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Ask The Super Strong Guy

"Can I maintain my strength and
weight on a low-carb diet?"

Ask The Super Strong Guy: Can Strength Athletes Go Low Carb?

Carb control and strength training aren't synonymous, but are they totally incompatible? The Super Strong Guy has your answer.
Q

Can I maintain my strength and my weight on a low-carb diet?

After losing about 50 pounds using The Paleo Diet by Robb Wolf, I decided to prepare for a powerlifting competition by bloating myself back up to 295. During the competition, I took a tragic tumble with a 1,085-pound load, which led to a realization: There was no getting around it or my gut: I was fat, and the extra weight wasn't doing anything to help my lifts. Something needed to change.

I decided to try a low-carb diet. Low-carb diets are supposed to work in part by decreasing insulin levels, which can help the body burn stored fat for energy. If the diet works correctly, your body should be in a near-constant state of fat burning, which can be an effective way to lose weight. It definitely worked for me.

There are multiple low-carb diet plans out there; I tried both Carb Nite and Carb Back-Loading. These approaches pretty much eliminate carbohydrates until specified periods of the day. Although I had success using them, there are a couple things I learned:

Bell's Guide to Cutting Carbs
Watch The Video - 12:24

Carb Nite

After I talked to nutrition expert and creator of the Carb Nite Solution, John Kiefer, and powerlifting coach Jesse "Megamind" Burdick, I decided to try the Carb Nite method. How does the diet work? For six days of the week, you eat ultra low-carb. Then on Sunday night, from about 7 p.m. until you go to bed, you can pretty much eat whatever you want, including sugary food like donuts and ice cream.

Carb Nite works by keeping your body in a fat-burning state for the majority of the week. Then, because you're so sensitized to any insulin release, the rush of carbs and sugar on Sunday gets used more efficiently. This means more glucose in your muscles, where it belongs, and less chub around your waist. If you pack around some extra weight, and it hinders your goals, Carb Nite is a good choice.

Keep in mind however, that with weight loss usually comes some strength loss. Unless you've never trained before, or you're coming off of an injury, you'll get weaker as you get leaner. Losing weight means you lose those leverages. But, the weight will come back over time in the form of muscle as long as you continue to train.

Being smaller does offer some advantages. You'll find that when you lose some weight, your mobility should improve. This will help you get into better positions for lifts or allow you to incorporate new exercises like pull-ups. If your long-term goal is increased strength, then it might be beneficial to lose weight before you bulk up with muscle.

Carb Back-Loading

I used this method after I had cycled through Carb Nite for a few months and wanted to put on some more muscle. Carbohydrate Back-Loading is a diet where you eat carbohydrates on the backside, or at the end of the day. The first part of the day is spent in a ketogenic state—no carbs allowed. After an evening workout and a protein shake comes the flood of carbohydrates. The glycogen helps your muscles repair and will keep your body from being catabolic as you sleep.

Don't go crazy and eat a donut or two every night. Try to keep your carbs clean. Instead of pizza and Pop-Tarts, try sweet potatoes and rice. I realize that most of us like to eat—that's part of the reason we bust our ass in the gym so often. Enjoy pizza, donuts, or Pop-Tarts—just don't overeat them.

Low-Carb Diets and Performance

When it comes to performance, you can't go without any macronutrient. If you're a CrossFitter, or you play a sport, or are a powerlifter or strongman, ultra low-carb diets may not be for you. Unless you're looking to perform on a bodybuilding stage, your body will need adequate amounts all three macronutrients to stay in high gear. Bodybuilders have perfected the art of using a diet for a short amount of time to create a specific look.

So, if you're in the game to get bigger, stronger, and faster, carb cutting may not be the best choice. If your main goal is fat loss, and you want to look like you train, then try pulling some carbs out of your diet.

All told, low-carb diets have upsides and downsides. My low-carb diets have helped me lean down; I look better and I feel better. But, if you go ultra low-carb, you'll probably lose some of your strength. Give one a shot (or not) and let me know how it goes in the comments section below!


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About The Author

I used to be known as JackAss from my days at elitefts.com, or Smelly from the feature film documentary 'Bigger, Stronger, Faster.'

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cdmagee

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cdmagee

Great Article and right on time !! Thanks !!!!!!!!!

Article Rated:
Aug 15, 2013 5:50pm | report
 
BerserkElite

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BerserkElite

I like the Carb Back loading idea. I might try that on a 50-75 carb diet. :O

Aug 15, 2013 8:00pm | report
 
mivynn

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mivynn

Great Article. I eat carbs 4 times per day till my workout. Then only protein... I can see some results.

Aug 16, 2013 3:49am | report
 
Ando1801

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Ando1801

I think you would be better off eating the more of your carbs after your workout since that is when the muscles are going to absorb the nutrients as opposed to storing them as fat. Your body needs to release insulin after a workout to become anabolic which will also help in the break down of proteins post work out. When you eat carbs after your strength training it will replenish the glycogen in the muscles which is essential for growth and recovery. Higher carb meals after training will also suppress cortisol levels that are released during training. Just a suggestion.

