The Insulin Paradox II ~ Lessons from Body Builders

In The Insulin Paradox, I laid out the following:

When insulin levels are elevated, the uptake/esterification of fatty acids in fat tissue is enhanced while lipolysis/release of fatty acids stored as triglycerides is suppressed,  thus favoring fatty acid accumulation in adipose tissue.
The low insulin state favors partitioning of fuel (mass) to fat tissue stores vs. lean tissue.

And then summarized various observations and studies that support this.  Now, this is not to say that the high insulin state necessarily facilitates a low body fat percentage.   That's a topic for another day.  But, TWICHOO tells us that postprandial insulin release is to be kept low and that insulin spikes lead to calories getting sucked into your fat cells and locked away (envision in head, Lustig going phfffffffffffft) from the rest of your body that's starved of that energy.  But is that so?  The evidence seems to say no!  Because while insulin does directly facilitate glucose transport into the adipocytes and indirectly facilitate uptake of dietary fat, it has far greater impact on lean tissues.  Skeletal muscle is the major "sink" for ingested glucose which is subsequently oxidized for energy, converted to glycogen, and quite possibly converted to fatty acids (also oxidized or stored locally in lipid droplets).  

But this idea came from my Inbox where a member of Jimmy's forum forwarded the following link , screenshot of opening post below:

Let's leave aside the straw men about what those of us who believe in CICO.  We know that CI and CO are not independent variables, that our metabolisms are adaptable, that eating exactly 3500 cals more in a day will not add exactly one pound of fat, and that we ignore any part that hormones play in the partitioning of energy. Indeed hormones (in conjunction with genetics) do impact both energy partitioning between lean and fat, as well as the distribution of that fat.   However the latest dig-in-the-heels position of the TWICHOOB hangers-on is that calories don't matter.  That somehow a "metabolically deranged" person in 1000 cal/day energy deficit on a high carb diet will not lose weight while they will be able to on a low carb diet irrespective of calorie deficit.  This is total nonsense.

But look at what Dave wrote there:  
Body Builders routinely inject steroids and even insulin in order to get bigger.
Later he laments that if they just believed in CICO, they would just pig out on pizza to get bigger, and Dave wonders why not.  Well Dave, because they'll just get fat if they are gluttonous on relatively low protein, high fat and carb foods.  Still, as the recent Bray overfeeding study demonstrated, if they overate on something higher in protein, they would gain lean mass in addition to the fat.  But a body builder wants to gain lean while adding as little fat as possible.  So let's leave the other roids out of this for now.  What else do they inject?  Why insulin!    Why would they want to do this if insulin favored partitioning to fat tissue?  Because it doesn't!

Now, I'm about to link to a website/forum called Steroidology.  So you are forewarned, and I also offer the disclaimer here that I do not in any way, shape or form endorse steroid use, etc. and all that jazz.  But this post, essentially a tutorial on insulin usage for bulking, demonstrates that this is practiced in the body building community.    
Look back through picture archives of bodybuilding and you will be struck by a startling fact. In the last half-decade bodybuilders have been getting much larger much quicker. Certain professionals have added twenty pounds to their contest weight in one season, after having seemingly reached a plateau. The bodybuilding audience loves to hear that this weight gain is due to some secret drug or some newly discovered gene therapy. Elaborate theories are developed to explain these rapid weight gains and the professionals themselves are not helpful; they claim that it's the new X-brand supplement that's doing it and leave it at that. 
The truth is that bodybuilders have discovered the most anabolic hormone produced by the body, insulin. Additionally, insulin has the benefit of being not only legal and over the counter in most states, but it is very cheap. A bottle costs less then thirty dollars and there is no need to worry about counterfeits. By correctly using insulin, in conjunction with human growth hormone and anabolic steroids, modern professionals have added pounds of mass onto seemingly stagnant physiques.
Here's the protocol:
Post Injection Meals and Supplements: 
Depending on the onset time of the insulin type you are using you have varying lengths of time in which to ingest the post-insulin meal. Generally your post insulin meals should follow these guidelines. 
60-80 grams of a good quality protein powder. Whey protein is ideal. This is taken immediately after the injection. 
7 grams of simple carbohydrates (not fructose as it does not raise blood sugar quickly enough) per IU of insulin injected. Every 15-20 minutes after the first shot, take a few glucose tablets. This is will increase the amount of glucose available to your body for storage.
The carbs are essential to prevent hypoglycemia and "the total amount of insulin that you will be using daily is roughly 15-45 IUs depending on how many carbohydrates you can eat that day. During dieting periods, the total amount of insulin will be greatly reduced. "   Still, 15 x 7 = 105g carb just to cover the insulin.  Odd how that's the reverse, eh?  During a bulking period, the high end insulin dose would correspond to over 300g carb -- well into the "insidious weight gain" region on Mark Sisson's carb curve.  And it looks like it works ... only to drive lean gains.

