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A balanced diet is your best bet when it comes to achieving your fat loss goals; carbohydrates, fat, and protein are all important for different reasons and things don’t work quite as well when you remove, restrict, or eat too much of either one. When I suggest that you “keep the carbs in”, I don’t mean that you should go to extremes and base your diet on cookies and soda. If you have been following ETP for a while, you already know that. When I mention “carbs”, I mean “starches”. Starches are essentially a plant’s gift to human athletes.

Let me explain why this is important, especially for folks that are trying to lose those last few pounds.

Why Starches Are an Important Part of Your Diet

What it basically comes down to is cell health. When you reduce the amount of food you eat, whether you’re tracking calories, carbs, fat, or protein, you are damaging yourself at a cellular level.

Specifically, starches are important because they’re a great source of glucose (the preferred energy source of most tissues of the body). Glucose is hydrophillic i.e. it carries water into the cells of your body. When you drastically cut carbs, the cellular machines that runs your body (the organelles) become dehydrated and brittle. As the fluid within the cell turns to goop, all of a sudden it’s hard to get anything done – it’s difficult to transport nutrients into the cell, difficult to make ATP (cellular energy currency), difficult to repair and dispose of damaged organelles…Heck, it’s hard to even maintain the structure of the cell wall! A dehydrated cell is literally being crushed from the outside by the ectoplasm surrounding it.

A well-hydrated cell is a healthy cell. Going on a small tangent, this is one of the reasons creatine is such a useful supplement. It’s hydrophilic too, and it helps your cells absorb and hold onto glucose and water.

Inflammation Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

Inflammation is basically your body’s response to heal itself. It’s an immune response and it’s pretty useful and healthy on an acute, day-to-day basis. When inflammation sets in and never turns off, however, it becomes a problem. Chronic inflammation is where your body is asked to heal itself so often it becomes resistant. As an example, this is where obesity becomes pretty dangerous because it can lead to other degenerative diseases as the body’s immune system becomes overused. Many of these people would in fact benefit from a more conscious approach to carbs, fats, proteins, and the quality of their food sources.

For people who eat in a mostly balanced way, a dramatic reduction of carbohydrates will result in a substantial amount of fluid weight loss (water weight). Now, some of that fluid is in fact fat, but it’s basically like using a machine gun to kill a spider. Not only is it not necessary, but it can become destructive. Once again I feel like always have to qualify when I say things like this, but the majority of your foods should in fact be meats and veggies with a low emphasis on process foods.

What Happens When You Drastically Reduce Carbs and Sodium

Gatorade as an example is a carb drink, but as most people know, it’s salty. This isn’t by accident – carbs basically provide some level of hydration to your cells and sodium aids the electrochemical bond that helps this process along. When you take a conscious approach to eating carbohydrates, you strategically use carbs and sodium for a specific response – namely, you feed your cells for the times you work out. Does this mean you shouldn’t enjoy starches and salt outside of your workouts? No it does not, but do realize that if you can keep your intake of carbs and sodium at manageable levels throughout the day, that is favorable. Which begs the question: why is it favorable? It’s favorable because your body (cells) absorb nutrients best around the times you are asking it to do stuff. The basic principle of our book Met Flex for Fat Loss is that you use carbs to fuel workouts and fats the rest of the time keeping protein at adequate levels.

When a healthy person tries to lose those “last few pounds” by dramatically reducing carbs and sodium in, effect what they are doing is drawing the water out of their cells. No, it’s not just their fat cells, which is why the response is often so dramatic. If you keep carbs and sodium IN, you get a more true response related to fat loss, a less skewed number on the scale, and you keep your cells relatively healthy. (Frankly your body would rather have a healthy fat layer.)

The Four Truths of Food

1. Quality of food: The majority of your diet should come from meats and veggies.

2. Quantity of food: When the majority of your diet comes from meats and veggies, it’s much easier to manage calories and contrary to popular belief, how much you eat (energy balance) does in fact matter as it relates to fat storage and fat loss.

3. Variety: Whether we are talking about carbs, fats, or proteins, a good assortment of each does a good job of filling in the gaps that your body needs for micronutrients (vitamins).

4. Timing: This is always the ironic part because we sell a book that is essentially about timing macronutrients (carbs, fats and proteins). The reality however is that the timing of macronutrients is not ALL that important. It is helpful for optimization as far as healthy people are concerned, but for people looking to achieve health, the first three truths are much more important.

How this looks in real life is that you should be mostly fed, most of the time. Even in the case of people with a lot of fat to lose, a much more gradual approach is almost always the best way to go. You strategically move towards a better way of both eating and moving (moving is also pretty important as it relates to cell health). For people that aren’t obese or are lean, the goal should be to diet very sparingly, if at all. This serves two purposes: it keeps your cells healthy and happy, so when you decide to go after a little fat loss, the math of a caloric deficit works in your favor. Taking your carbs down from say 300g to 250g on workout days, or even 200g or 150g than pays big dividends.

The same goes with fat. 100 grams of carbs is 400 calories and 20 grams of fat is 180 calories. That’s a HUGE deficit for active folks. If you can pull this off for shorter periods of time only occasionally, your fat layer will become more manageable. For relatively lean people, the story gets even better; no dieting may be required. For many of them that fat “below the navel” exists because they aren’t feeding their muscle appropriately. Muscles want to be hydrated, so for lean folks restricting carbs in an extreme manner, hydrating your cells actually can lead to better aesthetics.

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