There’s no doubt that reduced carb diets are useful for losing body fat. However, there are many misconceptions floating around reduced-carb eating. For example, you’ve probably heard all of the following things about low-carb diets:
• Myth #1: They are tough to follow.
The Truth: This is far away from the truth. A comparison of 19 randomized control trials that tested low-carb and low-fat diets found the average completion rate for low-carb diets was 79.51 percent compared to 77.72 percent for low-fat diets.
• Myth #2: They are dangerous because they are high in protein and fat, which increases the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
The Truth: Not necessarily. Although there is evidence that a high processed meat intake increases cancer risk, this is not the same thing as a low-carb diet done properly with healthier choices. Though it’s true that very low-carb/ketogenic diets should be higher in fat, if beneficial fats are consumed overall health is consistently improved.
Thus, cutting carbs in favor of a higher protein with moderate/ high-fat diet is the ideal way to get lean. However, people often make mistakes when going low-carb, especially if they are training hard in an effort to accelerate the fat loss process.
How Does It Work?
Low-carb is a vague term. Simply cutting the average carb intake of 300 grams a day in half could be considered low-carb, but if you are overweight and your goal is fat loss, you most likely need to go a lot lower than 150 grams.
A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the 50 to 150 g/day range is too high for losing body fat in overweight and sedentary populations. A useful definition of a low-carb fat loss diet is less than 50 grams of carbs a day, which will lead to the production of ketones.
When the body is producing ketones it is no longer relying on glucose (sugar from carbs) for its fuel source, which is a state that provides significant fat loss. Try and get those et those 50 grams of carbs from vegetables, fruit and nuts.
Who Should Choose Low-Carb?
Not everyone who is overweight chooses a low-carb diet. Many, who are active and lean also try to lose fat by following a low-carb diet. Their methodology towards a low-carb diet should be as follows:
- Increase your daily carbs to the 100-150 grams a day range,
- Change the type of carbs your eating (switch to starchy veggies like sweet potato and tubers)
- Try carb cycling. This would include a cheat meal every 10-15 days.
If you choose to eat cheat meals, post-workout is the best time to do so because you may have depleted muscle glycogen stores (the form of carbs that are stored in your muscles to fuel exercise) during training and your body will be better primed to replenish those stores with any carbs you eat post-workout.
However, remember that muscle glycogen is only depleted by about 40 percent from high-volume training. The one exception is if you are a serious athlete training multiple times a day or you perform long-distance endurance training (on a carbohydrate based diet), in which case carbs are important post-workout.
Always avoid higher glycemic carbs pre-workout because they will make the body favor carb burning over the use of fat (insulin spike), which is an inferior state for fat loss. Also, always avoid high-glycemic, “cheat” foods in the morning or when you are under stress because this has been found to trigger greater food intake over the course of the day.
The most common reason why low-carb diets fail is that one doesn’t consume enough fat, feels terrible and quits. Calories may be too low, or the ratio between fat, protein, and carbs may off the scale. This puts the thyroid hormone off balance and the fat loss stops. When you go very low on the carbs, your body must adapt to be able to burn fat instead of glucose. If you don’t adequately increase the fat you eat, energy production will be sluggish and you won’t be able to sustain your new way of eating.
Do this by eating fat at every meal, opting for fats from the following sources: Omega-3s from fish and supplements and monounsaturated fats from olives, olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Medium chain triglycerides (common source is coconut oil) can be used in ketogenic diets.
What Goes Into A Low Carb Diet?
It goes without saying that a lower carbohydrate diet needs to be higher in protein. But, how much protein do you really need? And are there any dangers to just eating as much protein as you can fit down your gullet?
First, if you are restricting carbs but eat more protein than the body needs, some of the amino acids in the protein will be turned into glucose. This provides an energy source that may reduce the body’s ability to burn fat, inhibiting fat loss.
For many people who work out, the 1.0 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight of protein (depending upon the intensity of workouts) is ideal on a low-carb diet. Some people may be eating a very low-carb diet and eliminating plant foods, however, it is important to include green vegetables.They provide indigestible fiber, which has been found to make people less hungry so they eat less. It also prevents constipation which is common in such diets. They also provide an alkalinising effect in view of the acid load from a high protein diet.
Here is a brief list of low-glycemic vegetables that you can eat liberally: all green vegetables (gourds, broccoli, zucchini, etc.). Besides the greens, try and include tomatoes, peppers, onions, brinjal, spinach, turnips, cucumbers, green beans, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, avocado, and mushrooms. Fruit intake should be more individualized; maybe half to 1 serving of fruit other than the basic fruits like banana, grapes, mango, and chikoo.
When you shift to a low-carb diet, your body ends up excreting more water as it loses muscle glycogen. Potassium is also reduced by this process. This can lead to mineral imbalances and sluggishness; commonly mistaken as low blood sugar. Keep a check on your sodium and potassium intake. Potassium is present in meats, green vegetables and fruits. If fruit is not a part of the plan, a supplement can be added.
Lifting weights and higher intensity interval modes like sprinting, will improve the body’s ability to use fat for energy. Adapting your body to oxidize fat is something that needs to occur for a low-carb eating program to work. It’s particularly important for overweight, sedentary people: Exercise is the catalyst to improve fat burning, whereas altering diet alone does not appear to be effective in the short term. Exercise also triggers protein synthesis and preserves muscle mass during fat loss, which helps maintain the number of calories the body burns at rest.
Staying hydrated is extremely important because adequate water will help reduce cravings. In addition, water is necessary for beta-oxidation, which is how the body burns fat as an energy source. It also helps eliminate protein waste and keeps constipation at bay. Find a scientifically reputable source for your nutrition information and consider working with a dietitian who has experience helping active people and athletes make low-carb diets work.