by Mike Arnold
Despite its relative simplicity and even though it has been in widespread use for over 20 years, insulin continues to be one of the most hotly debated and misunderstood topics in bodybuilding. Given the wealth of knowledge available on the subject and considering the sources from which it has been derived, ignorance has become increasingly difficult to justify. Unlike other performance enhancing drugs, many of which have received comparatively little attention by the medical community, insulin has been heavily researched for nearly 100 years, providing us with a large pool of reliable information from which to educate ourselves with.
Yet, whenever the topic of insulin comes up, misinformation and exaggeration abound. Safety risks are blown out of proportion, sub-par applications are recommended, and time and effort is spent focusing on things that are of little consequence, while legitimate concerns go ignored. While the taboo associated with insulin (which in my opinion is massively hypocritical considering the level of illicit drug use that takes place in this sport) is responsible for at least some of the current misunderstanding, the reluctance of the knowledgeable to speak out is also partially to blame.
Whether it is fear that constrains them, either by way of potential lawsuit or genuine concern for the ill-prepared, or it is simply a lack of desire to relay their knowledge to others, the end result is the same—the masses remain uneducated. Some bodybuilding websites have even gone so far as to ban their membership from speaking about insulin in public forums, as if preventing discussion is somehow going to keep people safe or deter bodybuilders from its use. Clearly, those who believe such lack perspective, as ignorance is never a better substitute for knowledge when it comes to PED use, especially one which is as routinely used as insulin.
It is with this in mind that I have decided to address some of the more commonly misunderstood subjects regarding insulin/insulin use, such as how to determine your ideal dosage, how to structure your diet around your insulin intake, how to obtain maximum benefit from each IU of insulin administered, how to minimize the negative health effects of insulin, and how to prevent yourself from gaining excess bodyfat. Although insulin is a complex hormone with many functions in the body, we are going to focus primarily on its role as a nutrient transporter. In a nutshell, insulin is responsible for shuttling the nutrients we consume from the bloodstream to the muscle cell surface, after which these nutrients are delivered directly into the cell via Glut-4 transporters, where they can then be used for growth & recovery. By using exogenous insulin, we are able to increase the rate and quantity of nutrients which are delivered into the muscle, effectively increasing growth potential through the enhancement of both anabolic and anti-catabolic processes.
With this being the case, many bodybuilders mistakenly assume that the more insulin they use, the better their results will be, but this is not necessarily the case. Unlike steroids, in which the body is able to benefit from progressively larger dosages (up to a point), using insulin in like fashion will result in negative feedback mechanisms being triggered, which will directly impair the body’s ability to use insulin, diminishing its effectiveness and potentially compromising one’s health. Therefore, rather than focusing on total dose as the sole means of increasing effectiveness, we should first focus on extracting as much benefit as possible from each IU administered. This is accomplished by optimizing insulin sensitivity/preventing insulin resistance. There is an abundance of information all over the Net on how to do this.
One of the most common fears many prospective insulin users have is that of “getting fat”. They think that using insulin in any amount will lead to bodyfat gain, regardless of what else they do. This is just not the case. Insulin can potentially increase fat accumulation/decrease fat loss, but the rate at which this occurs, if it occurs at all, is dependent on many factors. Think about the following. As bodybuilders, carbs comprise a substantial part of our diet. We need them for energy during training, to replenish lost glycogen, to initiate recovery and even to grow optimally. Without carbs we look, feel, and function at less than our best, with many people becoming practically debilitated if consumption of this vital macronutrient falls too low. The point here is obvious—carbs are absolutely essential to the lifestyle of a BB’r.
Even pre-contest bodybuilders often include substantial quantities of carbohydrates in their diets, sometimes all the way up to the show, yet this doesn’t stop them from achieving head-turning condition. How is it that these competitors are able to get in such great shape when carbohydrates, which are highly insulinogenic (meaning they cause insulin to be released into the bloodstream), remain an integral part of their diet? If insulin is the enemy, shouldn’t these guys be turning into the Pillsbury Doughboy rather than the leanest individuals on the planet?
Now, it is true that the higher one’s insulin levels are, the more difficult it becomes to liberate fatty acids from the fat cell, and the easier it becomes for the body to store excess calories as fat, but insulin is only one factor involved in the fat loss/gain process. Individual variances in metabolism, energy expenditure, diet, drug use, and other factors can have a massive affect on whether we store, maintain, or lose bodyfat. When these variables are tailored towards the goals of a bodybuilder, most individuals will have an easy time overcoming the negative effect of exogenous insulin on fat cells. This is why so many bodybuilders can consistently get ripped eating an amount of carbohydrate which would make the average person obese, even when exogenous insulin is part of the picture.
