Curious as to why I’m having a tough time maintaining muscle mass, I googled up this article by Chales Remington, “Exercise and Low-Carb Diets Make Poor Partners”, whose second page is entitled, “Keys to losing FAT without losing MUSCLE”. It seems to make sense and fits my own observations, as well as my trainer’s wisdom. Some key points:
- A low-carb diet does not mean a no-carb diet. Many people, when they first learn about the fattening effects of carbs, immediately adopt the idea that all carbs are poison and therefore attempt to eliminate all carbs from their diet (usually without success, but that’s another story). But this is simply not right – carbs are a natural and essential component of our food. OK, more so in the case for complex, natural carbs; less so for refined carbs. As Mr Remington puts it, “You need carbohydrate management, not carbohydrate elimination.” The problem is in over-eating, at the wrong time, and lack of exercise.
- A weight loss diet is not the same as a “body composition” diet. A lot of weight loss diets cause considerable muscle loss, rather than fat loss. Many weight watchers (including some who aren’t even watching) succeed, mysteriously, in losing weight. But the weight they lose is primarily from muscle, rather than fat. This is arguably the wrong weight to lose. The optimum goal is to achieve a good balance of muscle and fat, and not to eliminate weight indiscriminately. Look at some relatively slim people and you will realize that they are actually carrying more fat than at first glance.
- Under-eating carbs is very damaging. If you don’t consume enough fuel before exercise, your body will break down muscle in order to fuel itself.
- It’s vital to eat enough carbs before exercise, and you must eat after exercise for muscle recovery. In my own experience, eating a good (and often tasty) package of carbs, such as a bun filled with red bean/yam paste, or peanut butter, has little to no effect on my fat mass. And, as my trainer likes to put it when he sees me exhausted after 30 minutes into the gym sesion, “All gone already!” This charge-up meal before training is essential. Take it an hour or so before you hit the gym. And when you are done with gym, even if it seems very late for a dinner, you MUST eat. “It is important to never exercise without having at least one meal left in your day so that muscles can recuperate from exercise.” says Mr Remington. In fact – enjoy it! Have a good, enjoyable meal post-gym. It’s the best time to indulge in it, because you’ve earned the right. For me, I’ve been religiously having the grilled Cajun chicken breast steak from Botak Jones every Friday night after gym, with baked cheese potato and salad, and an extra fried egg.
Mr Remington’s final thoughts:
Long term success managing weight starts with the right approach. If you are overweight, the real problem is that you have too much body fat for how much muscle you possess. A body composition solution is needed, not just a weight loss diet. Your goal should be to lose fat without losing muscle or sacrificing your health in the process. To maintain your results your eating habits must develop life long character. Low carbohydrate diets provide initial weight loss, but at the high cost of losing muscle and reducing metabolism. They are inadequate sources of fuel to support exercise activity, which is vital in maintaining good health. The risks to your health long term makes low carbohydrate diet’s poor solutions for life long weight management.
My trainer said to me that actually all this sort of information is common on the internet – everyone will say the same. I think though, that although we know it, trying to get and maintain a proper body composition is an intricate game of balance.
And we didn’t even discuss sleep.