Guest post by: Nate Miyaki
Let’s say I am a mixed martial artist going through a 12-week training camp to prepare for a fight. What would happen if all I did were Ron-Burgundy-style body sculpting exercises, but never did any sparring or conditioning drills?
I’d have an awesome moustache and a glorious gun show indeed. But in my fight, I’d gas out or get knocked out in less than a minute.
There is a principle in exercise physiology called the S.A.I.D Principle – Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Good coaches apply it every time they design a targeted training program.
All it means is that your body adapts to the specific training that you do. You simply have to match your training program to the specific physiological demands of your sport in order to attain optimal results. It makes common sense sound a lot more cutting edge and mysterious than it actually is.
DIET & THE SPECIFICITY PRINCIPLE
The Specificity Principle is equally applicable to designing targeted nutrition programs — match your diet to your individual situation; metabolic condition; training program; and specific performance, physique, or health & fitness goals.
Yet in the state of the modern nutritional landscape, Specificity seems to get lost in the “slot everyone into one system” shuffle. The battle for diet supremacy reigns supreme.
Leave the propaganda behind and listen up. There is no single, Universal diet that works for everyone, everywhere. The next time someone claims to be king, punch them in the high-carb breadbasket or kick them in the low-carb nuts.
While there are some overarching guidelines that are good for everyone (emphasize real, whole, natural foods over refined garbage; favor nutrient dense juicy melons and long bananas — whatever you prefer –- over dried up fruit or small packages, etc.), the details of the diet need to be adjusted based on the demographics.
A 300lbs, obese, sedentary, pre-diabetic office worker trying to improve biomarkers of health and save his or her life DOES NOT have the exact same nutritional needs as a 175lbs, lean, fit, insulin-sensitive athlete trying to reach elite levels of performance or physical development. Neither does the relatively fit woman trying to turn it up for the next few months and crush a race, or rock a bikini come summertime.
Yet, that’s what you have to believe if you buy into the dogmatic adherence to a one-size-fits all “diet system.”
THE HIGH-CARB + COUCH SURFING MISMATCH
Never is the disaster that can happen with a mismatched diet better understood than with the politically influenced Food Pyramid diet combined with a predominantly sedentary lifestyle.
I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one in the Paleo community, but don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be pissing off some of the congregation soon. And to be honest, I’d rather win big in Sin City than sing gospel songs.
Why is lowering Cocoa Puffs and other refined carbs a decent idea for modern cubicle dwellers?
Liver glycogen is what is used to regulate normal blood sugar, which in turn fuels the brain and central nervous system at rest. The body only uses about 5-6g/hour to fulfill this function, and can only store about 80-100g of carbohydrate in the liver.
Fatty acids primarily fuel the muscles at rest and during low intensity activity. Muscle glycogen is really only used to fuel the muscles during intense exercise. Couch surfing and mouse clicking doesn’t count. The body can store between 300-600g of carbohydrate as muscle glycogen across the entire body, depending on size (although Robb’s biceps probably hold about 700g alone).
A sedentary person is not exercising and burning through these muscle glycogen stores, so they do not need to worry about replenishing them with a high carbohydrate intake. High carbohydrate intakes (300g or more) are more appropriate for athletes that undergo the cyclical depletion and repletion of muscle glycogen stores.
What happens if you continually eat excess calories and carbs, day after day?
- Once liver glycogen is full, and once muscle glycogen is full, the excess carbs will be stored as fat.
- With chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, the body has no need to burn fat as a fuel source. The body will never be forced to tap into its body fat stores as a reserve fuel (you won’t lose any body fat). Becoming fat adapted has nothing to do with downing butter bombs all day. Evolution has ensured your body can burn fat just fine. It has more to do with NOT downing sugar bombs all day.
- In addition, any dietary fat you take in will not get used as a fuel source. It will simply be stored as fat (you will gain body fat).
- Over time, some degree of insulin resistance can occur. Insulin can no longer properly do its job of clearing sugar (glucose) from the blood and depositing it into our cells, and sugar backs up in the blood stream (high blood glucose levels). This is exactly what happens with type II diabetes.
