2 Reasons You Shouldn’t Cut Carbs
In the pursuit of the next best quick fix, fad diet and shortcut to fat loss people have been slamming carbs and zealously promoting high fat, low carb ketogenic diets as the holy grail for fat loss.
In the process the humble macronutrient has become a great divider of people.
Some people love them, and others wouldn’t be caught dead eating them.
I’ll be upfront with you, I am firmly in the team carb camp (as you may have guessed from the title) and this post will explore the 2 main reasons I advocate including carbs in your diet.
So, whether you’re with me, against me or on the fence I urge you to read on.
A Low Carb Diet Is Not Better Than Any Other Diet
To start let’s be clear that I don’t dispute that some people can and have lost weight following a low carb diet.
Granted it doesn’t work for everyone but for some the results are good.
However, a lot of people think you need to cut carbs out your diet for 2 reasons;
- They think carbs make you fat
- They think low carb diets are superior for fat loss
Let’s look at each in turn.
First, the idea that carbs make you fat.
Which is true, one of the functions of insulin is to promote the storage of nutrients and prevent the release of energy until levels have returned to normal.
It is because of this function there is a school of thought that advocates low carb diets.
The reasoning being that a low carb diet won’t keep your insulin levels elevated and therefore will be superior for fat loss.
The idea is that low levels of insulin will mean more fat burning and less fat storing.
This is most likely because they cause you to eat fewer calories (7, 8) — i.e. you’re in a calorie deficit — which is likely a result of an increased protein intake (9) and its effect on satiety…not because of its effect on insulin.
In my opinion, this point is summed up perfectly in the following quote from James Krieger at Weightology.net;
“One misconception regarding a high carbohydrate intake is that it will lead to chronically high insulin levels, meaning you will gain fat because lipogenesis will constantly exceed lipolysis (remember that fat gain can only occur if the rate of lipogenesis exceeds the rate of lipolysis). However, in healthy people, insulin only goes up in response to meals. This means that lipogenesis will only exceed lipolysis during the hours after a meal (known as the postprandial period). During times when you are fasting (such as extended times between meals, or when you are asleep), lipolysis will exceed lipogenesis (meaning you are burning fat). Over a 24-hour period, it will all balance out (assuming you are not consuming more calories than you are expending), meaning you do not gain weight.”
James also has a handy graphic to help illustrate this point:
At this point I think it's both fair and logical to draw the conclusion that;
Carbs don’t make you fat.
A calorie surplus makes you fat.
Low carb diets are superior for fat loss.
This argument is usually uttered in the same sentence as;
“BUT my friend, colleague, loved one, fitness magazine guru says keto is the best diet.”
For obvious reasons the school of thought that carbs make you fat is often closely associated with the idea that a ketogenic diet (very low carb & high fat) is superior for fat loss.
The logic goes that if eating carbs makes you fat, then not eating them must be better for fat loss.
However, there are again numerous research studies that disprove this.
In a study (10) conducted in the last few years, researchers compared weight loss between a high carbohydrate diet and the ketogenic diet.
The study presented its hypothesis as follows;
“isocaloric exchange of dietary carbohydrate for fat is predicted to result in increased EE [energy expenditure], increased fat oxidation, and loss of body fat. In contrast, a more conventional view that “a calorie is a calorie” predicts that isocaloric variations in dietary carbohydrate and fat will have no physiologically important effects on EE or body fat.”
What did they find?
There was no increase in body fat loss when using a ketogenic diet compared to a high carbohydrate diet.
And although the ketogenic diet saw a rise in energy expenditure it was “near the limits of detection with the use of state-of-the-art technology” i.e. they could hardly tell it was there and as such it was insignificant.
This study, conducted by low carb advocates (the NuSI lab which was founded in part by Gary Taubes), completely debunked the theory that low carb, high-fat diets provide a weight loss advantage.
The takeaway point on this one?
As long as you’re in a calorie deficit you will lose weight regardless of your macronutrient profile.
However, for reasons, we’re about to discuss I strongly recommend that carbs are part of your macronutrient makeup.
They Improve Your Performance
For guys like us who work out for the usual reasons;
- You enjoy it (most of the time)
- To change the way you look (look good naked and topless)
- To feel body confident
Macronutrients are an important consideration as they will fuel the exercise you do to bring about the changes you want to see.
When trying to lose or build muscle you should be asking:
- What nutrition protocol works best for me to reach my goals?
For the vast majority of people this will be a diet that includes carbohydrate for the following reasons;
Research (6) shows that glycogen stored in your muscles is the primary fuel source of moderate to intense exercise and that a sufficient carbohydrate intake that keeps your muscle and liver glycogen stores full can improve workout performance (7).
This means when you workout your body will be looking for glycogen to fuel this exercise, particularly if it’s moderate to intense exercise like lifting weights.
Stores of glycogen in the muscles often translates to a better workout. Whereas, a lack of glycogen for the body to draw on will result in your feeling tired and sluggish when in the gym.
How many carbs should you eat to get this benefit?
- A low carbohydrate intake of approx. 220g per day
- A high carbohydrate intake of approx. 350g per day
They found that the group who ate more carbohydrates;
- Retained more strength
- Recovered from workouts faster
- Had high levels of protein synthesis
This means you should maximise your carbohydrate intake in your diet by;
- Not eating more protein than you need (0.7 -1g per lb of bodyweight)
- Keeping fat at moderate levels based on your bodyweight (20 – 30%)
Once this is done, everything else should go to carbohydrates.
Carbs are an important of the diet for the recreational weightlifter who is looking to get either build more muscle or maintain their muscle in a calorie deficit.
Not only do they not cause you to gain weight (a calorie surplus does that) but they also help to fuel intense gym workouts i.e. your weight workouts.
On top of that, they’re also super tasty.