The remaining articles for Health Month will be a series of articles that all tie in to avoiding disease. We’ve covered our definition of health, some of the most common health topics at the moment, as well as lesser talked about areas such as deadlifting (who knew?!) and mental health. And there are so many more topics we could delve into such as injury prevention, but dig into the Knowledge Blog to find them. Everything we’ve talked about plays a role in your mental and physical health and is therefore central to what we as a gym do for you. But the foundation of your overall health and fitness is nutrition.
Aaahh, nutrition! It resides with politics and religion as some of the most touchy subjects. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, there is no debating that good nutrition is the foundation for general health fitness. While nutrition is by no means a one-size fits all approach, good nutrition is not a matter of preference.
I’m going to break the Avoiding Disease series into what will hopefully be bite sized chunks that will hopefully encourage some good discussion. Let’s start with metabolism and therefore a hormone central to avoiding disease, insulin.
Metabolism is divided into two states.
- The time following the consumption of a meal when the products of digestion are being used for energy immediately, synthesised for growth and maintenance of cells and tissues, or stored (as glycogen or fat) for energy at a later stage is known as the fed or absorptive state. It’s an anabolic state.
- When nutrients from a meal are no longer available in the bloodstream the body enters the fasted or absorptive state, which is a catabolic state.
The fate of absorbed nutrients in the body depends on the type of macronutrient it is, carbohydrates (CHO), fat or protein (PRO). Fats are stored for energy. Our fat storage capacity is unlimited and use of fat for energy is dependent on activity levels. Proteins are used for protein synthesis and it’s not just the musculoskeletal system that requires protein. Excess ingested protein is stored as fat, and if CHO intake is too low, protein can be used to create glucose*. CHO are absorbed primarily as glucose for energy for physical activity and for energy for the brain and other organ and tissue function. The body’s ability to store glycogen is limited, so excess glucose is stored as fat.
Blood glucose is the most closely regulated of these three nutrient pools because it’s the brain’s fuel and because of the harmful effects of excess or insufficient blood sugar.*
*Let’s add this reference note in here. These are the first instances in which you will note that I do not demonise CHO, but also am strongly cognisant of the vital role CHO plays in our diet. What’s important, however, is that you’re getting the right types of CHO in. Not refined and processed CHO.
The body’s goal is to maintain equilibrium of the anabolic and catabolic states. It does so by constantly measuring blood glucose levels, and releasing either insulin or glucagon to ensure that level remains in an acceptable range. Insulin removes glucose from the blood for energy, synthesis or storage. Glucagon is the dominant hormone of the fasted state, and is released in response to low blood sugar levels. I’m not going to get into glucagon because that’s all you need to know about it. Insulin’s role is what’s important.
Insulin Promotes Anabolism
The primary targets of insulin are the liver, fat tissue and skeletal muscle. That means, those target require insulin for the uptake of glucose. Other organs such as the brain do not need insulin for glucose uptake. Now remember from above, in the anabolic state that insulin is dominant in, we’re taking up glucose for energy, synthesis or storage. Anabolism, put simply, means growth. So this is what insulin is doing.
- It increases glucose transport into fat cells and skeletal muscle.
- Insulin stimulates the use and storage of glucose. It activates enzymes that are used in the use of glucose for energy, and enzymes that are necessary for the synthesis (development) of glycogen (stored glucose) and fat. Yes, insulin enhances the synthesis of fat. At the same time, insulin inhibits (stops) enzymes that are responsible for the breakdown of glycogen and fat. Yes, insulin prevents fat from being broken down for energy.
- If a meal contains protein, insulin also activates enzymes for protein synthesis. This is why, especially in the exercising public, it’s important to consume protein (and fat) when you consume CHO.
So, insulin is an essential hormone. Your body needs it and needs to be efficient at using it in order to stay healthy. But, just like all other hormones, chronically elevated levels of insulin causes problems.
What causes insulin to stay elevated? There are some diseases that cause this, but the general root cause is the consumption of refined and processed (man made) carbohydrates, sugar, sweeteners and cocaine…… No, my mistake. Cocaine just elicits the same response in the brain – those good feels – as these “foods” do.
And what does chronically elevated levels of insulin, also known as hyperinsulinemia, cause? Part 2 of Avoiding Disease will cover that.