Weight Training and Post-Workout Insulin

When doing some research concerning weight training, I came across some interesting information. Apparently, some hardcore weight training non-diabetics abuse insulin for muscle growth! Obviously, that is horrible and potentially fatal for a non-diabetic, but as a Type 1 diabetic I figured I could use this information to my advantage.

The idea is that post-workout you want an insulin spike to help shuttle more energy into the depleted muscles. The insulin will help to restore muscle glycogen which will promote muscle growth. This is very over-simplified but that is the basic idea. So if you are a Type 1, then after a workout you should load up on carbohydrates and take your usual insulin. Over time this should help you to build muscle faster.

I was wondering if any athletic T1 diabetics out there have ever tried weight training using this post-workout insulin method to promote muscle growth. I know you should eat carbs/protein after a workout anyway, but is anybody testing to see if the amount of insulin post-workout is making any significant difference in muscle growth. Do you use it for weight training? Do you use it for cardiovascular training? Did you see any noticeable difference switching to this post-workout insulin spike method from your previous routine? How many grams of carbs do you typically eat in your post-workout meal? Along with your workout routine, are you currently on any special diet such as low-carb/high protein, vegetarian, vegan or otherwise?

NOTE: I currently work out around 5 days a week. Any strength training I do is geared to improve my weekend rock climbing. This means I focus on back, shoulder and forearm activities. My goal is not necessarily to build big muscle, but durable lean muscle which can withstand hours of hanging by your fingers.

Yes, insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone without which it is nearly impossible to build muscle mass, store glycogen, or even store fat.

The problem, of course, is that as T1 diabetics, our metabolism is all busted to hell. We have to take measured doses of insulin just to achieved largely normal results.

So yes, standard practice to restore muscle glycogen levels is to take a carb dose within a critical window after exercise. Standard practice is to consume protein post-meal if you are weight-lifting to provide amino acids for muscle growth. I do both of these things as a matter of practice, but the trick is simply to balance everything that's happening to my BG levels, intended or otherwise, with proper insulin dosing.

It is important to stress that non-diabetics do not have to concern themselves with the insulin dosing half of the equation at all, whether that's to take care of post exercise requirements or the glucose dumps that occur as a result of normal exercise patterns. I am not up to date, nor would I elaborate here even if I were, what non-diabetics do to abuse exogenous insulin to enhance these practices to increase glycogen storage and muscle growth while, at the same time, limiting fat storage.

Suffice it to say that as a diabetic, there is a lot to balance just to achieve near normal results without blowing my BG all over the map. Intense exercise, as good for you as ti is, is a special problem for diabetics.

I should note that I manage my BG very well and am not concerned about that end of things. I have figured out how to do intense exercise safely for a variety of activities since I got a pump. I also am already aware of the practices non-diabetics use for insulin and am not interested in discussing that either.

I know you should eat some carb/proteins post workout as standard practice. I guess my question to you would be do you notice any difference in muscle growth between when you eat low-carb, low insulin dosage post workout meals compared to higher carb, more insulin dosage post-workout meals? If the theory is that insulin spiking post-workout stimulates muscle growth I am curious if anybody notices that more carbs/insulin has more affect on muscle growth than less carbs/insulin post-workout? Is anybody pushing this to the limit to see if it has a substantial effect?

I think we have to clarify cause and effect first.

It is the stress on muscles through weight bearing exercise that stimulates muscle growth post exercise, given enough rest and nutrients to support growth. The concurrent release of insulin facilitates the use of building blocks for growth during this period of rest. Without enough muscle stimulation in the first place, followed by a sufficient period of rest and nutrition, supplying greater amounts of insulin than normally physiologically possible, alone, would not result in greater muscle mass.

So the question is, what's the best nutrition option to support both muscle growth and glycogen replenishment? Research clearly shows that low-carb diets lead to decreased glycogen storage under conditions of intense exercise because, generally speaking, protein eaten goes to preferentially to muscle growth and is not spared for gluconeogenesis. This leads to decreased glycogen storage. Eating too little protein actually leads to muscle wasting.

