Low carb diets have been around for years and are regaining popularity. Like anything in the fitness industry, every time there is a surge of interest or increase in popularity in any one diet approach or fitness regime there is a host of supplements, products and programs that flood the market.
That part will never change.
However the 'diet of the month' will continue to be an ongoing merry-go-round with the likes of low carb, shakes, fasting and appetite suppressants, supplements, paleo, zone, atkins, and loads of other popular diet regimes.
The thing is, when any diet is followed as set out, they ALL WORK.
Low carb diets, are they superior for health and for fat loss?
Let's be clear, when I say low carb, I mean less than 100 grams of carbohydrate per day. Like you would need if you were following the atkins, or dukan diets for example.
What most people call a 'low carb' diet really is just, a reduced carb intake combine with some moderate calorie restriction.
Are low carb diets superior for fat loss? It depends on the application.
For a bodybuilder or physique athlete during comp preparation, reducing carbohydrate intake is a necessary course of action in order to get to extremely low levels of body fat.
For the general population wanting to lose a few kilo's and get back in shape, a low carb diet is far from ideal.
This is for many reasons, and if you've ever attempted a low carb diet you'll know exactly what I mean.
After following a low carb diet myself and observing many clients I've noticed that;
- Low carb diets are hard to stick to with so many social events, family dinners and modern day living.
- Initially your energy levels drop and some people struggle to focus/concentrate and can't follow through with it.
- Insatiable appetite is fairly common.
- Food cravings, mostly for carbs.
- Constipation from a lack of fiber which for most of us comes from carbohydrate sources (bread, rice, potato, fruit)
Why the hype around low carb diets & fat loss?
For years there has been for and against arguments that low carb diets are superior for fat loss becuase they cause your body to burn fat for energy (ketosis) rather than burning carbohydrates for energy.
This sounds great on paper and is appealing to the masses but for most people, ketosis is unattainable because they lack the self-discipline to stick with a low carb diet protocol long enough to get in to a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which some of the body's energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides most of the energy.
Your bodies preferred energy source is carbohydrates and yes, overconsumption of carbohydrates will lead to weight gain. But not exclusively because you ate too much carbohydrate but rather the overconsumption of calories.
For the non-athlete, weight gain is typically caused by an overconsumption of total calories over an extended period of time.
There's a better way to diet, without going low carb!
Carbohydrates are essential in your diet because they provide energy to your brain, cells and muscles within your body.
Carbohydrates also facilitate the bodies metabolism of fat and help to spare muscle glycogen - which is extremely important if you want to maintain muscle whilst losing body fat.
Not only that but for most people who don't consume enough fresh fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates are the main source of dietary fiber. Eliminating carbs or reducing carbs too low can cause digestive issues and lead to bloating, gas and constipation.
The best diet approach for most people needs to allow some flexibility and control. Disclaimer - Your current lifestyle habits put you in the place you're in right now. You'll likely need to become a lot more disciplined in order to reach your body composition goals.
The concept of Flexible dieting has been around for years, Lyle McDonald published A Guide To Flexible Dieting over a decade ago and the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) crowd have made flexible dieting even more popular.
For the most part, if you consume too many calories over an extended period of time, regardless of if they come from Protein, Carbohydrates or Fats, you will gain weight (fat) over time.
A bit about Macronutrients
Protein = 4 Calories per gram
Carbohydrate = 4 Calories per gram
Fat = 9 Calories per gram
Fiber = 1-2 Calories per gram
Alcohol = 7 Calories per gram
By reducing your intake of any of the above 5 macronutrients you would also be reducing your total daily calorie intake.
Reducing your total daily calorie intake for an extended period of time will lead to weight loss. However, I don't recommend reducing fiber intake for the sake of calorie restriction. You need fiber and should aim for no less than 25 grams per day.
The Biggest Mistake People Make When Going Low Carb
Over consuming fat is the most common thing I see people doing when avoiding carbs. Nut's, avocadoes, oils, and nut butters are all great sources of fat but are very easily over eaten and due to the higher fat content, contain a lot of calories.
And as I mentioned earlier, a calorie surplus will lead to weight gain rather than weight loss.
Below us a typical low carb meal plan that I've seen multiple people follow in the hopes of losing weight.
3 egg omelette with spinach, half an avocado (100 grams), 30 grams cheddar cheese for taste.
