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Insulin-based Nutrition: Part III

Nutrition is a complicated dragon to slay. There are many schools of thought on how we should be eating for optimal performance/weight loss/muscle gain/overall sexability. And here’s the great secret of all: most of all of them will work. At least somewhat. And for at least a little bit of time. But here’s where we generally mess up:

We decide that we’re going to eat all of our calories in the morning. But then we hear that we should be pulsing protein at least 4-6 times every day. And then we hear about caloric backloading, so we add that in. And also we should cheat once in a while to make sure we stay on track.

Using this logic, we end up with two large meals, 2-4 smaller meals, and a cheat meal every few days. It’s a gosh-darn recipe for weight gain. And not the right kind. Not to mention, we have multiple insulin spikes due to crazy blood glucose levels, low growth hormone levels due to our non-fasting-ever state, and we’re consistently waking up exactly two minutes before our alarm goes off every day (which we all know is the most annoying thing on the face of the planet).

Talk about consequences.

As a precursor to this post, I will (once again) quote the first part of the insulin-based nutrition saga, “So where are we going from here? Here’s the thing: almost all of these diets include improved insulin sensitivity as a benefit. But what if we’re looking at this from the wrong angle? Instead of using insulin as the end goal, what if we could draw from these current strategies and just manipulate insulin in the first place?”

To finish off this happy insulin-based trip that we’ve been on, I think it makes the most sense to take a look at a few of the different nutritional strategies that we’ve seen and compare them with their hormonal benefits.

The final stretch of our insulin-based road trip.

Caloric Backloading

Although caloric backloading has been popularized in the strength world by guys like Miyaki and Ferruggia, this strategy has actually been around a lot longer than that. In fact, I’m sure you’ve all done it at some point.

Our world of working 9-5’s has given us the perfect template for caloric backloading. We keep our meals light during the day to prevent the post-lunch sugar crash and keep productivity up. Instead, we go home at night and feast when we can be with our family and friends. Here’s what caloric backloading can do for us:

  • Reducing our carb intake during the day would limit insulin release
  • Taking in a large part/majority of our protein in one sitting has been shown to have a more favorable effect on protein synthesis than spacing our protein doses out
  • We can socialize with the rest of functioning society (at night), albeit making healthier choices
  • We can be less stressed during the day about missing meals or protein doses
  • Avoiding reactive hypoglycemia allows us to maintain higher energy levels during the day for training sessions and work

There are a few reasons why caloric backloading may not work. For instance, caloric backloading is not a go-ahead to eat everything in sight. If you are trying to lose weight and backload your calories, be careful not to overeat, especially in social situations. A large burger at a pub or restaurant can easily add up to 1,000-1,200 calories or more, and this can become a problem if you’ve eaten a bit during the day as well.

I do not recommend donut-burgers as part of your caloric backloading scheme.

Backloading may also turn out to be difficult for the opposite scenario: somebody attempting to gain weight (especially clean weight). It can be tough for Harry Hardgainer to follow a POMAD diet (Pound of Meat a Day, to be touched upon in a later post) or to consume 300-500 grams of carbs in one sitting if the meat is lean or the carbs are clean. For reference, a cup of uncooked rice turns into about 2-3 cups when cooked. And only contains about 190 grams of carbs.

But in short, caloric backloading maintains insulin release (though infrequent), which stimulates muscle gain. Because of minimal insulin spikes, we have increased opportunities for growth hormone release. Finally, because of reduced insulin release, there would in turn be a greater presence of glucagon in the body, stimulating both amino acid and fatty acid breakdown.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting carries many of the same benefits that caloric backloading does. Improved insulin sensitivity through minimal insulin spikes. Increased energy during the non-feeding period.

However, it also carries similar downfalls. For those looking to lose weight, a small feeding window can lead to a quick binge in order to consume adequate calories before the fast. Poor food choices due to extreme hunger or the anticipation of a fast can lead to calorie overconsumption. No bueno.

And like our caloric backloading hardgainer from above, intermittent fasting may not allow a window large enough to consume adequate calories for the day, especially since most of us don’t have a 8-, 6-, or even 4-hour window in our day to do nothing but eat.

Additionally, hunger and feeding-time restriction may actually cause stress to the faster.

However, the hormonal benefits still remain the same. Limited insulin spikes. Increased opportunities for HGH release. Increase glucagon. All good things.

Meal Frequency

In the Part I of Insulin-based Nutrition, I touched upon meal frequency and how more frequent feeding does not lead to greater weight loss or muscle gain. Because I’m attempting to disprove your idea that frequent meals lead to world peace, let’s compare frequent meals with the hormonal benefits.

