There is a general opinion across the board that if you want to get ripped and get a 6 pack, then you must cut out carbohydrates.
You only need to google ‘low-carb diets’ to be presented with over 17,000 results for ways you can jump start weight loss, curb cravings and burn more fat.
So is a low carb diet, the way forward?
Well, maybe not.
With the amount of contradicting studies out there, it’s hard to know who to trust. So here’s a guide that will help you to make an informed decision.
Let’s first look at my own experience.
I grew up in France, a country where fad diets are as common as drinking wine and eating bread.
No carbs, high carb diet, paleo, I have done it all.
Here’s a picture of me several years ago when I cut out carbs.
Sure, I was far to be overweight but for someone who was working out up to 5 times a week, I wasn’t ripped either.
I used to keep a diary of my daily food intake.
Here is what I would eat in a typical day:
Breakfast- granola with almond milk and apple
Snack- yogurt and banana
Lunch- salmon with sauce, wild leave,s cucumbers, baby tomatoes, sweetcorn and olives
Snack 1- apple with 1 tablespoon of almond butter
Snack 2- protein bar
Dinner- breast chicken with carrots and lettuce
Snack 3-protein bar
Although my diet looked overall `healthy’, I was not feeling my best.
My energy levels were low and I would need to snack up to 4 times a day to keep me going.
But even worse, I was struggling to make progress with my fitness routine. On several occasions I would find myself light headed as I was doing burpees or lifting weights.
I felt miserable.
Then Christmas came and the carbs loading started. It was too hard to resist the roasted potatoes and all the other treats that were offered to me.
So like most people, I surrendered.
And god that felt good! You probably know that feeling too.
Although long term overindulging was not part of the plan, I knew I had to change something in my diet.
So I reintroduced progressively healthy carbs such as brown rice and quinoa to my diet.
I also reduced my sugar intake, by cutting out granola and protein bar, as well as eating less fruit which left bloated most of the time.
It was not long until I started to see the impact on my body. Those burpees suddenly became easier to perform and I felt considerably better.
And this is how I looked one month after changing my routine.
All right, you may think that I am just the exception to the rule, or that I am just `lucky’.
Believe me I am not. I am just one example among many others.
Whether you have 15, 20 or 25 % body fat, science speaks for itself.
Cutting carbs out of your diet doesn’t lead to a long term weight loss (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
In fact, carbohydrates are vital for energy- they prevent protein being used for energy (as it’s needed elsewhere), and helps keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel.
So unless you have a specific condition such as diabetes or lyme disease, cutting out carbs from your diet is probably not the best idea. Believe me, it’s just not sustainable.
Of course, not all carbs are good for you.
Processed carbs, such as white pasta, white rice fast food burgers don’t have any nutritional value and tend to lead to weight gain.
So if you are looking to lose weight, you may want to stay away from them.
Why good carbs can help
Ab-friendly carbohydrates operate in a different way, though.
Brown rice and quinoa are some of my favourites.
They all contain the fiber, protein and vitamins that contribute to you feeling fuller for longer.
Many of these carbs including sweet potatoes, black and pinto beans or frekkeh, stimulate your metabolism. They help you digest food faster, which reduces the possibility of absently snacking throughout the day like I used to.
They also contain protein which can aid in muscle development and provide energy to help you develop those muscles through workouts.
So you can actually make real progress in your routine.
What Else Can You Do?
Sure 80% of the work in weight loss and building muscle comes from a good diet.
However, don’t forget the 20% left.
Taking advantage of the energy provided by carbohydrates by exercising as well as engaging in resistance training will help you burn off the calories and pounds from your diet.
There also needs to be a balance. Electing to solely eat carbohydrates that help you lose weight will not be enough.
Instead, you need to consider carb cycling. This is when you alternate between moderate carb and low carb foods depending on the intensity of your workout during that time.
During high-intensity weeks, opt for moderate carb content whereas when taking it easier or during rest days, low carb consumption will benefit you more.
Carbs, Abs and You
If you consume the good carbs at the right time and use that energy in tandem with a workout, then you’ll be well on your way to improved health and a lean body.
Then the next step is to decide how much carbs you need to achieve your dream body.
The NHS dietary guidelines recommend that carbs provide 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. So if you eat a 2000-calorie diet, you should aim for about 260g of carbs per day.
However, if you need to lose weight, you will get much faster results reducing your carbs intake.
There is no scientific data that indicates how to match carbohydrate intake to individual needs, but I have personally found these guidelines to be very effective when looking to achieve a lean body.
120-150 Grams per Day
This range is great for people who are active and are trying to maintain a healthy weight and lean body.
Carbs you can eat:
- As many vegetables as you want such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach.
- 2-3 pieces of fruit such as berries, watermelon or peaches.
- Moderate amounts of healthy starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes and healthy grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats.
50-120 Grams per Day
This is more appropriate for individuals who want to lose weight effortlessly without too much restriction.
Carbs you can eat:
- All the vegetables you can imagine.
- 1 or 2 pieces of fruit a day.
- A few starchy carbohydrates.
20-50 Grams per Day
This is the ultra low-carb diet. This is the perfect range for people who need to lose weight fast or have a condition such as diabetes or lyme disease.
If you’re new to low-carb eating, your body will probably go through an adaptation phase where it is getting used to burning fat instead of carbs.
This is called the “low-carb flu” and is usually over within a few days. Once this initial phase is over, you may find having more energy than before, with no “afternoon slumps” that are common on high-carb diets.
Carbs you can eat:
- Low-carb vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms, cucumber.
- A handful of berries.
- Other foods such as nuts and seeds.
Be aware that a low-carb diet is NOT no-carb. If you want to try this out, then I suggest you tracking your food intake for a few days to get an idea of the amount of carbs you are eating.
Also bear in mind that we are all unique.
What works for your friends may not be for you. It is important to do some self-experimentation and figure out what works for you.
If you have a medical condition, then make sure to talk to your GP before making any changes, because this diet can impact your need for medication!