Seven Reasons To Keep Carbs High Even During a Fat Loss Phase
If someone has a primary goal of fat loss, typically the first thing I notice them do is reduce their carbohydrate intake.However, this is often NOT the best option, particularly for athletes or very active individuals.
While on the surface it might seem like cutting carbs is the best option, there are a variety of ways in which to create a caloric deficit and a caloric deficit, not a carb specific deficit, is what initiates fat loss.
That means you can also create a deficit by reducing fat calories, protein calories, or increasing your daily energy expenditure through exercise.
Most people opt for carbs because sadly this is the information the public is bombarded with: “carbs are bad” “cut carbs to lose weight.”
This idea is further perpetuated by the fact that a reduction or elimination of carbs usually causes an initial weight drop that's pretty significant and therefore “instantly rewarding.”
Carbs are water lovers, so for every gram of stored glucose (stored carb) in your body, you ALSO store (on average) 3 grams of water. Therefore if you reduce or eliminate carbs, thereby depleting stored glucose, guess what, you will also initially drop a ton of water. While this initial drop in weight can be very rewarding to see on the scale, it's also very misleading because the weight lost is primarily water weight, NOT fat.
So if you don't pull calories from carbs where should you pull them from?
Not protein. I don't recommend going very low protein, at all. Stick to at LEAST 1 gram per pound of bodyweight because protein helps sustain muscle in a deficit AND has the highest satiety factor of all macronutrients- meaning that when calories are scarce, a higher protein intake will help you to feel fuller longer.
So that leaves you with fat. A minimum amount of fat is necessary for maintaining hormonal balance and certain bodily functions, but past that minimal amount, aside from simply making food yummier and providing caloric excess in times of maintenance or mass gain, there isn't really a huge need for them. And, at 9 calories per gram they are the most calorically dense macronutrient which means reducing them slightly causes a bigger calorie deficit then a reduction in carbohydrate.
There are several benefits, in my opinion , of keeping carbs as high as you possibly can while in a deficit:
1. Carbohydrate is the body's preferred energy source, and the brain's "go-to" fuel. Sufficient carbohydrate intake helps keep you level headed and focused.
2. Carbs also help to restock muscle glycogen (stored energy within the muscles), whereas fat and protein do not. This is particularly key post workout as it helps prevent excessive muscle wasting.
3. Carbs fuel training intensity, support high levels of athletic performance, and overall help increase your energy level. I find this particularly important for athletes who weight train or strength train for long sessions (60 minutes plus). You're going to be more productive in training with sufficient carbohydrate intake.
4. Carbs are uniquely anabolic (they support muscle gain) as well as anti-catabolic (prevents muscle loss). Both equally crucial for improving your ratio of fat mass to muscle mass.
5. Carbs are essential to the production of serotonin, which is natures own appetite suppressant. It helps curb cravings and makes you feel satisfied even if your stomach is not full. Serotonin also regulates mood, makes you feel emotionally stable, less anxious, and more relaxed. All of this helps with weight loss.
6. Adequate carb consumption helps promote healthy sleep, and getting enough sleep is crucial for weight loss. Chronic sleep deprivation has been directly tied to obesity, weight gain and decreased insulin sensitivity.
7. Carbs also help lower cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that unfortunately both prevents fat loss and promotes fat storage) makes dieting for fat loss miserable. High levels of cortisol causes insatiable cravings because the body is seeking a way to combat the physiological stress response and lower cortisol. Carbs trigger a prolonged release of insulin which helps to lower cortisol.
Carbohydrate intake is all incredibly individual, but usually I try to keep carb levels as high as I possibly can (relative to daily caloric intake) while still allowing for fat loss and physique progress. By this I mean as long as the individual is losing bodyfat or weight as desired, I strive to NOT cut carbs any lower then necessary.
If you're highly active and training hard, but looking to reduce bodyfat, consider reducing fat first for a caloric deficit versus carbs. The results might surprise you.