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A Q&A with leading trainer Shelby Starnes, who explains how to leverage a low insulin diet for fat-loss success.

The lowdown on low carb diets

A Q&A with leading trainer Shelby Starnes, who explains how to leverage a low insulin diet for fat-loss success.

Low carb diets always make me feel lousy. Does that mean they aren’t for me?

There are a few possibilities here:

  • You may have the diet set up wrong in terms of macronutrient amounts and ratios. Review your diet and make sure that your protein, carb and fat ratios are where they should be.
  • You may not be giving the diet enough time. Switching from being a “sugar burner” who predominantly uses glucose from carbohydrates as their fuel source to a “fat burner” who predominantly uses fatty acids as their fuel source, takes a while. For some people this transition period is only a couple of days while for others it may take a week or even longer. Not only must your diet be set up properly but you must also give it enough time to do its magic. Once you make the switch from “sugar burner” to “fat burner” you will feel a lot better. Your body will feel more stable all the time, without the constant ups and downs from the blood sugar fluctuations associated with a carbohydrate-based diet.
  • The diet may not be for you. If you still feel lousy after following a properly set up, low carb diet for a couple of weeks then it’s very possible that your metabolism is better suited to a diet that contains carbohydrates. I would suggest looking into carb cycling as it is another very effective dieting style that uses carbohydrate manipulation to vary the amounts consumed on different days. See my MacroRotation Guidebook for more details (available at www.ShelbyStarnes.com)

Is it true that if you stay on a low-carb diet for long enough and provide your body with enough fat, your body will eventually begin to use fat for fuel on a regular basis?

Yes, I touched on this a bit in the first question when I discussed making the switch from a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner”. On a carbohydrate-based diet our body is accustomed to using glucose (sugar) for fuel, which it gets from the carbohydrates that we eat. In fact, if you don’t get enough fat in your diet your body will horde its own stores, making it very difficult to get lean. If you keep carbs low for long enough and also supply your body with enough dietary fat it will learn to use fat as its preferred fuel source. This is an ideal state to be in and typically feels much better (mentally as well as physically) than the constant ups and downs associated with the blood sugar fluctuations of a carbohydrate-based diet.
Many people refer to this state as ketosis, but in my opinion and experience true ketosis does not necessarily have to be reached for a low carb diet to work. So don’t get caught up in what colour your ketostix turn when you pee on them. Just keep carbs low and protein and fat at reasonable levels (see my e-book on Very Low Carb diets for specifics) and in time your body will change from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner”. In terms of the length of time it takes to get into this state, it depends on a host of factors including diet specifics, genetics, hormonal profiles and training specifics like volume, intensity and frequency.

How should carbohydrates be used in a very low carbohydrate diet pre-workout and post-workout? What if you’re doing post-workout cardio? Also, what are the best carb sources for a very low carb diet?

It depends on what variation of a low carb diet you’re referring to. For the version I outline in my e-book (A Simple Guide to Very Low Carb Diets, also available on my website), there are no carbs in the diet except for the weekly re-feed and also the incidental carbs you get daily in things like nuts and vegetables. If you’re not ready to go that hardcore yet try limiting your carbs to just meal one, as well as pre- and post-workout. Good choices include whole-food complex sources like oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes. Low GI fruits like berries, peaches, cherries and oranges would be alright too, in moderation. If you’re going to be using some fruit I would suggest mixing it with a complex carbohydrate (something like oatmeal and blueberries would be perfect) so that you’re not just getting simple sugars.
Regarding post-workout cardio, I always advise that you wait until after the cardio is finished to have your post-workout meal, regardless of whether it contains carbs or not. You’re in a prime fat-burning state immediately after a workout and want to capitalise on that. Waiting another 30-60 minutes to eat is not going to make you shrivel up and lose all your muscle.

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