Aug 16, 2013 11:34am | report
oleynikmaksi

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oleynikmaksi

Great articale, thanks a lot

Aug 16, 2013 4:29am | report
 
michaelalli119

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michaelalli119

How long did it take you to lose that 50 pounds on the paleo diet?

Aug 16, 2013 7:09am | report
 
heatherbmay

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heatherbmay

When I was on the paleo diet, I lost 10 lbs in one month. I thought it was a great way to shred.

Sep 12, 2013 1:46am | report
JarrodAlston

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JarrodAlston

the Paleo diet is like the Atkins diet and they are not bad at all. You will like it if you like to eat meat and cheese and like to have chicken deep fried.

Mar 12, 2014 10:56am | report
jonymateus

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jonymateus

Good article I am doing low carb (50g day) since 2 months, and I didn t loose any strength

Aug 16, 2013 7:54am | report
 
dbindock

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dbindock

I'm working on the "Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha" program right now. Ending week 3, but have been 0 carb (except for 30g in my post workout shake) for 2 weeks, and this week I was able take in a wopping 75g on workout days (30g post workout 45g of rice/potatoes/etc post workout meal). This was actually the first time I successfully managed to maintain ketosis for an extended period of time as well. While it's only been almost 3 weeks, I have lost 9 lbs and my gut just feels a bit smaller. I know probably 4 of those 9 are water, but it's making a huge difference already. I suggest everyone try 0 carb (once again, except for post workout shakes) for at least 2 weeks just to reset your insulin sensitivity. It does affect your workouts in the gym though! Feeling fatigue in the first few sets to the point of almost feeling like your workout is over is no fun, but it's a must! Just keep pushing through to the end, and you will be that much further ahead in your transformation.

Aug 16, 2013 10:47am | report
 
russpuck

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russpuck

FLEX magazine has also suggested carb-back loading, Would carb-back loading if your carbs are clean, help shed some body fat?

Aug 16, 2013 11:48am | report
 
danyMD

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danyMD

I use that method since 2 years. I read it in the Dr Massimo Spattini's Book (DIETACOM) in which he turned the common chrono diet into chrono-ormones-morphological diet. Dr Spattini's theories' are very simple and real. I lost all localized fat and my strenght is still up.

Aug 17, 2013 3:26am | report
 
Andreas808

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Andreas808

If you want to lose weight, before trying anything extreme, just try and get yourself in a caloric deficit. Be patient with this and the pounds will shed. You want to do something that you can be consistent with and it realistic.

Aug 17, 2013 8:54pm | report
 
Andreas808

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Andreas808

If you want to lose weight, before trying anything extreme, just try and get yourself in a caloric deficit. Be patient with this and the pounds will shed. You want to do something that you can be consistent with and it realistic.

Aug 17, 2013 8:54pm | report
 
teebone21

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teebone21

excellent article, been doing this for couple of weeks and already seeing results.

Aug 18, 2013 2:23pm | report
 
frankr670

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frankr670

I kinda do a "Carb FRONT loading" because I workout in the morning and have cardio at about noon. So I eat my carbs in the morning until 1 pm then low carb after that.

Aug 19, 2013 12:44am | report
 
stalcup82

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stalcup82

Carb Nite Solution is ordered and on the way. I didn't realize it was that expensive. Also order Rob Woffs book also. Can't wait to get started!!

Aug 19, 2013 3:35pm | report
 
Conduit

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Conduit

good stuff!

Aug 19, 2013 7:38pm | report
 
DHracer007

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DHracer007

Trying out my first low carb day today. Working out well so far.

Sep 3, 2013 5:35am | report
 
MarcMattson619

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MarcMattson619

Did a "keto" low carb diet with carb loading every 7-9 days and it was great. Zero loss of strength.

Sep 3, 2013 1:00pm | report
 
the1truth517

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the1truth517

Awesome article. Little did I know that I do both when I want to maintain being lean.

Sep 13, 2013 10:45am | report
 
dannymaher

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dannymaher

I think I'm going to try the the low carb diet as I need to get rid of my belly. Bloody good Article!

Sep 17, 2013 2:35am | report
 
Hoffman81

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Hoffman81

great post, i also have noticed that the more clean food i eat the more i lift!

Sep 29, 2013 2:33pm | report
 
Cchavez1319

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Cchavez1319

Currently kind of doing Atkins... meaning I'm eating 50 carbs or less per day but not being so strict with what I do eat for carbs like Atkins phase 1. I'm doing Atkins Phase 2 with allowing myself 70% cacao dark chocolate is how I'd put it. Working well! Down 0.5% body fat in 3 days. (I don't measure my progress by the scale really...)

Nov 5, 2013 7:38am | report
 
idaho1976

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idaho1976

I have been going low carb for the last two months. I have been doing carb loading for the last month on lifting days. Has anyone noticed reduced strength? My weight has not changed only a few pounds. But prior to the reduced carbs, I was benching 3 sets of 225 for 8 reps with ease, and the other day I hurt my right rhomboid trying the same weight.

Feb 28, 2014 11:42am | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 28 Comments

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