Low Carb Diets: Fact vs. Fiction

How to make this ultraeffective tactic work for you

It’s true that many seasoned bodybuilders know the benefits of low-carb diets and, more important, how to properly go low carb, but the newer generations of lifters might need a little help. 

Here, we set the record straight, debunking six common myths associated with low-carb dieting. 

 MYTH #1 

CUTTING CARBS WILL CAUSE YOU TO LOSE MUSCLE MASS.

TRUTH: At the very beginning of a low-carb diet, glycogen stored in muscles becomes depleted. Glycogen pulls water into muscle fibers, and when it disappears, water levels within the muscle drop. This causes the muscle to temporarily lose size.

This temporary drop in muscle water and fullness causes many guys to abandon their low-carb diets because they think the effect is permanent. However, after a few days, the body adjusts to the decreased carb intake, creates and stores glycogen from other sources, and the muscles refill with water.

Low-carb, high-protein diets do not cause you to lose muscle, and they can actually help you gain muscle while you lose bodyfat. This is due to two factors: the increase
in dietary protein intake and the increase in the burning of fat for fuel. When you drop carbs, you should up protein consumption to at least
11⁄2-2 grams per pound of bodyweight per day. Research shows that protein intake drives the muscle-building process, which is known as protein synthesis; the more protein you ingest, the more protein synthesis that occurs and the greater the potential for muscle growth.

Meanwhile, ketones, which are produced when you burn major amounts of bodyfat, are used by the body for fuel to prevent the breakdown of muscle protein. With that decrease in muscle breakdown due to ketones and an increase in muscle buildup from higher protein intake, you have a perfect recipe for stimulating muscle growth. In fact, a study performed at the Storrs campus of the University of Connecticut found that men on a low-carb, high-protein diet gained muscle mass without even exercising. When you couple a low-carb, high- protein diet with a solid training program, you’ll be amazed at how much fat you can lose while maintaining — if not gaining — muscle. 

TAKE-HOME MESSAGE: Increase protein consumption to a minimum of 1 1⁄2 g per pound of bodyweight per day when going low carb. Choose animal protein sources, such as beef, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, as well as whey and casein protein powders. 

 MYTH #2 

LOW-CARB DIETS WILL ZAP YOUR ENERGY AND MAKE YOU WEAK.

TRUTH: This myth persists mainly because research on low-carb diets followed by endurance athletes concluded that lower carb intake negatively impacted endurance.

However, bodybuilders and other strength athletes are much different than endurance athletes because of the energy systems used during training.

Endurance athletes burn a lot of muscle glycogen, but bodybuilders typically use other fuel sources, such as stored adenosine triphosphate — the major energy source for many cellular functions in the body — and creatine phosphate (the form of creatine that helps make ATP for the muscle). Unless you train with very high reps (more than 15 per set) or excessive sets (more than 20 per muscle group), low-carb diets will not affect your strength or energy in the gym. A study from California State University, Fullerton, reported that a low-carb diet had no effect on subjects’ 15-rep max strength for the squat, leg press and leg extension.

Regardless of the study, if you typically eat a lot of carbs and then switch to a low-carb diet, you may feel a dip in energy at the very beginning; however, after several days, the body will adapt and energy will not be a problem.

TAKE-HOME MESSAGE: When training while on a low-carb diet, keep reps to 15 or less per set and total sets per muscle group to 20 or less. Also, consider supplementing with creatine (if you don’t already), as this will maximize creatine phosphate levels to keep your strength and energy levels maxed in the gym.

 

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