Are carbs the enemy?

November 19, 2021

Low-carb diets have got it all wrong. Ask anyone who needs to lose weight and they’ll probably say, “I need to cut back on carbs.” There’s such biological complexity and we need to look at the bigger picture. Do carbs increase insulin levels? Yes, they do. Does increased insulin after meals lead to fat gain? No, they don’t. Are carbs inflammatory? That depends. Are we talking about processed corn syrup? Probably. Can a low carb diet work to help people lose weight? Of course it can. Is it because it’s low in carb? Maybe, maybe not.

As a weight loss strategy, cutting carbs clearly works well for some people. If it didn’t Atkins would not have been popular in the first place. Here’s the thing: carb reduction costs us. Most of us require some level of carbohydrates to function at our best over the long term. Sure we can lose weight quickly being low carb, but for most of us keeping carbs out of our diet for too long has consequences. If you’re sedentary, your carb needs are lower. So you might be able to get away with more restriction. But if you exercise regularly, restricting carb intake too drastically can lead to decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol, impaired mood and cognitive function, destructive metabolism, and suppressed immune function. In other words, your metabolism will slow down, your stress hormones goes up, and your muscle building hormones go down.

The last one is a big one for those wanting to “tone” or get in shape. They cut carbs and then start strength training. You probably don’t even lose that much weight in the long term. Just to be clear, I understand how it seems to make sense and the logic seems appealing. High carbs lead to insulin which leads to fat storage. Low carbs keep insulin low, which which should get you effortlessly lean. People who try low carb dieting are initially pleased by immediate weight loss which is mostly water and glycogen. So, in the short term like low-carb diets are superior. Trust me I’ve done it! Back in my glory days I use to box and I’d have to weigh in. It was not fun cutting prior to that, but I knew it was temporary. I know many athletes who are initially successful, but if they attempt to maintain or have to perform soon after they have zero to no energy which leads to poor performance.

The hidden success to most of those diets is that people who do low carb diets usually end up increasing protein intake. Getting your required daily protein intake in has many advantages such as feeling fuller longer and helps people retain lean mass. I think the secret is the high protein, not the low carb diet. I think people could feel better and get results by eating a moderate amount of carbs, but increase their protein intake. Studies have shown that groups who consumed low to normal carbs and increased protein lost the most amount of weight long term. The real kicker is that the varying levels of fat and carb seems to make no difference to body composition.

Remember, one size does not fit all. Carb requirements fall on a bell curve depending on the person. This also includes high performance athletes. Most studies show that on average most athletes ten to perform better with higher carb intake, this is not the universal rule. May I also remind you, most people we work with are not high performance athletes. Strategic moderation, as unsexy as it sounds, it’s the only sustainable method. Your individual carb consumption requirements depend on your goals, genetics, carb source (refined vs. minimally processed), and activity level.

Don’t overly restrict, enjoy a wide variety of minimally processed foods, observe how you look, feel, and perform, and above all else, carbs are your friend!

Keep it simple, stupid.

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