So ... body builders deliberately consume a caloric excess when they are trying to build muscle.  And some inject insulin and ingest considerable carbs while doing this.  They eat a lot of protein with those carbs.  And the insulin enhances the growth of LEAN mass.  So ... eat a lot of protein as part of your caloric excesses in a mixed diet, like the high protein group in the Bray study, put on lean and fat mass.  Do the same and inject insulin to create supraphysiological levels (and carbs to prevent hypos), and you gain more lean mass and less fat.  I'm not a body builder, but it would seem that if postprandial hyperinsulinemia caused energy partitioning to fat mass, I'd think this is the last thing they'd want to do.  


Janet said…
You can't apply bodybuilders to the general population. The steroids and growth hormone and other "supplements" change their physiology dramtically.
LeonRover said…
It's the Austrian Paradox - courtesy of the Governator.
Tonus said…
We would need to differentiate between bodybuilders getting into contest shape and bodybuilders who are bulking up in the off-season. Don't get me wrong- I have no idea which scenario favors insulin usage, and perhaps it doesn't matter. But during the off-season, bodybuilders will gain quite a bit of fat along with muscle. Some of them look like big balloons. Granted, they do not look like your typical obese person! But during this time they're not concerned with fat loss; they are with muscle-building.

During their contest prep phase, they will very carefully monitor their diets and do more cardio work, with the goal of losing as much fat as possible while losing as little muscle as possible. The approaches are, obviously, very different. And I think it would depend on which of those phases they are taking insulin. If they're taking it during the bulking phase, then they may not be concerned with whether they're storing extra fat-- all they care about is the extra muscle. And as Janet says, the extensive catalog of drugs and supplements they take might make it impossible to isolate the behavior and effects of insulin.
Unknown said…
If you look at the bodybuilding community you'll find guys who inject themselves with everything under the sun, I like lifting weights but it doesn't take much in the way of brains to lift weights. The younger guys tend to be especially stupid.
Unknown said…

Towards creating a superstimulus to normalise glucose metabolism in the prediabetic: a case-study in the feast-famine and activity-rest cycle

We live in a time of plenty. During evolution, periods of hunger and simultaneously high activity levels would combine giving a stimulus which is absent from modern lifestyles. This is potentially connected with abnormal glucose metabolism. It was hypothesised that simultaneous fasting and aggressive aerobic neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) exercise, until metabolic exhaustion, may be an acceptable modern equivalent. A healthy subject fasted for 44 h (water allowed) during which he undertook three aerobic NMES sessions at >50%VO2max; heart rate >160 bpm. Metabolic gas analysis of a comparable session in the non-fasting state showed 100% carbohydrate substrate utilisation. With fasting the NMES exercise consumed mostly fat–up to 100% fat utilisation at 42 h. This clear shift away from using carbohydrate as a substrate and hypoglycaemia may indicate that carbohydrate stores are nearly depleted. The authors postulate that this may constitute a metabolic super stimulus mimicking the famine-activity periods of our ancestors.
Nigel Kinbrum said…
As a regular contributor to, I can tell you that the reason why bodybuilders gain much more muscle mass than civvies is down to all of the resistance training with weights that they do. Amongst other things, this makes muscle cells more insulin-sensitive. This allows more nutrients to enter muscle cells relative to fat cells. It's called partitioning.

