There is no one size fits all in nutrition, there are however certain approaches that work well for someone’s goals in a specific situation.
What works well for someone who is obese and metabolically broken probably won’t work for a healthy lean athlete. Your specific context matters when it comes to choosing a nutritional approach.
Recently the pendulum has swung from fats being vilified to carbs now becoming the culprit. People will go out of their way to avoid carbs at all costs, and for some people this can be helpful… but again context matters.
If anything we should have learned from our past experiences with bad science and dietary fat fear mongering.
Unfortunately we seem to be making the same mistakes today, but only with carbohydrates instead of dietary fat or cholesterol.
While I regularly talk about avoiding processed carbohydrates and sugars which I still stand by, there is whole world out there of healthy carbohydrates that help support people’s goals and health.
I believe that low carb and ketogenic diets can be an effective tool for a lot of people to use to regain health and lose fat.
The problem is if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a low carb nail.
In this blog I’m going to be covering the situations where a low carb diet can do more harm than good.
1.) Glycolitic Athletes
When I refer to athletes here I’m not talking about the average guy or gal who hits the gym three times a week to run on a treadmill for 45 minutes and lifts weights for 30 minutes.
I’m referring to folks who train upwards of 4–6 times per week at a high intensity and may have multiple training sessions per day.
When someone trains at the professional or recreational level with a high intensity it will be extremely difficult to do so on a low carb diet.
Not to say that people can’t do it because humans are adaptable, but for many it will not not only hinder their performance but can cause health problems as well.
Those engaging in highly glycolytic sports such as crossfit, mma or olympic lifting will require carbs to fuel performance and adequately recover for the next training session.
The maximal intensity and explosive nature of these sports demands glucose from carbohydrates to provide the fast acting sources of fuel so the muscles can contract repeatedly and forcefully.
If an athlete doesn’t fuel correctly their performance will begin to suffer, and they will feel an energy nose dive in the middle of their workouts.
Recovery will also take much longer without enough carbohydrates to drive amino acids into the muscle to rebuild.
The body will release more of the stress hormone, because blood sugar has dropped during a workout and the body is trying to mobilize any free glucose to keep up with demands.
If glucose isn’t available the body will sacrifice muscle mass for the amino acid contents and combine with with fatty acids to manufacture glucose. However this glucose comes at the expense of your hard earned muscle mass.
Over time this can damage the thyroid,metabolism and lead to fatigue, sleep problems and lowered libido.
2.) Adrenal Problems
There are many different causes of adrenal fatigue in our society, but when someone is suffering from adrenal dysregulation a low carbohydrate diet only makes this situation worse for many.
If someone with adrenal dysfunction is following a low carb diet it only digs a deeper hole by increasing the amount of cortisol that is being secreted.
With adrenal fatigue the adrenal glands have been overused to point of not meeting the body’s needs anymore because they can not keep up with production of hormones.
With beat up adrenal glands, a low carb diet registers as another stressor that causes an even greater production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a necessary hormone that we require to feel alert and awake, and it has a rhythm that it follows throughout the day.
We can disrupt this pattern in the body though with inadequate sleep, over exercising, too much daily stress and constant blood sugar crashes.
The burden for these extra stresses all falls on the adrenals glands causing them to over produce cortisol.
Carbohydrates in the diet from whole food sources have shown to blunt cortisol, and provide a calming effect.
If you are suffering from adrenal problems using a moderate carbohydrate approach until you can get a handle on some of the stressors in your life is a good approach.
3.) Gut Problems
For a lot of people dropping processed carbohydrates and going low carb can make their digestion feel great to begin with.
Less bloating, reduced burping and gas are common because the processed carbohydrates you used to eat that could ferment in your gut were out of the picture.
It’s a relief to get rid of bloating and have digestion feel much better, but after a period of time you may notice that you are having less regular bowel movements, with less waste being expelled. You might even experience constipation.
By going low carb for a period of time you can alter the gut bacteria that live in your intestinal tract.
For some folks a very low carb diet can cause a shift in gut bacteria causing there to be far less bacterial diversity in the gut.
These gut bacteria that help support digestion are fed by prebiotics from sources of starch in the form of fiber and resistant starch in our diet.
These prebiotics and fibers that we get from starches are crucial to the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics and fiber can be found in vegetables, but greater concentrations are in starches.
Our gut flora seem to play a role in just about every health related issue and our digestion is no exception.
By removing sources of starch from the diet we are removing the food that supports our healthy bacteria. This can cause dysbiosis and alterations in the bacteria population we have that support digestion.
While there are many situations situations when a low carb or ketogenic diet is a therapeutic approach, there are also situations when a low carb diet won’t work for someone no matter how hard they try.
It all comes down to individualizing your nutrition and finding the framework that meets your needs, and will help you reach goals in a healthy sustainable manner.
Don’t fear fats, carbs or protein, take a more balanced approach to nutrition.
Do what makes you look, feel and perform at your best.