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The Truth Behind Carbohydrates and Dieting

By Eric Vandell

What does the Ketogenic, Atkins, and the South Beach diet all have in common? They all create strict dietary guidelines that are likely to put someone in a position where they are not consuming enough carbohydrates, or carbs for short.

What are carbs? Generally classified as sugars, starches, & fiber, these are all compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are one of the three key macronutrients essential to a healthy diet. Carbohydrates can mostly be found in fruits, vegetables, milk, grains, etc. When your body digests and absorbs these foods, they are broken down into sugars and stored in the muscles and liver for energy.

In fact, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for muscle movement and body functions.

Why does it seem like everyone is losing weight on low-carb diets?

We live in a world where low-carb diets are trending all over the country. As many of us are seeking the fastest way to reach our weight goal, these fad diets are saturating all platforms of media with the support of influencers and celebrities. In turn, when someone sees these health & fitness icons representing similar, low-carb diets, it is reasonable why one might believe the accusation that “carbohydrates make you fat” and conclude, “If I don’t eat carbs, I’ll lose fat”.

Also, most only see the short-term success results of these diets. When someone drops carbs out of their diet, their caloric intake will inevitably decrease too. Furthermore, with a decrease in carb intake, your muscle glycogen stores quickly dwindle along with plenty of water weight. On the scale, this can be perceived as a successful and quick weight loss. Long-term success in weight loss is associated with a caloric deficit and realistic eating style including all the macronutrients.

Is it possible to eat Carbohydrates and still lose weight?

Yes! In fact, there is a well-known saying in the Health and Fitness industry; “Fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” To elaborate, carbohydrates are essential when it comes to losing weight because “- maximal fat utilization cannot occur without sufficient carbohydrate to continue … Krebs cycle activity”.

When you limit your carbohydrate intake, you also decrease the glycogen energy stores on your muscle and liver, causing earlier fatigue during an exercise.

The only time carbs are a threat towards your weight loss goals is when your total caloric intake is more than your output. Just like protein or dietary fat, any excess will be stored as body fat until you are in a caloric deficit.

In other words, if you are burning more calories than you consume, carbs will not hinder progress. How do you know how much you should eat? “According to the Institute of Medicine, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for carbohydrate intake for an adult is 45% to 65% of total caloric intake”. For example, if you are following a 2000 calorie diet, 900 – 1,300 of those calories should be from carbohydrates.

All in all, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient and are not directly linked to fat gain. Experts recommend that 45%-65% of your diet should consist of carbs and to lose weight, you should be in a healthy caloric deficit.

Clark, Micheal. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2018.


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