As there's a limit to the rate at which muscle mass can be gained, gaining weight too quickly when bulking results in increased fat mass gain relative to muscle mass gain.
Sly said…
I think bodybuilders don't care much about increasing fat mass along muscle mass. It is a normal practice - first gain more mass (fat+muscle) then, for several months, reduce fat taking care of muscle (BCAA, whey, glutamine).
I am diabetic and take insulin, I also train bodybuilding, as a hobbyist. When i eat great amounts of carbs, I need to increase my insulin. I I gain fat for sure, and hope for muscle too :), not easy to measure, except simple strength gains.
Generally, fast growing is almost always fat+muscle, the only protocol I've found that's claiming lean gains is here: :-)
CarbSane said…
Judging from the comments it seems some folks think BB's aren't human?! Yes, many use hormone cocktails, etc., and if they just ate as they do w/o the resistance exercise, no doubt they'd not be bulking. That wasn't really my point, however.

The point is that -- and unfortunately I haven't gotten to finish installment 3 on Lustig, because it's that episode of Skinny on Obesity where he talks about taping an IV in someone's arm and following them around injecting them with insulin (yeah, there's a real life example) and they'd get fat. The rationale, which is a rehashing of Fat Head's and Taubes' and many others' scenario of the energy hoarding fat cells due to high insulin. You know, high insulin drives 500 cals into your fat cells and locks it there so you eat 2000 but your cells are starving cuz they only get 1500 and this makes you hungry so you eat 500 more and 200 of that gets locked away and so on.

While bb's no doubt have to accept some fat gains, it would be ridiculous for them to use insulin in conjunction with whatever other stuff they are using if the previous scenario and insulin being uniquely FATTENING hormone were true. It would just rob them of energy and partition energy into building fat mass ... oh ... and perhaps make them soooo hungry they'd be unable to maintain their rigidly controlled diets -- that even in gaining phase are usually quite carefully engineered.

If TWICHOO were true, bb's would not take insulin is the main point.

... Up to 10% of bodybuilders may be using insulin, according to a recent report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Bodybuilders openly discuss how to use it on muscle-building sites on the Internet, where advertisers also sell insulin and the syringes to inject it, and several cases of comas and fainting have been reported in medical journals.

Roberto Marcelletti, a personal trainer and competitive bodybuilder in Jersey City, N.J., wrote to Ironman magazine to protest the "largest and most shredded competitors" he'd ever competed against in a 2001 bodybuilding competition. "I know GH [growth hormone] and insulin are being used and are undetected by urine samples," he wrote. ...

No doubt bb's use VLC to "cut", but that phase is always a balance of losing fat while maintaining muscle.
LeonRover said…
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

For "heaven and earth" substitute "physiology of insulin".
bentleyj74 said…
"While bb's no doubt have to accept some fat gains"

Nope, they definitely don't. They suffer from at least as much diet and fitness schizophrenia as the general population [probably more] and it results in some beliefs/behaviors that are contrary to their goals. More likely their "bulking" periods have less to do with muscle building and more to do with response to the dietary restrictions involved in achieving extreme low body fat for a short term gain [contest or photos]. Insulin is a growth hormone, it is involved in muscle building so I'm not surprised that it's used in that capacity. I think it's NUTS but I'm not surprised. The over simplification of the roles of insulin in the body is relevant and I think you demonstrated that many people use it specifically with the goal of lean gains.
Leighan said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leighan said…
Good pics of many off season bodybuilders:
Leighan said…
Many of them gain massive amounts of fat regardless of the drugs they take, but they find it easy enough to burn it back off.

Look further down, some of them look downright obese
Leighan said…
They also eat gigantic amounts as well. Apparently Dorian Yates was known to eat litre tubs of ice cream in a sitting, and that was just between meals. They always pack on lots of fat during the off-season but have no trouble burning it off again it would seem.
Leighan said…
BB's don't care how much fat they gain in the off-season because they know the more they eat the more they are taking advantage of the amount of mass they can gain as well.
Leighan said…
"Studies done on overfeeding consistently demonstrate that at least 35% of the weight sedentary people gain when they do nothing but overeat 1000 extra calories per day of crappy foods for 100 or more days straight is lean bodyweight.[1] In fact, underneath all that fat mass, the biggest sumo wrestlers on average carry more muscle mass then the biggest bodybuilders.2 "

link to the article:


