Whichever way you cut it, the low-carb diet is the trend of the day: the keto diet limits your carb intake to almost negligible, a gluten-free diet – albeit not intentionally low in carbs – requires you to take a close look at your carbohydrate intake, and the paleo diet tends to be lower in carbohydrates since you omit sugar, grains, and processed foods. But before any of those carbohydrate-conscious eating styles became a “thing” (at least in a common sense), there was the Atkins diet.
Maybe someone you know tried the Atkins Diet in the 90s, or maybe you hear about it now as it resurfaces (around 380,000 Instagram posts now have the hashtag #atkinsdiet). Either way, you need to know this: a very low carb diet could affect your performance as an endurance athlete, and not always in a good way. Here’s what to keep in mind before following this or any other low-carb diet.
What is the Atkins diet?
Cardiologist Robert Atkins, MD, published his book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972, arguing that a low-carb diet – not the low-fat, high-carb diet popular at the time – was great for weight loss and heart health.
In the 90s, an updated version of the book became a bestseller as people began to question the virtues of eating everything low in fat. The first version of the diet was basically the Atkins 20, noted below, but a modern Atkins diet falls into three more flexible categories:
● Atkins 20: twenty grams of net carbohydrate per day (this is the total carbohydrate minus the fiber); ideal for people with over 40 pounds to lose; the first phase is marketed as a ketogenic diet, and then you gradually add more carbs over the next three phases.
● Atkins 40: 40 grams of net carbs per day; ideal for people with less than 40 pounds to lose.
● Atkins 100: 100 grams of net carbs per day; ideal for people who want to maintain their weight.
“For the vast majority of people, eating 40 grams of net carbs results in a fat burning metabolism and is more sustainable in the long run,” says Colette Heimowitz, vice president of communications and nutrition education at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., noting that Atkins research shows this plan is conducive to weight loss and blood sugar control. “Atkins 100 is designed for a lifestyle approach,” she says.
Is Atkins the same as keto?
While the Atkins diet is gaining popularity alongside its low-carb cousin, the keto diet, they aren’t exactly the same: a keto diet prioritizes fat in order to put your body into a state of ketosis. which means your body makes ketones for energy, instead of depending on sugar.
This means that the macronutrient percentages on a keto diet are aggressive: around 85% fat, 10% protein, and 5% carbohydrate. The Atkins diet is also low in carbohydrates, but there is more of a balance between fat and protein: even the most aggressive Atkins 20 diet contains 20 to 30 percent protein and 60 to 70 percent fat. This is because the goal is not just to create a state of ketone production, which requires more fat; the ultimate goal is to limit carbohydrates.
When it comes to the Atkins diet versus keto, “overall, Atkins allows for more flexibility as we encourage people to re-incorporate foods into their meals and find their level of carbohydrate tolerance,” Heimowitz explains.
But aren’t carbohydrates important for endurance athletes?
Most experts still say “yes”. Camila Oliveira, a PhD candidate in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Alberta in Canada, notes that several health and nutrition organizations recommend three to five grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight during a light training or at rest, and eight to 12 grams per kilogram when training more than four to five hours per day. That’s a minimum of 204 grams of carbohydrate for a 150-pound person, which is twice as much as the least aggressive Atkins plan.
“Carbohydrates are important if you participate in prolonged endurance training because they are the easiest to use and most efficient source of energy,” says Keri Glassman, RD, founder of Nutritious life. “Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your muscles, which can be used for energy when glucose is depleted.”
What about net carbs vs. total carbs?
To be fair, the Atkins diet focuses on report carbohydrate, which is the total carbohydrate minus fiber, and current recommendations do not take this into account.
But while fiber is indeed important (and suggests that you don’t eat a ton of high-carb, sugar-laden junk foods), Oliveira notes that this concept isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
“The amount of nutrients your body absorbs doesn’t just depend on the fiber content,” she says. Other macro and micronutrients, the type of fiber, the consistency of the food, and the overall health of your digestive tract also play a role. For this reason, she always suggests sticking to the above carb recommendations. “They’re evidence-based and should be safe for most athletes,” she says.
In addition, the average American eats only about 15 grams of fiber per day – and should eat 25 to 30 grams of it – so it’s not like we’re talking about subtracting one tonne fiber of your total; you would still be above the Atkins 100 threshold if you ate 204 grams of carbohydrate, then subtract 30 grams of fiber.
And unlike Atkins, the recommendations above are based on your body weight, which matters. “The amount of nutrients required to maintain a 260-pound body is very different from the amount required for a 130-pound body,” explains Oliveira.
Are there all athletic benefits of following a low-carb diet?
Some people still like it. Heimowitz notes that Atkins brand ambassador Zach Bitter has found endurance success in the diet: He says a low-carb diet helps him avoid the ups and downs associated with high-fat diet. carbs, a common claim among people on the keto diet. And one Military medicine A 2019 study shows that a ketogenic diet promotes weight loss without compromising the athletic performance of military personnel. But that study was small, and the body of research still suggests sticking to a more carbohydrate-friendly diet for endurance performance.
“There is currently no evidence to prove that very low carbohydrate intake improves performance to a greater extent than normal carbohydrate intake,” explains Oliveira. She notes a 2017 Journal of Physiology One study found that a low-carb, high-fat diet does the exact opposite – and says we need more research before recommending a keto or Atkins diet for athletes.
So, should you try an Atkins diet for any other reason, and what should you keep in mind?
“The goal of the Atkins diet is to lose weight, so if your goal is to increase endurance performance, the Atkins diet may not be the most effective approach,” says Glassman.
But the diet can work for you if weight loss is your primary goal and you try it out in your offseason (there’s a huge difference between training for an endurance event and jumping on the bike at the gym. during 30 minutes). “It’s easy and clear to be told exactly what you can eat while still enjoying a diet high in fat and protein,” says Glassman.
And a 2009 JAMA Internal Medicine Study shows that a low-carb / protein, high-carb vegetarian diet can help you lose weight. So you can choose your poison (uh, passion?) If your main goal is to lose weight. Because the truth is that there are many ways to lose weight; the key is finding the right diet for your lifestyle, you can stick with it for the long haul and support your other hobbies and workouts (eg, cycling).
“Unless you have very specific athletic goals, you don’t need to worry about numbers and grams – just include a mix of carbohydrates and protein,” says Glassman, noting that you should always be aware. of the types foods you eat (i.e., don’t eat butter and steak all day). Otherwise, “experiment to see what is best for your body”.
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