Posted on 09 June 2016
The low carb diet has been extremely popular over the years and there is no doubt about it that the media has portrayed carbohydrates as the enemy, with more and more people going “carb free”.
What is worrying is that removing vital nutrients from our diets can be harmful to our health. I say this over and over again to my clients - Health should be the most important factor in any training or nutritional programme and should therefore be the basis on which we then build our goals from. So let's explore why eliminating carbohydrates from our diets is not necessary…
Where does this come from?
Back in the 1990s, the ‘Atkins Diet’ took everyone by storm and since then there have been waves of popularity over low carb diets. The Atkins Diet is one, but there are others such as The Dukan Diet and The South Beach Diet.
These diets severely restrict carbohydrates, concentrating on proteins and fats as fuel for the body. These types of diets can work for some with careful monitoring - In place of carbohydrates, healthy fat is increased to provide the body with energy.
But this is where the damage can happen when people eliminate carbohydrates but also keep fats reduced. The two combined can be detrimental to health.
What Are Carbohydrates?
This may seem very basic information but due to the fact that they are portrayed as the ‘devil’, let’s explore exactly what they are and how they support the body. When you eat carbs, they are converted into glucose (sugar), which is used to fuel the brain and the muscles. There are 3 different types of carbohydrate:
SUGARS: can be found naturally or manufactured into foods.
STARCHES: These carbohydrates provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
FIBRES: only found in plant based foods. These carbs keep our digestive system healthy and assists in helping many health issues.
In a healthy balanced diet, carbs are the body’s main source of energy, providing 4kcal per gram.
When you weight train, your muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main fuel source. Muscles have a limited glycogen supply, so require carbohydrates to be topped up regularly to keep up energy levels. If you don’t top up these carbohydrates, your energy levels during exercise will deplete. This can result in early fatigue and delayed recovery time.
Fat and protein do provide energy, but they are much harder to convert than carbohydrates, which would mean you feel lower on energy during your workout. Restricting your carb intake also could lead to a slower metabolism, an increase in stress hormones like cortisol, and a decrease in hormones such as T3, leptin and testosterone.
So Why Go Low Carb?
In the beginning, you can lose a lot of weight pretty quickly. However this is mostly water and glycogen, not body fat.
Over the long term, any differences between low carb diets and other diets balance out and show that it isn't beneficial to opt for one over another. Don’t get me wrong, some low carb diets can be effective for those with medical issues OR are extremely obese and sedentary - But these individuals should pursue medical advice before starting any restrictive programmes. Also, I am not saying to eat every type of carbohydrate and I would not recommend eating it in the form of processed sugars.
The most important factor with any diet or nutrition programme is to enjoy it. Cutting out a major macronutrient can be stressful during social events, where it is difficult to opt for non carb choices from menus. The best diet is a balanced and varied diet that works for YOU and can be flexible. This industry can be very confusing when it comes to diet choices and what works best, but remember YOU are your own person and what might work for someone, wouldn’t necessarily work for us all.