Insulin isn’t all bad of course. There are beneficial ways to control your insulin which can induce an anabolic state of muscle growth. I played around with this concept in combination with weightlifting. I upped my repetitions in the weight room, lowered my time in between sets and focused on having my only high carb/insulin spiking meal of the day immediately after I finished my muscle pumping lift. In a couple months I added 5-10 pounds of muscle to my frame, specifically on my chest, shoulders and back. At the time, I hadn’t seen my older sister for a couple of months. She saw a picture of me on Facebook at the beach and over the phone mentioned my chest and shoulders looked noticeably more muscular.
The added muscle was from the combination of lifting between 60-80 reps per muscle part with about one minute in between sets. I typically did 6 sets 8-12 reps per body part. I followed this with my highest carbohydrate meal of the day. In essence my muscles became depleted of glycogen during the intense lifts, making them primed and ready for a flood of carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients, which were carried to my muscles via the insulin spike that the higher carb meal induced. This sparked an anabolic state of growth in my muscles. The rest of the day and during my days off I made sure to keep my carb intake fairly low, to avoid unwanted fat storage.
Insulin is the key to weight control and body composition, not calories! Your body makes hormones naturally; insulin is a storage hormone that works inversely with testosterone and growth hormone. Eating the right type of macronutrients at the right times will lead to your ability to manipulate your body composition. In general, keeping your insulin low will lead to more fat burning, more testosterone and more growth hormone, all of which help reduce aging, increase energy and burn fat. Don’t worry; you won’t become a meat head with muscles popping out of your ears, that might take a little extra time in the weight room and some exogenous hormones. Eat as much meat and garden vegetables as you want (they have low glycemic indexes) and don’t feel guilty. These foods won’t lead to fat storage or weight gain unless consumed with high glycemic, sugary or starchy carbohydrates.
Still not convinced you should keep your blood sugar down? Maybe you are already lean and weight loss doesn’t concern you. In that case, do it for your future self. Check out the great Netflix documentary titled Sugar Coated. Here is a WebMD article that clearly explains the health issues arising from high sugar, high carb diets. Just a few the article lists are: Weakened immune system, erectile dysfunction, permanent pancreatic damaged and ineffective insulin response, hardening of the blood vessels, kidney disease, kidney failure, stroke, heart attacks, vision loss, and slow wound-healing.
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