- Type II Diabetes is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, and of course the most serious of all–MBMT–Man Boob & Muffin Top Syndrome.
This is why lower carb diets may be the best approach for improving body composition and biomarkers of health for obese, insulin resistant, and sedentary populations. A plethora of research supports this stance.
THE EVOLUTION LENS & WHERE IT SHOULD END
In general, most of us would benefit by moving away from our modern Y2K eating habits of the high intake of processed, refined, man-made foods and returning somewhat to our evolutionary, ancestral, or cultural pasts by eating more real, natural, whole foods.
That’s why I love Paleo-style diets as a starting point for this specific demographic. The Caveman theme is simple to remember and practically apply, thus it is a great educational tool for the complete beginner that doesn’t know much about nutrition. That is unless we want to sit around further confusing people by arguing semantics and anthropological accuracy in an intellectual circle jerk.
I’d rather simplify to help give people actionable strategies.
So kick the Keebler Elves to the curb, up your animal protein, get about 100-125g of carbs from unlimited non-starchy vegetables and few pieces of whole fruit, walk more, burn a few additional calories with some sexy time with your significant other, and you’ll have yourself one hell of a fat loss/health enhancement plan.
An athlete or physique enthusiast, however, needs to understand where the benefits of this template end, and why.
Cavemen were highly active, but most of that activity was low-intensity, aerobic activity. Sure, they sprinted towards prey and away from predators, climbed trees, clubbed stuff, etc., but these were generally short bursts.
They weren’t doing the type of sustained, glycogen depleting anaerobic activity involved in training programs specifically designed for physique enhancement or improving sport performance.
They did not have to recover from the type of self-inflicted, muscular micro-trauma associated with high volume, intense strength training or cross training sessions performed multiple times a week. This unique metabolic environment necessitates unique nutritional considerations outside of the strict Caveman parameters, and warrants the inclusion of a few Exercise Physiology & Sports Nutrition principles.
Just like the sedentary person shouldn’t get caught up in following Food Pyramid dogma, the physique or performance athlete shouldn’t get caught up in following no-carb dogma. Why?
ENTER THE EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY LENS
The short summary is that anaerobic exercise (strength training, cross training, HIIT, intermittent sprint sports, professional bar hopping, etc.) creates a unique metabolic environment, an altered physiological state, and changes the way your body processes nutrients for 24-48 hours after completion of a training session.
So if you exercise 2-4 days a week, then your body is virtually in a recovery mode 100% of the time. It is in an altered physiological state beyond pure resting conditions 100% of the time, thus its nutritional needs are completely different than the average, sedentary office worker.
So as to not bore the shit out of you, lets narrow the long story down into some bullet points.
- The anaerobic energy production pathway runs on glucose/carbs. It can’t use fats or ketones. While the body can use fatty acids as fuel at rest, and even those who train only in the aerobic zone can become “fat adapted”, high intensity activity requires glucose.
- Low glycogen levels as the result of inadequate carbohydrate intake are associated with low energy levels, fatigue, lack of motivation, and decreased performance. Conversely, numerous studies have documented the positive effects of carbohydrate intake and elevated muscle glycogen concentration on performance, work output, and high intensity intermittent activity.
- Due to changes at the cellular level – GLUT4 translocation to muscle cell membrane, conversion of glycogen synthase to its active I-form, etc. – there is a “metabolic preference” to store carbohydrates as glycogen vs. body fat in the post-workout period. This is also why fat-burning rates remain high despite a high carb intake in the post-workout period. Not true in a sedentary state.
- Hard training can cause a temporary impairment of the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness. With consistent high-intensity exercise, adequate carb intake lessens the potentially negative changes in immunity brought about by training. Do you catch every cold that comes around town?
- Sufficient carbohydrate intake supports an optimum free testosterone:cortisol ratio IN RESPONSE to high intensity activity. Our industry focuses on how important dietary fat is for supporting natural testosterone levels in all populations, which it is, but carbohydrates also play a role specifically for athletes. If you’re hitting the juice or TRT to compensate (perhaps one of the reasons why so many MMA guys are getting popped – overtraining combined with no-carb diets), it doesn’t matter so much. But if you’re doing it naturally, you need a more informed approach.
