Glucagon – The Key to Burning Fat
What is glucagon?
Glucagon is a hormone that opens fat stores to release fat for the body’s energy needs. This is the process of burning fat for energy and loss of excess fat. Glucagon is a key player in the keto diet. Without it, there’s no keto.
This hormone burns fat, which is opposite than what insulin does – building and storing fat. When one is high, the other is low. Both of these hormones work to maintain the glucose (blood sugar) levels in balance.
The role of glucagon in the body
This hormone has a very active and key role in the body. It regulates the use of glucose and fats.
What triggers glucagon:
- Low blood sugar (=lower insulin)
- Protein intake (not too high amounts)
- High intensity training and complex exercises. It is mandatory that the workout is highly intense in order for this hormone to go up. Biceps curls or similar isolation exercises are not enough to trigger it. You need to activate more muscle groups in a single workout to trigger this hormone. (Intensive workouts does not mean training 6 times a week)
After ingestion of a carbohydrate meal/drink (breads, sugar, crackers, soft drinks…), the carbs are converted to glucose. The leftover glucose that can’t be used by the body at once, is stored in altered, grouped form called glycogen. Glucagon ≠ Glycogen. Glycogen is composed of grouped glucose molecules. It is produced in the liver and stored in the liver and the muscles. Later when the blood sugar level is lower, glucagon breaks glycogen back into glucose and releases it into the blood.
If carbohydrates are ingested when the body has filled its muscle and liver reserves with glycogen, glucose will not be converted into glycogen but will be sent to the fatty tissues and stored as fat. This is insulin at work. The body won’t burn fat if glycogen stores are constantly full.
Glucagon does the reverse functions from insulin in the body:
- Stimulates the liver to break down glycogen into glucose which will be released into the blood.
- When glycogen is depleted, then it breaks down stored fat and dietary fats into fatty acids (component parts of fat) for use as fuel which will be burned off (the best fuel for the body). This enables loss of extra fat, and shifts the body to burn dietary fat for fuel, instead of sugars.
- When glycogen is depleted, then it converts excess amino acids into glucose for use as energy for the one type of cells that need glucose exclusively and these amino acids are taken from the ingested food, not via breakdown of muscle. This doesn’t mean that all amino acids will be converted to glucose. This happens rarely as we don’t throw out carbs totally. It is OK to have 20-40 grams of carbs a day. We still get some from the salads.
Glucagon’s secretion varies depending on the ingested food:
- With ingestion of carbohydrates, its levels are lowered in the blood to prevent high glucose levels (and insulin is secreted to remove sugar).
- With moderate amount of protein ingestion (without carbs), glucagon levels in the blood are increased.