Insulin, What’s the Big Deal?


You’re going to find that some of our food recommendations eliminate the “grain” food group. This includes cereal, bread, crackers, rice, and pasta. Why, you ask? When eaten, the foods from the grain group break down into simple sugars almost immediately after ingestion and the sugar floods your blood. The rapid increase in blood sugar levels causes an equally rapid insulin response. This is the body’s hormonal response to hyperglycemic (sugar-loaded blood) conditions. Without getting too deep into it, insulin spikes are bad. Insulin causes the rapid shuttling of sugars into fat stores (eating sugar makes you fat and interestingly, eating fat doesn’t) and because it happens so fast, we often experience a sugar high followed by a crash. Your body likes balance and the roller-coaster you send it on when you eat or drink sugary foods without your other macro-nutrient friends, protein and fat, can only be tolerated for so long.

With regards to insulin, is it all bad? Of course not. If it’s regulated and released under normal physiologic conditions, it’s actually your friend. But like any hormone, too much of a good thing is bad for you. Prolonged elevation of insulin levels that result from a lifelong grain heavy diet (hyperglycemia abounds) can yield diabetes (type 2) via developed insulin resistance within your body. Diabetes is no fun and with regards to athletics, insulin resistance has also been linked with chronic inflammation.

Now you might ask, isn’t inflammation a normal bodily function? Yes, it is. Especially after intense exercise such as the exercise you might find in a workout at CrossFit RVA or another CrossFit affiliate. However, chronic inflammation from your diet and exercise is detrimental to your health. It hinders the healing process and makes consecutive workout days tougher to get through. If you have been following the bouncing yellow ball, you’ve probably started piecing together the puzzle. Grain heavy diets, which lead to chronically elevated insulin levels, can yield insulin resistance, which in turn leads to chronic inflammation and poor body healing. What’s the importance of healing? Recovery, of course! Half of your health is recovery and we want to maximize it.

I know accepting that eating bread, pasta rice, and sugary foods as bad for you is hard to comprehend because most of us grew up eating these things and probably still do, but that doesn’t automatically make what we are suggesting wrong. Think of our propositions as some food for thought that might potentially help with your training, energy, and weight loss. Isn’t it at least worth considering? Think about the foods that you ingest on a daily basis. What are they doing to/for you? Are they helping you to recover or improving your daily performance? Are they helping you lose weight? How are they accomplishing it? Can we improve our diets?

As a summary, diets that are heavy in grains and sugary foods aren’t all that great for you. We want to control our hormonal responses as much as we can and with a carbohydrate heavy diet, insulin is unchecked. Additionally, hyperinsulinemia exacerbates inflammation, which gives you a double whammy of anti-recovery. One way to take control of this problem is to start by weening yourself off of soda and pre-packaged foods. You can also start cutting back on the amount of grain products you eat while upping your intake of vegetables. We’ll get more into some other strategies in the near future.