Do You Really Need A Low-Carb Diet To Lose Fat?
We've all heard of the myth that in order to lose weight, you need to cut down on the amount of carbs you consume.
Some go even further by telling you that you absolutely must go on a "Low-Carb" diet in order to lose fat.
Is that necessarily the case?
Carbs do not contain more calories than protein. It's just easier to overeat.
You need carbs to fuel your body
There are some scenarios where a low-carb diet might make sense. Mainly for professional reasons.
When it comes to nutrition and dieting, we like to use simple explanations and blanket statements to set rules for ourselves, such as "carbs make you fat".
However, the science behind carbohydrates and our body's needs for it is a little more complicated than that.
Advocates for a low-carb diet will generally use 2 arguments to show why carbs are the enemy:
Carbs increase insulin levels, and thereby increases fat storage.
Carbs are packed with calories, and thus make you fat.
While these 2 statements sound true, studies have shown that none of this actually makes you fatter, only overeating does.
In fact, 1g of carbs and 1g of protein both contain around 4 calories. So they don't actually make you any fatter. It's just easier to overeat on carbs compared to protein.
Why are carbs important?
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy your body turns to on a daily basis.
That is why when you are eating a low-carb diet, you tend to feel extremely lethargic and moody.
This also explains why when you didn't have enough sleep the night before, you tend to crave foods that are higher in carbs (ie, that sweet bubble tea or donut). It's your body's response to get a hit of energy.
You might also have experienced that nauseating feeling right after a particularly strenuous workout. That's due to your body's depleted blood sugar level and requires you to replenish it with some carbs.
So as you can see, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that our body needs. And there isn't a one size fits all approach when it comes to carbohydrate requirements either.
Carb intake depends on many factors, such as:
size of the person
how much body fat they have
how active they are
what is the intensity of their exercise
their body goals
Generally, more active people will require higher-carb diets, while more sedentary people will do fine with lower-carb diets.
"But I have friends that lost weight while eating a low-carb diet!"
And I am sure that they certainly lost weight while on such a diet, but did they really lose that much fat?
What happens when you first cut your carbohydrate intake, is your body's glycogen stores get reduced. Glycogen is what your body converts carbs into for storage.
Every gram of glycogen is stored with 3 to 4 grams of water.
So that rapid weight loss and the "leanness" you see when starting a low-carb diet? It's mostly due to your body losing water.
Once you return your carb intake to normal levels, your weight almost immediately goes back up.
When might a low-carb diet be beneficial?
Having presented all the facts, here are a few scenarios where you might consider a low-carb diet:
1. If you are a professional that needs to lose weight and/or get lean quickly.
For example, for boxers, bodybuilders, actors, models, etc.
As mentioned before, cutting your carb intake can help you lose water quickly, and give the appearance of leases for a short period of time. However, this is definitely not a long term sustainable strategy.
2. If you are currently very overweight
One of the negative impacts of being overweight is decreased insulin sensitivity. This means that your body might struggle to digest a high-carb meal, leaving you feeling tired.
In such cases, you might benefit from eating a lower carb meal to avoid feeling lethargic and might help you lose more fat in the process.
As you lose fat and get regular exercise, your insulin sensitivity will increase, which will enable you to eat higher-carb meals.
3. If you are mostly sedentary the entire day
Carbohydrates are what provides energy. If you aren't physically active throughout your regular day, you might not need much carbs in your diet.
The Bottom Line
The low-carb diet trend is more of a fad than anything else.
While there are some truths and might suit the needs of a small demographic of people, for the majority of us, it just isn't necessary.
If you are a healthy and active individual, you would do much better with a moderately high-carb, high-protein, and low-fat diet, in order to meet your fat loss and muscle gain goals.