Low carb diets such as Keto seem to be all the craze these days. Why is that? Are they more beneficial? Will you lose fat quicker? Are they worth it? Or are carbohydrates beneficial to include?
Let’s start with why one usually loses weight fairly quickly when they start a low carb diet.
For one, the glucose (carb) molecule is attached to water, therefore the more carbs one eats, the more water they hold essentially.
This includes water in the muscle making your muscles look full, which is a good thing. But as a result, when you lower your carb intake you lose water fairly quickly which though it shows as weight loss on the scale, it is not fat loss.
This can be deceiving to the typical dieter as they think they are losing fat but it is mostly water due to the lowered carbohydrate intake. This can help you look leaner, as you are holding less water, but it can also make you look depleted.
Vice versa, that is also the reason why one might feel and look a bit more bloated when they eat a big carb meal or meals. It doesn’t mean you gained a bunch of fat, but that you are just temporarily holding a bit more water. Think of eating bread or pasta and that bloated feeling you feel from it. It’s just extra water your body is holding onto.
Secondly, when you eliminate a macronutrient from your diet, such as carbohydrates, you are lowering total overall calories which can create a calorie deficit for weight loss.
A calorie deficit is what you really need to lose fat regardless of how many carbohydrates you eat. All the studies have proven that when calories are equal, low carb diets and high carb diets work just the same for fat loss.
What matters is the calorie deficit.
Calories burned vs calories consumed over time.
Another note is when one goes low carb, they can replace some of it with either fat and/or protein.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient and it has the highest thermic effect in the body. This makes it harder to overeat and fills you up quicker if you replace the carbs with protein—a good thing.
However, if one replaces their carbs (4 cal/gram) with too much fat (9 cal/gram), then they can actually consume more calories and gain weight—a bad thing.
The downsides of low carb diets for many can come at a price, as your energy, strength, mental clarity, mood and metabolism can all take a hit. It can make life unenjoyable and make the diet unsustainable.
Carbs improve mood, performance, strength and mental clarity which are all positives. They can also help boost your metabolism. As far as fat loss, there is no more of a benefit going low carb or going low fat.
It is just a matter of preference.
Summary: Carbohydrates have their benefits and it is not necessary to go low carb to lose fat.
In the end, losing fat is about a calorie deficit with all of your food, not just carbs. However, if carbs is the macronutrient you are overeating, like many here in America, then that might be the main one that you do lower. I do like low carb diets for some people for a short term. If you are going to include carbs for their benefits, which I recommend, then choose mostly whole food carbs. Find what works and is sustainable for you.
Whole Food Carbohydrate Sources:
- Grains (Wheat, rice, oats)
- Tubers (Beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes)
- Legumes (beans)
- Seeds (Quinoa)
12 Benefits of Including Carbohydrates in Your Diet:
- Carbs are the #1 preferred fuel source for your muscles and brain
- Carbs help give your muscles a full/toned look
- Carbs help keep a healthy metabolism
- Carbs help improve mood
- Having carbs before bed can help one sleep better
- Many carbohydrate foods contain a good amount of fiber which aids in digestion, helps with satiety and helps with blood cholesterol levels
- Eating carbs releases insulin which shuttles glucose to parts of the body for energy and storage and keeps blood sugar stable
- Carbs help with strength and assist in building muscle. They have a protein sparing effect.
- Increased energy, strength and performance
- Fruits and veggies (carbs) are high in micronutrients
- They taste great and help keep your diet enjoyable and therefore more sustainable. However, vice versa because they are tasty they can be easy to overeat as well
- Carbs help with mental clarity.
The Benefits of Low Carb Diets:
- Can help with insulin sensitivity
- Can help you drop some extra water retention
- Can have some medical benefits
Nick Andrus has been a professional fitness coach for 6 years. He holds two back-to-back CIF championships, going 50-0 for two seasons, and two 1st Place wins in physique competitions. He lives in Pasadena, CA, where he’s currently training for an IronMan World Championship.