Low Carb Diets: The Evidence Speaks For Itself

Low Carb Diets: The Evidence Speaks For Itself

Considering how popular it is, most people have heard of the low carb diet. However apart from understanding it to be a protein based diet, there is much more to a low carb diet than a lot of us know.

Here I will reveal to you why this is the diet is the choice of many athletes, and  perhaps why it could be ideal for you.


The Research Behind The Low Carb Diet

Jeff Volek Dr, professor of the Ohio State University, Human Sciences department, has done incredible work within the area of diets high in fat and low in carbohydrates,

This work has also delved into how Low carb high fat diet affect athletic performance and health.

Dr. Volek has published an array of in depth scientific articles as well as several books, among which are ” The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

Two books were co-written by Dr. Stephen Phinney, a  pioneer within this field, and has been an expert of the low carb diet even longer than Dr. Volek.


Low Carb Diet

More than just a high protein diet


When he started his work as a nutritionist, Dr. Volek was taught the standard at that time;  low fat diets were good, saturated fats and cholesterol were bad.

However, it was when he worked with diabetic group, that he began to understand that something was “missing”.

“In essence, it motivated me to want to understand the metabolism and nutrition at a much deeper level,” he says.

I was also interested to experience myself … At that time, I had very low fat diets, thinking that was the way to optimize my own health. But I decided to experiment with a very low carbohydrate

See also: Guide to Ketogenic Diet: How It Works, Benefits and Food List


Low Carb Diet Benefit Athletes and Dieters

He began his experiment in early 90s and, to his astonishment, test proved to him that low carbohydrate diets were anything but harmful. Fuelled by these findings,  his desire to understand how humans responded to low in carb diets was sparked.

So far, Dr Volek has spent 15 years conducting research in this area and the results of most experiments have been very promising.

“Science continues to mount that there are many applications for this type of diet for a variety of people.

We continue clarifying the details, but certainly we need to change the way we feed people in the United States and the way we think about nutrition … to reverse obesity and diabetes. “

Along with this, he conducted research on diets low in carbohydrates and no fiber, and there effects on athletic performance.

This study also proved to be quite positive – despite it going against everything most of us have learnt at school about power and performance, and against a majority of  scientific publications.

“At least, it has been an interesting way … The things I read, the things they taught me were not really based on many scientific data and contained many half-truths and misinformation, much of which continues today,” he says .


Can Food Effect Your Metabolism Negatively or Positively?

Most food (fuel) eaten by people today takes their metabolism in the wrong direction. Western diet uses carbohydrates to replenish energy, but minus the addition of fiber.

What then happens, is that most people will burn glucose as fuel. This actually blocks the bodies ability to access its fat burning abilities.

However, healthy fat is the superior fuel because it burns more efficiently than carbohydrates. As Dr. Volek states, humans evolved to burn fat as the main fuel, instead of carbohydrates, and yet our food habits go against this.

Healthy fats

“As a result, we are encountering many metabolic problems, because we constantly inhibit the ability of our body to burn the fuel we were evolved to use,” he says.


How Does The Body Burn Cleaner?

Everyone has to eat; fuel is needed for out survival. The body cannot function at all without producing adenosine triphosphate.

So how can the body do this without generating reactive oxygen species (ROS), a harmful species, damaging the mitochondria and leading to disease?

The key, it appears, for a healthy mitochondria  is for food intake to be kept low in carbohydrates and high in fat instead of high in carbohydrates and low in fat.

When it comes to fat, Healthy Fats are the “cleaner” form of fuel burning.

The term ‘clean fuel’, regarding health fats, is a bit controversial, but nevertheless it’s the right one. This is because the body goes much more ‘strain’ burning carbohydrates as fuel.

You are probably wondering why that would be?

Well there’s the free radicals that are produced when the body burns carbohydrates, along with reactive oxygen species, all of which contributes to many metabolic problems seen in individuals today.

Speed up your metabolism by burning “clean fuel”


What To Do To Get The Metabolism Back Up And Running

The most effective way for your body to start using fat as fuel is to eliminate some starches and sugars in your food. According to Volek, this goes across the board, whether a person is athletic or sedentary.

