Why “low carb” does not equal no carbs

The low carb, high fat (LCHF) movement is sweeping the endurance world by storm. And rightly so. But let me get one thing very straight: “low carb” does not equal no carbs. The mindset of “if low carb is good, then no carbs must be better” is completely destructive to your health and wellness. It will make you slow, potentially decrease your thyroid function, or worse still, have you land in the deep hole that is adrenal fatigue. Let’s avoid this shall we?

Here’s why you need to right amount of carbohydrates for you:

  1. By definition, “low carb” is a spectrum of 20-200 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you are metabolically healthy and lean, your metabolic efficiency can be developed easily and comfortably on 150-200g carbohydrate/day. I see this in clinic daily. If you’re getting results, preserving your long-term health and extending your athletic longevity, then why would you choose a restrictive or extreme route? This should be a lifestyle that is periodised yearly in line with your training and racing, not another version of calorie counting and deprivation.
  2. Carbohydrates are always needed for top end performance. You have a maximum of 2000 calories of muscle glycogen on board (if you’re very well trained), so if you burn 1000 calories/hour, you are going to need the strategic use of exogenous carbohydrate to keep your intensity beyond two hours. It is your metabolic efficiency and ability to burn fat that bridges the gap between what you burn and what you are consuming, but racing on no carbs is downright stupid. Unless you want to walk your marathon off the bike of course.
  3. Carbohydrates are always needed for recovery from high intensity sessions. As you burn through your muscle glycogen, there is a replenishment requirement. This is essential for recovery and subsequent performance. Berries in a smoothie and/or sweet potato with dinner should feature regularly in an athlete’s nutrition plan.
  4. Fasted training is beneficial to develop your metabolic efficiency, but if your splits are slowing, you’re smashed at the end of a session and/or your recovery is poor, why aren’t you fuelling the back end? There’s no point in a 2.5 hour fasted session if your performance and/or recovery suffers.
  5. Whole food based carbohydrates are essential for thyroid health. Unless you know your TSH, T3, T4 and RT3 numbers, DO NOT cut your carbohydrates excessively. Please work with a holistic practitioner and start with salivary hormone testing first. We’re more than happy to help.
  6. Fruit and vegetables come out of the ground or off a tree. Let’s not demonise whole foods please? It’s about the quantity and timing, but not the elimination.

So, do we have a deal – can we please stopping taking our nutrition to the extreme?


Catch up on the benefits of LCHF, plus additional fat adaptation strategies in Episode 30 of The Real Food Reel: “How to become a fat adapted athlete with Steph Lowe”.

Book your personalised Initial Consultation with Steph here. We have Face-to-Face and Skype appointments available and can assist with all your nutrition and testing requirements.

Image credit here.


  1. Angela Pettigrew

    I enjoyed your article regarding carbs. I lost a lot of weight a while ago by restricting my carbs (I ate no carbs at all) however I put all that weight back on and more. I need to lose weight and know that I can do this by cutting out carbs but want it to be sustainable. I have approx. 20kgs to lose to feel comfortable again – how any carbs should I be eating a day to lose weight sustainably (oh and I don’t train) and in what form should these come as I don’t eat bread.
    Thank you

  2. Megan

    Interesting article! How does this fit with ketosis though? Personally, if I’m not eating around 30 grams of carbs per day or less, I’m unable to stay in ketosis. What is too low to avoid interfering with the thyroid?

  3. Steph

    Hi Angela, the answer to your question is extremely relative, and it is best to work with an experience practitioner here. A rough guide is 15% of your daily intake, predominately from vegetables and a small amount of fruit.

  4. Steph

    Hi Megan, the answer to your question is extremely relative, and it is best to work with an experience practitioner here. The first place to start is testing of the thyroid as ketosis is not suitable for everyone.

  5. Zoe

    As a general rule, would you suggest that extremely low carb diets (eg. Under 20g daily) is counter productive for someone with hashimotos?

  6. Steph

    Yes, generally speaking.

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