Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Protein, Carbs and Insulin

I always find it confusing when I read things like:

"Protein slows insulin levels, which you want to keep in balance to avoid weight gain."

I find it confusing for two reasons.

1) I'm really not sure how you can 'slow' a level

2) I'm really not sure how they define 'balance'.

Honestly I really dislike vague terms..especially when applied to science.

What I do know is that from the research conducted on sports supplements we know for sure that a protein/carb meal can have just as big an effect on insulin as a carb only meal. And, that as long as you are eating your insulin levels are going to go up and down...

Watch the Video for more details:


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Mark said...

Very interesting vid, Brad. What if one eats a meal (or two) containing no carbs, just protein? Would it have a similar spike? Or is the spike due to certain amount of carbs?

Brad Pilon said...

Hi Mark,

There would be some sort of insulin spike, I'll see if I can find some actual numbers for another video.


Denise DeGrazia said...

What about meals with just fat or fat/protein & no carbs? Would the insulin spike be as high? Or would you even get an insulin spike?

Brad Pilon said...

From the work of Nutall et al published in 1984 and again in 1985, it looks like the insulin response to 50 g of protein is roughly equal to that of 50 g of carbohydrate.


NOTE: This doesn't mean that protein is bad in anyway, it just points out some incorrect nutrition marketing.

Brad Pilon said...

Bottom line is that carbs and protein need insulin to be processed properly.

The inclusion of fat, or the types of protein or carbs may effect the length or degree of the insulin spike, but the spike will always be there.


Christine said...


This is a great video - I'd always heard people quote the "research" which stated that eating protein with carbs every three hours would keep your insulin levels consistent and lower.
It makes you wonder how so many people can push these notions when the scientific research just isn't supporting it. Thanks

Fernando said...

Nice video, Brad, got me thinking.

Now my question is then: what does this mean and how would/should affect the way we eat?

We've all been told to keep the insulin spikes at a minimum, but with this information, especially for those like me who eat in 2-3 hours intervals, it means we have a constant high level of insulin. Just like you said.

Now, in my experience, I've had some great progress, both in weight loss and muscle gain. It makes me question how important this really is. I guess it depends on the goals of each person? Or on how lean/big you want to get?

Ultimately, considering this information, we should stop eating if we want to keep the high levels of insulin through out the day. Which I know you promote, sort of, in your program.

Final question, is it really worth it to focus that much on insulin levels after all?

Thanks again for this valuable information.

Brian said...

Informative and the information present is sorely needed amongst many. Thanks for the video.

Tim Peters said...

Here's the most thorough paper I know of on insulin response to various foods: "An Insulin Index of Foods: The Insulin Demand Generated by 1000-kJ Portions of Common Foods".

This is the same research group that originally developed the glycemic index; the cited paper was working toward defining a similar "insulin index".

Note a complication: while dietary protein and carbs both trigger a major insulin response, protein (but not carbs) also triggers a rise in glucagon, which is antagonistic to insulin in several respects (for example, while insulin inhibits lipolysis, glucagon encourages lipolysis).

For this reason (i.e., increased glucagon too), a rise in insulin due to dietary protein may have different overall effects than a rise due to dietary carbs.

But let yourself go hungry at times, and there's no reason to worry about any of it ;-)

Dan Miessence said...

I think that quote would be better written as

"Protein slows increases in insulin levels, which you want to keep in balance to avoid weight gain."

to be less confusing. Using the word balance isn't very good as your body release insulin so your blood glucose levels stays 'in blance'. Insulin up means bloos sugar down.

billy said...

An unrelated question:

I know your feelings about most supplements. What do you think about Tribulus Terrestris Extract? Any effect on Testosterone levels?


Brad Pilon said...

Hi Fernando,

Great comments, and No, I think people are missing a lot of valuable data by only concentrating on insulin.

I'll do another video about GH soon.


Brad Pilon said...

Hi Dan,

The problem with even using the word "slows" is that it is still not accurate.

I think for the most part, people use vague terms when the science is actually wrong, but they can't be bothered to look it up.


Brad Pilon said...