What is a low carb diet?
I think that there’s a little misunderstanding on this subject which, if cleared up can really help you improve your results. Low carb is NOT zero carb, it means controlling intake to a minimum beneficial level.
Below I’m going to give you a little information on how much, what and why. Hopefully it’ll clear up a few myths and help you change your body for the better.
The problem with low carb dieting
In my opinion the culprits are social media, trainers giving misinformation and every now and then you guys reading only the headlines and not digging a little deeper. There’s currently a huge trend for low carb dieting which is justified to a degree but also greatly misunderstood.
Any of you who get your information from the Internet and social media experts will see that the key to rapid fat loss is to remove carbs from your diet either short or long term. This leads to the widespread assumption that carbs are inherently fattening.
They’re not! Not all foods are created equal, yes some carbs can cause you more issues than others. Some are responsible for increasing inflammation, spiking blood sugar and insulin etc. But there’s two sides to this story, carbs from the right sources will improve your progress, not hinder it.
Myths about low carb dieting
When removing carbs from your diet entirely what you’re usually doing is removing calories. Just as you would by removing fats, or protein. This coupled with an increase in protein intake which usually comes with a new diet results in weight loss due to lost water, and fat loss thanks to the reduction in calories as well as increased thermogenesis from eating more protein.
We all need some amount of carbs to function at our best over the long-term, this is where we need to understand the difference between low carb and zero carb. Low carb is actually a lot higher than you think. In my opinion there is a baseline level that we should not drop below in order to function optimally, especially for those of us who workout. Being too low carb for too long can have serious negative consequences including but not limited to:
- decreased thyroid output
- increased cortisol output
- decreased testosterone
- impaired mood and cognitive function
- muscle catabolism
- suppressed immune function.
What does this mean? Basically your metabolism will slow down, your stress hormones will go up and your muscle-building hormones will pack up their balls and leave. You’ll feel slow, sluggish, forgetful, generally like shit and probably start getting ill more regularly.
The fact is Low carb is not necessarily better for fat loss. Calorie control is king and understanding YOUR INDIVIDUAL NEED for carbs based on your genetics, lifestyle and training habits. This is not to say that when starting a new diet, you can’t drop a little lower for the short-term using something similar to a Keto approach. I often find that this is useful in the short-term for many reasons, but the key words here being “SHORT TERM”.
How much carbs should I have, and when?
Your diet should be based around a solid amount of high quality proteins such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs etc. A variation of fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous as well as good fats.
In addition to this, my recommendation for baseline carb intake for most of you would be around 1.5g per kg body weight from whole grain sources such as whole oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta as well as things like sweet potato and yams.
This is a good place to start and somewhere that I wouldn’t advise dropping below for any extended period of time. This isn’t a magic number but it gives you something to consider. Remember that the leaner and more muscular you are, the better you will tolerate carbs. This along with genetic factors means that some of you reading this will be able to take way more as a baseline.
It’s important that you experiment with your diet to find out what works for you and not just listen to what has worked for someone else. We’re all different and this has to be taken into account when looking at goal specific diets.
The best time to take the majority of your carbs is in and around your workouts. Especially for those of you seeking fat loss, at this point you’re likely in need of replenishing glycogen stores so your body will make the best use of them.
Don’t be afraid of carbs, they’re your friend however its important to take into account your individual needs, health and history. A great way of using carbs to your advantage is carb cycling which is something I do with nearly all of my clients at some stage. I will cover that in another blog post soon.