In nut shell, the reason diets low in carbohydrates, and low in fiber work so well is because they bring blood sugar into the cells and use carbohydrates as fuel.

Dr. Volek relates this another term. “Carbohydrate intolerance” – a metabolic dysfunction when someone is insulin resistant or prediabetic :

“If you are intolerant to carbohydrates, it doesn’t make sense to consume half your energy from carbohydrates without fiber and try to force your body to burn more.”


Healthy Fats Against Harmful Fats

A majority of people in the United States consume harmful fats, like processed vegetable oils, which inevitably creates health issues.

So when we refer to dietary fats, we are talking about  natural and unprocessed fats. These are sourced from whole foods such as:

  • seeds
  • butter
  • nuts
  • avocado
  • olives
  • coconut oil.

Another often ignored good fat, is raw cacao. This provides many sources of healthy saturated fats and others beneficial polyphenols.

Fats are important for various health reasons. For instance, they aid in the formation of cell membranes. Why is this important? Essentially it’s incredibly difficult to have good biological function if you have damaged cell membranes.

So in health, dietary fats have two main functions; They serve as fuel, but are also a key parts of good biological process.

raw cocoa contain polyphenols

If you are trying to lose weight, it is essential to train your body to access your body fat. If you don’t, it becomes a lot harder to eliminate it.

For example, an overweight person ideally should teach their body to burn excess fat. Once they do that, and reach a healthy weight, most of the body fat they burn will come from food sources.


Conversion: How To Burn Fat

In essence, the key is to limit your intake of non fibrous carbohydrates.

Regarding the type of carbohydrates, making this distinction is vital, because vegetables are carbs, but carbohydrate fiber will not take your metabolism in the wrong direction…

Now when you talk about carbs like sugar, soda, processed grains, pasta, bread and biscuits, then you have the type that will take your metabolism in the wrong direction.

To calculate bad carbohydrates without fiber, you can do this by subtracting the grams of fiber from total carbohydrates grams of food.


One Take Home Point To Remember:

The body has the ability to burn healthy fats and carbohydrates, but given the chance it will burn carbohydrates first .

So while you continue to eat carbohydrates, your body will access this first for fuel. Carbs are like the fuel bully who always pushes its way to the front.

Also think of carbohydrates as the type of nutrient that is wasted, since your body cannot store high levels of it.

Try to oxidize and burn carbs first. However, if you are intolerant to carbohydrates, which most people are, by definition, you won’t be able to burn carbohydrates very well.

In these cases the body has one route, that is to convert carbohydrates to fat. This is typical in people who are insulin resistant or intolerant to carbohydrates. It really paves the way for a lot of metabolic problems.

Image result for metabolic syndrome women
metabolic problems stem from the inability to burn carbs

Let’s go back to how to train your body to burn fat more efficiently; it begins by eliminating access to carbohydrates, because as long as they are there, they will take priority and inevitably inhibit fat burning. These mechanisms need to be balanced for fat burning to work.

Eat just one meal with carbohydrates and fat burning stops immediately.

This is the precise reason that low-carb diets, without fiber, work so well in shifting the body to fat burning. By limiting the amount of glucose and starches you eat, your body naturally starts to prefer fat for energy. However, it will take time to adapt.

Your cells will need to adjust to handling higher levels of fat and lipid-based fuels. It will takes weeks to accommodate this.

That being said, the moment it does, the adaptation is solid and does not disappear easily. This is why there is a period of adjustment for low carbohydrate diets. However, this can be interrupted if massive quantities of carbs are reintroduced. On the positive side, many of the bodily adaptations remain.


How Many Carbs To Enter Ketosis?

Dr. Volek states that the level of carbohydrates without fiber that allows you to enter a metabolic state is associated with increased production of ketones. This is found in the liver and is the biological reflection of its ability to burn fat.

On average most people will go into ketosis (fat burning) at no more than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day. This includes carbs with fibre and the carbs must be of the low glycemic index variety.  .

This is not a set rule, the way individuals respond to the same foods will altar from person to person.

