This week I am at week 9/52 of my next transformation and in this post I want to take a bit of a different look at high protein, moderate fats and low carb eating in relation to a healthy lifestyle and fitness/athlete training goals.
As always is the case, information taken solid research certainly does seems to lead to extreme pendulum swings in terms of belief and perception.
High protein, low carb is the perfect example of this. Too many folk don’t bother to learn about this and adopt 1 of 2 opposed stances: all carbs are “bad”; or eating high protein is “bad”. Reality is neither is holistically correct nor entirely wrong!
Eating low carb means eating low glycemic index i.e. low GI. Low glycemic load, low – or – no processed carbs, does not mean avoiding carbs. However it does mean avoiding starchy carbs, but as we will see even these starchy carbs have their uses in Carb Refeeds.
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 (money spinner for governments and industry) diet. Overall eating highly processed, high GI and high GL foods are detrimental to your health. Now lets “flip the pancake”… 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.
REALITY CHECK: in every case too many calories eaten above those needed for your activity level and you will put on fat – no matter what the source of those calories. BUT as we discussed in previous posts the source and type of calorie does matter – processed foods with HFCS and transfats elicit different and damaging responses from our metabolisms compared to a meal of baby spinach, sweet potato and steak!
Many “fans” of low carb diets will only eat the bare minimum of carbs that they feel is necessary to maintain health and this style of eating is extreme and wrong. Carbs are not to be shunned! Rather, carbs need to be chosen wisely, and eaten in line with your body’s needs and your fitness/athlete training goal. YES, it is alright to go high carb if you earned it!!! ,
The best, the healthiest and most “acceptable” forms of carbs are vegetables such as sweet potato and fruits such as berries. 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 is good reason for the food discrimination
*How does your body “perceive” energy availability explained
Body fat is essentially stored energy. It’s also an endocrine organ that secretes the hormone “leptin”, the amount of which in circulation is directly proportional to the amount of adipose tissue on your body. Simple… the leaner you get, the less body fat – and less stored energy – you have available to drive leptin secretion. Even if you’re not as lean as you’d prefer to be, your lower body fat levels are low enough that the brain isn’t getting the “high energy availability” message from leptin.
The hormone “insulin” is another indicator of energy availability. Insulin increases leptin secretion in fat cells. As far as the body’s concerned, if insulin is present in significant amounts then food has just been eaten… and this means food is probably available in the environment. If food is readily available, the body doesn’t need to cram as much food in and go into starvation mode, nor does it have to conserve energy. Actually your body is free to do things that aren’t essential to immediate survival; like play a game of football, have sex, go surfing, or workout, because there’s plenty of energy available.
Leptin goes up, reducing appetite and increasing expenditure. Ughh… when your insulin is constantly elevated, another set of problems arise with leptin resistance, and that is another topic for another post…
Carb content of your diet, perhaps independently of the increase in insulin, also affects leptin levels. Be aware that protein also increases leptin, and fat seems not to, but carbs have the largest effect.
The overall calorie content of the diet is an indicator of energy availability. Numerous studies show that calorie restriction causes the body to lower serum leptin levels in order to protect against further weight loss, thus that supplementary leptin kick-starts weight loss all over again.
Now this brings me to the topic of “Carb Loading” or “Carb Refeeds” and this can be used, quite effectively, by those of you interested in dropping the last couple body fat percentage points. We at Be Fit Hub do not recommend carb refeeds for overweight individuals. For them, sticking with a low carb eating plan is the easiest as well as safest way to drop the weight!
Turning our “Power Foods Diet” into a super-leaning out program is possible and would mean distinct changes in its inherent nature as an effortless system without weighing and measuring and applicable to those who have the goal to lean out and achieve that ultra-ripped men’s or women’s health cover model look. It would entail significant, painstaking adherence to a strictly regimented program of macronutrients as well as functional training.
As Nutrition Coaches – George and myself – are also focussed on helping people reach their natural genetic potential through sustainable lifestyle behaviors. So for most people, their natural genetic potential is quite good – lean, strong, fit, healthy and our “Power Foods Diet” lifestyle is perfect as a guide to the right food choices for life.
*Carb Refeeds and Leptin explained
Now back to carb refeeds that are typically done while “cutting”; that is, creating a caloric deficit so your body is forced to rely on fat as an energy source. Most folk on any low carb diet i.e. less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day or implementing any extreme caloric deficit (for the purpose to shed body fat) should incorporate a carb refeed.
Carb refeeds are used to raise leptin, refill muscle and liver glycogen, as well as providing sanity release from dieting as your body is temporarily thrown into a state of metabolic balance.
*A Layman explanation of Leptin
Leptin is considered to be an anti-starvation/metabolic balance hormone. As your leptin levels decrease, the signal is sent to inform that your body is going into starvation mode… As your body goes into starvation mode we all know what happens next… Your fat loss slows down immensely or in some cases to a screeching halt. So in order to kick fat loss into gear again, you need to raise your leptin level.
Common sense dictates that the body seeks harmonious balance of all systems, and if you endeavor to upset that balance – you have to outwit your body. Fortunately we were built for survival, and unfortunately for the serious fitness driven – athlete training/bodybuilding – oriented folk, survival did not mean 170 pounds of ripped mass at 6% body fat.
I can’t count have many people have asked US (George and myself) this very question, “Why did they loose fat after a cheat meal/day?”… They go on to explain they have been so good and clean on their diets for weeks and then their results slowed down, they got frustrated, they cheated and 2 days later woke up lighter and leaner than before the cheat. Let me explain this… Main reason in this scenario – that they leaned out – is that they raised leptin. Raising leptin levels will give your body the kick-start it needs for the next few days to keep you out of starvation mode as you diet and maintain your macronutrients. As long as your body is out of starvation mode, the faster the fat loss, and the less likely you are to lose LEAN BODY MASS, while suffering on all counts in the process with the side effects of eating carbs.
