Steve Theunissen is a freelance writer living in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is a former gym owner and personal trainer and is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness and fat loss. Steve also writes history books with a focus on the history of warfare. He is married and has two daughters.

Bodybuilders and Insulin: What You Need to Know

For most people, insulin is associated with diabetes. For some competitive bodybuilders, however, it is a compound that is used to make them look more muscular and defined. In this article, we investigate how bodybuilders use insulin, along with the potential negative effects of doing so.

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What is Insulin?

Insulin is a natural peptide, or amino acid chain, hormone that is secreted by the pancreas. Its primary job is to control the amount of glucose (the broken down form of carbohydrates) in the blood. Insulin production is stimulated when we eat carbohydrates.

Type 1 Diabetics are unable to produce insulin in sufficient quantities. As a result, they need to inject insulin to prevent a rise in the levels of glucose in the blood.

If diabetics inject too much insulin, it will drive their blood glucose levels too low, which can put them into a diabetic coma, which could be fatal. Interestingly, insulin injection has been the cause of death in many murders.

Insulin for Athletes

So, if insulin is potentially so dangerous, why would anyone consider taking it for athletic purposes?

Insulin was first used by endurance athletes such as marathon runners to force more glucose into the muscle cell. From there, it became popular among bodybuilders who realized that it could also be used for muscle building. As well as transporting glucose into the cell, insulin can also speed up protein synthesis and increase the delivery of amino acids to the muscle cells.

It has also been discovered that insulin prevents the breakdown of glucose, amino acids, and fat in the body.

Insulin for Bodybuilders

Pro Bodybuilders began using insulin in the early 1990s as part of the big three anabolic boosters: steroids, growth hormone, and insulin. When word got out that the pros were using insulin, its use rapidly spread.

The big three anabolic boosters act synergistically to increase muscle mass. This can be seen by the weight of pro bodybuilders. Prior to the introduction of insulin into the mix, the average weight of an IFBB pro bodybuilder was 240 pounds. The use of steroids, growth hormone, and insulin as a stack has pushed that weight up to around 260 pounds.

So, just how does insulin help you get bigger muscles?

Supports Hypertrophy

Insulin promotes protein synthesis, which is the process by which amino acids are formed into proteins to be used to rebuild and repair muscles. In a 2006 study, 19 healthy young men who were given an intermediate dose of insulin experienced a noticeable increase in protein synthesis with a corresponding decrease in muscle breakdown.

Increased protein synthesis leads to greater muscle growth in people after resistance exercise. That’s because working out causes micro-tears in our muscle fiber. It is through the process of protein synthesis that those muscle tears are repaired and rebuilt. The body builds back a little bigger than before to meet the stress of resistance training in the future.

Enhances Glucose Storage

Bodybuilders ingest carbs post-workout to refuel the muscle cells with glycogen that has been used up as energy during the workout. When the cells are full of glycogen, protein synthesis is further optimized.

Taking insulin along with a post-workout carb meal will fast track the supply of glycogen into the muscle cell.

Here’s a workout you should try:

The Health Risks of off-Label Insulin Use

Injecting insulin into your body to produce an anabolic effect is not without risk. The biggest danger is that a person’s blood glucose level may become dangerously low. This condition is known as hypoglycemia.

Unlike Type 1 Diabetics, those who take insulin for athletic or muscle building purposes already produce a normal level of insulin. So, taking more insulin into the body can easily lead to hypoglycemia.

The symptoms of hypoglycemia include dizziness, lethargy, shakiness, and hunger pangs.

To push the body out of a glycemic state, you need to get carbohydrates into your body to increase the blood glucose level.

Severe hypoglycemia can be very dangerous. It can put a person in a coma in a matter of minutes and may lead to death. In fact, a number of pro bodybuilders have died from insulin induced comas.

Another potential side effect of insulin use is the formation of a dimple at the injection site. This occurs because the insulin causes the fat layer just under the skin to change shape. This effect is not harmful.

Should You Use Insulin?

As with anything that you put into your body, you should take in as much information as possible before injecting yourself with insulin. As well as the health implications as discussed above, you should check out the legal implications of injecting yourself with insulin in the place where you live.

In some countries, you are able to purchase insulin over the counter. In others, it is only available through a doctor’s prescription. In the United States, you can buy insulin at Walmart.

Another consideration is that non-prescription insulin use is banned by most sporting organizations.

If you are going to inject insulin to promote muscle growth, you should consume 10-15 grams of high glycemic index carbs for every International Unit (IU) of insulin that you inject. This will help to prevent your blood glucose levels from dipping too low.

Do not inject insulin within a couple of hours of going to sleep. When you’re asleep you won’t be able to do anything about your plummeting blood glucose level.

A glucose meter is vital if you choose to inject insulin as this will allow you to keep a constant check on your blood glucose level.

Bottom Line

Insulin injection, while it may be legal in some areas, carries some serious health risks. Be sure to weigh the benefits against the risks before deciding to put this, or any substance, into your body.

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