Some people can go in a complete state of fat burning at a total carbohydrates level of 50 grams and above; perhaps 70 or 80. Others, especially individuals who are insulin resistant or have type 2 diabetes, may need to reduce their carbs to as little as 30 grams or 20 grams a day.

If you see the nutritional table a package of some processed food, and it says net carbs, understand this is the calculation of carbs minus the fibre. Look for total carbs, this is the calculation of carbs that include the fiber.

Don’t feel nervous about working this out, just understand that you need carbohydrates, but most of them should be plant based.


Ketones And The Low Carb Diet

To discover your personal carbohydrates limit, it is important to measure your ketones. This can be done via urine, blood of breath.

What this does is objectively measure if you are really in ketosis, instead of just counting the grams of carbohydrates you consume.

Low carb diet
Test Strips used to test for Ketosis

Smackfat Ketone Strips – Perfect for Ketogenic Diet and Diabetics – Precise Ketone Measurement and Supports Ketone Adaptation, 100 Strips

“This even varies with time in the same person,” says Dr. Volek. “It might be able to tolerate more carbohydrates when you are 20 years old, but suddenly reaches middle age and the same level of carbohydrates causes some extra inches on your waistline, sugars in your blood rise and now they have prediabetes, or worse.

The appropriate level of carbohydrates in a person is a somewhat moving target, but it is very important to customize a diet, which, I believe, is critical to this idea of ​​personalized nutrition element. It’s about finding the appropriate level of carbohydrates, at any time of your life, allowing you to maintain health. “

Studies have shown that ketosis is a very safe metabolic state to be in, particularly if you have diabetes or insulin resistance.

Although there are individuals who are very insulin sensitive and naturally tolerant to carbohydrates who do not need to develop ketosis to burn fat. So adjust how you proceed according to your individual situation.


The Ketogenic Diet Can Benefit Many chronic health problems

Besides insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, there are a various reasons to stay on the ketogenic diet. It is also effective for those suffering from seizures, particularly children who do not respond to drugs, as well as other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson ‘s. Ketogenic is also promising against cancer.

“I think that’s the next frontier of ketogenic diets,” says Dr. Volek. “There are a variety of reasons why many cancers would benefit from a ketogenic diet, not only because of the decreased flow of glucose availability (which depend on many tumors), but also less responsive to insulin and lower inflammation, since many tumors develop in a proinflammatory environment.

There are several potential mechanisms by which a ketogenic diet may benefit, as their epigenetic effects. We now know that the principal ketone body, beta hydroxybutyrate, is more than a metabolite. It is more than just an alternative fuel for the brain.

It acts as a hormone or a powerful cellular communication molecule that affects gene expression, such as regulating genes that protect against oxidative stress and improve antioxidant status.

Our knowledge and perspective of ketosis expands almost daily. Everything points to the positive health effects, which is quite interesting, considering we’ve been demonizing ketones during the last three or four decades, because only relate to ketoacidosis “.

Another benefit from low carb diet is resistance to sugar craving and other foods. This is because, the moment you make that change, your hunger will dramatically be reduced.

Mental clarity is another major advantage. According to Dr. Volek, it is the reason the US military have shown such interest in ketones – besides the fact that it improves endurance and performance.

A person who efficiently burns fat could also predispose them to a longer life. Dr. Ron Rosedale, an Internationally known expert in nutritional and metabolic medicine, goes on to state that the most important variable to controlling the aging process is the rate of burning fat versus carbohydrates. The more fat you burn, the slower you will age. More recent research supports this idea.


How a Ketogenic Diet Could Promote Longevity and Increased Muscle Mass

Recent studies have found around a dozen genes related to longevity. The main purpose of these genes is to paralyze the degradation of BCAA. This is a leucine, which may be used to generate muscle.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Volek mentions in his book that there is a structural similarity between ketones and BCAA.

In other words, ketones structure is similar to BCAA, so leaving these at higher levels promotes longevity and increases muscle mass.

“We know that ketogenic diet – and this goes back to a study of ketosis hunger in the 60’s. One of the reasons why we can survive without food for so long is that we enter the ketosis, and it manages the breakdown of protein

Another consistent effect seen in people who are on the ketogenic diet is that leucine levels in the blood rise, because they are not oxidized to the same level.

