Insulin bodybuiling

Posted 10 months ago

Insulin and bodybuilding

If you have been involved in bodybuilding for a while, you’ll have no doubt heard of assisted bodybuilders using insulin across the day, perhaps in the morning or around the workout parameters. Whilst this is fairly common, very few people understand the principles behind this practice, and/or why insulin might be used alone or in conjunction with other drugs such as Growth Hormone (GH).

Personally, when I was just starting out my bodybuilding career, I swore I would never touch insulin or GH; this was mainly because I didn’t really know much about these drugs, and I was just worried I’d get something wrong so didn’t want to take any risks. However, as my goals intensified and my knowledge grew over time, that has changed. Therefore, the aim of this article is to go through what insulin is, what it does within the body and why it is often used within bodybuilding. As a disclaimer, please be aware that the information discussed in this article is for education purposes only and should not be deemed as advice of any kind.

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to eating/food. It is involved in the transport of glucose into cells, a process which lowers our blood sugar back down to where it was prior to eating. Insulin promotes the uptake of glucose into both muscle cells and fat cells. Without insulin, our body can’t use or store glucose for energy, and the glucose simply remains in the blood, which is extremely dangerous (hence why Type1 diabetics take insulin daily to stay alive). Typically, one unit of insulin will dispose of 12-15g carbs, but this dose can vary from person to person.

As alluded to above, you may had heard about the use of insulin in type 1 diabetes. This is an autoimmune condition in which the body doesn’t produce insulin, which is why type 1 diabetics must inject their own insulin throughout the day to process the (glucose from the) food that they eat. Type 2 is different, as in this case, the body is able to produce insulin but its cells have become “insensitive” to insulin’s message, due to chronically elevated blood sugar levels, which is linked to obesity.

If blood sugars remain chronically elevated (hyperglycaemia) for extended periods of time, it can lead to: cardiovascular disease, vision problems (potential blindness), nerve damage, circulation problems in feet (leading to amputation), bone and joint problems and also teeth/gum problems.

Why use insulin in bodybuilding?

So, now that we know why insulin is used as a compound for medical/health purposes, it’s time to unpack why bodybuilders might use it too.

The basic thing to understand firstly is that the bigger an individual gets, the more food they are going to need to consume to maintain that mass; a large part of that food will be constituted by a large surplus of carbohydrates across the day. What this inevitably does is place a fairly big load on the pancreas to produce enough insulin to deal with the surplus carbs. This can leave blood sugars a little bit higher than one would like and could promote glucose uptake into fat stores more readily than muscle.

This is where the addition of exogenous insulin comes into play: this hormone helps bodybuilders control their blood glucose readings across the day and keeps them in a more stable position. In doing so, it promotes the uptake of glucose into muscle cells over fat cells. This is where you would typically hear of a bodybuilder using lantis, otherwise known as long-acting insulin. This type of insulin will work over several hours to help lower blood glucose levels and would typically be injected with the first meal of the day. It has an onset time of several hours and doesn’t have a peak time. Respectively, this means that the point at which it starts to lower blood glucose levels is delayed from its intake, and it does not have a specific window at which it is most effective, with its effects lasting up to 24hours.

However, as we all know by now, bodybuilders tend to ingest a higher bolus of carbohydrates around the workout parameters (i.e., pre, intra, and post). In this case, a short acting insulin is also frequently used (such as novarapid), as this has an onset time of 15-20 minutes, a peak time of 30-90 mins, and a duration of 2-4 hours. Bodybuilders can use this compound pre-workout, to increase their pumps throughout the training session and increase their training performance. However, it is most commonly used post-workout. As alluded to, the high volume of carbs in the post-workout window will offset muscle protein breakdown. Importantly, if one is consuming 200-300g of carbs in one sitting, they would want to drive those nutrients into their muscle tissue to get the most benefit for recovery. This is the primary reason why insulin would be used post-workout, but obviously ingesting that amount of carbs alone will increase blood sugar levels significantly; as such, insulin post-workout also has the beneficial effect of bringing those levels down to keep blood sugar level readings stable across the day.

When might you choose to start using insulin?

Like with any compound used in assisted bodybuilding, decisions are highly personal; as such, I’ll speak to you about my own journey and why I decided to use it.

Our goals in bodybuilding are ever changing: we want bigger, better, more tissue here, more tissue there, and so on and so forth. As I said earlier, I had initially told myself that I would never use insulin, but this decision was down to my lack of understanding, as well as thinking I didn’t want to be that big.

But as always, the years went on and I had managed to get up to 120kg without using insulin or growth hormone. I competed, did well, won shows, yet when I looked in the mirror, I was still not satisfied with how I looked. My goals then switched to wanting to win a British title, and for that I knew I needed more size, which ultimately meant more food, and for an extended period of time if I wanted to push 130kg.

I’d like to interject here and ask you to re-read the goal. What we do within bodybuilding is unhealthy and extreme, without a doubt. Therefore, if you are just bodybuilding for the love of it, and not competing, I wouldn’t even give this sort of stuff a second thought.

Anyway, back to my story. As I was pursuing the goal of getting bigger and using growth hormone whilst pushing my carb intake to high places to do so, my blood sugars weren’t in an ideal spot. For me, a good spot is defined as a reading of 4.5-5.2 mmol/L or so. Realistically anything high 4’s to low 5s is what I would consider optimal, talking from an optimal standpoint of wanting to adding muscle and minimize fat gain giving I was eating roughly every 2-3 hours.

Therefore, given that I was in the scenario of blood glucose readings prior to eating were on that little bit of a higher side and that my goals were extreme, adding exogenous insulin to lower BGL and keep it in a more stable place to promote muscle growth made sense to me. Aside from using it on myself, I’ve also found it to be a very effective tool when loading clients into a show or on high days to help bring up/hold on to lagging body parts.

Are there any negatives?

If you were to get your dosage wrong and your blood sugars fell too low, you could enter a hypoglycaemic shock and if left untreated, die. Sounds pretty morbid, right?

I mean, it is; but you must be aware of these things before using. That’s why you would always look to track where your blood sugar levels are at prior to using, and whenever you do implement any compound, start off small, and then continue to monitor your levels to note the response.

What are the signs of going into a hypoglycaemic shock? Blurred vision, feeling weak, trembling/tingling lips and sweating. If you have ever been around someone that is having a ‘hypo’ you can tell straight away, and it can be fairly scary. Of course, the way that this would be treated would be to consume carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar levels back up.

Having had a training partner in the past who was a type 1 diabetic, Ally, I have seen this first-hand on more than one occasion. He’s always said that after each one, it feels like he has run a marathon, and everything hurts. He of course must inject insulin as his pancreas doesn’t secrete it. But the moral of the story here is that if you are going to use, be smart and be diligent. The best thing to do would be to speak to a medical professional prior to using or someone who is well educated on the matter.

In summary, insulin’s main role is to shuttle carbohydrates into muscle mass and fat cells. It can be used exogenously by bodybuilders that are on a large amount of daily carbohydrates to help keep their blood sugar in a more stable position. Short acting insulin use tends to be used around the workout parameter and can aid performance and recovery. Using exogenous insulin, if done incorrectly can lead to a hypoglycaemic shock and potential death therefore if one were looking to use, they should be smart, hire a professional and track your blood sugars across the day prior to using.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons