Here’s what I hate about low-carb diets: They work. Kind of.
Sure, it’s effective if you want to lose weight. But before you start ripping all the buns off your burgers, think about what it means to skip out on an entire macronutrient. As science proves, achieving fat loss still requires carbs for several important reasons. And if you’re regularly hitting the gym, you probably need more carbs, not less.
Here are some reasons to keep eating healthy carbs like potatoes, rice, whole grains, quinoa, and fruit (NOT DOUGHNUTS, THOUGH).
Want healthy levels of testosterone? (“Uh, yes?”) Then eat some damn carbs. Scientists found a high-carb diet generated higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol than a low-carb diet over just 10 days. And when combined with intense exercise, low-carb diets actually increased stress hormones and lowered T levels.
Low thyroid levels cause fatigue and constipation and turn you into that guy who annoyingly asks people to turn up the heat. And your thyroid relies heavily on—you guessed it—carbs. Eat too few while dieting, and your levels of T3 plummet as “reverse T3” (which inhibits thyroids) rises. For the sake of your thyroid levels, keep getting your burgers with the bun.
Feeling crabby? It might not be your boss; it might be your carb intake. (Or, who knows, it might be your boss, too.) Carbs produce tryptophan—yes, the amino acid that makes you sleepy from Thanksgiving dinner—and tryptophan produces serotonin, which helps you feel good. A year-long study found low-carb diets negatively affected mood compared to a low-fat diet with more carbs. If you’ve been skimping on the carbs, gently add more and see how you feel.
Post-workout protein shakes help, but don’t forget the carbs. Post-workout carbohydrates refuel your muscle glycogen—which gets burned during intense exercise—and shift you to an anabolic (muscle-building) state. Carbs also spike your insulin, which helps deliver nutrients to your muscles for those oh-so-important gains. Too few carbs, however, can increase muscle breakdown and delay recovery from “leg day.”
Yes, you read that right: For weight loss, you still need some carbs. As you lose weight, a hormone called “leptin” decreases; when it gets too low, your body will think it’s starving and stall your metabolism. Goodbye, fat loss! To re-spike your leptin levels, eat carbs. Even on a diet, a high-carb meal every few days will do wonders for your (eventual) six-pack.