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Exercise and Low Carb Diet's Make Poor Partners

Over the last twenty five years the most common questioned asked me by frustrated exercisers, has been what exercise routine will get me the body I desire? My answer is always the same. They need to start exercising better judgement and learn that exercise alone will not solve their body composition problem. I believe the number one reason for starting an exercise program is weight reduction, even before fitness and health concerns. Exercise by itself is a poor weight manager and it increases the need for better nutritional requirements. I believe I would receive very little disagreement that a combination of nutrition and exercise is the answer to improvement in weight loss ( fat loss ), fitness and health risk concerns. With obesity reaching epidemic rates and the drop out rate of most health clubs’ remaining high this article intent is to lay the foundation why exercise and low carbohydrate diet’s are poor partners.

Over the last three decades I have seen extreme changes in the macro nutrients ( proteins, carbohydrates and fats ) combinations in our quests for the ideal body. Everything from high carbohydrate, low fat, high protein, to the current low carbohydrate craze has bombarded us, though the failure rates in managing our weight continue to rise. The problem lies in our bodies ability to adapt to change, especially extreme change. If your goal is to lose fat you must provide your muscle enough quality fuel without being over fueled. This is especially true if your goal to lose fat includes exercise.

The secret is not found in elimination of macro nutrients, but in management of them. Understanding how to fuel your muscles prior to exercise sessions and replacing fuel after workouts is critical or your body will break down muscle for fuel. Understanding how our muscles use the calories we eat as fuel for muscle contraction is the first step in knowing what to do and not to do. A basic nutritional knowledge tells us that proteins repair and rebuild cells, carbohydrates energize cells and fats provide hormonal foundation for cells. When we lack balance in protein, carbohydrates and fats are bodies adjust and can use all three as a source of fuel for muscle contraction and cellular energy. Though energy is needed for all cellular function, the focus of this article is muscle contraction and body composition. All muscle contraction derives energy from adenosine triphosphate or ATP. The primary source of ATP comes from glucose, which is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen ( glucose and water ). Muscle contraction during anaerobic activity ( resistance training ) can use glycogen directly to form ATP. The process is anaerobic glycolysis, meaning it can use the glucose as energy with very little oxygen ( 90% glucose, 5% oxygen and 5% fatty acid ).

Our muscles only store enough ATP for short periods of muscle contraction, when depleted leads to muscle failure. The rest period between weight training sets allows additional ATP to be produced. During early stages of aerobic exercise, ATP is again created primarily from glucose until the heart and lungs provide enough oxygen to the muscles to allow fatty acids to be used to create ATP. So there you have it during resistance training and the beginning stages aerobic training the primary source of fuel is glucose. This supports my claim that low carb diets and exercise make poor partners. To uncover why, we need to quickly look at the concept behind low carb diets and how they work. Any diet that provides 100 grams or less of carbohydrate daily. This article classifies as low carb diet’s. This will quickly deplete the glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. This by itself is testimony that our muscle’s primary source of fuel is glucose.

Fatty acids stored in the adipose tissue ( fat cells ) are now released into the blood and processed by the liver and some are turned into glucose ( gluconegenesis ) and some remain fatty acids and both provide ATP for muscle contraction. One of the by products of this process is ketone bodies which can provide energy to brain and nervous system. The problem gluconegenesis ( non glucose turned into glucose ) provides fuel to the muscle less efficiently than glycogenesis ( glucose ). The end result is increased muscle fatigue, decreased muscle power, which leads to poor athletic performance. A recent study performed at the University of Connecticut showed that exercisers who switched from a balanced diet ( proteins, carbohydrates and fats ) to a low carb diet experience the following drop’s in athletic performance. There was a 7 - 9 percent drop in muscle power and 6 percent drop in VO2 max of cardiovascular performance. Another factor to consider is the recuperation of muscle between workouts is decreased on low carb diets. So why would someone go on a low carb diet, especially when exercising? Because the initial weight loss that comes from the glycogen depletion is believed to be fat loss. We have become so focused on weight loss, that any weight loss is seen as good. As identified earlier in this article glycogen is a mixture of glucose and water and the majority are stored where? You guessed it, the muscle.

A large percentage of the initial weight loss is coming from muscle loss. I don’t think any exerciser’s desire is to have smaller muscles as a result of their exercising. The goal of exercise should be to improve body composition, the percentage or ratio of muscle to body fat. This can only be accomplished by losing fat without the loss of muscle tissue. Maintaining muscle mass is vital to sustainable weight control. The following steps will protect your muscles as your losing fat, while reaching your ideal weight and ideal body composition. FAT LOSS COACH Keys to losing FAT without losing MUSCLE 1. Cycle fat burning days with recovery days. The secret to losing fat without losing muscle starts with not being too aggressive or extreme with your reduction of carbohydrates.


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