This week I want to take a bit of a different look at low carb eating & lifestyle.
As always seems to be the case, information taken solid research seems to lead to extreme pendulum swings in terms of belief & perception.
High protein, low carb is the perfect example of this. Too many folk don’t bother to learn about this and adopt one of 2 opposed stances – all carbs are ‘bad’ or eating high protein is ‘bad.’ Of course neither is correct nor entirely wrong.
Eating low carb means eating low glycemic index. Low glycemic load, low-or- no processed carbs, it doesn’t mean avoiding carbs. It also means pretty much avoiding starchy carbs, but as we will see even these have their uses.
Let’s make no mistake- there is such a thing as ‘bad’ carbs and they are the highly processed calorie dense nutrient sparse crap that fills our western diet. Eating highly processed, high GI and high GL foods are detrimental to your health – the evidence has been in for over a decade on this!!
Likewise eating high protein will not cause heart disease or any of the other highly touted but never proven side effects – but like any fuel source too much can cause imbalances in your body systems and in every case too many calories eaten above those needed for your activity level and you’ll put on fat. No matter what the source of those calories. (But as we discussed in earlier posts the source & type of calorie does matter – processed foods with HFCS and transfats elicit different & damaging responses from our metabolisms compared to salad & steak!)
Many ‘fans’ of low carb diets will only eat the bare minimum of carbs that they feel is necessary to maintain health – this is extreme and wrong. Carbs do not have to be shunned – just chosen wisely, and eaten in line with body needs. This means that it is alright to go high carb if you earned it!! The immediate post work out period is one such time as is first thing in the morning or after a long period of intense mental effort.
The best, the healthiest and most ‘acceptable’ forms of carbs are vegetables & fruits. So although most carbs aren’t the “bad guys” they’re not viewed in the same light as “heroes” like protein and healthy fats and there’s good reason for the food discrimination.
Of course most of us are now aware of the processed carb / insulin /fat storage connection (see last week’s post on Obesegenics) and this is one of the biggest reasons to keep processed carb consumption low. If you can keep insulin sensitivity high and insulin levels low you will not only be maintaining a healthy and optimally functioning body, you’ll also be able to drop body fat if you need to.
We also know that our bodies love to become efficient at everything they do so they can reduce the amount of energy used (our bodies are still focussed on energy conservation) – this is why you should alter your workouts at least every 6 weeks – to keep ‘inefficiency’ and therefore metabolism high…
Likewise your body seems to adapt and get used to any particular diet. Research supports the view that most of us eat fewer than 20 different meals on a regular basis. Again our body becomes efficient at handling these foods and the results we may be trying to use diet to achieve can become blunted.
This is as true for low carb diets as for any other eating pattern. This means that if you’ve been on a low carb diet for a prolonged period of time, an occasional ‘spike’ in your carb intake can actually be beneficial for your health.
There are a number of terms for this, the most common being ‘carb refeeding’. Really it is a way to give your metabolism a bit of stimulation that is not activity dependent, and if you’ve hit a fat loss plateau it can help restart it.
It works like this – you add starchy carbs (strategically chosen – see below) to your diet in amounts that actually increase your insulin production. Notice I said strategically chosen – junk is junk and processed
carbs are processed carbs no matter when you consume them. The only real exception to this is if you are using a short term carb ‘surging’ protocol to replenish glycogen stores after some serious depletion. This is using the famous ‘cheat day’ once a week.
So bad carbs (processed and / or high glycemic index & glycemic load) remain not good for you and too many calories are still too many – even on programmed cheat days. The goal is to stimulate your insulin, not release so much that it begins to create an environment of insulin resistance in your body!
There are healthier ways to increase your carb intake that’ll help re-stimulate your insulin and make sure that this hormone is working efficiently.
In normal practise I recommend that we keep our carb intake to around 100 – 150g a day. This level is easy to maintain and means that you are able to consume enough nutrient dense vegetables and fruits to sustain a very healthy diet.
Eating this way though means that starchy carbs are likely to be a part of your diet very often (a good thing except in this case). Starchy carbs are what we use to re-stimulate your insulin.
Let me be clear – by starchy carbs I don’t mean breads, muffins or any baked goods; nor do I mean pasta or rice. Why? It is becoming increasingly supported that grain based foods are actually detrimental to our health largely because they contain plant proteins called ‘lectins’ and a host of enzyme inhibitors. (look up Marks Daily Apple for a Paleo style run down on this – my own research mans that I only any grain based foods on a Sunday – and that is usually for the family brunch…)
No the starches I recommend and am talking about here are grain free foods that don’t contain these harmful, if natural, compounds. I recommend: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, squash, beets and taro. This is by no means a complete listing – but the foods on it are easily found in most areas.
Here are some rules to cover off your carb re-feeding:
Carb refeeding is not suitable for everyone. If you have insulin resistance, metabolic disorder, diabetes or any auto-immune disease it’s not recommended.
Carb refeeding is for you if you’ve been eating low carb for over 2 months and you’re beginning to feel a bit ‘flat’, and you fat loss has slowed or even stopped.
Carb refeeding doesn’t mean adding if foods you don’t normally eat (Yams, sweet potato etc should be a part of your regular diet!) but it does mean increasing the percentage of them for a short, insulin ‘invigorating’ period of time.
Carb refeeding is meant for short time use, not daily / weekly regular add-in to your diet. It is best done like a cheat day – once a week and usually never more than 3 or 4 weeks in a row.
If you do the weekly version then you can increase your carbs up to 500 g for that day if you’re eating vegetable starches (never grain) – but try to make it a day where you have a challenging weight lifting session.
Remember the idea is to ‘tickle’ your insulin, not to undo the good work of your previous weeks of diet. This means that if you’re doing a carb refeed once a week; make sure that the very next day you get right back to your low carb diet. Don’t lose control and let your carb intake remain high. You can even lower your carb intake further than normal – by about 50% – the next day to get you back to your normal routine.
Likewise you should decrease your fat intake for the day when you’re carb refeeding. A good range is around 200 – 500 calories.
Carb refeeding is really designed for folk who have been eating low carb for at least 10 weeks, 12 – 16 is even better. The reason is that if you use carb refeeding before your body has the chance to adapt to burning fat as its main fuel source (which is a part of the reasoning behind low carb diets – metabolically switch your body’s fuel preference) it will hinder your fat loss progress.
If you’ve been leading a low carb lifestyle for some time now (at least 10 weeks) and you’re feeling great – don’t change! It is working for you and you should stick with it.
Conversely if you’re feeling like things have stagnated and you need to shake things up a little, incorporating a carb refeed may be just what your body and mind needs.
See you next week.