If you’ve been in the gym for a while, you’ve probably understood how low-carb diets affect your body and you have probably used them once or twice. However, with new generations flooding into the gyms, they are left with scarce or without any knowledge on the subject, so they start believing myths about the diet. Let’s try to shake up some of these myths and see what the truth is.
The major myth is that when you’re trying to reduce or remove carbohydrates from your diet, your body will start losing muscle mass to compensate for the energy. The truth is that when you start a low-carb diet, the stored glycogen in your muscles is quickly used up. Glycogen has a vital role in pulling water towards your muscle fibers so when it’s not there, water levels in your muscles are depleted, making it look like your precious muscles are shrinking.
When people see these results, they think that the low-carb diet is affecting them negatively and permanently, and so they drop it. What they don’t realize is that within a few days your body will adapt to the new situation – it will make and store glycogen in your muscles again, but this time it will be from other sources. Their muscles will fill up with the necessary amount of water again but they will have lost their continuity of the diet.
When you eat lots of protein and barely any carbohydrates, this doesn’t mean that you will lose muscle. On the contrary, it might even make you gain some, while losing body fat. This is because of two things – the boost in your protein consumption and the increase of burning fat for fuel in your body.
However, note that if you decide to go on a low-carb diet, you will need to increase your protein intake to a minimum of 11/2-2 grams per pound of bodyweight, every day. There are actually credible scientific research studies that have demonstrated that eating more protein makes your muscles grow faster. This process is known as protein synthesis, which means that when you eat more protein, your body creates even more protein within itself, which means that your muscle growth potential is increased.
There is another aspect to this – ketones. Ketones are created when your body burns a big amount of body fat and the body uses them as fuel instead of muscle, meaning that your muscle protein is safe. When you barely have any muscle breakdown and your muscle building is boosted by consuming more protein, you are bound to have an amazing muscle growing period.
One of the studies which was performed at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut shows that when you’re on a low-carb but also high protein diet, you will gain muscle mass while not even exercising. Take that and slap it on some solid exercising and you’ll be burning fat like crazy, all the while maintaining your muscle mass. The final verdict on this myth is that it is false – however, to turn all of this information in your favor you will need to boost your protein consumption. We would suggest protein that comes from animals, like poultry, fish, beef, dairy and eggs, or if you prefer powders, whey and casein. You can get them at any supplement store.
The second myth that we need to bust is the one where if you don’t eat enough carbs, your energy levels will plummet and make you feel weaker than normal. This myth got created when the research from certain studies showed that endurance athletes would have reduced endurance when on a diet with a low amount of carbohydrates. However, this study doesn’t take into account that bodybuilders and other athletes who do most of their training with strength are not endurance athletes.
Strength athletes use different energy systems when training and the data is not comparable. When endurance athletes train, they use up the glycogen in their muscles, but when bodybuilders train they use adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is a whole other fuel source and also a major source of energy for most cellular functions in a human body. Strength athletes also use up creatine phosphate, which is the form of creatine that will help you create ATP to be used in the muscle.
However, if your exercise routine consists of large numbers of reps per exercise, which means more than 15 per set, or if your routine is very high in sets, which means more than 20 sets per muscle group, then a diet with no carbohydrates can be harmful. However, since most of us don’t do this, a low-carb diet is much more beneficial than the alternatives. There is research being done at California State University in Fullerton that says that when you eat a low amount of carbs, it has absolutely no effect on your exercise effectiveness up to 15 reps per set, specifically for squats, leg presses and leg extensions.
If you eat a high-carb diet and then switch to a low-carb one, sure, you might feel weak and without energy at the beginning but after a few days your body will adjust itself and you will be fine again. The message to take from all of this is that you need to keep your reps under 15 and sets per muscle group under 20 to be effective while on a low-carb diet. If you don’t already take creatine, consider getting some – it will help you be as strong as possible and as energetic as possible when exercising.
