We all have a friend who is constantly “Livin’ La Vida Low Carb.”
Because when weight loss is our goal, popular society says carbohydrates are the enemy, which must be cut faster than an onion in a blender.
So today I want to answer the question on most people’s lips – do low carb diets work?
As well as going through the science behind weight loss achieved through low carb dieting, I’ll also show you the biggest mistake people make with this type of diet.
And it’s a huge one – one which usually results in weight gain, rather than weight loss!
Do Low Carb Diets Work?
The correct answer to this question is both yes and no.
Yes if you do it correctly, and no if you do it the way 99% of the media and “health gurus” will tell you to do them.
I’m going to level with you.
Most of my clients follow very high carb diets. They respond better to the increased energy levels, which leads to greater performance in the gym and a better mood throughout the rest of the day. And on the occasions when they do lower their carbs, they only go down for a brief period before bumping it back up.
But I also believe that’s how to get the most out of a low carb diet.
You see, the traditional method (i.e. the one you’ll see in every fad diet to hit the tabloids and celebrity gossip magazines) will advise you to treat carbohydrates like a leprechaun with contagious scabs.
If it has sugar in it, you’re not allowed to eat it. If it has gluten in it, you’re not allowed to eat it. If it has a C in it, you’re not allowed to eat it.
And you’re supposed to live this way forever, because Dr. Julie says it’ll cleanse your body of evil toxins and give you the secret to eternal youth.
We all thought cancer was the enemy to the most dangerous threat to humankind. Turns out it’s bread.
I want to share with you the single piece of advice I give to new clients in the gym.
This advice is something I try to get them to remember no matter how far they progress, or how much they learn along their way in the fitness world.
The best diet is the one you can stick to.
Any diet which gives you mood swings so bad you genuinely consider eating your extended family is a bad move. And any diet which tells you to eliminate certain foods, drinks, or in this case whole food groups is not something which is built for long-term results.
After all, if you are contemplating using a low carb diet for weight loss then chances are you are pretty fond of carbohydrates at the moment.
I say this because carbs are the one macronutrient which (more so than protein or fat) we tend to over consume, thanks to sugary foods and drinks.
So are you suddenly going to over-consuming carbohydrates to avoiding them like the plague, eliminating all of your favourite foods from this day forward as you begin a life of self-torture?
Your diet doesn’t need to be this hard to get results.
This is the sole reason why low carb diets fail. In fact, over 80% of dieters who experienced weight regain (i.e ending up back where they started, or worse) reported that it was because they were unable to sustain the lifestyle they used in order to lose the weight.
Which means that punishing yourself isn’t the way to go.
A healthy diet should be a celebration of what your body can do. Not a punishment for what you ate.
Nobody can avoid carbohydrates for the rest of their life.
This is an approach that’ll lead you down a dark path and one day you’ll wake up at 4am with chocolate smeared all over your naked body, and no idea what happened.
Why Low Carb Diets Don’t Work
Dr. Julie says you’ll instantly lose more weight you stop eating this piece of fruit. ‘Cuz magic.
Which brings me to the other issue with low carb diets…
Not only is this type of diet unsustainable, it’s also misleading as fuck.
The reason low carb diets are the holy grail of fad dieting is because they play on our wish of losing weight incredibly quickly.
In this case, they take advantage of the body’s ability to quickly shed water weight when deprived of carbohydrates.
This is because our body’s sodium levels drop in the absence of carbs, causing water to be flushed and (Hey, Presto!) a drop in the number on the scales.
This water weight loss is very temporary, of course, and the moment you return to eating carbohydrates the body will resume storing water. ‘Cuz survival.
Further still, people usually see the number on the scales bounce back and even higher than before because, after a period of foregoing their favourite treat foods to live like a fucking rabbit, the sight of a treat food makes them turn into a raging zombie with a lust for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
A low carb diet zealot will tell you that this is all down to your personal weakness, and that upon losing your water weight, you can keep those results by simply staying in a permanent state of low carbs.
Does that mean you have to avoid carbs like crazy forever?
No, it means you need to stop falling for quick fix bullshit, my friend.
