Why a Low Carb Diet Doesn’t Always Cut It
If you rewind the clock about 15 years ago, following a low carb diet was all the rage. A bunch of diets came out promoting that carbs were a bigger villain than a James Bond baddie, and these diets all had fancy names. You remember them: stay in the zone, zone blast 9000, and beyond the zone.
Maybe those names were made up, but the fact is, those diets all had people thinking that carbs are evil. Here’s the thing that no one told you: low carb diets work – for a while. Physique competitors and fitness models are excellent evidence of this. They follow a low carb protocol for a small period of time. Once it comes time to fill their muscles back up, or their photo shoot/contest is over, they resume eating carbs. That’s where the magic happens: your body is shocked into dropping some extra bodyfat after you’ve emptied your kitchen of every grain, oat, and the occasional slice of pizza. However, low carb for too long and you’ll send your thyroid hormone plummeting into the ground.
Everyone wants their cake and ice cream too. We want to get shredded while following exercise programs that induce vomiting because they’re so intense. But you can’t always have the best of both worlds. Case in point: researchers found that just a single bout of 6 seconds of intense cycling depleted 14% of the carbs that are stored in your muscles (1). That’s energy that sooner or later you need to replenish. To take things further, it’s been estimated that two 30 second bouts of all out cycling deplete 47% of your stored energy (1)! If you don’t restock your energy stores in the form of carbs you can run into problems with maintaining your metabolism and keeping your immune system strong.
If you’re looking to keep your muscle mass, then carbs need to be in your diet. Those that are extremely active will need them too; researchers state that only eating 100-300 grams of carbs per day (once again, for those who are very active) may suffer from losing muscle mass as well as being overtrained (2). In fact, it may help to consume carbs during exercise as well – a study done in which subjects took in carbs while training reported less muscle damage and feelings of soreness (3).
Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t ever low carb. One thing we do here at Upper Echelon is manipulate the diet so clients can have some carb days while low carbing on the days that they don’t train. It can work in small bunches too – you can low carb for 4-6 days in a row before needing a day to refuel. Just don’t avoid carbs forever- after all, that massive trend that hit 15 years ago didn’t exactly stick around for a reason.
1. Rankin, Janet Walberg. “Dietary Carbohydrate and Performance of Brief, Intense Exercise” (2000) Sports Science Exchange 13;4
2. Coyle, Edward F. “Highs and Lows of Carbohydrate Diets.” (2004) Sports Science Exchange 17;2
3. Baty, J.J., Hwang, H., et al. “The Effect of a Carbohydrate and Protein Supplement on Resistance Exercise Performance, Hormonal Response, and Muscle Damage.” (2007) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 21,2. 321-329