So we’ve all heard about low carb dieting. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s interested in losing weight, gaining muscle while losing body fat, etc., who hasn’t heard about low carb dieting. It’s one of those dieting fads that catches people eyes because there’s always a lot of before and after shots of people who were excessively overweight and now they have these chiseled abs, that convinces us that this is THE diet, to finally reach our fitness goals. Just in case you haven’t heard about low carb dieting, I will just run through the basics very quickly, and then we will get into all the information that is needed, to successfully start a low carb diet plan.
Low carb dieting is basically consuming at most, 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The idea is to utilize fat as energy, instead of carbohydrates. Makes sense because if you train your body to use the fat you have stored (that horrible belly fat, arm fat, whatever fat), essentially you are going to shed pounds from doing this. Now, for a lay person, this seems pretty much a no brainer, when it comes to deciding what diet plan to follow. Unfortunately, this is where the danger of low carb dieting comes into play and where people start realizing that after an extended period has passed and they’ve been low carb dieting, they may end up wanting to go to the doctor for a check up. The reason I say this is because using fat as energy, over an extended period of time, can be very dangerous to your overall health (if done in the wrong way!) In a second I will explain why fat isn’t the preferred source of energy but rather carbohydrates are.
Not much people are aware of this, because it’s not information that’s just passed around for us all to know but the body’s (especially the brain’s), preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. When you consume carbohydrates, they are broken down into glucose and this is the molecule that kick starts the process of carbohydrate metabolism, where your carbs are used to produce energy that’s essential for the cells in your body. Not only that, but when you consume carbohydrates, some of it is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, so that it can be used for a rainy day (like during fasting, or when you’re exercising, the energy source to keep those muscles going, come from breaking down glycogen and also going through a process called glycolysis that produces more energy for those contracting skeletal muscles!) So carbohydrates are pretty essential, for your body’s overall function.
As previously mentioned, if the body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates, then there must be a hierarchy to what’s the most, the lesser and the least preferred sources of energy. At this point we can all agree that carbohydrates is high up there, and fats are pretty low, but what’s in the middle? The middle guy is protein, which is another source of energy that the body can use in its metabolic activities to drive the production of ATP (the energy I have been talking about that fuels your cells!)
Now that we have all the sources of energy, that our body uses to fuel our cells, why is it that fats are the least of the preferred sources? The most simplest reason for this, is something called ketosis. When your body isn’t provided enough glucose (carbohydrates) for the production of energy, the breaking down of body fat (beta-oxidation of fatty acids) are what occurs to provide the body with the essential molecules that it needs so it can produce energy for the body cells. The breaking down of the body fat, provides the essential starters for a process known as gluconeogenesis. This is a metabolic pathway that occurs due to a decrease in blood glucose levels and leads to the production of ketones, which a build up of can lead to ketosis. Funny thing is, we most likely experience ketosis every single night, as gluconeogenesis is the main metabolic pathway that’s functioning while we’re asleep for all those hours! Now if too much ketones are built up in the blood, it can lead to what is known as ketoacidosis which is abnormally high levels of ketones. This is essential dangerous and should be avoided.
Although low carb diets can be dangerous if not done properly, low carb dieting can work and will help you to lose a lot of body fat if you make sure to take your health into consideration and not reduce your carbohydrates to such a level that you’re not consuming any carbohydrates at all. To help against dangerous levels of ketones in your body, make sure to consume a lot of vegetables and fruits while on a low carbohydrate diet. Consume high amounts of protein that are low in fat (chicken breast, fish, etc.,), so that your muscles aren’t broken down for energy due to the low carbohydrate intake. Though some diets like the Atkins ask that you remove all carbohydrates for up to 10 days and start reintroducing them into your diet, you do not necessarily have to follow that drastic trend. You can always reduce the carbohydrates and every 10 days, consume a moderate amount of carbohydrates (100-150 grams), so that your glycogen storage can be replenished. Although this suggestion actually leans more towards carb cycling, which I will talk about another time and tends to be a trend that keeps an individual focused on their diet long term, instead of falling off the wagon trying to eat 50 grams of carbohydrates for months.
I am giving these suggestions because a lot of people when they are doing low carb diets, they eat such a huge caloric deficit that it’s actually to the point of starvation. If you continue on this part, you will definitely see a break down of muscle mass for energy and possibly build up of ketones in your blood, eventually, which can lead to the very dangerous levels and cause ketoacidosis. Also some individuals are so stubborn, they will keep on that track and start experiencing constipation, nausea, fatigue, etc.
At the end of the day, low carb dieting can work and does work, but make sure that your caloric intake is suitable, where you are able to function at an optimal level because it is with exercise and dieting that a good amount of weight loss can be seen. Also, expect a few days of on a true low carbohydrate diet, to feel lethargic and weak because your body requires a certain period of time to adapt to using the fat for energy instead of the carbohydrates has grown accustom to utilizing.