How many health kicks have you started with cutting out carbohydrates? It is often the first thing to go when a body composition goal is set. The big question is why, and the simple answer is it’s because that is what we have always been told to do.
Low carbohydrate diets do work, don’t get me wrong- but they only work for a limited time before you need to make changes to maintain body composition change while improving health.
Have you found yourself in this scenario? You start your health kick- you’re training hard and your meals are high protein, moderate fats and more greens than you know what to do with AND you are chugging back litres of water each day.
Day two or three and you are peeing like a race horse.
It depends on how inflamed your body is as to just how much water comes rushing out- but you can expect to see a significant change in bodyweight quickly, although you may not see a change in visible body composition (body fat, lean muscle mass) for at least a week or two.
What is this magic I hear you ponder from afar?
The short science light explanation is that after the body ingests carbohydrates and stores the energy as glycogen, these glycogen molecules bind to several water molecules. On your low carbohydrate diet you are cutting the stream of carbohydrates so your body turns to fat stores, and glycogen stored in your muscles and your liver for energy.
Given that each gram of glycogen (there can be 300-400g stored in muscle alone or more) is attached to 3-4g of water- as those stores are burnt, the water is released, hence the rapid changes.
Although there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate, as there are essential fatty acids and amino acids- carbohydrates are needed, it's just choosing the right amount that is the tricky part. The simple answer to that is you only need as many carbohydrates as you actually need.
Say for example you are looking to burn excess fat, your carbohydrate needs are much less than someone training to build muscle, or an endurance athlete who is already lean and has a high training load.
The timing of carbohydrate consumption is often heavily debated- at Hybrid we have a general rule for most people, which is some quickly absorbed carbohydrates post workout (liquid form is fine) and solid foods, protein and carbohydrates in a meal preferably twenty minutes plus after training. The other time we recommend consuming carbohydrates is dinner time or before bed time for optimizing fat burning hormones while you sleep and it also helps you enter a deeper more relaxing sleep.
For someone relatively lean, or preparing for a very intense strength workout we recommend some pre workout carbohydrates, preferably an hour plus before the workout (less than that can hinder the bodies ability to burn fat as priority energy source) as once we start training blood flow moves to the muscles working rather than the digestive system meaning food consumed less than 60 minutes prior to training is likely to sit in the gut and we all know how that ends with hard training.
CARBOHYDRATES AND REFEED'S
There comes a time in any low carbohydrate diet where you should perform a re-feed of sorts and this is where many a low-carbohydrate traveler loses his/her way.
The role of a re-feed essentially is to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscle and liver (remembering they bind to water molecules so you will put on some weight) and also to maintain an effective metabolism.
Where people tend to run into trouble is when they really really let their hair down on a re-feed to the extent that if you owned shares in carbohydrates you would be banking some serious cash profits. Adding to that problem is following on from a few weeks of clean eating most people are looking forward to a bit of dirty carbohydrates for their re-feed, which isn't the worst thing to happen so long as you don't go TOO crazy, for TOO long. One big meal- no problems. Four days of burgers, chips, chocolate and ice cream is likely to unravel the hard work you have done.
Remembering as well, the leaner you are the more you can get away with- if you are serious about your result I would still only recommend one meal of re-feed carbohydrates and I would recommend keeping them as clean as you possibly can.
If done properly, you may be surprised by the results. You are likely to look a little leaner, with fuller looking muscle tissue and most importantly energy levels should rise back up ready to get back into the groove of your training as you kick things up a notch for the next phase.
Do you have any more carbohydrate questions? Let us know either in the comments section or send an email from our contact page and we will get back to you as soon as we can.