Try storing your triglycerides here!

First, frequent insulin spikes. Yes, frequent insulin spikes help shuttle glucose and amino acids into muscle cells. But insulin also shuttles blood lipids  into fat tissue which is then synthesized into triglycerides (a.k.a. stored as fat).

Growth hormone is stimulated by a number of things, two of them being elevated ghrelin levels and fasting. Well, we can knock fasting off the list because you’re eating so frequently, leaving ghrelin to stimulate your HGH release (i.e. beside deep sleep, vigorous exercise, and sex). And ghrelin won’t be elevated too often if you’re never hungry.

So let’s rule out frequent feeding as the best option for a meal plan. From personal experience, it just leaves me stressed when I miss a meal.

Just to cover my bases, I know that frequent feeding can help reduce total food intake by stimulating satiety hormones (e.g. insulin) at each meal. However, it definitely does not “stoke” your metabolic fire and force you to burn more calories.

What’s Harris-Benedict Got To Do With It (In Tina Turner Voice)

I just want to touch upon basal metabolic rate and caloric intake *real quick*. The Harris-Benedict Equation essentially combines BMR and an exercise factor into one equation to bring an individual to a daily caloric requirement.

The first part of the equation combines your weight, height, age, and a constant based on your sex to find your BMR. Your BMR is then multiplied by an exercise constant to find  a total daily caloric requirement.

I don’t recommend calorie counting. In fact, I’m opposed. I think calorie counting only leads to stress and, of course, cortisol release (which is bad).

What  I will say is that every once in a while, I’ll add up my daily calories at night to see where I landed for the day. Since my diet stays nearly constant, I can compare that with my Harris-Benedict result and exercise progress to see where I might need to add or subtract from my current plan.

If you are looking for ideas on portion size and total intake based on volume of food, I recommend that you check out Precision Nutrition’s Calories Control Guide:

I can’t take any credit for the information you’ll find in here and I think it will serve you extremely well. The important thing to remember is that this insulin-based nutrition plan will not have you eating four square meals, so your total intake is the most important. For instance, a male should remember that a total intake of eight servings of protein-dense food is the goal, not necessarily four servings of two.

What’s Harris-Benedict, but a sweet, old-fashioned notion?

The Plan

So how are we supposed to eat? We need a strategy that’s flexible, so that the 9-5 businessman and the evening-shift nurse can follow a similar plan and reach their health and fitness goals. We need a plan that allows us to control our insulin spikes, for both energy and general health purposes. We need a plan to help us maintain growth hormone release and avoid cortisol like the plague. We need a plan that allows our ghrelin, leptin, and glucagon hormones to function productively.

Here are the key points to our insulin-based nutritional strategy:

  • At the very least, you must eat once per day. This final meal will be eaten at the end of the day, after your work, training sessions, and other obligations have been met.
  • You may eat more than once per day.
  • If you eat during the day and before your final meal, it should be a light meal consisting of only proteins or healthy fats.*
  • You may use intermittent fasting with this plan if you wish. However, your feeding window must end at the end of the day.

Your final meal should contain:

  • All or almost all of your carbohydrates for the day.
  • Large part or majority of your protein intake for the day.

*Light meals consisting of protein and fats will help us avoid insulin spikes during the day, increase protein synthesis, and maintain energy levels, while also allowing us to feel a bit satiated. Other acceptable additions to this light meal would be different kinds of vegetables or fruits. However, certain fruits when consumed alone may actually stimulate insulin release. For instance, some fruits such as dates and watermelons have glycemic indices higher than white bread.

Sound simple? It is.

This strategy allows you to consume a large meal at night, helping you stimulate insulin (which is necessary for glucose and amino acid uptake), sleep better due to reactive hypoglycemia, and enjoy social occasions. You may use fasting or light meals during the rest of the day.

As you may have noticed throughout this insulin-based nutritional saga, the strategy is definitely a work in progress. Currently, my lifestyle leaves me with usually 1-2 light meals throughout the day and my large, feast meal. I like this set-up because it allows me to get 2-3 fairly large protein doses during the day, which has been shown in cases to be highly stimulative of protein synthesis.

As I mentioned in the above section on the Harris-Benedict equation, it all comes down to total calories and macro-distribution. This insulin-based nutrition strategy is just one vehicle through which we can get to our macro- and caloric totals. See if you can implement anything new from this three-part insulin-based nutrition saga!

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