- Low carb diets coupled with intense training protocols can impair thyroid production and sabotage normal metabolic rate. More specifically, it can impair the conversion of t4 thyroid hormone to its more active T3 form. Feel like your metabolism is shot, still flabby despite high amounts of training and ultra-low calorie levels?
- A carb-depleted state can effect natural production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which affect mood states and the ability to induce sleep. Suffering from insomnia? Are you grumpy, depressed, and just generally always in a foul mood?
If you are an athlete getting great results on a low-carb plan, awesome. Don’t change anything. But if you are suffering from any of the symptoms I mentioned above, be humble enough to admit that you might be making a big, mismatched dietary mistake. I am damn glad I did. No diet is worth a non-functioning wiener (or dried up papaya).
SPORTS NUTRITION RECOMMENDATIONS
The primary goal for most competitive athletes is to perform at the highest level possible. Since carbohydrates are the fuel for high-intensity exercise, most Sports Nutrition diet plans focus on carbohydrates first. And most research focuses on the optimum amounts to keep liver and muscle glycogen at near full levels to maximize performance — both during training and during competition.
What are some of the recommendations for high-level athletes? Here are a few snippets:
Burke, et al. Recommendations developed on behalf of the International Olympic Committee by experts in Sports Nutrition. Carbohydrate recommendations 5-7 g/kg bw during regular training needs and 7-10g/kg bw during periods of increased training. The recovery period should be no less than 24 hours (for glycogen restoration).
According to the NSCA, endurance athletes may need up to 10g/kg bw to maximize glycogen stores. Strength training athletes may only need half that, closer to 5g/kg bw.
A MIDDLE OF THE ROAD APPROACH FOR MOST FITNESS FOLKS
So we have low-carb diets recommended for sedentary demographics, and ultra-high carb diets recommended for high-level athletes looking to maximize performance.
With our natural tendency to go to, push everyone else into, and argue over opposite extremes, there is a huge middle ground that is often overlooked in our industry. Ironically, this is where most of the magic lies, at least for those trying to find some kind of sweet spot in the health/performance/beach-ready physique continuum.
We know why an athlete or regular exerciser can handle more carbs than a sedentary person. But it’s also important to understand that the needs and goals of high-level PERFORMANCE athletes are different than those who just want to look better naked without compromising their health.
The training of performance-based athletes tends to be higher in duration and frequency — they may train 2-4 hours a day, sometimes twice a day, six days a week. This is unnecessary for weight loss, physique development, or health enhancement. A traditional hypertrophy routine may consist of 3-5, 30-60 minute strength-training workouts a week. A decent plan for a busy professional to get some of the positive benefits of strength training is even less — perhaps 2 full body strength-training sessions a week.
So performance athletes obviously have much higher calorie and carbohydrate demands than either the health-conscious or purely vanity driven demographics.
And the goal of achieving high levels of performance is much different than losing maximum amounts of body fat. There can be overlap for sure. But there are also clear distinctions.
10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight for a 90kg (198lbs) male would equal 900g of carbohydrate per day. For a 60kg (132lbs) female, it would equal 600g of carbs. While you might have a ton of energy and perform well with those numbers, most would have a very hard time getting lean. And insulin sensitivity over the long-term may be compromised.
The goal would be to move closer to the middle ground — provide just enough carbohydrates to properly fuel and recover from strength training sessions without any excess being stored as body fat, or causing even worse havoc. How do you get there?
Well, there is a wide range of appropriate carbohydrate intakes based on specific activity levels, individual metabolic factors, and body composition goals.
A good ballpark starting point would be somewhere in the range of 1-2g of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass or target weight (2-5g/kg).
Those with good insulin sensitivity, on the higher end of training intensity or volume, and/or looking to gain muscle mass would lean towards the higher end. Those with poor insulin sensitivity, on the lower end of training intensity or volume, and/or looking to lose fat would lean towards the lower end.
MERGING PALEO WITH SPORTS NUTRITION
And what about food quality in relation to carbohydrate intake? Well this is where I believe most Sports Nutrition plans go wrong. The advice is to just down a bunch of sugar-loaded drinks, and potentially problematic cereal grains, breads, and “health” bars. That’s not my style.
