Using Bodybuilding to Treat Diabetes: Lift More, Be Healthier

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You’re likely somewhat up to speed on the health dangers of obesity in the United States. Unfortunately, being obese brings with it an increased risk of many other health maladies; one of those conditions is the disease diabetes mellitus (more commonly known as “type-1 & type-2 diabetes”). Over 25.8 million children and adults in the U.S. (roughly 8.3% of the total population) have this form either type-1 or type-2 diabetes, and that number is increasing at an exponential rate.1

But what exactly are the dangers associated with type-1 and type-2 diabetes, and what can be done to evade this debilitating condition? Surprisingly, bodybuilding just might be the answer (at least for type-2 diabetes). Read on as we take a deep dive into the research on this very topic.

What is diabetes mellitus (type-1/type-2 diabetes)?

Type-1/type-2 diabetes is a disease characterized by dysfunction of blood glucose regulation. Increased obesity in the U.S. (and globally) has led to an increase in specifically type-2 diabetes, a disease that continues to affect more and more individuals due to poor dietary habits and lack of exercise.

The main difference between the two types of diabetes (type-1 and type-2) is that type-1 diabetics do not produce insulin (they are usually born with this dysfunction) and instead need an exogenous source of insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check (hence this is often referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes).

Type-2 diabetes, on the other hand, is often developed over the lifespan due to poor lifestyle/dietary habits and makes the cells resistant to the actions of insulin. Some people may call type-2 diabetes “adult-onset diabetes,” but that’s a bit improper given that children and teenagers can develop this disease too.

Type-2 diabetics may or may not need exogenous insulin, but usually can treat their condition with other pharmaceuticals, glucose-disposal agents (like Promilin® 4-hydroxyisoleucine), and lifestyle modifications (thus type-2 diabetes is also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes). 

Why insulin is important

Physiologically, insulin works by recruiting transport proteins called glucose-transport proteins (GLUTs). These proteins are essential for glucose uptake into the cell. In a healthy human, insulin is secreted in response to a rise in blood glucose levels (such as after eating carbohydrates) by the pancreas.

Once insulin binds to its receptors on the cell surface, activity of GLUT transport proteins is escalated to lower blood glucose levels to a euglycemic (i.e. normal) range. This is the same mechanism that Promilin® 4-hydroxyisoleucine found in MPA CreRiboVOL works through to enhance creatine, leucine, and ribose uptake into muscle cells.

The ramifications of a type-1 diabetic not having sufficient insulin in their body before eating a carbohydrate-rich meal would be a state of hyperglycemia, which can have a host of side effects and even be fatal in extreme scenarios. On the contrary, excessive secretion of insulin can induce a hypoglycemic state which is also not the ideal scenario.

CreRiboVol

Treating diabetes medicinally

Currently, the treatment for type-1 diabetics is to inject insulin (as needed, usually taken right before meals). Human insulin is available in two forms, a short-acting form and intermediate form that has a longer effect.2 Short-acting forms of insulin usually have an effect within the first 30 minutes after injection, and peak at about the 3-hour mark. Longer acting forms of insulin can last an entire day, which eases the burden on diabetics of having to carry around their insulin syringe and worry about injecting frequently.

Type-2 diabetics, on the other hand, may benefit from a variety of medications/supplements that help regulate blood glucose and insulin levels. The most popular oral diabetic medication at this time is metformin, an anti-hyperglycemic agent which enhances glucose sensitivity in type-2 diabetics.

However, at this time there is no supplement or drug that will reverse type-2 diabetes on its own; diet and lifestyle changes should thus be the prime focus of treating this disease - which is where bodybuilding and intense training come into play.

Treating type-2 diabetes with weight training

While medications may be necessary and/or useful in some instances, it is still wise to focus on management of diabetes through lifestyle and dietary habits. Much research has been vested in seeking non-pharmaceutical remedies to type-2 diabetes, and it should come as no surprise that decreases in body fat of overweight individuals are associated with improved insulin sensitivity.3

Intuitively then, weight management via exercise and proper dietary habits are major factors in the attenuation of type-2 diabetes. More specifically, the goal is to improve the body composition (i.e. lowering body fat percentage) of overweight individuals with type-2 diabetes. (This is essentially the same primary goal of bodybuilding, which is accomplished through a healthy diet, diligent resistance training and some cardiovascular exercise. )

Exercise considerations

There is strong evidence that a fitness regimen consisting of a minimum of 3 hours of moderate-intensity (or 2 hours of vigorous-intensity) exercise, with no more than two consecutive non-training days per week, can have significant benefits on insulin sensitivity of type-2 diabetics (and possibly reverse the condition altogether).4

The key here is note that low-intensity forms of exercise don’t have the same metabolic benefits. In other words, you’re wasting your time by slaving away on the treadmill at a 2 MPH pace. Pick up a barbell and put some effort into it.

