I’m sure at some point in your life you heard somebody say that you should go on a low carb diet if you want to lose weight. You might have even had a friend who tried it themselves and lost weight! But let me tell you a little secret. Your friend might have lost weight, but they really didn’t lose much body fat, if any at all. The weight that you lose is really just water weight. The human body holds 2.4 grams of water for every 1 gram of carbohydrate consumed. So naturally when you decrease your carbohydrate intake, you end up holding less water, and therefore weighing less. However, this is just water weight, and not actual body fat! What you really want to do when you lose weight, is decrease your body fat percentage.
Low carb diets typically backfire after a little while. The number one source of fuel for our body is glycogen, which is the storage form of carbs. So when you decrease your carb intake, you are also depleting your body of fuel, causing you to feel tired and sluggish. This in turn usually causes your workouts to suffer. When in reality you want to be able to give your workouts 100% so that way you can increase your lean body mass (aka muscle) which will help you increase your metabolism and burn more fat (yay!).
Cutting carbs drastically has even been known to cause almost flu-like symptoms. I’m not even kidding. Go ahead and google “low carb flu” to see what I mean. Go ahead….I’ll wait. You’ll notice symptoms like fatigue, crankiness, brain fog, and never ending hunger. This doesn’t sound too fun does it?
I actually came across a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2005 that analyzed the association between dietary carbohydrates and body weight. The study looked at the total number of grams of carbs consumed per day, the percentage of total daily intake that came from carbohydrates, and the average glycemic index and glycemic load of food consumed. The study included over 640 subjects and lasted an entire year. The results found out that “body mass index was found to be positively associated with glycemic index, a measure of the glycemic response associated with ingesting different types of carbohydrates, but not with daily carbohydrate intake, percentage of calories from carbohydrates, or glycemic load.” This means that the participants who consumed fewer carbs did not necessarily weigh any less than those who had a higher carbohydrate intake. Interesting….
Now I’m not one to just believe anything that I read. So I actually took matters into my own hands and became my own test subject! I decided to cut my carbohydrate intake significantly and see what happened. So in August I was eating 2250 calories, with 300g of carbs. This meant that about 53% of my calories were coming from carbs. At this time I weighed 124.4lbs and was 19.7% body fat. And let me just note that I felt great. I felt satisfied, I had a lot of energy, and my workouts were awesome. On to the next part….
So I decided to cut my carbs by 100g. To be fair, I kept my overall caloric intake the same and just ate a bit more fat and protein. At this point I was getting about 39% of my calories from carbohydrates. I kept this up for 1.5 months…and it wasn’t easy. I noticed my weight go down about 1lb at first, which I found very interesting. But it didn’t last long. By the end I weighed 125.4lbs and was 20.1% body fat. This means that after cutting carbs for 1.5 months I weighted 1lb more and my body fat increased by 0.4%.
I realize that 1lb of weight gain isn’t much, but it really shows that cutting my carbs didn’t help me at all. And on top of all of this, I felt like crap! I was always so tired and irritable. I had less energy to put into my workouts and everything felt heavier than usual.
So overall, cutting carbs didn’t have any positive effects for me. Right after seeing these results, I increased my carbs again. My weight has stayed the same, and I am maxing in my lifts much more regularly! This doesn’t mean that low carb diets are terrible and you should go eat as many carbs as you can get your hands on. It’s important to know your body and what it responds best to. My body happens to love carbs and responds well to them. However I also try to choose healthier carbs, like whole grains, and avoid processed, white carbs when possible. However, I know that some people do better with more fat and less carbs (especially diabetics). If you have a medical condition or are on any medication that is impacted by your diet, please take to your doctor first before making any changes to your dietary habits. It’s all about finding what works best for you.
Ma, Y. “Association between Dietary Carbohydrates and Body Weight.” American Journal of Epidemiology 161.4 (2005): 359-67. Web.