Why Low Carb Diets Don’t Work For Long Term Goals
Here’s What You Need To Know…
1. We’ve all heard it before, “carbs make you fat,” and some of us still believe this myth. You know what makes you fat? A surplus of calories, shitty food quality and a sedentary lifestyle.
2. Sure you can drop a few quick pounds fending off carbs for a while, but your performance, hormonal balance, and general mental and emotional abilities and health will suffer. Did I mention you’ll probably end up even fatter once you kick the “low carb” kick?
3. Here’s why prioritizing carbs, and training and eating like an athlete will create the foundation for fat-loss and general health benefits we are all shooting for. And yes, this is a sustainable long term option unlike your low carb crash diet.
You Think Carbs Will Make You Fat?
“Carbs will make you fat. Want to lose fat? Just cut back on your carbs, and increase your cardio.” – Muttered by numerous fitness “professionals” on a daily basis.
It is this irresponsible advice and approach that has wrecked peoples bodies internally and externally, left people feeling like shit zombies, and kept people looking flat and deflated.
Carbs have gotten such a bad rep over the years that it has become the second coming of the low fat craze. Everything is touted as low-carb, low-glycemic, etc. and all to stave off the dreaded belly fat.
The truth is, whether you are a competitive athlete, professional physique model, or just a weekend warrior looking to shed some pounds for your upcoming high school reunion – carbs can, and should be your friend.
Low carb diets may work in brief for quick “weight loss”, but what is this weight loss, and what are the real results when cutting out a high amount of carbs from the diet?
To break it down simply, low carb diets do work for general WEIGHT LOSS because you are entering a caloric deficit by cutting out an entire macronutrient group, and thus a huge chunk of your calories; creating a caloric deficit which is needed for weight loss.
Low Carb diets may also be good for more sedentary individuals or extremely obese individuals looking to control insulin and blood sugar levels. Because you ended up reading this article, I assume that you don’t fit this category.
Why Low Carb Diets DON’T Work for the Body You Want
More times than not, the weight loss from low carb diets ends up being water loss, and glycogen depletion, thus leaving the dieter looking flat, feeling weak, confused and tired. As soon as carbs are re-introduced, weight gain occurs and the “weight loss” visual results vanish as well.
Most people who have serious aesthetic goals in mind have a certain body type they are looking for. To get that body type you need to be training seriously, intensely, and continuously. You cannot perform optimally in the gym, and reach the gainz you seek long term without carbohydrates.
For men, being on low carb diets for extended periods of time can also lead to lowered testosterone levels and elevated cortisol. These are two of the most important hormones when it comes to getting shredded versus holding onto fat, and low carbs may push each of them in the wrong direction.
For women, eating low carb for extended periods of time leads to hypothalamic amenorrhea – i.e. irregular periods and some seriously messed up hormones.
4 Reasons You Need Carbs
Here are the four most important reasons you better be prioritizing carbohydrate intake in your diet. If you are struggling with your body composition or performance in and out of the gym, you may want to take notes.
#1 Carbs Fuel Intense Workouts
Because you read Dr. John Rusin, you must train seriously. Because you train seriously, you need carbohydrates in your life. Carbs fuel your intense workouts, allow you to avoid burnout, and push through those final reps of triple drop set split squats.
While pre-workout carbs don’t directly lead to muscle gain, as they have a limited role in muscle protein synthesis, they DO allow you to train harder, heavier and thus leading to the appropriate anabolic response and hormonal cascade that we are all seeking.
Loading up on the right kind of carbs pre-workout is just as important. You know what your body can handle, but most people would feel a high fiber carbs or large meals sitting in their guts during their squats.
A lighter, faster digesting carb 60-90 minutes before you workout is the best option. Some good options here would be white rice, white bagels, bananas or other lower fiber fruits or starchy carbs. If Whole food doesn’t sit well with you, try a liquid carb drink, as some carbs here may be better than none.
Bottom line is, I recommend a minimum of 30-60 grams of carbs 60-90 minutes before your workout.
#2 Carbs Promote Recovery After Intense Workouts
During intense training sessions, glycogen is pulled from muscle storage to help replace your ATP, fueling muscular contractions. Over the course of an intense training session, glycogen can be depleted by as much as 26%. However, this is a total body measurement and glycogen stores are actually used locally. What this means is that if you train legs, almost all of the glycogen in your legs could be used up – but only 26% of your total body glycogen was used.
Long story short, you need to replenish that glycogen, and carbs will do the trick.
Within a hour or two after your workout, make sure you consume 1/4th to ½ your body weight in grams of carbohydrates. For example, a 200-pound man should have 50-100 grams of carbs within an hour or two after an intense workout.
Good choices here are your faster digesting carbs again, as we don’t want them sitting in our gut, and sometimes it can be hard to eat high fiber carbs right after a workout. White rice, pasta, bread, or a sport drink will do the trick here.
