As you enter your 30s, it becomes more challenging to build muscle because growth hormone and testosterone levels naturally start to decline. High blood sugar can compound that problem by hampering the production of both hormones and triggering fat storage. In fact, something as seemingly benign as having a cookie or a couple handfuls of chips late in the evening can undermine your efforts to build muscle.
Here’s how: Sleep is when your body does most self-restoration. Crucial to this process are human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin growth factor (IGF-1), which are typically produced at night. IGF-1 is triggered by the presence of HGH and is released by the liver and skeletal muscles to help build and repair tissues. Unfortunately, IGF-1 shares the same receptor sites as insulin, the peptide hormone that regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism. When insulin is present because you’ve indulged in a high-carb snack before bed, IGF-1 is pushed aside.
Eating carbohydrates at night hampers the muscle-repair process because insulin levels increase, preventing IGF-1 from binding to receptor sites. What to do: Avoid eating carbs after your evening meal and try consuming smaller meals low in high-glycemic carbs throughout the day. That’s just one effective way to wrestle back control of your blood sugar and optimize your body for building muscle and avoiding weight gain and diabetes all at the same time. Here are seven more:
FUEL BODY REPAIR WITH PROTEIN.
Protein provides the raw material needed to repair your daily tissue damage, not just your muscles after a workout. For example, your body replaces blood cells every 100 days or so. That’s a lot of cell turnover, and almost every system in your body is constantly renewing itself. You need to fuel that repair and renewal process by eating protein throughout the day. As a bonus, eating protein also helps you burn more calories because it takes more energy to metabolize protein than carbs (sugar) or fat. We call that the thermogenic effect of food. By limiting simple carbohydrates (cookies, cake) and slightly increasing protein intake you can burn your fat energy stores.
EAT IT EARLY.
I recommend this to almost every patient: Start each day with a protein-rich breakfast. It sets you up right. If you eat within 30 to 60 minutes of waking, you signal the body to start burning energy. Some good choices for your morning:
-Greek yogurt with 12 to 15 grams of protein
-Cottage cheese and berries
-A protein shake with at least 25 grams of protein combined with fresh or frozen berries
-Almond butter on whole wheat toast or on a banana
-Two or three free-range eggs mixed with vegetables
-Last night’s chicken and asparagus leftovers
FILL UP ON FIBER.
Fiber, like protein and fat, helps you feel full, takes longer to digest, and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. It also helps maintain digestive health and lower cholesterol. The daily recommendation is around 25 grams of fiber. Eating lots of vegetables will help you get there. Other high-fiber foods are apples, beans, and nuts. Grains like oatmeal (steel-cut is best) and quinoa are also good.
Cutting back or completely eliminating alcohol is one of the most effective ways to lose weight and improve your blood sugar levels. Think about it: Beer has one of the highest glycemic values of any beverage – a double shot of sugar from alcohol plus carbs. Wine, too, is very high in carbohydrates. Having one or two glasses of wine a couple of nights a week is generally not a problem, yet you may need to modify your habits once you understand your personal health metrics.
For example, one of my patients loved his two to three glasses of red wine nightly and did not want to give up alcohol. No matter how well Sam P. did in every other area – his nutrition, his workouts – the wine contributed to his diabetic status, partly because of his metabolic profile. Once he decided to cut down and finally stop drinking wine altogether, his carbohydrate metabolism was excellent. When I asked whether it was challenging to go without the wine, Sam chuckled and said, “Not at all. I like the way I feel and don’t miss the wine.” He was able to do more at work and play harder. He felt stronger. Most important, diabetes is no longer his inevitable destiny.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE INDEX.
I’m talking about the glycemic index (GI), one of the best tools for combating diabetes (and losing weight). This measure indicates how a typical serving of a certain food will raise your blood sugar. The GI scale ranges from 0 to 100. I recommend that patients pick foods with low glycemic indices, or those with GIs less than 45. The higher a food’s glycemic index, the quicker the food is absorbed into the body and the higher it raises your blood sugar.
Consuming smaller amounts of higher glycemic foods less often is another way to balance. You don’t have to cut out your favorites altogether. In season, I’ll eat pineapple and mango, which I love, yet stick mostly to berries and apples because they have a lower GI. Find the healthier versions of foods you like and make them your go-to choice.
SKIP THE JUICER.
Turning fruits into juice is a surefire way to get a dose of concentrated sugar and drive up your risk of diabetes. Better to grab one orange and eat the whole segments (including membrane) than squeeze a few citrus fruit for the juice. You need the fiber from the whole fruit; the juice alone is almost as bad as plain sugar. Remember to combine your fruit with protein. One exception would be veggie juice, because it is likely to contain far less sugar than fruit.
EAT ALKALINE FOODS.
Foods have either an acidic or alkaline effect on the body as they’re digested. An acidic profile causes inflammation and is not good for our bones – think of a tooth dropped into a can of Coke; the tooth dissolves. What are the best highly alkaline foods? Easy. Vegetables. Any food that’s naturally grown and vibrant in color is good. Each day, try to eat as many colors of the rainbow as possible. Salads make it easy. Doing so can have a profound impact on your weight and health.
Take my patient Wayne Hickory, for example. Through genetic testing, Wayne found that he had a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) identified as 9p21, which put him at greater risk for having a heart attack. Research has shown, however, that if you eat a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables, you can essentially reverse this risk to zero. So Wayne switched to a vegetable-based diet, but added a protein supplement daily to ensure that he gets enough of this essential macronutrient for tissue rebuilding and repair.
Florence Comite, MD, is an endocrinologist in New York City and author of Keep It Up: The Power of Precision Medicine to Conquer Low T and Revitalize Your Life.
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