by Mike Arnold
Since writing The Ultimate Insulin Protocol roughly 5 years ago, I have received numerous requests asking for my opinion regarding some of the newer products on the market and whether or not they can be used as substitutions for the original components. After responding with a few abbreviated posts, but continuing to see similar questions posted all over the boards, I decided to take a few minutes to address this officially, but more importantly, to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding the original protocol.
First and foremost, the reader should understand that when this protocol was designed, it was intended to be generic in nature; to serve as basic template one could follow when putting together their own program. But rather than being used for its intended purpose, many began to replicate it word for word, without any regard for the importance of personalization.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the original, the objective was simple: to create an easy to follow, highly effective, sustainable program devoid of the metabolic health risks inherent in many of the more elaborate programs, while being suitable for both beginner and advanced bodybuilders alike. In short, I wanted people to be able to experience the benefits of insulin, but without the potential consequences so often associated with its use. Due to its success in balancing effectiveness with safety, it was in a sense the “ultimate” insulin protocol.
Although many factors were considered in its design, it was insulin timing and food type-timing that formed the foundation and on which everything else was built. While the original did include certain supplements in addition to the protein and carb-based variety, the majority were optional; there to give the reader some ideas as to what might be useful depending on finances and goals. Furthermore, supplementation has progressed considerably over the last 5 years, making several of the previous options outdated by current standards, at least in comparison to some of the newer products. Regardless, aside from a couple select supplements, which I consider to be basic fare, they are all just icing on the cake and hardly essential to the protocol’s overall effectiveness.
With that said, let’s look at one of the program’s most basic tenets—the administration of insulin pre-workout—and learn why it is the single best time to include this drug in your regimen. In short, weight training causes the body’s muscle building machinery to up-regulate, which is really just another way of saying enhanced, increased, sped up, etc. Most commonly, this hyper-anabolic state is referred to as the training window; a set period of time lasting from the start of training until a few hours afterward. One way in which the body responds to weight training is through an increase in insulin sensitivity. This happens when our insulin receptors, which reside on the surface of the cell, respond to insulin’s signal more efficiently, allowing us to get more bang for our buck from this powerful muscle-building hormone.
Training also promotes recovery and growth on an intracellular level by increasing protein synthesis, glycogen synthase, Glut-4 and amino acid transporter expression, as well as decreasing myostatin levels. Combined with an increase in insulin sensitivity, these things not only result in accelerated recovery and growth, but provide a natural nutrient re-partitioning effect, in which the food we eat is more likely to be used by our muscle cells, rather than stored as fat.
Insulin is the perfect complement to this training window, as it not only shuttles nutrients to muscles cells, thereby allowing the body to take advantage of this heightened anabolic state, but insulin itself also amplifies many of the body’s muscle building processes, providing a double muscle building effect at a time when the body is most likely to respond to insulin’s signal.
As an anti-catabolic, insulin is second to none, preventing the breakdown of muscle tissue that occurs during weight training. By actively opposing muscle protein breakdown, recovery time is reduced. This has a two-fold effect. One, since the body doesn’t have to direct as much of its resources towards recovery, more energy can be spent on supercompensation (growth).
Two, faster recovery translates into increased training frequency, allowing the muscles to be stimulated more times within a given time period and ultimately, to grow more quickly. Lastly, supraphysiological insulin concentrations significantly increase blood volume within in muscle tissue, adding to the overall muscle pump and stimulating growth in its own right.
However, in order for the body to capitalize on all this, the right nutrients must be present at the right time. This is where intra-workout nutrition comes in—the 2nd half of the program’s foundation. Anyone who read the original Ultimate Insulin Protocol saw that it called for the use of specific proteins and carbohydrates to be consumed at particular times. These macronutrients were not chosen at random, but for their ability to deliver large quantities of easily digested aminos acids and glucose into the bloodstream while exogenous insulin was active.
When looking for carbs and proteins ideally suited for this purpose, the best sources do not come from whole-foods, but from high molecular weight carbohydrates and hydrolyzed proteins/amino acids. These products exit the stomach more quickly than any other protein and carb source available, allowing for rapid intestinal absorption without reducing blood flow to working muscles or causing digestive upset.
There are many great products on the market which fall into this category of supplementation. In terms of protein, there is whey, beef, casein, and even egg hydrolysates. There are many brands to choose from, but one must read the nutrition label to ensure the product in question contains only hydrolysates, as some companies attempt to deceive the buyer by clearly printing the word “hydrolysate” on the front of the bottle, but only including a small amount within the product. Some individual choose to employ essential amino acids instead of protein powders, which is fine too.
When it comes to high molecular weight carbs, there are once again many brands to choose from, perhaps even more than hydrolysates. Keep in mind that not all high molecular weight carbs are the same, but can vary in both their degree of osmolality and complexity. In general, the lower the osmolality, the better, as this will determine the rate at which the carbohydrate exits the stomach. In general, you want to a high molecular weight carb with a rating of 500,000 or higher.
While a lower osmolality is always better no matter what type of intra-workout carb is being used, its complexity is a matter of personal preference. Just like with whole-food carbs, which can range in complexity from simple sugars to the much more complex polysaccharides, so to do high-molecular weight carbs vary in complexity. There have been many successful carb products on the market which contain carbs from both ends of the spectrum. For example, the high molecular weight carbs within Gaspari’s Glycofuse (which contains highly branched cyclic dextrins) are a simple sugar, whereas a product like Karbolyn or Vitargo are of the complex polysaccharide variety.