While Sports Nutrition is about adjusting the diet numbers (calories, protein, carbs, and fats) to the type and frequency of training and the specific physique or performance goals, Paleo nutrition is about optimizing food choices for overall health.
To the smart athlete, they are not mutually exclusive. When applied correctly, and with some semblance of sanity and flexibility, they can be complimentary.
Now if all you care about is how you look on the beach, there is some truth to the IIFYM (if it fits your macro’s) approach — as long as you hit your target calorie and macronutrient numbers, you can eat whatever foods you want and reach your physique goals. Many bodybuilders, bikini divas, fitness models, and twenty-somethings follow this approach with great success.
But if you care about the long-term metabolic, hormonal, digestive, mental, and overall health aspects of a diet, I believe good food choices leapfrog to #1A in terms of importance. Insulin sensitivity, cellular integrity, and digestive health can all degrade over time. It’s the accumulative effects of our diet over a lifetime that matter most, not any 12-week time frame. So eventually you’ll want to focus not just on food quantity, but also food quality.
While athletes and regular exercisers may benefit from the re-introduction of some carbs into their diets, it is critical they make the right choices in terms of carbohydrate type. In addition to a baseline of vegetables and whole fruit for vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, nutrient density, and satiety, I believe you should choose starches that provide the proper fuel for anaerobic training without all of the potentially damaging toxic compounds.
That’s why I recommend the majority of your added starchy carbohydrates come predominantly from root vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes) and white rice.
White rice? Baby, that’s a whole other tale for another time…
THE TRUTH ABOUT CARBS
If you would like to know more about the details of carb customization strategies, including supporting research and more specific calculations, you can check out Nate’s new book
The Truth About Carbs: How to Eat Just the Right Amount of Carbs to Slash Fat, Look Great Naked, & Live Lean Year-Round
Or visit his website at natemiyaki.com
Really well said and spot on. The carbs good carbs evil dichotomy got quite ridiculous a few years ago when certain corners of the Paleo community started to loosen up on them, but I think we’ve since started to converge on a more sensible middle ground up to now.
One question I have. I already new that starchy carbs were superior to that of fructose based fruit carbs for PWO recovery, but no one (at least to my knowledge) has really talked about how much of each is appropriate. Lets take your average 3x a week lifter who maybe does 1-2 other random workouts a week. What’s the optimal blend of starch/other carbs? Half and half? 70/30? How about on off days? Is it still prudent for the lean gym goer to eat some starch on those days?
PWO people recommend different things. For the average lifter / fitness enthusiast, maybe a 2:1 carb:protein ratio (closer to 4:1 if performance athlete).
As for the carbs themselves, it’s ok to have fruit, which has sucrose- both glucose and fructose, where the presence of some fructose will spare the glucose from being nommed on by the liver to replenish liver glycogen. I’ve read maybe a 2:1 ratio of glucose:fructose would be sensible, and bananas have this exact ratio.
But once you eat bananas and whey protein PWO, just eat fruit and/or white rice / potatoes etc. in the full meal afterwards. It’ll all digest over hours and hours anyways to refill glycogen, so that doesn’t matter.
A very interesting article, thanks! I will definitely have a look at the book.
As for the mentioned problems one may encounter when combining low-carb with high-intensity training, that’s exactly what carb-cycling protocols (e.g. carb nite) are trying to alleviate.
Also, the statements “Fatty acids primarily fuel the muscles at rest and during low intensity” and “high intensity activity requires glucose” are generally true, except it all depends on how we define high & low intensities. The recent study by Volek et al suggests that it’s possible to obtain much more energy from fat than previously thought. In addition, when fat-adapted, one uses much less glycogen for every day, low- to medium-level activities and so spares it for the higher-intensity occasions. In my case, I do climbing and high-intensity bouldering and hardly ever run out of energy, even on a lower-carb diet (with weekly or so carb refeeds).
Cool! You write in a really engaging way. I started out doing a lot of high intensity exercise with very low carb-intake (in fact, I still probably do this too much) and always felt exhausted. I think I’ll benefit a lot taking on some of the knowledge here, cheers!