1. Bouchard, Tremblay “Genetic Influences on the Response of Body Fat and Fat Distribution to Positive and Negative Energy Balances in Human Identical Twins.” Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Ste-Foy, Québec, G1K 7P4 Canada

2. Kondo, Takashi, Ikegawa, Kawakami, Fukunaga. “Upper limit of fat-free mass in humans: A study on Japanese Sumo wrestlers.” 1994
Janet said…
exactly Leighan, they take off the fat utilzing "different methods" this information is pointless as realized by anyone who has been around or involved with bodybuilders.
Janet said…
It is obvious you have no clue what you are talking about. You are taking information way out of context to support your arguments. Kind of like you accuse Taubes of doing.
CarbSane said…
What am I taking out of context? Let's say I'm a body builder. I want to put on lean mass. If I want to gain muscle mass, I go about "overeating" to gain weight. It's at least very difficult to gain no fat and all muscle. Leighan I'm not sure I don't care about the fat -- I've read enough conversations on various muscle-head boards over the years to know that gaining too much fat is their greatest fear. What you put on you must take off and it's that much more discipline and dieting (and risking lean losses) when the off-season party is over. The point I was making is that IF insulin did what Taubes/Lustig/Naughton say it does, no body builder in their right mind would use it. Because it would only ensure more fat and hunger ... that's the theory anyway.
Janet said…
Muscle head? Really? How condescending! I have been training with competition level bodybuilders for the last year. These folks are as much chemists as they are weightlifters. Off season bodybuilders can put on as much as 30 - 40 pounds and then take it off begining 12 - 16 weeks out. Do you know how they "cut up?" Restricting and cylcing carbohydrates. While muscle is the goal, many especially those concerned with stregth also, are not concerned about a little extra fat. And for those concerned with not putting on too much fat, many also take anabolic agents include human growth hormone which increases the metabolism of fat, negating the fat storing effect of insulin. Many bodybuilders also train on a double split, which means 2 trips to the gym most days. All of this is considerably different than other athletes let alone the general populace.
Leighan said…
Yeah there are a lot that are terrified of fat gain, but from what I've seen it's always the younger ones. the serious IFBB pros do not have that mindset. Just look at Lee Priest and Jay Cutler in the off season. Saying that, the pros most likely don't have to worry because I'm sure the drugs help assist the fat loss

On any serious training site I've read, Constantly , people state that it's harder to build muscle than lose fat. That probably seems disrespectful to anyone who struggles with weight loss but of course we are talking about highly active people here so of course it's much easier. Course the amount of fat gained in relation to muscle is genetic and more than likely influenced by drugs. I've also seen insulin touted as the most anabolic substance many times and that makes sense too because it's there to build.

Also seen many people talk about sugar loaded weight gainers saying they make crazy gains in mass.
CarbSane said…
Oh c'mon Janet. It wasn't intended in that way. Also, there's a big difference between professional body builders like the one's in Leighan's off season pics and the guys who lift and work at their physiques to look good year round. I dated a few in my single days.

You are missing the point. I'm NOT comparing them to other athletes. I'm saying that they are injecting insulin. It's NOT to put on fat mass, and if the insulin just sucked their fat into their cells and locked it away starving their cells and making them voracious it would not be something they would be doing.
CarbSane said…
BTW, Janet, I AM comparing them to other HUMANS. They're clearly walking biochemistry labs, but the hormones they take do the same things in their bodies as a couch potato.
Leighan said…
And when I mentioned mass above in relation to sugar gainers; I meant lean. Anyways, it's well known insulin is anabolic so of course they will use it.

And I simply meant yeah, IFBBs arent scared of fat. The ones not on drugs will be a little more cautious though.Depends how Much definition they are willing to sacrifice to get gains
Janet said…
Actually Evelyn the hormones do NOT do the same thing as in the couch potato because the bodybuilder isn't sitting on the couch doing nothing. I think we will have to agree to disagree on this one.. But I enjoyed the lively conversation.
Puddleg said…
Maybe it is actually healthy to gain fat after eating, to burn when the energy is required. And insulin helps us to store this fat, amongst other things. But keep the insulin and blood sugar elevated by constant feeding (in the way sugar is consumed, in drinks and snacks between meals, for example) and the second, calories-out part of the equation becomes harder to fulfil. Even when we would really appreciate some of that stored energy.