When using insulin to build mass without adding excess bodyfat, there are a few rules you need to pay attention to and the more prone you are to gaining bodyfat, the more these rules apply. Some people can violate every rule in the book and continue to look like they’re 6 weeks out year-round, while others have a few cheat days a week and they already notice their belt buckles starting to tighten up. Obviously, those individuals who gain bodyfat very easily—who struggle to stay lean even when doing everything “right”—they are going to have a much more difficult time staying lean when using insulin. However, most people, even those with slower than average metabolisms, are still able to use insulin in low doses and possibly even moderate doses without any issues, assuming they have the above mentioned factors in order.
Most importantly, do not eat more daily calories than your body requires to recover and grow. If you do, adding additional insulin into the mix will accelerate your rate of fat gain, which is something none of us want. By adhering to this one rule, you will dramatically cut down on your body’s ability to store bodyfat and for those with faster metabolisms, this alone is generally sufficient to ward off an expanding waistline. For those who are not quite so blessed, there are several other steps that can be taken, such as cleaning up your diet, consuming a larger percentage of your daily carbs and/or insulin around training, adding in some cardio, and taking steps to optimize insulin sensitivity. The less genetically blessed a person is on the metabolism front, the more likely it is that they will need to do these things.
Another frequently misunderstood subject is how many carbohydrates one should eat when using insulin. Many people look at this the wrong way. They think “how many carbs do I need to eat in order to ward off hypoglycemia”, rather than asking how many carbs they need to optimize recovery and growth. More to the point, they allow their insulin dose to determine their carbohydrate intake, rather than using carbohydrate intake to determine insulin dose. This is a mistake. Before one even contemplates using insulin, they first thing they should do is determine the amount of carbs they need to maximize recovery & growth. Only after that has been done can one determine an appropriate insulin dose.
Let’s use the pre-workout only method as an example. If John Doe requires 170 grams of carbs during the training window in order to optimize recovery & growth, and if we use a generic ratio of 10 grams of carbs per IU (which is generally safe for pretty much everyone), this means that John could use 17 IU of Humulin/Novolin without going hypo. Of course, John would need to make sure he times his nutrient intake with the type of insulin he is uses so that those nutrients are available while the insulin is active, but the point is that this amount of carbs would be sufficient to use up the proposed dose of insulin.
By doing things this way, not only does John avoid fat gain by consuming an amount of carbohydrate that is in line with his metabolic requirements, but he also optimizes recovery and avoids hypoglycemia. Now, John could use a lower dose of insulin if he chose to, but this would not affect his carbohydrate intake because his carb intake was never based on his insulin dose to begin with. Rather, his carb intake was based on what his body actually needed to make maximum progress. There would also be no reason for John to exceed this dose of insulin, at least during this period of time, as doing so would require him to eat more calories than his body requires, leading to fat gain.
There are far too many guys out there who think that the right way to prevent fat gain when using insulin is to consume only enough carbs to avoid hypoglycemia. Even if their body requires twice as many carbs to optimize recovery & growth during the training window, they will trim down their carb consumption so that it matches their insulin dose. For example, if someone is only using 8 IU of insulin pre-workout and they only need 7 grams of carbs per IU in order to avoid hypoglycemia, such an individual might only consume 55-60 grams of carbs during the training window. Obviously, if a man’s metabolism demands that he consume 150-200 grams of carbs to recover & grow properly, cutting down carb intake to 55-60 grams is going to severely comprise his ability to achieve his muscle building goals, invalidating the entire reason for using insulin in the first place! This is just another reason why one should always base their insulin dose off of their body’s metabolic requirements—not the other way around. As long as you do so, you will avoid all of the above-mentioned problems, while ensuring you make the best progress possible.
Another falsehood held by many people is that only carbohydrates are capable of regulating blood sugar/avoiding hypoglycemia. This is completely false. Like carbohydrates, protein can be converted into glucose within the body, helping us manage blood sugar in the absence of carbohydrate. Now, whether or not protein is converted into glucose quickly enough to be effective in this regard comes down to two factors: the amount of protein consumed what type of protein is being consumed. Something like red meat is going to be a very poor choice for this, as it digests far too slowly, preventing the body from converting it into glucose quickly enough to manage blood sugar levels post-injection.
However, something like hydrolyzed whey protein works well when used for this purpose, as it is digested very rapidly, dumping aminos acids into the bloodstream in massive quantities—a state referred to as hyperaminoacidemia. Some people have even been known to use fairly large quantities of insulin with low or even zero carb diets; a feat they were able to accomplish because of the abundance of whey protein in their diet. Obviously, this is not something I would recommend, but it does prove that the body can and will use protein to regulate blood glucose levels.
Hopefully, by debunking some of these long-standing misconceptions, you will have not only learned how to use insulin more effectively, but will be more likely to avoid the pitfalls associated with this drug. Still, I have only touched the surface on these issues, making continued education a must for anyone who engages in this practice. At its core, using insulin to enhance muscle growth/athletic performance is a fairly simplistic process, so long as one possesses a basic understanding of the drug and how it works in the human body.