Carbs: Friend or Foe? On Quantity, Quality and Timing of Carb Consumption for the Ketogenic Diet

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Carb Consumption for the Ketogenic Diet

Carbs: Friend or Foe?

If you have been following a ketogenic, keto-style, atkins, or any form of low carb high fat diet you will be pretty accustomed to frantically checking food packaging for its carbohydrate content and no doubt grown increasingly frustrated at the amount of carbs which are added to most foods – usually at the expense of precious fats!

Should I have carbs?

There is a growing body of thought that says you have to ‘deserve’ your carbs no matter what diet you are following. Renowned Strength Coach Charles Poliquin is a big proponent of this according to him (Strength Sensei) ‘your levels of muscle mass, the volume and intensity of your training, your percentage of body fat and your insulin sensitivity will all affect how much impact carbs have on you’. This could be the difference between them having a detrimental or beneficial effect on you and your goals. This means that if your main goal is weight loss and you are adding in exercise such as walking to aid this then you are probably better off simply avoiding carbs and sticking to the recommended 20-30g daily intake (ideally through plenty of greens and fresh vegetables). On a side note, walking is a great way of boosting and helping to get into ketosis (30 mins plus), if you can pick up the pace (High Intensity Interval Training – HIIT) this has been shown to be even more beneficial for health.

However, if you are a budding athlete or are training for an endurance event such as a marathon or triathlon then increasing your daily carb intake could have a big impact on your performance. It is worth noting that anything under 200g of carbs is still considered ‘low-carb’ and most athletes will benefit from at least 100g on heavy training days. How much is too much? The key here is to experiment, gradually increase the level until you feel that you are getting adequate recovery, remember we are aiming to replenish muscle glycogen stores (depleted from exercise) anything extra will be stored by the body as fat; learn more about carb fuelling here.  Replenishing electrolyte levels is even more crucial for athletes for the reasons mentioned before, if you are getting muscle cramps this is a sign you are low (try taking magnesium or an electrolyte ‘tonic’ such as freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice, some sea salt and water).

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Timing – later in the day is better

Anyone who has followed or is familiar with the bulletproof diet will be familiar with the concept of consuming most of your carbs later on in the day and avoiding them in the morning when they can be counter-productive and rid your brain of focus (remember those carb crashes after having ‘healthy’ grains for breakfast?). Having your carbs in the evening also means that it can help you sleep better (i.e. when crashing out is a good thing!).

More detailed information on carb-timing for athletes and non-athletes will be covered in a follow up post! There is also a great podcast in which Abel James (fatburningman) interviews Dave Asprey about all things ketosis.

Not all carbs are created Equal

It may not be a surprise to you but getting your carbs from white bread and bud light is not going to be the same for your body as getting them from quality sources such as leafy greens, vegetables and low carb fruit such as berries; find out more about healthy carbs for the ketogenic diet here. Low quality carbs can deplete your mineral levels like zinc and magnesium and also drive up blood sugar levels, reducing your insulin sensitivity which is a vicious cycle that can eventually lead to a host of adverse medical conditions including type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

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Too much can be a bad thing

It is also worth noting that excess carbs lead to inflammation. Have you ever noticed how the day after eating a carb-heavy or ‘cheat’ meal you wake up with less muscle definition or more ‘flab’? This is not body fat, you will not gain noticeable body fat from one day to the next, this is in fact a combination of inflammation and water retention – carbs retain a lot of water in the body – this is also why it is common to lose a lot of weight at the start of a keto diet as your body loses this water weight (this is also why it is extra important to stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes whilst on a keto diet, read more about how to replenish your electrolytes here.

So there we have it...

…depending on your goals, we can get the benefits from carbs (in moderation and targeted) whilst minimizing the negatives. As long as we are getting them from quality sources (leafy greens, low carb vegetables, low carb fruit) and at the right times (later in the day, in response to activity levels) then carbs can be made to be our friend – just like fat!

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