Going Low Carb—When You Have To Try It and Want to Train, How to Get Through
A friend of mine messaged me earlier this week with a conundrum: She’s an avid runner (not currently a competitive or long-distance one, just one who likes her daily workout), and her doctor wanted her to try a low-carb diet in order to test some thyroid issues. She wanted to know if I had any tips on how to make the transition.
Obviously, in the nutrition scene, this is a hot-button topic right now. I had a few suggestions for her, based on what I’ve seen work with athletes in similar situation. I’m not a huge fan of low-carb for women in most cases—even when cutting carbs, I’m on the Stacy Sims side of things where fasting and not adding healthy carbs to your diet is hard on our bodies thanks to our hormones. (Read more about that in her awesome book, ROAR!) But in this situation, I understand where my friend was coming from: she had to at least give it a try in order to test her doctor’s theory before they could make a long-term plan. I do think it’s possible to do a low-carb diet and stay healthy as an athlete (though maybe not perform better, especially at high intensities), so it’s do-able—but you do need to be careful.
So, my suggestions—and of course, I HIGHLY recommend checking with a doctor or nutritionist if you’re really serious about changing your diet this drastically, and possibly getting some bloodwork done just to see where you’re at beforehand. But anyways…
Protein Becomes (Even More) Important
I don’t mean going nuts on it—not adding more, but making sure you are getting the right amount. My rule of thumb is to make sure you’re getting around 80 grams of protein per day. That’s 20 grams at meals—not 80 all at once at night!! I know my friend avoids a lot of dairy and animal products, so in her case, pea/hemp protein powder works (though you know I love collagen peptides because they dissolve in hot water and are flavorless!). I’m a bigger fan of using fish/chicken/beans/whole food sources, but since we’re lowering carbs, getting that protein is important enough to add supplements when a meal isn’t in the cards. It’ll keep you full, and since hanger is an issue when starting low-carb, it’s a factor!
Add in Healthy Fats
Low carb while maintaining energy means adding A LOT OF HEALTHY FAT. Basically, you’re going on a ketogenic diet by default, so make sure you’re taking in a lot of healthy fat, i.e avocado. Eggs are also an awesome protein + fat package! (Though keep it to 3 eggs/day max.)
Low Carb Doesn’t Mean Low Fiber
Lots of low-carb diets get digestively… problematic, at least at first. They can be a little binding if you skimp on fiber… So, FIBER! All that protein + fat is going to take some getting used to and can def lead to constipation issues. highly recommend making sure you have enough leafy greens etc in there. If even that’s off the table carb-wise, take a supplement.
Time Those Carbs
To keep energy up for workouts, this is a tough challenge with restricted carbs, obviously. I’d try to time what carbs you can eat around your workout, before/during/after, especially as your body gets used to the low-carb thing. you’ll adapt eventually, and I know some people say they feel more energetic, but I’ve personally never had much luck with energy on low-carb… but I also admit I never gave it more than a few days, and it takes a while to adapt.
Count Calories (A Little)
I’m not a calorie-counting fan. But when you’re shifting away from carbs, I think it’s worth using an app like MyFitnessPal to keep track for a few days so that you can make sure you’re taking in adequate calories. Because fat is super satiating, it can be easy to under-eat at first. (It’s also a good way to make sure you keep your carbs in the right range, since some foods can sneak ’em in where you don’t expect!)
Chill the Workouts
Skip high intensity for a while, at least, and keep in the slow, easier stuff. You’ll be less carb-dependent at lower-intensities—that sucks if you love high intensity, but it’s the easiest way to avoid digestive issues/feel OK in workouts.
Let me know in the comments: Have you ever tried low/no-carb as an athlete? What got you through?
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