Everywhere you look in the fitness world, High Protein Low Carb diets seem to be a staple meal plan. These diets are designed to put the body into a state of ketosis (a metabolic state your body goes into when it does not have enough carbohydrates to produce glycogen).
Ketogenic diets are lower that 50g carbs per person. This carbohydrate limit may vary from person to person, but as a general guideline, those who are on very low carb diets eat fewer that 50 g of carbohydrates a day.
50 g of Carbohydrates
Before we go into why low high protein low carb diets don't allow for rapid muscle growth or hypertrophy, I want to illustrate what 50 g of carbohydrates looks like.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 1-3/4 cup cooked oatmeal
- 2 slices of whole wheat bread
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 2 medium bananas
- 2 medium apples
- 2 cups of pineapple
As you can see, it is very easy to hit the max limit of carbohydrates in one day. If you are eating processed foods forget about trying to get your body to ketosis. Some common "Protein" bars and shakes have upwards of 50 g of carbohydrate in one serving. Making them the worst for people on a high protein low carb diet.
Why Won't I Build Muscle High Protein Low Carb Diets?
Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel they are easily metabolized and are used to make glycogen. Glycogen is the fuel source that is found in every muscle cell and the liver. When you ask your muscles to work they spend their glycogen reserves to respond to the demand.
1% of every muscle cell is Glycogen.
When you don't have the sufficient glycogen in your body, your liver will begin to make different enzymes then Glycogen. These enzymes are responsible for activating the body's ability to use muscle and fat as energy (catabolism and ketogenesis). If you are eating enough calories your body will not use muscle for energy (catabolism) it will only use fat (ketogenesis).
Now that you the basics, let's see how this affects muscle growth.
Carbohydrates illicit an insulin response in the body. The hormone insulin is responsible for amino acid intake into the body. Amino acids are the building blocks for muscle growth. Without insulin in the body to facilitate the uptake of amino acids there is nothing in the body to help you gain muscle mass or density. Your body simply doesn't have the enzymes it needs to build the tissue.
Carbohydrates aid in recovery after training. They do this because they give the muscles the energy they need to repair themselves. They help with a faster recovery because of how easily the energy is delivered to the body. Ketogenesis is like the slow lane for energy delivery. If you want to build muscle you need fast recovery.
In addition to enhancing the speed of recovery, they reduce the impact of the immunosuppressive effect of training. Training damages your tissue and your body spends energy trying to repair the tissue. This results in a slight and temporary immune response. People who are on high protein low carb diets may find that they are weaker and feel sicker longer because of this.
Why You Don't Lose Muscle
The good news about high protein low carb diets is that they will not result in a muscle loss. Many other diets, especially reduced calorie diets will cause catabolism (when the body breaks down muscle tissue for fuel). This simply doesn't happen in ketogenic diets. Study after study has shown that as long as plenty of protein is consumed muscle mass is preserved.
If you are a figure competitor or are simply trying to make your muscles stand out. Eating high protein low carb will allow you to show off all of the muscles you have built. The best time to eat high protein low carb is when you are trying to reduce your body fat, not when you are trying to build muscle.
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