Let’s talk low carb.
For those of you striving to lose weight, stay lean, or simply eat healthier, this may be an option for you. If you’re seeking nutrition solutions and would be up for reading some clear, hard-hitting nutrition science that supports a balanced low carb diet, I suggest you check out two books written by Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD and Stephen Phinney, MD, Ph.D. In The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, Volek and Phinney dive into myths and truths surrounding carbohydrate restricted diets. While busting through common present-day myths, they fully explain why such diets can be incredibly beneficial to all: everyday common folk and super-active athletes alike.
Society today will tell you that your body uses carbohydrates as its primary energy source. And, yes, there is some truth to that. However, an often ignored source of energy are ketones. To over simplify it, ketones are an important fat-based energy source that kick in when carbohydrates are restricted. Therefore, when you make the switch from primarily fueling your body with carbohydrates for energy to fueling your body with fats and proteins, your body knows how to make the switch to burn fat. The Art of Low Carb Living explains more in depth about why this happens, but basically, it’s how we’re made. Our bodies simply know what to do.
This process (known as keto-adaption, or ketosis) is not an overnight switch, though. The body takes, at minimum, a couple of weeks to fully adapt and use fat as its primary energy source. Once the body has reached that state of ketosis, it no longer solely relies on carbohydrates for fuel, but rather pulls energy from stored fat. Result: quicker fat loss if you stick with it! Both books do a great job of explaining this process in way more detail – it doesn’t happen overnight, but with consistency, the switch can be made and can produce great results. Consistency is certainly key.
Keto-adapted athletes not only have the ability to efficiently burn fat, but they can continue to train without the all-too-well-known crash after the carbs wear off. Because your body and brain have adapted to using Ketones, there is no crash or wondering where the next carb source will come from. The Art of Low Carbohydrate Performance presents eye-opening research that deals with endurance athletes who are keto-adapted. Athletes gain strength and endurance, all while avoiding crashes and lack of energy after training. Not only are keto-adapted athletes more likely to maintain a level of endurance, but their bodies aren’t frantically searching for the next carbs once the race is finished. Again, this may take several weeks to get used to in training, but the change will be worth it.
For more details on how many grams of carbohydrates you ought to consume each day, I recommend you check out either of these books. Volek and Phinney do not “prescribe” specific numbers for person or body type, but they do give examples of where to start. For example, in the “average” athlete, keto-adaptation begins to take place and continues with a steady intake of less than 50 carbs per day. With such a restriction, however, you must make sure you do give your body sufficient fuel. Protein suggestions are around .6-1.0 grams per pound of lean body mass. Fat should make up approximately 65-80% of your caloric intake; Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential. In simplest of terms, you eat very few carbs, high amounts of (good) fats, and relatively high amounts of protein. And, just in case it needs clarification, all of this intake is good, wholesome, REAL food: real meat, good fats, fresh vegetables, healthy oils, etc.
In addition to success you may see in the mirror and in the gym, your brain will be quite content as well. Because a nutrition plan like this is full of nutrient-rich meats and vegetables and absent inflammatory foods, your overall system will benefit. More energy, less aches and pains, sharper intellect…the benefits are numerous.
On a personal note, I’ve actually “made the switch” and can attest that it certainly has benefits. For a little over a month, I’ve maintained a very low carb, high fat and high protein nutrition plan. I will admit, when I first started, I definitely had lower energy levels for a few days. I didn’t really want to train, I had a headache a couple of days, and didn’t feel exactly normal. All this made sense, though, since I knew my body was still searching for energy sources. Once I remained consistent for about a week, my energy levels were back normal, if not even higher than they were to begin with. I am successfully losing body fat while maintaining lean muscle. It’s definitely not an easy route, and counting macros can be an obnoxious task, but I genuinely feel better and feel good about the progress I am making in nutrition and training. Totally worth it.
Read the books. Check out the research. See if it’s for you.
You’ll never know until you try.