Most people don’t readily associate “athletics” with low-carb diet plans. However, it’s possible to cut carbs while continuing to pursue a rigorous strength training regimen. You just need the proper strategies.

The Pros

Adopting a low-carb diet can serve many purposes. Enhanced weight loss, more sustained and predictable energy levels, and preventing or combating diseases (such as diabetes or certain cancers) are but a few benefits of reducing carbohydrate intake. Many of these perks are a result of lowered insulin levels — a chemical that’s associated with aging, inflammation, and high blood pressure.

Athletes and weightlifters can definitely benefit from going low-carb. Water weight and stored fat are quickly shed, greatly enhancing the appearance and definition of vascular muscles. For many, a prime goal of strength training is to develop those envy-inducing “cut” muscles, and a low-carb diet is a great way to hit that target.

The Cons

In order to burn fat cells, your body puts them through a process of aerobic metabolism. A certain organic compound called oxaloacetate acts as a primer during this process. However, oxaloacetate is a by-product of — you guessed it — carbohydrates. It’s ironic that the original source of stored fat is needed to burn off the fat itself, presenting a bit of a challenge when losing weight.

In addition, going with a low-carb caloric intake forces your body to seek energy from other sources. Of course, stored fat is readily utilized, but muscle cells will also be tapped for fuel.

Also, as your glycogen levels begin to drop, your physical performance (especially during cardiovascular and resistance training activity) will begin to decline. The enzyme produced from lowered glycogen levels (BC oxoacid dehydrogenase) has also been known to increase fatigue. This can reduce calorie burn during your workout sessions.

What’s the Solution?

Striking a happy balance is the key. You need to find the best low-carb diet for your strength-training purposes. While some of the more extreme diets recommend a maximum of 50 grams a day, those who pursue athletics should consider a more moderate goal of about 100 to 150 grams daily.

Easing into your new low-carb lifestyle is also critical. Cutting your carbs in half all at once can possibly shock your system into breaking down more amino acids (and muscle mass) as it desperately seeks new fuel sources in the face of starvation. While this sounds extreme, remember that our genetic survival skills haven’t quite had time to catch up with relatively recent social developments — such as dieting. At our cores, we’re still animals that are coded by our DNA for survival.

Timing your carb intake is another key to success. Reserve most of your daily carbs until about an hour before your training sessions to boost glycogen levels. Next, take in another dose of carbs after you’re finished. This will enhance the recovery process and provide better results.

By easing into your new low-carb regime and capping your carbohydrate drop at a reasonable level, you can tap all the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle while still maintaining the energy levels you need for your workouts.

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