As far as additional supplementation goes, there are only 2 compounds I feel are critical to maximizing effectives. These are leucine and creatine, particularly the micronized versions. Acting as the anabolic trigger via mTOR signaling, leucine is vital for not only stimulating protein synthesis to a meaningful degree, but directly controls the rate at which protein synthesis takes place. Therefore, optimizing leucine blood levels is an important consideration for any bodybuilder, regardless of insulin use.
Although working through completely different mechanisms, creatine’s positive effects on muscle growth are so numerous, and its price so reasonable, that it should be a staple item for all bodybuilders. Being that there is no better time to take these products than during the training window and with insulin’s influence at its peak, it just makes sense to include them with your intra-workout drink. Additional supplementation, if any, should be determined by goals and finances.
One point of contention among those who have viewed/used the original protocol is the recommended amount of carbs. As previously mentioned, the entire program was generic, including carb recommendations. Therefore, the thought process behind this aspect of the program was fairly simple—to select a dose of insulin that would produce good results in anyone with decent insulin sensitivity and couple it with an appropriately timed quantity of carbs to ensure the user’s safety, no matter how good their insulin sensitivity might be. Being that I was speaking to a general audience, I needed to account for all individuals, not just the average person.
When determining what amount of carbs is right for you, do not base your carb intake on your insulin dose. Rather, your insulin dose should be determined by your carbohydrate needs. This can vary dramatically depending on the individual and their goals. An advanced, 300 lb bodybuilder with a rapid metabolism might require 400 grams of carbs during the training window in order to recovery and grow to the best of his ability, while a 180 lb intermediate level bodybuilder with a slower metabolism might require only a small fraction of that.
First and foremost you need to establish your optimal carb intake, which will vary depending on whether you are trying to grow or lose fat (Note: I personally don’t believe insulin has much of a place in pre-contest programs, aside from a limited number of potential applications). Once you have done that you can decide on your insulin dose. YOUR CARB INTAKE SHOULD NOT CHANGE JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE USING INSULIN! Many people tend to lower their carb intake as much as possible when using this drug, thinking that this is what they need to do in order to avoid fat gain, but all they are accomplishing by doing so is reducing their potential gains.
Insulin does not reduce your body’s carb requirements. You need whatever you need. Understand that now. Lowering your carbohydrate intake to the minimum number of grams necessary to avoid hypoglycemia defeats the entire purpose of using insulin in the first place, a big part of which is to maximize nutrient delivery to muscle tissue. How are you going to do that if your carb intake resembles that of a teenage girl? You aren’t. All you will do is drastically impair your body’s ability to get big.
Moving on. Since I wrote the original program I have changed my mind on a few things. One is the type of insulin I recommend. Although I think Humalog/Novolog has its perks, I feel that good old Humulin R/Novolin R is the ideal form of insulin for pre-workout use in those trying to build mass, as well as for all novice users. Not only is it safer due to its slower release rate, but it remains active throughout the entire training window. This allows the bodybuilder to benefit from enhanced nutrient delivery over multiple feedings (intra & post-workout meals), rather than just one, providing superior results.
Secondly, I now recommend a different format in terms of shake timing. Previously, I had advised consuming 3 different shakes—one immediately pre-training, one in the middle of training, and one post-training. While this served the purpose of making sure nutrients were present in optimal quantities throughout the entire training window, it was a major pain in the ass. Furthermore, I found that most people respond better to a combination of shakes and whole-food, with a single shake being consumed throughout the workout, followed by a large whole-food meal within 60 minutes of the workout’s completion. Because the shake is consumed throughout the workout, it has the same effect as having one shake at the start of training and half-way through, while the final shake is omitted in favor of a whole-food meal.
The logic behind skipping the post-workout shake is as follows—an intra-workout shake IS a post-workout shake. As is the case here, intra-workout shakes are normally consumed throughout training, with part of the shake being consumed right at the beginning of the workout and the rest being sipped on as the workout progresses. By doing so, nutrient delivery will begin part way into training and continue until about an hour after the workout is finished. At that point there is no need to consume another rapidly digesting source of protein and carbohydrate, as the muscles have already been supplied with everything they need to kick-start the recovery & growth process.
Therefore, rather than drinking another shake after the workout has concluded, I now recommend sitting down to a whole-food meal, which will supply a more sustained influx of amino acids and glucose to the muscles for many hours to come.
Anytime insulin is used, the single most important factor to consider, outside of the drug’s acute effect on blood sugar, is its effect on insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is the springboard from which all other insulin related problems stem. Maintain your insulin sensitivity within a normal range and all of the side effects associated with the drug, including both health and cosmetic issues, will remain non-existent.
This is one of the biggest advantages of this program, as it allows the individual to enjoy the benefits of insulin without having to deal with all the unwanted side effects. Remember, insulin is a natural substance, secreted by the pancreas all day long in order to maintain blood glucose levels within the proper range. Just as our body is naturally programmed to manage this hormone without unwanted complications (as long as we let it), so too does our management of exogenous insulin determine our body’s response to it.
I have intentionally set this program up so that it can be utilized up to 5 days per week, indefinitely, without damaging one’s insulin sensitivity. While it is true that any amount of insulin exposure will have a corresponding negative effect on insulin sensitivity, this is easily prevented by the addition of insulin sensitizers to one’s program, such as berberine, bitter melon, etc. For most people, supplementing with berberine alone at 1,000-1,500 mg/day (divided into 3 daily doses) is all that it takes to cancel out the negative effects of this program on insulin sensitivity and in many cases, sensitivity may even improve. By not having to cycle this program, one avoids the yo-yo effect witnessed with on again, off again programs. As always, make sure you are well informed regarding the potential risks of improper use before engaging in any insulin program.