Remember not long ago in the late 90’s & early 2000’s, when everyone was scared to death of consuming dietary fats and a fat-free diet was the latest and greatest way to get lean? Fast forward to today where the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Now people are eating nothing but fat because their neighbor lost (it’s not really lost because I’m certain they will find it again) 20lbs with the newest ketogenic FAD diet. Because of the gaining popularity of the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are now being victimized again. It’s like the time when a guy with the last name Atkins lied to everyone and told us that carbs would make us fat! Now, because of this latest keto food fad, people are avoiding carbs like we once avoided fats! The point I am trying to make is that we need to stay off the diet carrousel and find a diet that we can actually sustain! That diet for me is called “eat real food!” That means trying to avoid foods that are packaged, processed, preserved, and have an ingredient list an inch thick with ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. Instead, try to consume mostly real earth grown foods that God put here on earth for us to eat! Carbs like potatoes and rice, proteins like chicken and steak, and fats like avocados and almonds. Eating all of these earth grown foods and eating them in moderation is the most sustainable and effective “diet” there is! You might be thinking to yourself “what about that neighbor that lost the 20lbs on the keto diet?” Eliminating carbs can be a useful strategy for short term weight loss. But just like every other fad diet, it’s only temporary and rarely ever sustainable. Often times a low carb diet is successful early on because of the overall reduction in calories being consumed. It’s not necessarily because of the elimination of carbohydrates. There is also a significant amount of water weight lost when carbs are completely eliminated, and we should all know that is very temporary. This may work in the interim until “hanger” sets in and your body is crying out for carbs and calories in general. If you keep this up for too long, your metabolism will slow way down and, in turn you have created a situation where your body is working against you and your goals as irreversible metabolic damage has occurred! Eating nothing but fats and restricted amounts of protein can also leave you malnourished. You are literally starving yourself of critical and essential vitamins and minerals that help your body function at optimal levels.
Most people that know me know that I am very calculated and aware of what I choose to put in my body. Because of that, most people ignorantly assume that I eat low to no carbs. When we get invited to someone’s house for dinner or we are at some social setting where food is present, it never fails that someone makes a comment about me and their incorrectly perceived assumption that I don’t eat carbs. I always enjoy telling them that I actually do eat carbs…A lot of carbs! I actually probably consume 2-3x the amount of carbs most people eat. Around 300-400 grams depending my activity level that day. I just make sure I am eating the correct carbs!
I typically maintain a lean body fat percentage of around 8-10% year round. With 4 kids, a wife, and a business to run, I’m certainly not as active as I once was. So the reason that I am able to maintain the low BF% is definitely not because of the HIIT sessions I am NOT hitting 3x/ week. It’s not the fasted cardio sessions that my sleep trumps every time, or the 10x/wk CrossFit sessions I never plan on doing. It can’t be the Orange Theory classes I’ve never attended either. It’s because I CONSISTENTLY eat well!
As athletes, or just someone who enjoys being active the need and demand for carbs becomes even greater. Choosing to eat low carb is also choosing to train on low fuel. This is a strategy that will drastically decrease your performance in the short term (training session that day) with your total output suffering mightily in that session. Performance will also be slowed in the long term by not being able to obtain your goals because your fueling strategies are counterproductive to your training strategies! Like I stated above and am choosing to emphasize again, this is also a recipe for causing irreversible metabolic damage to your body that will extinguish your metabolic flame. On that note, don’t claim that you actually do eat carbs because you eat a lot of veggies. Yes there are SOME carbs in veggies but it is not a carbohydrate. That would be like saying the steel cut oatmeal I eat every morning is a protein because there is some protein in it.
The most preferred source of fuel for the human body to run on is glucose (carbohydrates). Nearly every system in your body requires glucose/glycogen to be present in order to run efficiently and at optimal levels. Your brain needs almost twice as much energy as any other cell in your body to function optimally. It does have the ability to run off of ketones (fat) though not ideal for the active adult. If you choose to put your brain in this dangerous position, it will send out emergency signals to the rest of your body that starvation is taking place and stress hormones will be released throughout your body. So now, not only is your brain functioning at slower speeds because it’s trying to run on the wrong type of fuel, it’s also in a constant state of fight or flight because your brain is sending messages to your body that you are starving! The central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord, is another system that operates best on glucose. A properly and highly functioning CNS is absolutely critical for not just performance but for every day functions as well.
Hormonally, carbohydrates play a huge role in maintaining optimal levels. For men, when carbohydrate levels drop too far, cortisol levels will rise as testosterone levels drop. This “out-of-wack” testosterone:cortisol ratio is every man’s worse nightmare as it results in increased body fat and decreased muscle mass. For women, who are even more hormonally sensitive, a lack of carbs can create a host of major health problems. Issues such as chronic fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, depression, lowered fertility, decreased milk supply in nursing mothers, and much more.
The human body is pretty incredible in being able to adapt to not-so-ideal situations and environments. What I often see from clients who have chosen to make this misinformed decision to eat low carb is they forget what feeling good really feels like. They so desperately want to find a short term fix to a long term problem that they convince themselves that they feel good and that hunger pains and heavy afternoon eyelids are just temporary and can be resolved with a 4th cup of coffee. In reality, if they just fueled themselves correctly and realized that a chunk of butter in your coffee was not a good replacement for your breakfast they would start feeling and performing well!