January 25, 2018
Eating fewer carbs and more fat can help your health and performance. Here’s why.
I ended my racing career at the end of 2007 as a carbo-loaded athlete.
Over many years, the dietitians I worked with had all advocated a high carb, low fat diet and I happily obliged eating lots of bread, pasta and other sugary things.
When I moved to Singapore at the beginning of 2008 to begin my journey into coaching, I had little interest in nutrition and no intention of making any changes to my diet.
A diet I had eaten for the previous 25 years or so.
It soon became apparent that I was not in an optimal metabolic state.
While I could burn fat reasonably well (a result of the aerobic training I had done), I was also heavily reliant on sugar, even at rest and low intensity.
As I continued my transition from professional athlete to “working stiff”, I also started to put on some weight.
As the owner of a new fitness company, this is obviously not ideal, but it was just the catalyst I needed to begin making some changes.
Based on the reading I had been doing, I began to experiment by lowering the carbohydrate in my diet and used our lab to monitor progress.
One of the first changes I made was to swap toast for breakfast with bacon and eggs. Within 2 weeks, I had halved the fat on my stomach, and my fat burning improved. Interesting!
I didn’t know it at the time, but what you eat is so important because of the way it affects hormones. Specifically, insulin.
Insulin is produced by the pancreas. It helps in the regulation of nutrients and energy around the body and is best known for helping move glucose (carbs) into cells so it can be used for energy.
Too much insulin in your system and your fat burning will switch off. Elevated insulin also promotes nutrients (both carbs and fat) to be stored away in fat cells, and as a result, weight often increases.
By lowering the amount of processed carbohydrate and upping the amounts of healthy fat (think avocado’s, olive oil, coconut, nuts, fatty fish) in your diet, you will be better able to control your insulin. This will turn on (and keep on) the switches that allow you to generate energy from fat.
You’ll notice I used the term ‘lower’ carb above.
Lower is a relative term and from my experience, everyone has a different threshold for the amount of carbohydrate they can comfortably eat.
Just as I did, you’ll need to experiment with your diet and find a level of carbohydrate that works for you given your genetic makeup and level of physical activity etc.
1 gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories, 1 gram of fat has 9 calories.
When you lower the carbs, you have to increase the good fats so that you are taking in enough energy. Protein should remain at a moderate level.
The graphs below are snapshots of how I used to get my energy and how I get my energy today.
Orange represents fat being used for energy while blue represents sugar.
While I am still not perfect and continue to work on making improvements to my diet, I am in a much healthier metabolic state these days and I am enjoying the benefits.
Before I wrap this up, there are a few interesting observations that I would like to draw your attention to.
As you can see, that’s a significant change in metabolic function.
Here are some of the effects this change has had on me:
Start today. Lower the amounts of processed carbs you are eating and see what happens.
Just be aware that sugar is highly addictive and coming off it can have some side effects.
Don’t be surprised if you feel pretty rotten for the first couple of weeks. Don’t be deterred, you’ll bounce out the other side and will feel much better as a result.