29 grams of protein /14 grams of carbohydrate / 40 grams of fat
Small handful of almonds (40 grams)
8 grams of protein / 8 grams of carbohydrate / 20 grams of fat
Tuna salad, 2 x small (95grams each) tins of tuna and 3 cups of mixed salad, half an avocado (100grams) with olive oil (0.5 tablespoon), lemon juice and salt.
57 grams of protein / 17 grams of carbohydrate / 33 grams of fat
Chopped carrot and celery with hummus (1 tablespoon)
3 grams of protein / 17 grams of carbohydrate / 4 grams of fat
Steak (180 grams) with 2 cups of mixed veggies and a side salad dressed with olive oil (0.5 tablespoon) and vinegar.
58 grams of protein / 8 grams of carbohydrate / 16 grams of fat
155 grams of protein / 64 grams of carbohydrate / 113 grams of fat
Now, will 1843 calories per day be low enough to cause weight loss to occur in some people? Yes.
Will 1,843 calories per day be high enough to cause weight gain to occur in some people? Yes.
Is low carb the answer? No.
Can reducing carb intake help in the attempts to lose weight? Sure it can, so long as the total daily calorie intake doesn't end up in a surplus from over consuming additional fats from nuts, oils, nut butters, and avocadoes.
You Can Have You Carbs And Lose Body Fat Too!
In 2016 I competed in my first INBA Body Building contest. During my 14 week diet I ate rice, cocopops and cous cous on a daily basis whilst dropping body fat weekly.
How? I was in a calorie deficit.
You see, I love carbs, and I'm sure you do as well. Reducing them can be helpful and in some instances is necessary to achieve the desired outcome but this doesn't mean you need to cut carbs right from the start.
Here's a completely different meal plan that contains carbohydrate at each meal:
Half a cup of rolled oats (50 grams) with 200ml's of skim milk and 30 grams of peanut butter.
20 grams of protein / 45 grams of carbohydrate / 20 grams of fat
1 medium sized banana and an apple.
2 grams of protein / 45 grams of carbohydrate / 1 gram of fat
Wholemeal wrap with grilled chicken breast (120 grams), cheddar cheese (30 grams) and tomato salsa.
41 grams of protein / 39 grams of carbohydrate / 18 grams of fat
Small tin of tuna (95 grams) with 2 rice cakes.
28 grams of protein / 14 grams of carbohydrate / 7 grams of fat
Grilled steak (180 grams), baked sweet potato (150 grams) and green beans (100 grams) with salt and pepper seasoning.
61 grams of protein / 37 grams of carbohydrate / 10 grams of fat
152 grams of protein / 180 grams of carbohydrate / 56 grams of fat There you have it.
Two very different meal plans, with almost identical caloric values.
Type of food has less importance than the quantity that you consume.
If you prefer to eat a lower carb diet, or need to do so for health reasons as recommended by a health care professional that's ok.
If you prefer to eat carbs with all of your meals, that's also ok.
Just be sure to track your total daily calorie intake becuase for the majority, that is the single biggest factor when it comes to weight gain and weight loss.
Your body prefers to use carbohydrates for energy. Most people feel better on a moderate carbohydrate diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit, wholegrains and fiber rich foods.
Carbs are NOT the enemy,
Consuming too many calories is the problem.
What You Need To Know
Your daily calorie intake is determined by how physically active you are each day, your age, the amount of muscle mass you have and the amount of effort you put into your workouts.
Most people over estimate how active they are because they neglect to realise that sitting on your bum for 6 - 8+ hours per day 5 x per week and performing 3 - 4 hours of exercise per week does not make you a highly active individual.
Now, regarding your diet. You can use a free app called My Fitness Pal to log everything you eat and drink per day and this will calculate your calorie intake, protein, carb, and fat intake as well.
Once you know how much food your consuming after 3 - 7 days of accurately recording your eating habits, you'll be able to begin making necessary changes.
The amount of carbs and fat you eat daily isn't significantly important as long as you don't go over your recommended calorie intake.
As you begin exercising more regularly and take up a weight training program, your daily nutrient needs will change but your total calorie intake will still govern how much protein, carbs, and fats you can eat per day to reach your body composition goals.
- Ben Hidalgo
Not sure where to start with your diet and need some guidance?
Contact us today to schedule a nutrition blueprint with Sports Nutrition Specialist Ben Hidalgo.
We provide nutrition coaching and personalised meal plans to suit your goal and dietary requirements.