*How to Eat Your Way Out of Metabolic Hell explained
So, now you are probably thinking, “I do need to increase leptin? How do I increase leptin?”
Light Bulb moment: “Eat lots of carbs… And depending on your fitness/athlete training goal – I’m not necessarily talking slow burning carbs here either folks.
I know, most of you reading this right now are thinking WTF is she talking about?
Simple explanation only required here!!!… The way to raise leptin is to actually SPILL OVER into your fat cells.
In order to fill your muscle glycogen you need carbs, once your glycogen stores are full, you are now spilling over into your fat cells.
Like Coach George says “1 Step Backward for 2 Steps Forwards.”
Remember folks you will not get fat in 24 hours. This is not a new method of fat loss either. Bodybuilders and athletes are doing this everywhere and with fantastic results. A carb refeed day is NOT and I repeat NOT a cheat day!!! There are rules to this that should be followed to avoid gaining fat during the carb refeed and your carb refeeds need to be designed specific to your body composition and fitness/athlete training goal.
Typically a carb refeed is done every 4-5 days, although the frequency of the carb refeeds can be adjusted to suit the person – for example my carb refeeds are every 3 days. Hence, the lower the caloric deficit you’ve managed to create, and the lower your BF%, the more often you should carb refeed. “Why???” I here you ask? Reason being your leptin levels plummet as your calories drop and your body fat decreases; remember, we want to stay out of starvation mode.
*How do you know when you should carb refeed more often, or less often?
No 2 people are the same regardless of similar goals or benchmarks… It is a personal process of trial and error and the general carb refeed plan is just that – general! If you find yourself constantly obsessed with food, and if you are losing a significant amount of muscle and strength, you may have to carb refeed more often such as every 2 to 3 days.
As you are learning from this post a carb refeed may also be shorter or longer in duration. For instance, some prefer to carb refeed for 24 hours, in which case they may consume anywhere from 25 to 50% above their maintenance caloric intake. So for these shorter carb refeeds, such as those that last for 6 to 10 hours, people often do not count their calories; rather, they pack down as much as they can within the designated time-frame to ensure that their fat cells have a hefty bag of new fuel to stoke the metabolic furnace with.
*Appropriate Foods For a Carb Refeed
During your carb refeed, you should aim for around 1G of protein per Pound of body weight, keeping your sources of fat to a minimum, so you are only taking the fats that are in your proteins and carbs.
HEY HEY HEY this is the fun part – CARBS! Yes, lots and lots and lots of carbs. Not necessarily brown rice (gluten-free), sweet potatoes (paleo and vegan friendly) and oats here either… Depending on the length and regularity of your carb refeed in relation to your fitness/athlete training goal you may include:
Yes, all the things many of us crave… If it’s low fat or fat free, have it! Remember, no additional fats!!!
Also, you should keep fructose to a minimum. Sticking to 50-100G (for fructose, probably lower, like 25%) for the day is plenty. Note: sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose so seeing that we need to watch our fructose, staying away from sucrose (table sugar) is probably best. Yes, in order to successfully elevate our levels of leptin, we want to spill over muscle, not liver glycogen.
*It’s a Wrap! Making sense of it all for your body and your goals
Be practical and don’t bother stepping on the scale the next day if you choose a short carb refeed – you will be heavier. Duhh! Remember, carbs make you hold water but in a day or two it will be all gone and your body will burning fat like mad again. Yeah!
Some of you who are frightened of other carb sources may opt to refeed with slow burning carbs and that’s fine. Just keep in mind it’s going to take a hell of alot more oats to raise leptin than 1 bowl full of cereal. If you are doing a relatively short carb refeed, you may want to reconsider your food choices… a short carb refeed absolutely requires a drastic increase in your calories, as well as the consumption of refined carb sources.
The fiber in the slow burning carbs can be counter-productive when trying to raise leptin, that’s why many bodybuilders and athletes use refined carbs. Refined carbs raise leptin much quicker and you won’t feel like a stuffed pig all day for having to eat 3 cups of oats to equal what 1 bagel could have done. And for those of you who are mmm… scared, it’s up to you to look at the big picture, especially in light of how the body seeks balance. Then, if you truly understand the issue, you will no longer fear the calculated nature of a carb refeed… even if it requires you to consume those foods that are typically forbidden in your mind!
Some of you may be “Carb Cycling” and so you do not need to follow this carb refeed strategy. Let me explain carb cycling… The carb cycling diet uses the “High Carb” days – every 2 days – to raise leptin.
Of course most of us are now aware of the processed carb/insulin/fat storage connection 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…
The purpose, as I see it, of carb refeeds is the restoration of leptin levels in the dieter. As we know, caloric restriction reduces leptin levels and with lower leptin comes increased hunger and reduced adherence to a diet. Then the domino effects of plateau begins: cravings arise; energy wanes; and immunity suffers. The lack of leptin elicits the cascade of hormones that down regulate metabolism and energy expenditure. Your muscles use less energy and become more efficient – BUT much weaker and less effective. Also menstruation and fertility become issues. Dropping calories even more will just makes the problem worse.
You need to restore leptin, at least for a bit, to right the path to achieve your weight loss or fitness/athlete training goal. A carb refeed designed by a professional Nutrition Coach can help you achieve this! xx