Low Carb Diet: Does It Cause Muscle Loss?

When trying to lose weight, an unbelievable amount of people turn to a low carb diet. Unfortunately, some of that weight loss comes at the expense of muscle loss. You probably know that muscle is more dense than fat–it weighs more than fat. So when you start losing muscle, the numbers on the scale drop, too. That may be encouraging, but not exactly the weight that you are hoping to drop. This becomes even more of a problem, as muscle loss also causes your resting metabolism to drop. That’s right — you burn fewer calories at rest than you would with higher lean muscle mass.

Lower Engergy = Reduced Intensity

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy-fueling glycogen in your body, so low-carb levels will cause lower energy for both daily activity and your workouts at the gym. Lower intensity certainly doesn’t lead to muscle gain! If you exercise with significant intensity, low carb is probably not the way to go. On the plus side, you body finds energy by burning fat initially–but it’s also burning muscle for that much needed energy during your workout. This is where the more significant level of pounds lost will come from, but your body will still look the same.

If you buy in to the low-carb craze, some suggest that you go low carb for two days, then high carb for one day. Studies show that your body will have the same elements of weight loss success, without the significant muscle loss, if you give it the fuel it needs at least once every three days. The excess carbohydrate will not be stored as fat, but rather as glycogen–a sugar that your body needs for energy. If you don’t get enough glycogen, then your body will find it in your muscles! The three day cycle allows for fat loss without muscle loss, and still allows for carbohydrate consumption on the “off” days.

Choose the Right Carbs

Most bodybuilders and fitness gurus eat carbs. The typical bodybuilding diet is based on a 40-40-20 ratio–40% of calories come from protein, 40% from carbs and 20% from fats. They are extremely careful, though, of the carbs that they choose. High-fiber, whole-grain sources are the best choices. Try eating these sides for nutritional benefits that aren’t overly processed:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown Rice
  • Beans
  • Whole wheat breads, flours, and pastas
  • Pearl Barley
  • Quinoa

Low-carb diets, combined with otherwise healthy eating are not bad. Try starting your day with a higher carb meal, like a serving of oatmeal and some fruit. Then feel free to go lower carb during the day. You’ll probably benefit just as much from eliminating starchy carbs like pasta, but swapping them for these healthier ones, and loading up on veggies or fruit–low-carb no-no’s, but filling and healthy! Opt for healthy protein sources like chicken, fish and beans over the fatty meats that characterize the typical low-carb/high-fat diet, and you’ll find the same weight loss benefits, you’ll build muscle, and you’ll just feel better!


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