#3 Carbs Optimized Hormones
Hormones play a huge role in gaining muscle mass, losing body fat, and just feeling good overall. So why would we want to go on a diet that messes with all of those elements so dramatically?
Low carb diets for people who are serious about their training can lead to the following hormonal changes:
- Lowered testosterone
- Increased cortisol
- Lowered thyroid function
- Lowered luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone in women.
All of which lead to less energy, slowed metabolism, low sex drive, and impaired immune function. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
One of the most important, and obvious hormones that is controlled by carbs is insulin. Insulin, being very anabolic, is important for building muscle and is crucial for replenishing glycogen as stated earlier.
The fear of insulin is what started the whole low-carb craze in the first place. Remember, you train hard, you need insulin to build your body, you don’t fit the mold of the low-carb dieters.
So how do we avoid messing up our hormones and reverting to the levels of a 10 year old boy? Make sure your daily carb intake never gets under 100 grams per day or under 30% of your total caloric intake just to be safe. You need to monitor your energy levels during workouts to truly know what your goal should be, as some people may need a much higher minimum dose than 100 grams.
#4 Carbs Enhance Mental Health
Live your life…responsibly. One of the most important, and under talked about aspects of our nutrition is how it affects our mental health. Low carb dieters tend to get to the point of jonezing so hard for carbs that its all they want to talk about.
We should be able to enjoy what we eat, while still reaching the goals and bodies that we desire.
Many of our favorite “guilty pleasure” foods are carb heavy. Pizza, pasta, desserts, etc. It is okay to enjoy these things on occasion with responsibility and being able to tell yourself that it won’t completely ruin your physique. If you know your caloric goals, your macro nutrient goals (especially carbs after reading this), make about 10-20% of your weekly calories come from the less “healthy” forms of carbs and foods.
Just make sure that the rest of your carbohydrates during the week come from whole, minimally processed foods such as: oats, rice, beans, fruits, potatoes and non-starchy vegetables.
It’s Finally Time To Embrace Carbs
Don’t be that guy pulling plain chicken breasts out of your pockets when you go out for a nice dinner with friends.
By avoiding a low carb diet, I guarantee you will feel better, be happier, and get the results you are looking for (or even better). Make sure you keep hitting the weights hard, keep your total nutrition on point, and the carbs will do the rest of the work for you.
About The Author
Mike Gorski is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Mike works with clients on a wide variety of goals including sports performance, post-rehab training, weight loss, and overall healthy behavior change. His ideas and methods have been featured on some of the top publications in the fitness industry including the Personal Trainer Development Center. Mike’s mission is to create positive behavior change with all his clients that will not only get them to their personal goal, but last them a lifetime. Learn more about Mike on his:
Website: www.mgfitlife.com Facebook: mgfitlife Instagram: mgfitlife
Great article…I have been trying to people this for years
Working on three years low carb. Never felt better. Intense Crossfit workouts 4-6 times a week. 48 years old.
the fact that you do crossfit and low carb tells me you are not serious about training or health. Both are bad. get some real training and some real nutrition advice.
Lost 16kg on low carb. Never feel hungry and never count my calories. Blood work is great. Carbs are fine for some but for others not quite so. I lift heavy 3 times a week and don’t feel the need for carbs.
No one diet fits all, but for me, low carb has given me so many health benefits this past year, and improved my physique beyond anything I could imagine. Cut out a whole macro nutrient group? that’s not low anything haha. My LOW (not NO) carbs, are fresh healthy veg, raw when possible, bursting with the vitamins and minerals that my body needs. That’s what nature provides, I love it. I have younger friends, performance athletes, who have been low carb for over a decade. So, for me the personal evidence, and what I can see around me tells me that you’re missing something here. Carbs have their place, but like nutrients, there’s a wide choice, and many healthy options available, choose wisely. If you do go low carb, consult professionals and nutritionists who have taken the time to learn, and understand it.
Yes, some people may be different BUT how many humans do you know without a brain? heart? immune system? it was proven that ALL HUMANS NEED COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES. We just have to change the amount of overall caloric intake. all the macros count not just fat and protein. I have seen some major bad stuff happen to people who do low carb. Not an ideal way to eat what so ever. One the gym goers who did low carb back 20+ years ago is now having major problems with his kidneys, and he gets major stone build up too. Plus he was always sick. I think you better rethink your choice of fad diet. Carbs aren’t the enemy.
Lemon juice. That’s how you mitigate the organ stress of high protein diets. Google the effects.
Though admittedly, people do go overboard consuming proteins on low carb diets when really they should just eat less starch and sugar and a little more sats.
Low carb has been the only thing that has worked for me and many people I know.
