Low carb diets took the world by storm way back in the 60s or 70s, and they still hold the headlines of all diet magazines and websites. But it’s not all roses and rainbows as we are about to see.
As a personal trainer I don’t think that low carb diets deserve this much attention. I think they have their benefits and work out extremely well for particular situations. But overall, if you are an active, healthy individual who is into fitness, low carb diets might actually hold you back from making progress.
You will be less likely to improve your physique by following a low carb diet and it will be much harder to get in a good workout, than if you would by following a more balanced diet, let’s say
The bottom line is that low carb diets are not the optimal way to build a strong, toned up, aesthetic physique.
And I’m going to tell you why in just a bit. But before that, let’s start with the beginning, shall we?
What is a low carb diet?
That might be a dumb question to ask. Obviously it is a diet which is based on a macro split that is low on carb.
OK, but how low? What is actually considered low carb? There aren’t super strict rules when it comes to the macro split, but generally speaking if you are getting less than 20% of your calories from carbohydrates, it would be safe to say that you are following a low carb diet.
For someone who eats 2,000 kcal a day, that means no more than 100 grams of carbs each day. That’s not too extreme though. Most low carb diets will have you eat half of that. The US Institute of Medicine recommends that the majority of our calories should come from carbs, so that’s definitely low carb.
Why is low carb so popular?
The main reason why low carbs have become so increasingly popular in the last years is because they will help you lose more weight, faster than any diets. Please take note – I mentioned “lose weight” not “lose fat”.
If you are even remotely into fitness you know there is a huge difference between the two. You obviously want to lose fat, not just weight – which could come from muscle mass, for example.
So the reason why most people will see this massive drop in the numbers on the scale, during the first couple of weeks when they start following a low carb diet is because they will actually lose a ton of water weight.
By restricting carbs you flush away a lot of water weight as well as a big chunk of the glycogen storages from the muscles. You probably heard fitness professionals or bodybuilders saying that they look all dry and flat after a couple of weeks low carb dieting.
So all that weight loss you see when you first start lowering your carb intake doesn’t really come for fat loss. It’s mainly just water weight.
How does fat loss actually work?
As you may know already fat loss happens when you are in a caloric deficit – meaning that you burn more calories than you eat. It’s all down to calories in versus calories out. When we restrict the calories and the body doesn’t get enough of them, it starts to tap into the fat storages and take its calories from there.
But sometimes it also taps into the muscle mass for calories. Obviously, that is something you don’t want. Building muscles mass is a slow and difficult process, and the last thing you want is to lose it because you are not eating enough, or because you are not eating the right stuff.
Studies have shown that the best way to preserve muscle mass when you are dieting down is by eating plenty or protein, and training hard. At first, it might look like low carb diets don’t really get the way of that, right?
Well, not really. You can go low on carbs while eating plenty of protein (in fact this is what most people do), but you can’t really train hard enough to maintain muscle mass if your carb intake is too low.
Why low carb diets hinders muscle growth
As you may or may not know, cabs are broken down into sugars which are then carried by the bloodstream throughout our body. A good amount of them reach the muscles and they get stored inside the muscle fibers in the form of glycogen.
Glycogen is the primary source of energy that our muscles use during intense resistance training. So with each rep or set you do in the gym your muscles will rely on those glycogen stores. Obviously, if there’s not enough of it, you will push less weight; do fewer reps and fewer sets.
In short, your workouts will not be as effective as they could have been of you would’ve eat more carbs. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much why low carb diets get in the way of your workouts.
So, when you are cutting back on calories you will not be able to work out hard enough to preserve the muscle mass that you have. And when you are not cutting back on calories, but you are cutting back on carbs, you will not be able to progressively overload your muscles and stimulate them to grow more.
Are low carb any good then?
Like I mentioned in the very beginning of this post, low carb diets might not be beneficial for you as an athlete in the long run, but do have their strengths or advantages.
So if you are trying to drop a lot of weight fast (not necessarily fat), low carb diets are probably the most effective way of doing that. Actually, that’ what most athletes do when they are preparing for a photo-shoot or maybe for an event such as a fitness competition or a boxing match, where just half a pound could make a ton of difference, like competing in a different weight class.
So those are just a couple of situations in which going low carb could be a life saver.
With that being said, I hope this post has been informative and it helped you better understand when it’s a good idea to restrict your carb intake and when it’s probably for the best if you would eat more carbs.
So keep in mind that fat loss is a process which will be influenced only by the calories, not the macro split. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If they do they are either trying to sell you a scam product, or they simply don’t know what they are talking about.
Tyler has been working as a certified personal trainer for over 10 years specializing in weight loss and functional training with women between the ages of 30 – 65. He also enjoys helping others become industry leading personal trainers through his website PTPioneer.com and YouTube Channel.