Whether or not this leads to an inability to pack on muscle mass, alone, is a question of the other types of exercise you are trying to support in addition to packing on muscle mass, and a matter of debate. Again, generally speaking, high intensity, anaerobic exercise supports better muscle growth than aerobic type exercise. High intensity, anaerobic exercise has most definitely been shown to suffer under extreme low carb diets which is why body builders on low carb, fat burning diets, intermittently carb load for best results.

Either way, your exercise, nutrition, and pattern of rest will drive your muscle growth. The amount of insulin you take is just a response not the driver itself. If you are on a low carb diet, in good control through insulin dose matching, you'll get the results you'll get. To pack on more mass, you'll have to increase your protein intake for best results, which will might lead to an increase in insulin dosing to support gluconeogenesis.

Awesome response! I am currently on a low-carb, high-protein diet. It seems you would recommend a post-workout meal that involves more carbs than I currently eat (around 20g in a carb meal) and the same amount of protein I currently eat. In addition, it would seem that my pre-workout meal should include more carbs and the same amount of protein as well so that the workout itself does not suffer. Does that sound like I understood you correctly?

Glad to be helpful!

What to recommend, depends on what you think your deficiencies are, if any. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

[edit] This is assuming you're already maxed out on the amount of protein you're eating on your high protein diet, and that you're trying to stay ketogenic, and that you still have deficiencies. You're protien intake is just failing miserably at serving the two masters of Muscle maintenance/building and gluconeogenesis. If you can up protein, do that first!

Since you said you're a rock climber, I don't know what effect boosting carbs would have on your overall ability to climb. A low-carb, especially keto-genic diet if you're on one, definitely helps your overall submaximal aerobic performance if that's what you depend on to get you up a climb. I'm sure there is some anaerobic capacity needed to get you through a series of moves but I can't say if it's enough of a demand to currently suffer from a lack of anaerobic capacity expressly due to your low-carb diet. If your anaerobic requirements are already being met, you could just boost your fat intake to spare protein for muscle growth and maintenance.

If you are ketogenic and want to stay ketogenic, adding carbs could just throw a big ol' monkey wrench in that plan since it actually requires glycogen depletion. Finding that balance between ketogenic and maximizing carbs just may not be worth the effort.

I'd say the big test is to ask yourself if you are bonking on your climbs or in your workouts. If yes, you have a glycodepletion problem which going even lower carb and ketogenic could fix. If you're already keto-genic and it's still happening, you need a boost in anaerobic capacity and need to add carbs because keto-genic just isn't cutting it for you.

Lot's to look at!

I really appreciate the thoughtful advice.

Based upon my logs, I was ketogenic for a few weeks and started bonking out during climbing and weightlifting/running. When I started adding about 20g of carbs to my pre-workout meal I began feeling less fatigued over a long workout. So I guess I will have to work carbs in more!

Awesome, my pleasure!

Honestly, anytime we volunteer to take on a ton more variables associated with exercise that can send our BG all over the map, just for the love of doing it, somebody should give us a cookie, or some low-carb equivalent if you prefer.

Best of luck!

I lift very often and I don't believe diabetes has ever helped me. More of a problem of avoiding lows/highs. I try to avoid having to extra when I am not hungry as a result of going to the gym and this sometimes means I have boluses afterwards without much food. Other times I have to cut my basal afterwards to avoid going low.

One thing I have noticed is that with pulling exercises - chin-ups, rows, and deadlifts - I need little to no insulin at all. I can often get away with 90 carbs prior with just a basal or sometimes even no basal and be 120 afterwards. All other exercises have a much much less dramatic effect on me, so I am curious if other people experience big differences like this. Especially since I don't think any one workout is more/less intense than the other.

Exercise is different for everyone concerning how it affects the body. I've heard muscle burns insulin more efficiently than fat, even when resting.

And too much protein can be hard on the kidneys, and a few years ago, I heard of a study that warned diabetics of a weightlifting danger of putting too much pressure in the eyes, where blood vessels could be damaged.

Overall I think exercise and weight training can be beneficial in the log run. In the short run, I will run my BG a little high to guard against immediate hypos and then cut back a little on the boluses while the exercise effects hit, and they can last up to 24 hours, I've heard. So check, check, and check, if using a glucometer.