Injecting insulin like a body-builder might be better for us than drip-feeding it like a snacker.
Nigel Kinbrum said…
@Janet: Insulin does exactly the same thing in BBers as it does in couch potatoes - it increases the uptake of nutrients by muscle & fat cells from circulation.

In BBers, muscle cells are more sensitive to insulin than fat cells, so there's more muscle mass gain than fat mass gain (unless there are way too much nutrients available).

In couch potatoes, muscle cells are less sensitive to insulin than fat cells, so there's less muscle mass gain than fat mass gain (especially when there are way too much nutrients available).
Janet said…
So Nigel, you just explained two different results. Isn't that the same thing? Or, perhaps I just worded my response incorrectly.
CarbSane said…
Even in the IR, muscle is the major peripheral sink for glucose disposal. Hyperinsulinemia is a compensation to IR to move glucose and amino acids into muscle cells regardless. In BB's the carbs are quickly burnt off and more protein goes to repair and build new muscle. In CP's the glucose is eventually burnt off and probably a lot more protein as well as it's not "needed" to repair/build. The CP gains fat because less fatty acids are needed, circulating glucose remains higher, and fatty acids are (hopefully for the health of the organism) sequestered into fat tissue. This is not from the insulin per se, but the state of energy balance and utilization.

Janet, we'll have to agree to disagree on the definition of lively conversation. {paraphrasing you} 'You have no clue', 'actually hormones do NOT do the same thing' (because you say so and hang around body builders), 'I'm outta here'. Sigh.

Insulin performs the same functions in all humans. That's my point.

Also, it's a bit disingenuous to compare extremes like professional body builders with "professional" couch sitters. Many of the "kids" (20's mostly) who've worked for my husband over the years get into body building to bulk up a bit (helps a lot in rough neighborhoods) and to look nice for the ladies. They're not interested in fattening up and having to starve off the fat later. Many of the articles on insulin use are concerned that it is dangerous (hypos) but readily available, legal, and produces results. It wouldn't make it into the "lower ranks" of a sport if it turned 98 lb weaklings into 118 lb "skinny fatties". Hope that makes sense.
Janet said…
I'm sorry i was just emulating the language you use when discussing other people.. The cute little cartoon/superhero names you use. I thought you were being good natured when you use negative conotations towards other people. So, I was, I suppose poorly trying to play along, guess I was wrong. Maybe this is just mean spirited conversation. I will no longer comment because I must have missed something, but I will continue to read.
CarbSane said…
By all means please do continue to comment ... I do mean the superhero stuff in good nature, and I just don't see any similarity between Leptin Man and "you don't know squat". There's also a difference between blog posts about certain people's ideas and interacting with them. That's why I like the comments here because people do exchange ideas and challenge me to think. I hope I do the same.

On the off chance this gets read for further discussion, I think you and I are talking different things. I'm saying insulin does the same things in all humans (absent rare genetic defects) -- as in it stimulates the same enzymes or suppresses them, binds to receptors in the same tissues, etc. Have you read this article? I think it's essential to understanding all of insulin's roles in the body.

Taubes takes one hormone that acts on fat tissue -- most acutely in the postprandial state -- and isolates it from the actions of 8 other hormones listed in GCBC that also act on fat. He then focuses on pp short-term response trying to convince readers insulin traps fatty acids in. This is not supported by the evidence (if you look for Myth of Starving Cells in the chrono post list linked in the sidebar that might be a worthwhile read).

The insulin paradox is that the short term effects are counter to what is seen in the long term metabolic state due to diet. Few have inherent hyperinsulinemia in response to a meal let alone basal hyperinsulinemia. The well fed (but not chronically overfed) state signals abundant nutrients and insulin pushes those nutrients into lean tissue to build & repair. The chronically underfed state = "starvation" leads to metabolic slow down (to differing degrees) and conservation. Organisms actively growing under such circumstances almost invariably end up smaller but fattier as a percent. They also have lower insulin signaling from food intake. Even when someone is obese/IR, the high insulin is intended to push past the barriers and get the glucose and amino acids into the lean tissue to be burned. Perhaps at that point more is left over to go into fat tissue and be converted to fat, but this is a later stage development, not HOW they got fat in the first place.