Phil Jones says
So I’m currently 130kg started at 155kg. I crossfit 4-5days a week. I’m looking to get to around 100-110kg (I am 6’2″ and large build) So am I right I should be shooting for around 200gms Carbs to have enough to train and still lose fat? Do I eat that all week or just on training days?
Robb Wolf says
that seems like a great starting place. Start there, see how performance and fat loss goes and we can help tweak things later.
Shouldn’t matter too much, training or not.
Maybe 2-300 on training days and less, like 100-200 on off days (which seem to be few, for you).
Depends how your recovery is from all the CrossFit sessions with 200g, if you want to up it to 300g training and 200g on off days too. YMMV
“100-125g of carbs from unlimited non-starchy vegetables”
Did I miss something? In the context of non-starchy veggies, fiber must be the “carb” being mentioned? And in all fairness, how realistic/practical is 100-125g of fiber a day?
Very few non-starchy veggies actually have any form of sugar similar. So with that said, I think you would literally need 20 servings of veggies a day to reach that fiber(“carb”)intake. Let alone fitting everything else in(protein, fat, fruit, etc).
Great article. But this one bit really annoyed me.
In that sentence he includes fruit. Fiber is not a carb, it’s in a class of its own and if soluble is converted into short chain fatty acids, not carbs. That said, veggies do contain a little bit of carbs anyways, so you can get 25-50g from lots of veggies, plus another 50+ from fruit = 100-125g a day.
By the way, there’s an apostrophe missing in the first word of this article (it should be Let’s).
Some clarification on the following comment please:
“A good ballpark starting point would be somewhere in the range of 1-2g of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass or target weight”
What do you mean by “lean body mass”? Is that tantamount to body weight? For example, if I weigh 170, my starting point should be between 170 – 340 grams of carbs per day?
Lean body mass would be your weight minus fat. So for example, if you weigh 170 lbs and have 10% body fat, your lean mass would be 153 lbs. Or you could use your target weight instead.
Sam Knox says
“Low carb diets coupled with intense training protocols can impair thyroid production and sabotage normal metabolic rate. More specifically, it can impair the conversion of t4 thyroid hormone to its more active T3 form.”
This is simply false.
One of the functions of T3 is metabolizing blood sugar. T3 is lower on a low-carb diet only because, other things equal, blood sugar is lower.
There is not a shred of evidence that a low-carb diet alone slows metabolism. In fact, in every instance where a comparison has been made, a low-carb diet either has no effect on basal metabolism or improves it.
Not false. Happened to me (and many others). Not everyone is equipped to do keto (particularly most women who evolutionary eat more starches for their babies, and most people ancestrally coming from the equator). I personally work best at around 75-100 gr of NET carbs per day (sedentary), and about 90-120 gr net when exercising. More than that makes me foggy and “off”, and less than that wrecks havoc to my thyroid and sends me into hibernation.
Interesting read. What can you recommend a frustrated female with a ankle ligament tear out of action for 6wks. Previously training 6 days pw x 8-9 sessions – mixing high int with weight training. Sedentary illness requiring higher calories than non illness I am interested in ratio of carb/protein/fat daily intake. 63kilo / 165cm female . Interested in any feedback
I have been following a diet like this for about a month now. I am a competetive cyclist who needs to perform at my highest level 3x per week (tue, thurs, sat for 1.5 high intensity hours). I am also about 30 lbs heavier than when I raced in college (I want it gone!). I am religious about recovery carbs but I struggle with the timing of my training day carbs (and the precedent nights meal). How can I ensure my muscle and liver glycogen are adequate to perform at my best but not overfilled to the point where I am gaining fat. I know I am close to cracking this code, but I tend to over-carb because a good workout/performance is more important to me than losing my love handles.
I am a collegiate rower. A typical week of training consists of six to nine 1.5-2 hour training sessions. When I first started doing paleo, my carb intake was way too low and my performance dropped way down. Since then, I have started eating more carbs but without really attaching a number to it. Perhaps my intake is still not enough but from the article, 900g of carbs a day sounds outrageous. Cutting that in half to 450 a day still seems like a lot. Any insight? I would really like to find a diet to optimize my training.
