Removing carbohydrates from your diet will cause a very rapid loss of a small amount of body weight. This typically makes dieters who try to go low carb very happy, but what must be understood is that while you are lighter, your body composition has not changed. What has disappeared is water.
Carbohydrates are stored for the most part in the liver and muscle cells throughout the body as glycogen. The cells hold the glycogen in water; approximately 3 grams of H2O for every 1 gram of glycogen. When you stop eating carbohydrates suddenly, your body isn’t replacing the stored glycogen it uses, so the cell empties the water along with the glycogen.
An adult can typically store about 500 grams of carbohydrates in the body, which equates to a stored 1500 grams of water along with it. That’s almost 3 lbs of water. I think you can see where this is heading:
Glycogen released for fueling activity.
Water released with it.
Glycogen not replaced.
Intracellular water not needed.
Body weight lower.
Even though I know these factoids, I am surprised by the weight loss this morning. Over the last few months, my diet has consisted of approximately 60% carbohydrates. That should be more than enough to keep the muscle cells topped off with sugary goodness and the accompanying aqua. On November 20th, I stopped eating carbohydrates. I continued my normal daily routine which includes a heavy bout of lifting weights up and down repeatedly on most days. Today, 6 full days after beginning the ultra-low carb eating pattern, I am 5.5 pounds lighter than I was when I started, even though my caloric intake is exactly the same! That last part is why I’m a bit surprised.
My primary goal at this stage is to establish ketosis and adapt to burning fat for fuel vs. burning carbohydrates for fuel. The body is perfectly able to make this adaptation and while there is still debate concerning the overall impact of eating carbohydrates vs. not eating them, the evidence is fairly compelling that a diet very low in carbohydrates leads to improvement in many markers of good health. My experience using a very low carb diet for fat loss (not weight loss!) was a tremendous success, allowing me to get a level of body fat I had never before achieved no matter what diet and exercise protocol I had tried. I lost 33 lbs in a year of what’s called a cyclical keto diet, which means 6 days of low carb dieting with one day of carbohydrate loading to replenish glycogen stores.
My reason for returning to a ketogenic diet this time is a bit different, although getting very lean is always an exciting prospect. This time my main goal is health and overall feeling of well being. However, my body composition goal is to increase muscle mass more than it is to lower body fat. There is some evidence that both are possible simultaneously, although the general “wisdom” is that this holy grail of body recomposition can only happen in those new to weight training when adding muscle is “easier.” I have to scoff at this position which is more cultural learning than evidence based learning. Building muscle is an energy intensive process requiring more intake of calories than just maintaining the body’s current levels of muscle, or so the reasoning goes. If your caloric intake increases to support muscle growth, there will be a resultant increase in body fat stores as well, because not every additional calorie will be used in this construction of pretty muscles. But what if that off the cuff reasoning is just wrong? I plan to find out.
Hypothesis: Muscle growth and fat loss can be simultaneously accomplished through a weight lifting protocol of progressive overload and a standard ketogenic diet.
We’ll see what the experiment reveals.