I think VLC diets should probably be the first dietary intervention for the very obese ... for as long as it works for weight loss!
CarbSane said…
Welcome George! The irony in some LC theories is that proper fat cycling/trapping is considered bad. When, in fact, the problems arise from exactly the breakdown LC'ers seem to desire. That is (a) inefficient trapping, and (b) rampant lipolysis. Both of these lead to elevated circulating fatty acids that wreak metabolic havoc. It's sad really as certain things like early insulin treatment for T2's can actually cure the disease. Sure, they sometimes gain a little weight, but we're talking reversing the disease.
drcldrcl said…
Why make this more complicated than it is. Physical activity dictates where the calories go. If you empty your carbohydrate store by physical exertion then your muscle insulin sensitivity increases. If you dont deplete any carbohydrate then its all going to end up as fat - at least short term.

The issue is that people who are overweight arent usually active. If you can make them active then their body muscles will suck up most of the glucose before the fat cells get the chance.

But if they are insulin resistant then some of it will still end up in fat and they will have over production of insulin. Hypoglycemia will cause hunger earlier before the next meal than a metabolically normal person will and are bound to eat more - and if they eat the carbs then we a are back to square one with more energy and more insulin than required. a continual slight insulin elevation will mean fat can never get out the adipose.

It's very simple. Don't snack between meals if you are sedentary. only eat 2-3 meals each day.

Why do you say FFA cause metabolic havoc?
Sanjeev said…
> physical exertion then your muscle insulin sensitivity increases

which raises the issue of whether people have conscious control[0] in the long term over how much they move. I'm referring here to the accelerometer studies that showed people basically move roughly the same fixed amount per day.

That said, I was completely sedentary for most of my life. I got skinny for the first time in my life at age 21 by cycling, first just cycling to school then for recreation, 40km per day, occasionally 80km. That lasted about 4 years, then I had an accident and was in pain for a year. Gained all the weight back and then some.

After recovering from the injury I just couldn't bring myself to ride long distances again, so I was sedentary again for around 10 years. In the last 5 years I've been doing first judo and in the last 2 years gymnastics.

Along with the trampoline stuff and not taking the elevator for the last year (my apartment's on the 9th floor), it feels like I move more in a week than I used to in a month.

All that is just to say i'm skeptical[1] of the "how much one moves is fixed", BUT this is an anecdote, so take it for what that's worth.

Back to your point again
> physical exertion then your muscle insulin sensitivity increases

this is one reason I find discussions of aggregate "insulin resistance" suspect. If a couple of workouts are enough to restore sensitivity the concept seems as useful as GI.

It may be useful for medical professionals and researchers but until brain, liver and muscle IR can be characterized separately and cheaply tested I don't know that layperson discussions will yield actionanable ideas.

Do we need mounds of research on muscle IR to tell us to move more? It's an additional reason to exercise, but is it enough to get people moving if the existing pro-exercise propaganda is not enough?

[0] the simple version of CICO that some rail against suffers the same shortcoming ... how much conscious control is there. the subtler versions of CICO (behavioural tricks like smaller plates, removing easily accessible treats, psychological tricks like buying groceries after a big meal and diets based on reward theory) try to address this

[1] it's rare for me to be skeptical ; )
Many medical researchers believe that stem cell treatments have the potential to change the face of human disease and alleviate suffering. The ability of stem cells to self-renew and give rise to subsequent generations with variable degrees of differentiation capacities, offers significant potential for generation of tissues that can potentially replace diseased and damaged areas in the body, with minimal risk of rejection and side effects.Stem Cell Therapy
Acker Arey said…
This is helpful information indeed! Thanks for sharing. I am eager to become a body builder and hope to gain weight and appropriate muscles soon. i will take care of food and if possible then will surely try to take Kratom supplement.