Ketones administered decomposition and oxidation of major structural proteins, therefore increasing their concentration in the blood, and thus allowing them to perform other important signaling functions.

Here I see a very positive interaction between nutritional ketosis and protein metabolism in general; in particular on the administration of branched chain amino acids, which are unique for being a preferential fuel, unlike other amino acids, which are not really serve as energy substrate “says Volek.


Why you should eat moderate amounts of protein

Low carb doesn’t mean over indulging in proteins. There is a balance in terms of protein. It is better not to consume more protein than your body needs.  In essence, ketogenic diets needs to be moderate in protein, since excess protein without fiber could lead to yeast overgrowth.

Also, consuming too much protein means your body has to get rid of more nitrogen waste from your blood, which can put pressure on your kidneys.

However, not consuming enough protein can lead to a negative nitrogen balance. As a rule, its recommend to eat half a gram of protein per day per pound of lean body mass, which, for many people is between 40 and 70 grams.

It is also important to maximize the quality of the protein , ” says Dr. Volek. “Overall, I am in favor of the sources of high quality protein [as] whey protein. Most protein sources maintain these essential amino acids.

I think certainly that potentially unique leucine and BCAA characteristics, we might find it beneficial to include an additional amount of leucine, even in the context of a ketogenic diet … Especially if you are a athlete who wants to improve your lean body mass, using leucine may have some benefit, particularly after exercise, or even before …

However, recently, it has become popular knowledge that low carbohydrate diets may increase performance in some athletes.
It certainly has become popular in the world of ultra endurance, where athletes will exercise continuously for several hours.

Image result for athlete training

To be quite frank, are challenged from the perspective of fuel,” says Dr. Volek, because if you consume carbohydrates, it inhibits your ability to burn fat optimally. They put themselves in a situation where they increasingly rely supply of carbohydrates.

The body can only accumulate a limited amount of carbohydrates as glycogen, around 2000 calories and, if you exercise over two hours, you can burn most of your stored carbohydrates.

This is typically where the athlete reach their limit. It is then that an obvious decline in performance occurs.

But how to avoid this? There’s the option of loading up on carbohydrates. This has traditionally been the recommendation; in an attempt to bring more carbohydrates into the muscles

… but that only delays fatigue for half an hour or so. This does not solve the problem.

In fact, at times it makes the problem worse. Alternatively you can train your body to burn more fat. When you burn fat instead of carbohydrates, your energy reserves will not reach its limit so quickly. This is the number one benefit for athletes on the low carb diet.

For athletes who have adopted this strategy, they can become particularly good at burning fat. Even without consuming extra calories before exercise, they already have between 20,000 and 30,000 calories stored in the body, in the form of adipose tissue, which is accessible  during physical activity.

This amount of stored energy is more than enough to finish a 100 mile race. So, when it comes to fuel, it makes sense to burn more fat than carbohydrates.


Ultra Endurance and low carb diets

Athletes who make the switch to diets low in carbohydrates and high in fats, have been seen setting new records. They also experience benefits like higher metabolic rates, faster recovery rates and a leaner body composition.


What Are The Choices?

For people suffering from diabetes or insulin resistance, this is definitely one of the most effective ways to reverse that state. Even individual who suffer from more serious diseases such as cancer, may gain significant benefits.

To find out more on this topic, I highly recommend getting one or two books by Dr. Volek – The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living and also The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance- the latter aims at athletes, in particular.



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Matt Jones

Matt Jones

Editor turned freelance writer/personal trainer, Matt mostly writes on fitness, weight loss, nutrition, and health, but has covered it all, from travel to tech products. Fitness-wise and nutrition wise, he likes experimental health foods, running with his dog max and rock climbing.
Matt Jones
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Matt Jones

Published by Matt Jones

Editor turned freelance writer/personal trainer, Matt mostly writes on fitness, weight loss, nutrition, and health, but has covered it all, from travel to tech products. Fitness-wise and nutrition wise, he likes experimental health foods, running with his dog max and rock climbing.

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