The third myth we need to look at is the one where if you begin a low-carb diet, you need to stop eating carbs altogether. This is outright false for most of the people that go low-carb. For strength athletes and bodybuilders, going on a diet with carbohydrate restriction means that you are supposed to eat about a gram of carbs for every pound of your bodyweight, not eliminate carbs completely. Let’s say you weigh 250 pounds. You would need 250 grams of carbohydrates per day, but not any carbs, at any time. You need to get three things into your head: first, no carbs at night; second, eat most carbs earlier in the day and third, you need about 30% of your carbs after working out. When you work out, you will need fast burning carbs like white bread, potatoes and rice, dextrose, sucrose or Gatorade.
However, that’s just for after working out – the rest of the time aim for slow digesting carbs such as fruits, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, fibrous veggies and whole-grain products. It’s important to remember to eat a gram of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight every day, but every two weeks you might want to go extremely low-carb for about three days, just to spend that extra muscle glycogen that has accumulated in your muscles. This will intensify the fat burning process, so you will need to drop to 100 grams per day, without any carbs after working out.
Another myth is that if you go on a low-carb diet, you will constantly feel hungrier than usual. However, this is wrong in its very essence – when you eat, it isn’t carbs that make you feel full or bloated. When you’re on a diet rich in protein, you will feel much less hungry because it’s actually protein that provides this feeling. Research studies from the London University College show that when you eat a meal that is at least 65% protein, your hunger will be downsized by as much as three times in comparison to eating a high carbohydrate or high fat diet.
High protein meals appear to be the cause of peptide YY creation, and peptide YY is a hormone that tells your brain that you’re full. This hormone is created in the intestines and it signals that when you eat a meal with lots of protein, you won’t feel hungry. You need about 40 grams of protein per meal, except in the meal before your workout, where your body will require about 20 grams. If you eat meals rich in protein every few hours in the day, you simply won’t get hungry, no matter how low your calorie count is.
Also, there is a myth about low-carb diets that says that you can eat fatty foods such as bacon all the time. Now, while mainstream diets with low carbohydrate intake such as the Atkins diet let people eat bacon, sausages, butter and other fatty foods, bodybuilders should completely avoid them even when on a low-carb diet. The Atkins and other diets include all of these things just to make you feel like you’re not dieting and eliminate some of the pressure that new dieters feel. If you’re on a diet low on carbohydrates, you can have some bacon, mayo and other fatty foods every once in a while, but it’s important to mostly eat low-fat food, or choose fats that aren’t saturated and are healthy.
Your body needs fat to boost your testosterone production, but eating fat won’t actually make you fat while you’re not eating lots of carbs. If you eat a medium amount of fat, your body will burn even more of it, delving into the reserves and achieving the desired weight loss. You want to keep your fat intake at about 30 to 40 percent of your daily calorie intake. Choose whole eggs, salmon and other fatty fish and beef for the animal options, and peanut butter and avocados for the vegetarian option.
Last but not least, we need to look at the much propagated myth that says that if you eat more dietary fat while you’re on a low-carb diet, you will raise your bad cholesterol levels and generally be less healthy. While saturated fat has been labeled as public enemy number one in America, bodybuilders need to consume some of it. There is research that demonstrates that athletes that eat more saturated fat have much higher testosterone levels than those who don’t.
Also, the research suggests that eating saturated fat doesn’t mean you will automatically be unhealthy, but it does mean that when you keep your calories in check you can eat more saturated fat without any bad consequences. Also, the studies show that when eating major saturated fat that can be found in beef, pork and chicken, your LDL cholesterol (which is the bad one) doesn’t go up. Also, research studies demonstrate that when you switch out carbs for any kind of fat, the result is a decrease of triglyceride levels in your blood and a boost in HDL cholesterol (which is the good one).
When compared, saturated fat raises HDL cholesterol more than unsaturated ones. When you’re going on a low-carb diet, you need to keep fat over thirty and under forty percent of your total daily calorie intake. Also, make sure to include a wide palette of both saturated and unsaturated healthy fats. These can be found in beef, pork, lamb, duck and dairy products, but you can also find them in mostly everything which has fat content, such as avocados, nuts and other fatty foods. Whichever ones you choose, make sure to eat the correct amount to avoid going over your daily calorie limit and your maximum fat intake – overeating fat will have negative consequences just as overeating anything else will, so just don’t push it.
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