Eat Carbs, Get Shredded

Do you need to eliminate carbohydrates to get shredded? Read this article to find out!

There’s tremendous hysteria concerning carbohydrates these days, thanks in no small part to the rise in popularity of the low-carb, ketogenic, and carnivore diet communities. Fanning the flames even more are low-carb gurus who claim that if you just limit (or completely remove) carbohydrates from your diet, you will lose fat faster than ever before.

 

The crusade against carbs has gotten so out of hand, it’s reminiscent of the low-fat zealotry that dominated the late 80s and 90s.

 

Now, we’ve since come to learn that fat isn’t the boogeyman under the bed that it was once believed, but out of that knowledge the scales have flipped the other way, and now carbohydrates are something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

 

Suffice it to say that the average person is left extremely confused, bewildered, and befuddled as to what it takes to burn body fat and get shredded.

 

And, that brings us to the topic of today’s article -- how you can eat carbs and still get shredded six-pack abs.

 

As you’re about to see, getting the beachbody you’ve always wanted doesn’t have to involve any zany gimmicks, fad diets, or special workouts for your body type or blood type. It just involves a little bit of math and willpower.

 

The Truth About Weight Loss & Getting Shredded

Despite what the gurus, experts and pundits tell you, losing weight is rather simple to understand. It all boils down to calories in vs calories out.

 

If you eat fewer calories than your body needs on a daily basis, you will lose weight. On the flip side, if you consume more calories than you need each day, you will gain weight.

 

It really is as simple as that.

 

So, how come things have gotten so out of hand and we have 4,000 different diets touting their own “secret” to rapid fat loss?

 

Well, because saying “weight loss is just calories in vs calories out” isn’t very sexy or catchy. But it’s the truth, and when applied properly, it works.

 

So, why are carbohydrates so heavily demonized by various members of the fitness community, if the only thing keeping you from getting shredded is an excess of calories.

 

Well, it has a little something to do with a hormone called insulin.

 

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Insulin -- The Fat-Gaining Hormone?

Listen to enough of the low-carb zealots and you’re like to hear that carbohydrates “spike” insulin and insulin “makes you fat.” By the transitive property, they promote the idea that carbohydrates make your fat.

 

But, that’s not exactly true.

 

It is a fact that insulin is responsible for shuttling glucose out of the bloodstream and into your muscles to be stored as glycogen. When glycogen stores are full, excess carbohydrates are converted into fat via de novo lipogenesis.[1] These fats are then stored in adipose tissue.

 

But, insulin isn’t only responsible for driving glucose into muscles and fat cells -- it also shuttles amino acids into skeletal muscle as well for muscle repair and growth and removes fat from the blood.

 

Additionally, insulin also has anti-catabolic properties, meaning it protects your muscles from breakdown when elevated.[2]

 

Now, it’s true that eating carbs will increase insulin levels, but so do various proteins, including whey protein.[4] And, while low-carb gurus claim that the higher your insulin levels spike, the more fat you store, but research has proven otherwise. Studies show that the amount of insulin released in response to eating doesn’t affect how much fat is stored.[5]

 

And here’s one other dirty little secret the low-carb community doesn’t want you to know -- your body stores dietary fat as fat more easily than it stores carbohydrate as fat.[3]

 

Basically, insulin isn’t the fiendish devil it’s been made out to be, and if anything it’s actually beneficial for building and retaining muscle, which is critical when you’re trying to get shredded.

High Carb vs Low Carb for Weight Loss

A key selling point behind many low carb diets (Paleo, keto, Atkins, Zone, etc) is that reducing (or eliminating) carbs leads to faster weight loss.

 

The elephant in the room is that this advice spits in the face of physics. Carbohydrates aren’t the reason you’re not losing weight, eating too much and moving too little is.

 

One need only look at the scientific research that’s been conducted to see that carbohydrates don’t prevent fat loss.

 

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Study #1

Case in point, let’s look at a Harvard University study from 2009 that investigated the effects of diet composition and weight loss.[6] In the study, researchers assigned 811 overweight adults to one of four diets, which consisted of:

 

  • 20% / 15% / 65% (F/P/C)

  • 40% / 25% / 35% (F/P/C)

  • 40% / 15% / 45% (F/P/C)

 

After 6 months of dieting, the test subjects lost an average of 13.2lbs (6kg). However, as is common with many weight loss studies, subject regains come weight after 12 months, and by the 24 month mark, the average weight loss of all subjects was 4They began to regain weight after 12 months, and by 2 years, weight loss averaged out to 8.8lbs (4kg). Researchers noted there were no significant differences between low-fat vs high-fat groups, low-carb vs high-carb groups, or low-protein vs high-protein groups.

 

Study #2

For the next study showing that you can eat carbs and still lose weight, we turn to a piece of research from the University of Pennsylvania.[7] This randomized trial involved 63 obese adults and had them consume either:

 

  • Conventional diet (low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, low-fat), or

  • High-protein, high fat, low-carbohydrate diet where subjects initially consumed only 20 grams of carbohydrate per day.
    Note: this amount was slowly increased until they hit their target weight

 

At the end of 3 months, the low-carb group had lost more weight, but after 12 months on their respective diets, there was no significant difference between the two groups.

 

This begs the question of what was the cause of the difference in the first 3 months?

 

As you probably know, when you go low-carb, your body’s glycogen stores decrease, and that leads to a reduction in the amount of water your body stores.[8] Each gram of glycogen also carries with it 3 grams of water.

