Before we get into why you might want to add a glucose disposal agent to your supplement arsenal, we must briefly explain a few key concepts around carbohydrate metabolism and the hormones that come into play.
Carbohydrates are made up of carbons, hydrogens and oxygens. The smallest of these, are monosaccharides (i.e. glucose, C6H12O6), the larger chains are known as polysaccharides (starch, cellulose, glycogen…). When we consume carbohydrates, digestion of carbohydrates begins right away in the mouth and is completed in the small intestine by the amylase enzyme to break those long chains down into glucose, where it can be used as fuel, or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for later use.
Carbohydrates are not technically 'essential' for human life in the way that fats and proteins are, but they are most readily broken down for fuel. This makes concentrating the bulk of them around workouts the ideal approach.
Insulin is released when we eat to facilitate the uptake of nutrients into the cells. Take for example a bodybuilder eating a large portion of rice before a heavy workout – the goal is for as much of those carbohydrates to be available to fuel lifts as possible. In this way, insulin is considered something of an anabolic hormone, hence its use in bodybuilding, as it draws nutrients into cells.
If insulin was not present, or sensitivity was reduced, blood sugar would become dangerously high after eating and the cells miss out on the benefits of the meal. This is the reason why both type one and two diabetes are associated with dramatic, unexplainable changes in weight. If this is a concern, please see your GP for testing and treatment options.
Exercise and a healthy diet are arguably your most valuable tools for keeping insulin in check as a healthy individual looking to maximise all variables. Remember that carbs are not the enemy, nor is insulin. Carbohydrates are our most readily available fuel source and insulin pushes nutrients into our cells. One way to easily check how well you are utilising carbs, is to purchase a blood glucometer and test your fasted blood glucose (first thing in a morning, you may consume water with some sea salt before taking a reading but no food/BCAAs/etc). Readings can also be taken pre and postprandial (around meals) as you gain a better understanding of what your ‘normal’ is. As a rule of thumb, regular fasted readings of 6.1mmol are a red flag, but we would expect lower as an athlete.
A glucose disposal agent (GDA) is a non-hormonal supplement that mimics how insulin would work. Quite literally, they make the body more efficient at disposing of glucose in the bloodstream. Despite being relatively simple and incredibly valuable when used correctly, there is some misunderstanding around what GDAs do and who can get the most value out of them.
An effective GDA will assist in shuttling glucose into the muscle cells for storage as glycogen so that less insulin needs to be released after consuming a high carbohydrate meal. Many athletes will concentrate the bulk of their carb intake around workouts, therefore a GDA with your pre-workout meal makes a lot of sense. More muscle glycogen=bigger pumps, better nutrient delivery, increased performance and the potential to build more muscle. Used at other times of the day, a GDA will keep blood glucose stable and assist recovery.
As a result of improved nutrient partitioning and hormonal control, a user can experience...
- Better pumps
- Performance increases
- Muscle growth
- Recomp/reduced fat storage
- More efficient recovery
The times that our body can deal with carbohydrates best are; during workout, post workout and when at very low levels of body fat. Outside of this, sometimes we could benefit from a helping hand. A GDA can be incredibly useful when bulking. Bodybuilders or strength athletes who have been pushing food, especially carbs, up for an extended period of time may find that their fasted blood glucose begins to rise. At this point, insulin sensitivity is decreased and the hefty meals may begin making the individual feel sluggish. A GDA will ensure that those high carb meals are put to use to extend the gaining period.
On the flip side, from a weight control standpoint, insulin is responsible for moving glucose into fat cells. A GDA decreases the need for insulin to be released. As we know, weight loss isn’t always as simple as calories in vs calories out. Hormones can play a huge part in how deep we have to dig for our body to respond in a fat loss phase. Overweight people on their weight loss journey may be dieting on low calories and carbs but, due to decreased insulin sensitivity, have an especially difficult time shifting the weight.
Like any supplement, each brand that releases a GDA puts their own spin on things. Different ingredient panels with different dosages will be seen. By being aware of some ‘star’ ingredients, and their effective dosages, you can make an informed decision on which one to ultimately go with!
Berberine: Berberine is naturally sourced from plants. Reduced blood sugar, better blood sugar control and a strong reduction of HbA1c have been linked to berberine. Its effects have been compared to metformin; a medication given to diabetes patients.