How To Get Results With A Low Carb Diet
You may re-read the start of today’s article with surprise at the part where I revealed they can be useful when done correctly.
After all, I’ve just bashed the hell out of low carb diets.
But the “trick” is to do it correctly.
You see, of the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) it makes sense that carbohydrates should be the one we alter when we are trying to lose weight, because the other two play a vital role in supporting the process of building new lean muscle tissue, which is your ultimate goal in the gym, right?
Dietary protein contains essential amino acids (deemed “essential” because our body cannot create them on it’s own) responsible for muscle protein synthesis, while the essential fatty acids found in foods like fish are useful for regulating the body’s production of key hormones like testosterone and cortisol.
While carbs are nice, they cannot be deemed essential to survival.
In their absence, the body is able to use protein to produce glucose for brain function.
And while a long-term lack of carbs in your system will leave you feeling as energetic as a Walking Dead extra, it means you won’t die. Hence, non-essential.
In knowing this, you know that carbohydrates are not “evil”. Nor are they “the enemy”.
They are simply your body’s preferred choice for energy purposes.
And the only reason it makes sense to cut from them is to create a calorie deficit.
You see, fad diets love to demonize certain food groups all the time (protein and fat have also both been targeted before) but the truth is when it comes to weight loss, calories are king!
It’s entirely possible to gain weight eating a diet of boring fish and rice. Calories will determine weight loss more than any particular food or macronutrient consumption ever will. And the trick with creating calorie deficits?
Make them slowly!
Instead of chopping your carb intake massively, which would create an extreme calorie reduction and feel like hell, try to cut them only by 20%.
This will allow you to stay on top of your performance while also creating a calorie deficit which leads to weight loss, and it’s much more sustainable.
Plus, should you choose to diet even harder you have a lot of room left to manoeuvre,
Get In And Get Out
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that when my clients lower their carbs they only do so for a brief period, before bumping them back up.
That’s because carbs lead to greater performance in the gym.
The longest a client will ever spend in a low carb phase of a diet with me is 2 weeks, which will enable them to train in a slight calorie deficit, before bumping their intake up again to support their hard workouts and preventing the body from slowing the metabolism to adapt to that lower calorie intake.
The approach most of my clients use, however, is carb cycling.
Carb cycling sees them create a slight deficit by lowering carbohydrates on two days per week.
These are usually designated non-training days, where they will aim to consume about 20% less carbs than normal.
That’s a much better way of creating a calorie deficit by lowering carbs, as your body doesn’t suffer the unnecessary water loss and training performance doesn’t suffer as you bump them back up on training days.
Increase Your Protein
For those of you who enjoy lowering carbs for a few weeks, I’d advise you to also increase your protein intake.
Protein is the secret weapon in any low carb diet.
It’s the mystery tag team partner nobody knows about.
By boosting your protein intake while you drop your carbohydrates, you will notice significantly greater progress than if you simply dropped carbs without ensuring any of your other macros were in line.
In fact, a recent study looking at the effectiveness of low carb diets for weight loss encountered this precise issue.
During the trial they looked at the effects of two groups of trainees:
- Group A – high protein, low carbohydrate, high fat diet
- Group B – moderate protein, moderate carbohydrate, moderate fat diet
The group which were consuming a lower carb diet went on to lose more body fat.
However, the researchers then ran the test again, this time replacing high protein with just a moderate protein, so we had:
- Group A – moderate protein, low carbohydrate, high fat diet
- Group B – moderate protein, moderate carbohydrate, moderate fat diet
What they noticed is that the fat loss deficit between the groups which occurred in the first study suddenly closed. In fact, the lower carb group did not lose any more body fat than the moderate carb group.
This tells us something very interesting – protein plays an important role.
The Bottom Line With No Carb Diets
So there you have it.
Do low carb diets work? Yes, but only if you do them right.
I recommend using carb cycling instead of staying lower in carbs for weeks at a time. It’s more sustainable and doesn’t take a toll on your gym performance, and that’s what will help you to get results.
But like any other form of dieting, there’s a raft of nonsense out there waiting to take you down with it.
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