 

So, when initially undertaking a low-carb diet, as the subjects in this study did, they experience a rapid drop in weight, due to their bodies holding less water, not because they were burning more body fat.

 

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Study #3

The next study we’ll review lasted 8 weeks and had individuals with hyperinsulinemia follow either a:

 

  • high-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet, or

  • Low-carb, low-fat, high-protein diet

 

After the 8 weeks, researchers noted that both diets were equally effective for weight loss.[9]

 

Study #4

A more recent 16-week randomized clinical trial published in the journal Nutrients, placed participants in either a plant-based, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet group or had them to maintain their current way of eating.[10]

 

The plant-based diet group avoided animal products and added oils, limiting fat intake to a meager 20-30 grams per day. Also of note was that researchers placed no limits on calories or carbohydrate intake, and neither group changed their exercise routines for the study.

 

Researchers noted that total carbohydrate intake stayed constant in the control group, but increased significantly in the plant-based diet group. Those in the plant-based group focused on whole, complex carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

 

The researchers concluded:

 

“The associations between total and insoluble fiber and changes in BMI and fat mass remained significant even after adjustment for energy intake. Increased carbohydrate and fiber intake, as part of a plant-based high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, are associated with beneficial effects on weight, body composition, and insulin resistance.”[10]

 

Study #5

And to top this discussion of carbohydrates and weight loss, we turn to The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial.[11]

 

This trial involved over 600 adults aged 18 to 50 years without diabetes and found that over the course of 12 months there was “no significant difference in 12-month weight loss” between low-carb and low-fat diets.[11] Researchers also stated:

 

“and neither genotype pattern nor baseline insulin secretion was associated with the dietary effects on weight loss.”[11]

 

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Basically, all of these studies drive home the point that as long as you are in a caloric deficit, you’ll lose weight regardless of which diet you follow.[12]



And here’s one last thing to realize, that the low-carb community won’t tell you -- You can gain weight by eating a low-carb diet.

 

As we’ve stated time and time again, weight gain and weight loss is a function of calories in vs calories out. If you consume more calories than you burn, regardless of how gluten-free, zero-carb, sustainably produced it is, will make you gain weight.

 

The Honest Truth About Carbohydrates & Getting Shredded

Now, with all of that said, it’s worth mentioning that certain individuals just don’t do well on higher carb diets. Whether it be lack of satiety or impulse control, some people just work better limiting carbohydrates.

 

And this brings us to the real truth about dieting and weight loss -- the best diet for you is the one that you can stick to. For some that can be high carb, low-fat, and for others that can mean low-carb and high fat.

 

The overarching principle is that you must be in a caloric deficit to lose fat and get shredded. How you create that caloric deficit is up to you, as is the makeup of the diet you eat.

 

Still, during a shredding cycle, keeping carbs as high as possible, whilst remaining in a calorie deficit, will help with performance in the gym (due to higher glycogen stores), muscle retention, and energy levels.

 

In the end, realize that getting shredded is about getting your body fat percentage extremely low. The best way to do that is create a moderate caloric deficit, train with intensity, and consume enough protein and carbohydrates to support performance and muscle retention. After that, it’s just a matter of willpower and patience. You didn’t gain all of that body fat overnight, so don’t expect to lose it all in a week either, but in time you can get ripped, shredded, and peeled, all whilst eating carbs.

 

It just comes down to calories in vs calories out.

 

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References

  1. Hellerstein, M. K. (1999). De novo lipogenesis in humans: metabolic and regulatory aspects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 53 Suppl 1, S53-65.

  2. Tessari P, Inchiostro S, Biolo G, Vincenti E, Sabadin L. Effects of acute systemic hyperinsulinemia on forearm muscle proteolysis in healthy man. J Clin Invest. 1991;88(1):27-33.

  3. Horton, T. J., Drougas, H., Brachey, A., Reed, G. W., Peters, J. C., & Hill, J. O. (1995). Fat and carbohydrate overfeeding in humans: different effects on energy storage. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(1), 19–29. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/62.1.19

  4. Holt, S. H., Miller, J. C., & Petocz, P. (1997). An insulin index of foods: the insulin demand generated by 1000-kJ portions of common foods. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(5), 1264–1276. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/66.5.1264

  5. McDevitt, R. M., Bott, S. J., Harding, M., Coward, W. A., Bluck, L. J., & Prentice, A. M. (2001). De novo lipogenesis during controlled overfeeding with sucrose or glucose in lean and obese women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(6), 737–746. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/74.6.737

  6. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med. 2009;360(9):859-73.

  7. Foster, G. D., Wyatt, H. R., Hill, J. O., McGuckin, B. G., Brill, C., Mohammed, B. S., … Klein, S. (2003). A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine, 348(21), 2082–2090. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa022207

  8. Olsson, K. and Saltin, B. (1970), Variation in Total Body Water with Muscle Glycogen Changes in Man. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 80: 11-18. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1970.tb04764.x

  9. Kleiner RE, Hutchins AM, Johnston CS, Swan PD. Effects of an 8-week high-protein or high-carbohydrate diet in adults with hyperinsulinemia. MedGenMed. 2006;8(4):39. Published 2006 Nov 22.

  10. Kahleova, H.; Dort, S.; Holubkov, R.; Barnard, N.D. A Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: The Role of Carbohydrates. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1302.

  11. Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, et al. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion. The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(7):667–679. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0245

  12. Dansinger, M. L., Gleason, J. A., Griffith, J. L., Selker, H. P., & Schaefer, E. J. (2005). Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA, 293(1), 43–53. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.293.1.43