The hormones insulin and glucagon are both produced in the pancreas and work in balance. When one goes up the other goes down and vice versa. This was ideal when food wasn’t always readily available. But now it is, for most of us, and that’s where the problem starts.
These two hormones serve opposite functions. Insulin is secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas when your blood sugar levels are high. So, following a meal that contains mostly high glycemic/high sugar carbohydrates, your blood sugar level shoots up quickly past the normal post meal level of 140 mg/dl. This will facilitate storage of glucose (blood sugar) in the muscle tissues and especially fat cells.
Glucagon is secreted by the alpha cells of the pancreas when blood sugar is low. This primarily occurs between feedings (fasting) and while exercising. Glucagon causes the liver to release stored energy into circulation.
Insulin promotes storing energy and manufacturing proteins while glucagon promotes the release of stored energy, both glucose and fatty acids.
If you want to convert your body to a perpetual fat-burning state, it is essential that you keep your insulin and blood sugar levels low. That’s because burning sugar always takes precedence over burning fat. The more carbohydrates in your diet, the higher your blood sugar and insulin levels will be. If you are consistently burning more sugar, that means you end up storing more fat.
If your body is accustomed to burning sugar for energy, as soon as it is out of the bloodstream, your body will start begging for it again. You will have cravings and even experience a “high” from eating sugary foods. As your blood sugar rises and subsequently crashes, you will become edgy, depressed and fatigued until those cravings are fed again. This constant process reduces insulin sensitivity, causing your body to need more. You may call it a sugar addiction.
The ideal way to start burning body fat, instead of storing it, is eating foods with a lower glycemic index and exercising with high intensity. Eating more protein and less carbohydrates. When eating fast burning (high on the glycemic index) carbohydrates, one needs to include fiber, protein or healthy fats, to slow down the digestive process, and in the process making it lower glycemic index.
Exercise, especially intense exercise, is very effective at burning the glycogen stores in muscle tissue. Your glycogen (the storage form of glucose in your muscles and liver that your body can burn as fuel when necessary) is depleted during sleep and fasting, and will be depleted even further during intense exercise. This can further increase insulin sensitivity, which means that a post workout meal (within an hour window of exercise) will be most efficiently utilized. Protein should be consumed at this time to help with muscle recovery, and the body is able to utilize more protein following exercise.
Interestingly, exercise and intermittent fasting can both achieve some of the same benefits, so why not double up and do both? Some of the things both can achieve are:
- Decreases blood glucose
- Decreases insulin level
- Increases glucagon
- Increases growth hormone
- Increases insulin sensitivity
- Promotes lipolysis and free fatty acid mobilization
- Promotes cellular fat oxidation.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has tremendous benefits for burning fat, and getting off the vicious sugar burning cycle. During the fasting process, the body isn’t fed sugars and burns off its glycogen stores. This forces the body to go into fat burning mode for energy.
A few of the additional proven benefits of intermittent fasting are:
-Promotes Fat Loss, longevity
-Starves bad bacteria in the intestines
-Improves; brain function, immune system, allergies, cellular regeneration and repair
-Reduces; inflammation, cravings, blood pressure
-Fights glucose dependent cancer cells
So… as a recap, to start burning fat instead of sugar, you want to increase glucagon production and insulin sensitivity by increasing quality protein consumption, while eating fewer carbohydrates (low GI), keeping blood sugar levels low. Also including exercise and IF into the plan would be the ideal way get the fat burning machine going.