Understanding the principles behind low-carb dieting will help you determine whether this diet approach is right for you. To help you make that decision, we’ll take a look at why low-carb dieting works, the drawbacks of low-carb dieting and how you should adapt your training while on a low-carb diet.
Why low-carb diets work
Water weight loss
As the muscle glycogen is depleted (since you’re taking in fewer carbs than you were previously), water will also be depleted. By understanding this process, you will then not get as discouraged when the rate of weight loss slows the following week. Recognize that while this new weight loss may be slower, it is more representative of true weight loss -- weight loss that is much more likely to stay off.
Likewise, with this same principle, realize that after you have obtained your goal with the diet, and should you decide to abandon it for a more moderate carbohydrate approach, you could see some temporary water weight come back as your body adjusts. Once again, give this a few days and things should normalize.
Furthermore, if you drop your intake of carbohydrates to really low levels (5% of total calories or less), you could move into a state called ketosis (a state in which your body moves from using carbohydrates as a fuel source to using fat instead), which is an incredibly powerful mechanism for avoiding hunger. Do note that some individuals find that they don’t feel well when they reach ketosis and as such, carbohydrates should not reach levels that are that low.
Fewer food choices
Obviously, this can be offset if you dig into a huge 12-ounce steak every night, but as long as you are smart about your meat and fat selection, the diet is quite simple.
Drawbacks to low-carb dieting
Adjusting your training program when you are low-carb dieting…
Probably the biggest drawback that some people will experience upon going low carb is a decrease in energy levels. It’s often not a problem to take your carbs to the ketosis level, but if you’re in the 10% to 30% of total carbohydrate intake, your body is still getting enough carbohydrates that it will try and function primarily off of them for fuel. Couple this with the fact that you are eating hypocalorically and fatigue can set in.
Generally, it’s not unmanageable, but it is something to think about if you are considering this approach.
The next drawback to low-carb dieting is the feeling of light-headedness or ”fuzzy brained,” as some people call it. This side effect tends to pass after a week or two on the diet, but it can make things less than enjoyable during that initial phase.
If you adopt low-carb dieting, you should consider supplementing with both potassium and sodium. Most of the time sodium is less of an issue, unless you are consciously trying to eat a very low-salt diet, but since you are going to remove many fruits and carbohydrate-rich foods, which are typically high in potassium, your potassium levels may start to run low.
Just sprinkle a small amount of a salt replacement product over your vegetables and it should help clear up some of these issues.
Low-carb dieting and training
If you have decided to follow a low-carb diet, you must make some changes to your current training protocol. You should be fine to keep your moderately paced cardio sessions as they are, since these will mostly rely on fat as fuel anyway. Do note that during the first week you might find them slightly harder to complete, but after that, things should get back to normal.
You will need carbohydrates, however, if you want to keep up the intensity in your weight training and other very rigorous exercises. There are two options for doing this:
1- Eat a small amount of carbohydrates right before your lifting session (and possibly after as well). This will give your muscles a small boost of fuel to run off of so you can get through that weight-training workout. With this approach, you’ll want to aim for about 5 grams of carbohydrates for every two working sets you complete.
2- “Carb up” once a week, which will replenish muscle glycogen so you can make it through your training for the coming week. If this is the option you choose, you should aim to take in about 5 grams to 10 grams of carbohydrates per 2.2 pounds of body weight. The greater the duration of your sessions, the higher on that end you’ll need to be. Do note that if this is the approach you choose, you could experience a decent amount of temporary water weight gain for the first day or two immediately after the carb up, but within a day or two things should be back to where they were (this is similar to going off the diet).
When doing this type of carb up, you’ll want to slightly adjust your total calories and bring down the fat content of the diet for that day to avoid a big weight gain. Note that you will likely take in more total calories that day than during the other six, and this is fine, but by bringing fats down you’ll keep things under control.
So, if you are looking to try out this popular method of dieting, keep these factors in mind. It really can be a great way to lose body fat as long as you plan your program properly and don’t go to extremes.