Cinnamon Extract: Not only is cinnamon a tasty spice that can add flavour to both sweet and savoury foods, it is also a natural source of chromium (see below). Cinnamon has historically been linked with weight loss due to its ability to control the rate of update of glucose, thereby avoiding dramatic spikes and dips in blood sugar that can induce cravings.
Ecklonia Cava is a type of brown algae which has been linked with improving blood glucose control and optimise glucose secretion. There are many Ecklonia Cava benefits that we could list here. When studied as a treatment for diabetic mice, it was shown to increase postprandial glucose regulation, suggesting that it contributed to dietary glucose absorption and blood glucose regulation. (1)
Oxymatrine, found in Hydrapharm’s Elixir, has been studied in diabetic rats and mice as a way to improve insulin secretion and sensitivity. (2)
Alpha Lipoic Acid: an antioxidant used in the process of breaking down carbohydrates for energy.
Banaba Leaf: this can inhibit uptake of carbohydrates and aid in their deposition into cells from the blood stream, reducing blood sugar. It has shown promising results in human studies on type two diabetics. (3)
Chromium: an essential mineral that can help regulate glucose metabolism, therefore improving insulin sensitivity.
We could make this into a pretty extensive list if desired! This is just a small snapshot of ingredients that are signs of a good GDA, but this is by no means all of them!
Hydrapharm always like to stay one step ahead of the competition with their supplements. Bringing something new to the GDA table with this one, Hydrapharm Elixir contains not only berbeine (something we might argue is an essential for a powerful GDA) and cinnamon but ecklonia cava and oxymatrine. These might seem new and foreign to many GDA fans, but the research is certainly out there to support their value in controlling blood sugar. Like products such as Hydrazine and Unbreakable have done for pre-workouts and joint support, Elixir is an innovative and clever addition to the GDA category.
Customer Review: 'GDA’s normally give me issues with feeling faint but I don’t ever get this sensation from Elixir. The pump from Elixir is not like anything before, it is a more hard and full feeling right through the day and there has certainly been a change in body composition for the better.' - Eric
Outbreak is an exciting US brand with hardcore branding that is reinforced by its awesome formulas. Along with generous doses of berberine, cinnamon extract and chromium, Outbreak Nutrition Adapt uses 500mg of bitter melon extract, a fruit extract containing compounds unique to it such as charantin, vicine and polypeptide-p.
Take any time a meal containing 50g+ carbs is consumed! If wanting to yield performance benefits, one of those servings should certainly be positioned pre-workout. In offseason, when carbs can be distributed more evenly throughout the day, you may take your GDA with several meals.
During a dieting phase when carbohydrates are largely, if not all, placed around sessions, 1-2 servings may be sufficient. (always follow the instructions given on the bottle). During the post-workout window, the body has heightened sensitivity to carbohydrates and is in a great place to absorb nutrients. After a training session, a GDA can help drive carbohydrates from the post-workout meal into the muscles to begin the recovery process. Use with caution or avoid altogether here if dieting on lower carb as glycogen is already depleted, adding a supplement to lower blood glucose further could it to drop too low and result in mild side effects (dizziness, light headedness).
A glucose disposal agent could even be implemented when consuming a cheat meal or refeeds to prevent unwanted blood sugar spikes, shuttle glycogen into the muscle to ‘put the carbs to use’ in subsequent training sessions and limiting the potential for acute fat gain.
For the best results around training while using a GDA, this is how we would recommend setting up your peri-workout supplementation:
Pre-workout: Plasm Surge
Post-Workout: Carb and Protein meal/shake
(1) Kim, H. (2012). Ecklonia cava Inhibits Glucose Absorption and Stimulates Insulin Secretion in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Mice. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, pp.1-7.
(2) Guo, C., Zhang, C., Li, L., Wang, Z., Xiao, W. and Yang, Z. (2014). Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects of oxymatrine in high-fat diet and streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Phytomedicine, 21(6), pp.807-814.
(3) Judy, W., Hari, S., Stogsdill, W., Judy, J., Naguib, Y. and Passwater, R. (2003). Antidiabetic activity of a standardized extract (Glucosol™) from Lagerstroemia speciosa leaves in Type II diabetics. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 87(1), pp.115-117.