Long before Atkins and others popularized the low-carb diet, bodybuilders were using the strategy. In fact, they were doing it back when Annette Funicello was in the Mickey Mouse Club. When I was a kid, my uncle was a natural bodybuilder who basically divided his eating into a “bulking-up” phase and a “cutting” phase.
When bulking-up, he would just eat a lot more food, especially protein. When he wanted to get cut, he’d cut back on rice—i.e., carbs. And it worked. So why is there such an antipathy toward low-carb dieting outside the fitness and bodybuilding community? Why do so many clinical nutritionists cling like Velcro to dogmatic notions of lowfat diets being the best for you? Why is nobody asking what the science says?
The journal Obesity Reviews recently published a nice summary of the science of low-carb eating.1 So put down your fork, and give it a read. A meta-analysis—which is a fancy way of saying the researchers statistically analyzed a group of studies that met certain criteria—done on more than a thousand obese patients showed that a low-carb diet produced significant drops in bodyweight and abdominal circumference (via lost fat), improved blood pressure, improved blood fat levels (meaning triglycerides) and increased HDL, the “good” cholesterol, among other things. Basically, there is no evidence that it is harmful and plenty of evidence that it is quite healthful.
Not that you guys give a hooey about health, but even if you do a head-to-head comparison of low-carb vs. lowfat diets, the low-carb plan wins when it comes to bodyweight loss. So why does the mainstream nutrition community keep spreading lies about low-carb dieting? Heck, why does the mainstream nutrition community say half the sh#$ it says? Eating too much protein is bad for the kidneys. Creatine causes cramps. Blah, blah, blah. The idiocy never ends.
That’s not to say that a low-carb diet works best for 100 percent of the population. Far from it. There’s always individual variability in the response to any diet, and certainly there are a minority of folks who may respond better to a lowfat diet. Plus, there are athletes—say, triathletes—who exercise so much that it probably doesn’t matter what they eat; they just need to get calories, calories and more calories.
Average fitness enthusiasts, on the other hand, would be well served by at least trying a lower-carb approach if their goal is bodyweight or fat loss. If it works, stick with it. If it doesn’t work, try another strategy. Diets, just like exercise training programs, work for a while but not forever.
—Jose Antonio, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University in sunny South Florida.
1 Santos, F. L., et al. (2012). Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews. 13:1048-1066.