Many low carb athletes preform quite well. Ask Zack Bitter, ultrarunning world record holder, how low carb has hurt his performance or Chris Froome or Romain Bardet. First and second in the Tour de France this year. Or the New Zealand Olympic Team who won more medals this year than any other year. They are all low carb athletes.
Your arguments don’t hold up.
and I’m willing to bet that you never went to a specialist for help with your weight problem. Carbs don’t make us fat. I eat between 300-400 grams a day and lost over 100 pounds, easily.
You probably were eating crap and not exercising and instead of looking at the real problem decided to blame it all on carbs. It’s typical. Prepare for major health problems when you get older like the guys from the club here in my area. all of them are having major intestinal problems and some are constantly sick because the immune system is fucked up.
Reiterating a prior comment, everyone’s different. Low carb for 4.5 years (AND literally working my butt off at the gym) has helped me lose 100 pounds. My bloodwork is stellar. My energy levels are very high. I can run 10Ks in a fasted state because I am burning fat for fuel. ANY diet will fail if one goes “on” it for weight loss alone and then goes back to what they were doing before. And most of us get ‘healthy’ carbs from fresh vegetables and berries. Don’t make out carbs to be the devil. We don’t call this a low carb diet, we call this a Way of Eating. For life. For LIFE!
Uh, that would be “don’t make out LOW carbs to be the devil” although carbs aren’t the devil, either, as long as they are from nutritious foods and not refined food.
This is 110% correct! People think carb cutting is working for them but in reality, it’s not. Cutting carbs isn’t the answer Never has been. Every person that ever said “Low carb was the only thing that helped me lose weight” never went to an RDN or a BCNS for help. They will blame carbs for everything but won’t look at the crap they’re eating, which is the main cause of their weight problem.
I’ve had clients tell me that they’re eating too many carbs and it’s making them fat. Yet when looking at the eating plan and their activity it’s horrible. 10 out of 10 times they’re 1) eating crappy unltra=processed junk (not even carbs)
2) eat very little fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,
3) portion sizes are way too big
4) sit on their arse 97% of the time.
Put the blame where it belongs
1) eating ultra-processed crap
2) portion size is too big.
This again is 110% accurate and Mike is on target. In the last 26 years, I have helped 1,000s of people control their diabetes & insulin resistance (even reverse some), I’ve helped people with CHD, and cholesterol improve their health and become healthy and fit all on a high-carb eating plan! 50% of the eating plan should be fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes, 80% of the healthy eating plan should be plant-based. It’s that simple.
Don’t blame carbs because you’re eating like crap and not exercising. Put the blame where it belongs: on piss poor eating and lack of exercise.
Personally, I think there’re some points there as to that cabs are necessary for bodybuilding. The key lies in the amount. Carbohydrate synthesis now are very popular.
To be honest, the article has to say this is an athletics or similar people oriented focus. Probably the carb damage is more for the general population, the 90% who is not in a gym.
All the article suposse we are all running or working out
You talk about insulin resistance. What raises insulin levels? As far as I am aware carbs are the only reason insulin is secreted. Thus it is a fair assumption that it’s the main trigger for diabetes and other obesity related diseases.
You say that people are more sedentary now. In the 1960’s the fitness industry was worth $100-$200 million. Now it is a multi multi billion dollar industry with many many more people exercising regularly. Yet we are in an obesity crisis….
Best way to lose weight. Shut your mouth and run like Forrest Gump. Then eat a almond joy.
I’ve been doing low-carb for 12 years and it works well for me. I find it easy to stick to. In fact, I find it difficult to go off, because every time I eat carbs I just end up feeling lousy and drowsy. I haven’t “put the weight back on”, I’m at a perfect weight, and still building. I don’t have any trouble building muscle, even when I go to zero-carb, I eat plenty of protein (mostly eg steak, eggs, fish), am active, with visible abs and a ripped upper body.
I find it very difficult to be physically active on carbs because of the sedative effect. But when not on carbs, I automatically feel far more active and energetic and automatically want to move and exercise.
I did used to get carb cravings, but then I discovered the problem was that I wasn’t eating enough fat. I increased the amount of fat (eg animal fat like steak fat, or cheese) and that solved the cravings. I suggest others try this.
I’ve tried full carnivore (zero-carb) and it was fine. My testosterone levels are high, my sex drive is very high all the time. I don’t have constipation or any of the other issues. Meat feels easy to digest. The only time I have digestive issues is when I eat grains or cereal, or food like broccoli.
If you’re in your 20s you may not feel much difference, and can pack in more carbs without getting fat – I could in my 20s. Around 30 my body changed and I started putting on weight. I went low-carb, dropped sugar, and lost it, and gained the ability to control my weight very precisely even if I don’t exercise. I’m in my 40s, I’m stronger and fitter than I’ve ever been. Occasionally I’ll pack in a few carbs to do glycogen loading or if I’m getting too thin, but the carbs always soon mean problems.