Robb Wolf says
I do nowhere near as much training as you do and I hit 200-300g on “hard” training days doing BJJ…All I can say is tinker and like go up from where you are.
Wow Rob, 200-300g of carbs on hard training day’s? How long do you train for?
As an ageing athlete, now 45yrs. Apart from my training days, my life’s fairly sedentary. I’ve played about with Ketogenic diets and had quite a bit of success going from 119.7kg BW to my present weight of 92kg. Although I have mixed normal keto with TKG, intermittent fasting and carb cycling. I’ve found different approaches more suitable dependent on goals and activity levels.
I train 4 x per week, 2 x strength training and 2 x track. I sprint. Following a VLC approach, since being diagnosed with a wheat allergy, so limiting my carb intake to pretty much just green leafy veg’s and meat and a glass of beetroot juice pre exercise. Not really out of choice.
Initially, I did find my strength levels deplete, but that could also have been due to illness and adverse effects of medication. Hence why my body weight skyrocketted to begin with. But now things in the gym seem to be levelling out and I’m beginning to make gains again.
What I find is that I’ve altered the duration of my sessions, reduced overall training volume and increased recoveries between sets to compensate for the extra time it seems to take to recover whilst on a VLC.
Pretty much all my training is anaerobic and I’m probably consuming less than 80g of carbs per day.
My sessions usually last anywhere between 45mins (weights) to 1-2 hours (track). But more due to having maximum recovery times between sets. Actual time spent exercising in the anaerobic zone is very little, as most of my work derives energy from the ATP/PC pathway.
Anyway, my point is, if we reduce total time spent exercising, albeit at a high intensity, It seems that the need for Carbs is greatly reduced. I’m finding that using a VLC TKG approach to be very effective. Something that I would have dismissed in the past. Like you I would have had at least 200-300g a day, but piled on a few extra the pounds whilst doing so.
I was strong then, much stronger than I am now, but I was also a lot younger. Having squatted 270kg and benched 185kg in my 20’s, but I began look more like a power lifter than an athlete as my BF% and BW steadily increased over time. Honestly, I put this down to an increase in carb intake. I felt hungry all the time.
I’ve only actually been back training for a few weeks now, having had some time off for an operation(6months). But within 6 sessions I’m already back squatting 190kg and benching 130kg, with a steadily decreasing BW and BF%. I’m around 12% BF at the moment.
Admittedly the longer track sessions have been more difficult and this probably is where increased carb intake might help. I’ve had around 8 track sessions since coming back. Anything upto 100m seems fine, providing I have full recoveries between runs. Actually the same goes for 150m. What I find is that I struggle once my coaches start to reduce recoveries, so I’m not even sure if it is a glycogen depleted issue.
Anyway, I now think that most people could actually perform quite well on a VLC, and that long term health benefits outweigh any potential short term performance benefits. Including for high level athletes.
At the end of the day, their training is mainly made up of drills, with actually very little time spent on high intensity exercise, although I have seen some monstrous sessions outlined for some US athletes, but seeing as most of them have been sanctioned for drugs, I tend to dismiss those recommendations. Still, they do usually tend to split their weekly training cycles into hard, medium and light sessions between strength training, jump training, mobility and technique work. Much of their training duration is spent on long recoveries between sets/reps.
I think that there should be a clear definition when it comes to macro nutrient ratio recommendations. I mean, should individual macro ratio’s (fat/protein /carbs) and total caloric intake be based on total BW, total lean mass, or estimated lean muscle mass only?
Then if I do cross training and strength work every day I shouldn’t even consider IFing or doing low carb Paleo ever? What are the articles I should read to know how to fuel that level of activity?
When working out the % of carb, fat, protein are we comparing it gram to gram or as a % of calories (taking into account that fat is more than twice as energy dense as carbs and protein)? Thanks.
When people talk about % of carb, fat, and protein in a diet it’s usually based on % of total calories.
kara c says
I am still incredibly confused. Ok, so I bike almost daily (15-22km per day) at a slower speed but hills are included. I also strength train 4 days a week (2 (50 min) sessions each upper/lower. With 2 HITT sessions a week of 20 min each. I try to only eat root vegetables and a little bit of fruit and nuts as my carb sources when working out – what would you suggest I do differently so I can lose weight because it’s becoming frustrating. I have about 80lbs to lose and I’m 32 yrs old. Please help!!!!