Moreover, cardiovascular exercise, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appears to provide many of the same benefits associated with resistance training.5 Thus, it wise for overweight individuals and those afflicted with type-2 diabetes to incorporate both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise (preferably HIIT) in their fitness regimen.

So based on the aforementioned research findings, an example weekly fitness regimen for someone looking to manage/prevent type-2 diabetes might look like this:[4,5]

  • Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun—45 minutes moderate-intensity weight training
  • Tue/Thu/Sat—cardiovascular exercise as needed (15-20 minutes of HIIT should suffice)

Obviously, the specific routine/exercises you choose to do should be adjusted to fit your specific goals. Ultimately, the main thing is to just make sure you’re doing some form of diligent exercise and being consistent.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being consistent about your fitness regimen; keep moving and you’re almost certainly going to notice improvements in body composition and insulin sensitivity (assuming you’re eating properly as well).

Dietary considerations

It’s not always apropos to give blanket statement nutrition advice about what you should eat because it’s completely circumstantial and based on your goals, genetics, lifestyle and metabolic functioning. That being said, overweight individuals afflicted with type-2 diabetes should emphasize reducing total calorie intake and limiting carbohydrate intake (however, this does not mean you should completely avoid carbs, though a ketogenic diet may be useful).

Intuitively, your food choices will also have an impact on your health and longevity. If you’re currently insulin resistant or type-2 diabetic, you’ll want to avoid highly processed grains, added sugars, candy, soda, and other refined foods that induce strong insulin responses.

Naturally, the best foods for managing insulin secretion and improving blood glucose balance are slow-digesting carbs (like whole grains, fiber, legumes, etc.), healthy fat sources (nuts, coconut, fish, etc.) and of course, quality protein. This isn’t suggesting you can’t have an occasional slice of pizza or indulge in a cookie every now and then, but for the most part your diet should consist of wholesome, minimally processed foods.

By the same token, remember that even if you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle and make better dietary choices, moderation is still key! Avoid extremes if possible; don’t fall into the trap of restricting yourself to certain foods or exercises because you heard they’re “best for you”. Enjoy your life a little bit! If you want a scoop of ice cream or a piece of pizza it won’t kill you or make you resistant to the effects of insulin. (Just don’t eat a gallon of ice cream or the whole pizza and think that is considered “moderation”.)

You may want to also consider using an exogenous ketone supplement as part of your diet, since BHB salts can help enhance insulin sensitivity.6

It is also important to ingest sufficient dietary fiber, micronutrients and essential fatty acids; these maintain intestinal integrity, assist with mineral balance, heart health and improve blood lipids; if you choose to supplement with a multivitamin or Omega-3s that’s fine as well. 

KetOxygen

Take-Home Message

Obesity and type-2 diabetes (chronic insulin resistance) are two health conditions that go hand-in-hand and are equally life-threatening when left uncontrolled. While bodybuilding lifestyles seem to get a bad rap for health and longevity, there’s something to be said for the health-potentiating benefits of diligent, intense weight lifting and proper diet. Unfortunately, many people who are excessively overweight and/or diabetic fear bodybuilding and weight lifting because they assume cardio is all that’s necessary (which is not the case).

Lastly, you don’t need fancy exercise equipment or extreme dietary protocols to improve your health, enhance insulin sensitivity, and reduce body fat. Move more, eat less, lift some weights, and be consistent. If you do that,  it’s safe to say you will notice many health benefits beyond avoiding/treating diabetes.

References:

  1. Diabetes Statistics - American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). American Diabetes Association Home Page - American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/?loc=DropDownDB-stats
  2. Human Insulin - Types, Production, Action, History. (n.d.). Diabetes UK, UK Diabetes Resource, Diabetes Symptoms, Diabetes Diet, Gestational Diabetes. Retrieved Oct 4, 2013, from http://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin/human-insulin.html
  3. Petersen, K. F., Dufour, S., Morino, K., Yoo, P. S., Cline, G. W., & Shulman, G. I. (2012). Reversal of muscle insulin resistance by weight reduction in young, lean, insulin-resistant offspring of parents with type 2 diabetes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(21), 8236-8240.
  4. Hordern, M. D., Dunstan, D. W., Prins, J. B., Baker, M. K., Singh, M. A. F., & Coombes, J. S. (2012). Exercise prescription for patients with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes: a position statement from Exercise and Sport Science Australia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport15(1), 25-31.
  5. Mendes, R., Sousa, N., Garrido, N., Rocha, P., José, L. T. B., & Victor, M. R. (2013). Efficacy of acute high-intensity interval training in lowering glycemia in patients with type 2 diabetes: diabetes em movimento® pilot study. British journal of sports medicine47(10), e3-e3.
  6. Plecko, B., Stoeckler-Ipsiroglu, S., Schober, E., Harrer, G., Mlynarik, V., Gruber, S., ... & Ipsiroglu, O. (2002). Oral β-hydroxybutyrate supplementation in two patients with hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia: monitoring of β-hydroxybutyrate levels in blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and in the brain by in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Pediatric research, 52(2), 301.

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