My High Carb Workout Experiment
I've never really posted here before but I wanted to share a recent experiment I've been doing. I've been primal for about 3 years, sticking to a very low-carb way of life.
Last year I found myself sub 10 percent body fat, but I had lost a lot of my muscle and didn't quite have the energy to workout at the gym. I followed a daily IF regiment where I fast until 12pm and stop eating around 8pm. I tried to workout (when I had the energy) around 11am, and eat my first meal when I got back.
A month ago, after much reading, I decided the prevailing paleo view on carbs is slightly flawed, particularly when a human being engages in any activities where oxygen is not as abundant. (higher intensity activities).
I changed my diet on oxygen scarce days by increasing (dramatically) my carb intake and reducing (dramatically) my fat intake. I added 2 potatoes after working out, as well as a bowl of 2 banana and 25 strawberries chopped up. I switched off red meat (I'm a huge red meat fan, huge fat fan, actually) and changed to eating chicken.
The effects were immediate: my energy levels during working out soared. I was able to crush my old maxes and last for much longer during workouts. I began leaning out much more than before, and my muscle began to grow like the old days.
I am now the fittest, largest, and leannest I've ever been since going Primal.
Here are my take-aways:
1. Fat is not well oxidized during times of oxygen scarcity, and therefore your body opts for using glycogen as fuel. (During workouts)
2. Glucose, while inefficient from an ATP standpoint viz a viz fat, is more effective during oxygen deprived situations.
3. When you're chronically low carb and working out, the body will primarily produce the needed glycogen via gluconeogenesis (you'll break down the muscle you're trying to build up).
4. Chronic low-carb will lead to depleted glycogen stores in the muscles and you'll have very little explosive energy for working out.
5. Eating very high fat and low carb while doing oxygen depletion activities is ineffective for advanced stages of leanness. The body will store fat during these situations, and utilize glucose primarily from gluconeogenesis. Net result: decreasing muscle mass and fat storage that is not being mobilized.
In my opinion, the primal lifestyle (high fat) works well for a true primal lifestyle where one moves frequently at a slow pace (non-oxygen deprivation). But when doing decidedly un-primal activities like weightlifting, the approach much be modified or unsatisfactory results will persist. The inefficient ATP fuel of glucose must be appreciated for its secondary uses (requiring less oxygen for use).
I believe the primary value of the primal lifestyle is re-starting the ability to use fatty acids as fuel to produce ATP. This is primarily achieved by a prolonged stint of glucose deprivation, forcing the body to re-learn fat adaption. But once this is complete, with the body able to use the two fuels interchangeably, using glucose as fuel is not dangerous. A heavy reliance on glucose as fuel is only dangerous when the body has forgotten fat-adaption, which means during oxygen abundant activities, where fat should typically be utilized (sitting, walking), the individual will be using glucose for fuel and storing fat, which is highly inefficient.
I'd appreciate any and all thoughts on this.
EDIT: I thought I'd put up a picture. I started this change 1 month ago. I was originally around 208-210 lbs. I am now 201-202 and physically larger than before. I had been stuck at 208-210 for about a year, so I've finally breached my plateau.
Last edited by PrimalTrav; 08-21-2012 at 10:56 AM.
Reason: Added pic
My opinion based on my own training and a bit of physiology is:
You can easily refill glycogen stores on a high fat primal diet without need for massive carb refeeds. Its more a function of how frequently you plan to do HIT and your current metabolic condition. I believe that most people will adequately refill their glycogen stores for their next session if they are doing HIT 3x/week or less. If your gonna hit that pathway much more frequently than that then yes I feel that doing those refeeds may be of benefit.
I think that something you have to realize is that gluconeogenisis may come from muscle only if your intake of calories/protein is insufficient (in fact the low carb state is very adept at sparing lean mass). In addition you will replete your muscle glycogen stores between HIT exercises in effect getting them back up to snuff before you deplete them again (of course this is were the frequency thing comes into play).
I also don't see any reason to attempt to attain or maintain single digit body fat. Certainly there is no reason someone would be healthier in that state. However, if that was your goal then congradulations! Some people truly love hitting the weights and the gym on a very frequent basis. If that gives you mental satisfaction then its good for health
Last edited by Neckhammer; 08-21-2012 at 12:23 PM.
You're probably right, but a "high fat" primal diet can still have plenty of carbs in the 100-200 daily range, if someone is big enough and active enough. What's problematic is when people are doing ketogenic diets with no real good reason then wondering why they feel like a deflated balloon after lifting hard 4 days a week.
I don't like the recent sense of extreme opposition between carbs and fat on this forum as of late. It's seems people are either high carb rah rah, or no carb rah rah. Both are perfectly decent sources of energy that are neither inherently superior to the other in a general sense. Fat is better in some casses, and carbohydrate is better in some cases. Some days I eat high carb and low fat, some days I eat very low carb and high fat... and don't worry about it too much. Some times I'm right dab in the middle. The middle ground with both carbs and fats is seriously underrated on this forum.
