Client Tip: The No Carb Diet

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The no carb diet is all the rage right now, but avoiding those pesky carbs could do more harm than good.

The latest trend in the fitness world is demonizing food. Foods are either good or evil with no shades of grey; this started in the mid 80’s with dietary fat and then trickled over to sugar. Now it’s carbs.

Thinking in absolutes means you miss the big picture. Everyone hears that sugar is the devil. But in the sports medicine world, it’s been long known that sugar is great after a hard workout.  Not everything is so cut and dry.  

And people still think me eat carbs, me gain weight.

I now struggle to get some clients to eat things like a potato after a session. They hold their hand to their heart and gasp in horror at the mere suggestion.

Here’s the thing: your fitness (and overall health) is the sum of your lifestyle. Long term health isn’t dependent on having a couple of breadsticks with dinner.

Food isn’t inherently bad. Hormones like insulin and leptin (which store food and cue your appetite, respectively) are just doing their part. It’s your job to give them good raw materials to work with. I can assure you that no one is over indulging with their quinoa.

If your food intake is made up of boxed mac and cheese, pretzels, and instant potatoes, it’s not fair to blame carbs.

Carbs have specific roles in the body but it’s your duty to decide how much, when, and what type you eat.

You might have a friend who swears they lost 15 pounds with their keto friendly, no carb diet (11 of those 15 pounds are just water). This sudden weight loss usually stems from cutting out the crap and getting a little choosey over what they eat, rather than the all mighty and powerful ketogenic diet.

Side rant: follow people who have managed to stay in great shape, year after year, no matter what life throws at them. Save the overnight success stories for Instagram.

The body needs carbs to function at a high level. 20 minutes of interval work can deplete 40% of your stored energy (1). For a 170 pound guy, that’s 160 grams (that’s grams, not calories) gone in under a half hour. That would be a bowl of rice and a banana.

We also know that the thyroid hormone needs carbs. Following a low carb diet too long can cause your T3 levels to plummet. Tossing aside the physiology, that could mean trouble losing weight down the road.

When in doubt, here’s a simple formula to follow:

                More active = eat more carbs

                Less active = eat less carbs

References

1.Rankin, J.W. “Dietary Carbohydrate and Performance of Brief, Intense Exercise.” (2000) Sports Science Exchange 13,4. 79-82

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