Why Most People Fail at Low Carbohydrate Diets
Chris Albert is the owner of Warrior Soul Fitness, a Marine Corps Veteran, and an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in strength and body composition change. He is a worldwide online trainer with clients on all continents. He can be reached at [email protected]
Low carb dieting is one of the most popular diet “fads” on the scene these days. This also means it has a lot of haters, especially within the barbell pushing, iron slinging halls of the hardcore fitness industry. The fact of the matter is, however, that there are many benefits to low carb or ketogenic diets, and they can be particularly beneficial to trainees who have issues with autoimmunity, diabetes, and obesity. On top of that, becoming “fat adapted,” meaning that you are burning fat as fuel rather than glycogen, has been demonstrated to be highly beneficial for performance athletes. Anecdotally, I have been on a ketogenic diet for the past two years and I have seen both improvements in strength and muscularity as well as health. My blood work has never been better and I have put my ulcerative colitis into remission. So what I want to do in this article is to clear up some of the heavy misconceptions about low carb dieting and mistakes people make when they try to follow a ketogenic diet. So check out this video and read the rest of the article below. And, as always, please comment on the YouTube video or email me with any questions at [email protected]
The biggest misconception that people have is that you cannot build muscle on a low carbohydrate diet. The fact is that you can, in fact, retain and build muscle while on this type of diet. In fact, research has demonstrated that ketogenic diets are highly protein sparing and that athletes can build significant amounts of muscle while using this protocol. The problem is that many of those who attempt this diet make some simple mistakes that keep them from ever truly getting any benefit out of it. Read on to find what these mistakes are:
- They eat too much protein.
A lot of people believe that high fat, low carb also means high protein. It does not. In fact, if you eat too much protein, you defeat the entire purpose of the diet, which is to get into ketosis. This is because protein can actually convert to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis. This is bad because ketosis is achieved when carbohydrates, which turn into glucose in the blood stream, are not present over a period of around ten days. In an effort to fuel the brain and other organs that require glucose for function, the liver begins producing ketone bodies. If protein or carbs go too high while this is going on, this process can be disrupted. Hence, if you keep your protein too high and your carbs low, your body is going to have to go through the extra process of gluconeogenesis and you are going to feel like crap on the bottom of a shoe. This is why so many bodybuilders fail at low carbohydrate dieting – their protein levels are too high and they fail to ever switch their energy systems. My advice is, rather than following the whole 1 gram per pound of bodyweight bodybuilding dogma, stick to anywhere between .5 and .75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. You will not lose muscle. In fact, studies demonstrate that there is no significant benefit to going over .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day for building muscle.
- They do not eat saturated fat.
If you read my recent article on testosterone, you know that saturated fat actually plays a significant role in regulating hormonal levels and that those who eat saturated fat have increased levels of testosterone. Recent studies also demonstrate that most of the fears relating saturated fat to heart disease are unfounded and that there is actually no correlation between intake of saturated fat and heart disease. As such, you should be consuming some saturated fat while on a ketogenic diet, which can come from sources like coconut oil, grassfed butter, grassfed beef, and pasture raised egg yolks.
- They do not eat enough fiber
This is a biggie. If you do not get fiber in during a ketogenic diet, you will be constipated and miserable. The bulk of what you should be eating are low calorie leafy green vegetables. I would consume at least 10 servings per day. Additionally, you can moderately consume dark skinned fruits like berries and plums. I would avoid nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, and starchy tubers like potatoes) oats, grains, and wheat because these foods can be highly inflammatory.
- They do not increase their sodium intake.
Ketogenic diets can definitely decrease your ability to retain water. As such, you do need to consume some salt with your food so that you do not cramp up or suffer the neurological effects of imbalanced electrolytes. So do not be afraid to add salt!
- They think that ketogenic means no carbs
If you are an athlete with a high activity level, you can actually consume up to 150 grams of carbohydrate on high activity days and remain in ketosis. In fact, once or twice a week on a high activity day (leg or back day for most of you) I would bend the rules and consume higher levels of carbs to promote hormone stability and to reduce cortisol. The best carb sources would be dark skinned fruits like blueberries or plums for their anti-inflammatory properties.
I am not dogmatic about nutrition in any way. I have clients who are on high carb diets and I have clients who are low fat vegans. Nevertheless, I do not want people who could potentially benefit from using a ketogenic protocol, in particular, obese or pre-diabetic candidates to be scared away from a method that could be highly useful in getting them to their goals. Please comment below or email me at [email protected] if you have any questions about this or any other topic.
 Volek, Jeff and Stephen Phinney. 2012. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance. Beyond Obesity LLC.
 Volek and Phinney (2012) pp. 32-34.
 Volek, JS.(1999). Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, Jan, 82
 Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q et al. (2010). “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease.” Am J Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print on January 13, 2010; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725
 De Souza et al. (2015). “Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies” BMJ. 351:h3978
 See Volek and Phinney (2012).