But yes, I agree that not being a carbophobe and eating a large serving of carbs does huge benefits to my lifting.
To the OP, yes a lot of us here that engage in physical activity have found what you have found to be true. Quantities differ, but for the most part, yeah not a lot of active people are afraid of (natural, non toxic) carbs anymore.
I would disagree with you that weight lifting is "decidedly un-primal" though, what gave you that idea?
Exactly. I laughed out loud at the ketogenic part, holy shit.
Originally Posted by primal pete
I don't keep track of my macros really, but always feel great when I work out. I felt horrible while trying to keep carbs really low - however I still spontaneously have days that are damn near zero carb, because fatty meats just taste so good. Other times I load up on potatoes because they too taste great - balance, what a concept!
I'm not surprised you found this worked for you, as you've basically described LeanGains which is a well-proven strategy. if you've not already done so, check out the website (although I find the homage site rippedbody.jp to be more accessible). you will find a lot of corroboration there with what you've been doing.
I'm not sure what the pathway is for glycogen replenishment independent of carb intake, would you mind explaining? I'm a bit weak on the process that occur once in ketosis, but I know that when I was in it last year I had very little energy for "explosive" activities (tons for slow pace movements, though) and lost a lot of muscle.
Originally Posted by Neckhammer
This is why I made this thread. I was a carbophobe for years, and I've just recently begun to understand the dangers of neglecting this perfectly natural source of fuel. I think many primal people are in some ways struggling with the low-carb, and I think especially for some having a tough time leaning out, the answer is in actually reducing the fat and increasing the carbs, not the other way around. And as per my post, I think the real power of primal is the re-learning of mitochondrial fat adaptation via ability to use fatty acids to generate ATP. I think zeroing in on this as being the prime benefit of Primal is important, and will help people better understand that carbs can be re-introduced once fat adaption is restored.
Originally Posted by primalpete
I do not believe our primal ancestors did lifting near the weight and volume that a weight lifter in a gym does. Maybe dragging a carcass around, lifting some logs, but in general when I count up how much reps and sets and overall weight I do, I think what I'm doing is a very unnatural activity for the human body. In general, I believe most gym rats like myself are carrying a great amount of superfluous muscle mass. It's mainly a vanity thing, to accomodate the decidedly unprimal activity of being engrossed by what one sees in their reflection. A reflection visible outside of that produced by a rippled pond is what, 300 years old? Clear mirrors are how old? Looking at ourselves daily, hourly even, is pretty unnatural in human history. With the mental abuse that comes from high school, and the modern overemphasis on our reflection, it has created (in my mind) this strange circumstance of looking at ourselves in a mirror and moving a weight up and down in order to improve what we see in that mirror.
Originally Posted by iniQuity
I look around the gym sometimes and laugh at how hilariously impractical what we're all doing is. I may be wrong. Haha.
Do not use the forum function for pictures, upload it externally and link it here.
I'm glad to hear you had success with adding in more carbs. It's so nice to hear people embracing carbs instead of fearing them!
Oh, I think I see where your boggle is where you say this:
Originally Posted by PrimalTrav
"5. Eating very high fat and low carb while doing oxygen depletion activities is ineffective for advanced stages of leanness. The body will store fat during these situations, and utilize glucose primarily from gluconeogenesis. Net result: decreasing muscle mass and fat storage that is not being mobilized."
You seem to assume that gluconeogenesis will not take place until you begin the high intensity activity. Really you will be utilizing gluconeogenesis after liver glycogen reaches a certain state of depletion. Then you will ramp up gluconeogenesis to replace stores for the next time you need them. Your body will also become more adept at using fat for fuel at higher intensities....in essence conserving glucose for when absolutely needed. It is not as quick of a process in terms of topping off your stores (which is why I made the comment on workout frequency), but it does do the job.
Gluconeogenesis also does not have to be from muscle...like I said if your consuming enough calories and protein you can get it through diet. Oh, and I almost forgot the lactic acid from your workout! Some will be used for fuel as it is made, but about 25% will be utilized to replenish glycogen stores.
Really though unless your talking olympic training you shouldn't normally need more than what the PB is talking about in terms of 100-150g of carbs/day (maybe as high as 200g for elite training?). Thats plenty to fill most peoples stores unless your doing multiple sessions a day. But, hey there are outliers in every group.
Also what type of HIT are you doing and how long? I do no more than 15-20 minutes with no rest and heavy weights for low to moderate reps. If your doing a volume approach with higher rep schemes then these are actually called depletion workouts for a reason and would be another reason you feel like you do better with more carbs.
My 2-3 20 minute all out effort sessions don't really require extra attention to repleting cause I'd venture I don't burn more than 20-30g of carbs in each session .....and with as much protein and fat as I eat along with ample time between workouts my stores are filled and ready to go for next session fairly easily.
Last edited by Neckhammer; 08-21-2012 at 05:49 PM.