Diva Osorio says
I love this article, it helps me shed some light into what I need to do in terms of changing my current approach. I am a 40 year old CrossFit athlete and I’ve been doing the Paleo low carb diet for about 9 years now, in conjunction with intermittent fasting.
I love the Paleo lifestyle. My body composition is excellent especially considering the age and that I have two kids. I’ve been able to maintain a super low BF% of 9 all while gaining muscle mass. Now I weigh 62kg but I’ve always been around 52-56kgs (1,68cm). I was able to put on 6kgs of pure muscle mass in the last two years. My major concern now is performance. I’ve been worried that not ingesting too many carbs may be jeopardizing my performance as an athlete.
I do 14-16 IF daily and a cyclical approach on carbs. On Monday, which is the day following my cheat meal (which I’m guilty of doing a weekly cheat day with 2 cheat meals on Sunday) I eat low carb. On Tuesday and Wednesday I eat carbs post-training (sweet potatoes, yuca/cassava, pumpkin, beets, carrots…), Thursday is off and I eat low carb, then again Friday carbs post training and Saturday low carb (depletion day to prepare for cheat on Sunday).
What do you think about this approach? As far as looks go, it’s spot on. But do you think my performance may be affected? I feel good and I train really well in comparasison to other athletes. But my last blood exam showed some abnormalities such a low testo and low iron. After doing this approach for so long I feel so skeptical of making any changes!
Nowadays, even on days that I eat carbs, I eat about 60-100g of carbs. I do not have carbs pre-training. Simply because I cannot get my head around them! I guess it’s a matter of habit to be doing the same thing for so long and knowing that it works so well!
My main doubt is: will my carb loading on Sunday be enough to replenish glycogen storage for more than one day? (I train on Monday morning, usually fasted). I probably eat about 300g of carbs on Sundays.
Also, I replenish my glycogen stores after training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (about 60-80g after training) but will eating a low carb pre-training meal allow my to efficiently tap into these glycogen stores? Considering that I’m not activating insulin by eating low carb pre-training, will I still be using this glycogen effectively? Usually my pre-training is coconut oil, whey isolate, coconut butter, sometimes mixed with homemade kefir (48 hour fermentation) and cashews. Or should I really try and push for a high carb pre-training meal on intense metcon session days? I eat 30 minutes prior to training. On days that I have a double session, should I have post training carbs on both of them?
Do you have any recommendations as far as trying to improve my performance based on my description above? Besides trying to up my carbs to about 170 on training days (that’s 3G/kg of LBM)
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and help!
great blog post as always! However I would really like to know how best to time my carbs? If I want to gain the benefits of a low carb, higher fat diet in terms of blood markers and cognitive function and avoid the rollercoaster highs and lows of blood sugar that come with higher carb intakes, but at the same time want to fuel my gymnastics training which is very anaerobic, when is the best time to get in my carbs, post workout, intra? I just like the results I can get in terms of body comp, stable energy and focus whilst studying at uni with the higher fat intakes but not so cool about the fatigue I get at training when I go so low carb. thanks so much, love the site!
This will probably be something you’ll need to play around with some, and depends on training volume, frequency, genetics, etc. Try focusing your carbs around training, before and after if need be, and eating somewhat higher carb on the days you train, and a bit lower carb on the days you don’t. Then you can dial it in from there.
Very interesting read. My question is how much carbs should a Jiu Jitsu athlete get in each day, all well trying to gain weight back? Have gut troubles and see how to much carbs are not good for the gut. And what’s this about white rice? Why not brown?? Robb?
Robb Wolf says
BEst answer is “it depends”. How large is the athlete? How experienced (blue belt or black?) what’s the game like (pressure or lots of movement)?? Genetic tendencies? It’s gets a bit tough, right?! So, I might just start on the lower side of things. 50-75g an then play with it from there, but do keep in mind, folks often need 3-4 weeks to fully adapt to LC, and may fee very rough in the meantime. Check out ketogains for lots more specifics.