In our experiences in personal training in Preston, low carbohydrate diets have increased in popularity the last 15 years. The approach has been utilised by many individuals trying to lose fat fast, show off their muscle, and improve health. When I was 17–19, I tried low carb dieting a few times and I remember feeling sluggish, irritable, and unable to train as effective as I could, but I was able to become lean. When I talk to friends and family, carbohydrates are still seen as an inherently fattening macronutrient. More recently, I was able to get to my leanest body shape, whilst eating carbohydrates within my caloric limit. There are many great resources now to explain why low carbohydrate dieting may not be the most effective method and I hope to share some information to help inform individuals of more effective methods of a well-balanced nutritional approach that supports body re-composition.
Carbohydrates have been given a bad reputation through different resources and word of mouth. Some common ideas are that carbs spike blood sugar and insulin, leading to fat gain, that carbs especially sugars and grains, cause inflammation or that carbs are not an essential part of the diet like fat and protein1.
James Krieger’s review Insulin…Still an Undeserved Bad Reputation After 10 Years2 delves into various animal and high-quality human studies in which calorie amounts and protein have been kept the same, but variations in the amount of carbohydrate and fats were changed. The aim of this research was to see if carbohydrates led to more fat gain. The theory that insulin, the hormone that is released to help our body use up the glucose (carbohydrates) in our blood, would lead to more fat gain, is overwhelming unsupported by research. It seems that if an appropriate amount of carbohydrates is eaten then excess fat gain is not an issue. Insulin should actually assist in feeling satiated1, therefore if any sources are suggesting insulin is bad hormone, proceed with caution.
Brian St Pierre’s article Carb Controversy: Why-low carb diets have it all wrong gives a broad range of evidence to weigh up if a low carb dieting is a good choice. A low carb may work for some people, they will feel fine and lose weight effectively, ultimately by reducing the number of calories which is key for losing fat. However, finding the balance of eating an appropriate amount can help most people look, feel, and perform their best1. For example, if you don’t work in a gym in Preston but you have more sedentary work, then you may not need to eat more carbohydrates since you are not fuelling a lot of physical activity. If you like to train a lot and find yourself active all day, then low carbs can lead to decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol output3, decreased testosterone3, impaired mood and cognitive function, muscle loss and suppressed immune function and more inflammatory risk4.
Simply put, “your metabolism might slow; your stress hormones go up and muscle-building hormones go down”1 .
If performance in your group fitness, personal training or gym in Preston is not a concern to you, yet losing fat is the ultimate goal, having some carbs in your diet, should have a positive effect. Low-carb diets initially give weight loss from water and glycogen stored in the muscles, not from fat. However, more importantly eating a higher protein content may be the key, whilst keeping carbs and fats within a reasonable caloric level5. Protein has some bonus effects of requiring more calories to digest, making you feel fuller and helping maintain muscle mass.
A great point that I want to reiterate from Precision Nutrition is that some people can do very well on high-carbohydrate diets (athletes, very physically active workers) and some do well with very low -carbs (certain medical conditions e.g. epilepsy etc, very sedentary or obese individuals, & some rare endurance athletes)1. There is not a one-size fits all and some individual experimentation is required.
In summary, consider what type of diet will work best for your situation and not based on what you may have heard from the internet or friends. Trial out different amounts of macronutrients and see how you feel and perform, but generally speaking do not go too extreme to one side, unless you require an extreme outcome.
For assistance with nutrition and training, please contact Fighting Fit.
1. Brian St. Pierre, ‘Carb controversy: Why low-carb diets have it all wrong’, [Precision Nutrition] (website), 2020, <https://www.precisionnutrition.com/low-carb-diets> accessed 31 May 2020.
2. James Krieger, ‘Insulin…Still an Undeserved Bad Reputation After 10 Years.’ Weightology [website] 2020, <https://weightology.net/insulin-still-an-undeserved-bad-reputation-after-10-years/> accessed 31 May 2020
3. Lane, Amy R et al. “Influence of dietary carbohydrate intake on the free testosterone: cortisol ratio responses to short-term intensive exercise training.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 108,6 (2010): 1125-31.
4. Johnston, Carol S et al. “Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 83,5 (2006): 1055-61.
5. Soenen, Stijn et al. “Relatively high-protein or ‘low-carb’ energy-restricted diets for body weight loss and body weight maintenance?” Physiology & behavior vol. 107,3 (2012): 374-80.