The low carb, high fat (LCHF) bandwagon is sweeping the world by storm. And rightly so. There are many benefits, ranging from satiety, blood sugar control and fat loss, to autoimmune disease and chronic condition management. There are also many dangers, including nutrient deficiency, muscle glycogen depletion, catabolism and metabolic disturbances. It’s important to do LCHF the healthy way. Here’s how:
- Nutrient density
When eating LCHF, it is essential to consume a nutrient dense diet, rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. You simply cannot just cut the carbs and hope that the nutrients still add up.
The reality is, that without the consumption of the following foods, you are likely to run out of nutrient stores within two years. With this comes longer term complications such as the increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. Low B12, for example, leads to neurodegeneration. Let’s avoid this shall we?
A side note: this is an unfortunate all-to-common experience and can often occur in vegans. They feel “amazing” for the first two years and then, long-term nutrient deficiency sets in and a multitude of complications ensue. Please always make sure you are consuming a full nutrient profile in whatever approach you take.
- Aim for at least two cups of vegetables with each meal. Vegetables are the most nutrient dense carbohydrates on the planet. Use this table to ensure you are selecting the most nutrient dense source.
- Add medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) wherever you can. My favourite is coconut oil. More on that here.
- Eat berries. They are one of our lowest carbohydrate containing fruits, but offer an extremely high dose of antioxidants. You only need 1/2-1 cup per day. Personally I choose raspberries as they are tart, and therefore far less likely to stimulate your desire for more sweetness following consumption.
- Add organ meats. Yes, these are the most concentrated source of nutrients, including important vitamins (A, D, E, K, B12…), minerals (phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, iodine, calcium, potassium, sodium, selenium, zinc and manganese), good fats, and essential amino acids. Examples include liver, kidney, brain and tongue. I know you’re turning your nose up at me here, but there are plenty of ways to make this work. Read It’s Not So Offal from Mark’s Daily Apple for more information.
- Nutrient timing
More than anyone, athletes need carbohydrates. We definitely don’t need grains (read why here), but fruit and vegetables in particular are essential to top up muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stored in the body), following intense or long sessions.
The reality is that when muscle glycogen is depleted, both muscle fatigue and catabolism increase proportionally. This is not a good thing. It will prevent you training at high intensities and ultimately, slow your performance, metabolism, and body fat goals. Post-training refuelling is the number one priority to accelerate recovery, preserve muscle and enhance your ongoing performance.
If fat loss is your goal, start with 30 grams of carbohydrate within the hour post-training and assess your recovery and subsequent performance. If you didn’t feel well fuelled or found you did not recover as well as usual, simply increase by 10g following your next session. A little trial and error goes a long way.
Please note: you need less than you think. To prevent a strong insulin response and therefore optimise human growth hormone (HGH) levels for both recovery and adaptation of muscles, please keep in mind that it is NOT about hitting the pasta party post-training.
What can I eat?
– A smoothie is always the best choice. Importantly, your body absorbs nutrients from a liquid source far more efficiently at this time. And they are a complete meal – carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables, protein from a natural protein powder or eggs, and good fats from avocado and chia seeds. Perfection.
– Sweet potato is the perfect post-exercise carbohydrate. Full of relatively fast-acting carbohydrates, plus vitamin A, B and C, one cup contains approximately 50 grams of carbohydrate, so scale your intake accordingly.
– If you are on the go, plan ahead. A medium banana contains 30 grams of carbohydrate, so pop one in your training bag or car, so you never miss the post-training “window”. It is important to note however, that fructose alone takes longer to resynthesize muscle and liver glycogen than does glucose or sucrose. The solution is to combine carbohydrate sources; so accelerated synthesis can take place. Eat a small banana and a No Bake Energy Bar, both of which are perfect portable snacks.
Please note: if you are finding it hard to quit sugar, choose starchy vegetables that do not provide the sweet craving you are trying so hard to avoid. Yes, you can even eat white potato post-exercise, but please still centre your meal around protein and good fats. Eggs, as well as fatty cuts of meat or chicken with the skin on, are ideal due to the naturally occurring fat that accompanies the protein source.
So you’ve read somewhere that LCHF is classified as between 20-200 grams of carbohydrate per day. If you come from a calories in vs calories out/weight loss background, please don’t automatically assume you need to stick to the lower end of the spectrum and starve yourself of nutrients on 20 grams per day. This number is extremely relative and hopefully will never need to be a focus if your priorities are in line. If you need, work with your Sports Nutritionist on this, but remember biology is not math. Please avoid making your approach just another version of calorie counting which is restrictive, deprivational, and bottom line, stressful and hormonally disruptive.
- Variety and sustainability
As always, please make sure your approach offers a full nutrient profile and is a long-term, sustainable approach. Eggs and bacon are a great place to start for breakfast, but why not add fresh spinach and tomatoes one day? Or make a chia pudding or smoothie on alternate days? Another great approach is to make sure you are eating the colours of the rainbow. Yes, I know coloured vegetables are higher in starch, but the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients are extremely important. Follow your nutrient timing principles here and you get the best of both worlds.
*This is by no way a fully comprehensive approach, but rather a place for you to get started. For personalised nutrition, please book an initial consultation with here. To read more about our consult and program options, please click here. We’d love to help.