T Nation

How to Keep Muscle Fullness on Low Carb?


#1

CT, any tricks or ways to look full while low carb? Even if just for an event?

I am cutting at the moment and just find cravings are not existent on low carb.


#2
  1. your nutrients balance is too low. If you didn’t increase your fat intake to balance out calories an created too much of a deficit it’s normal to look flat

  2. increase your electrolytes (sodium and potassium mostly) intake, Salt your foods more and you might need to supplement with potassium or use potassium citrate/salt substitute.


#3

Coach, what do you think of sipping water with salt while working out? I sweat sooo much in my garage gym these days here in Spain, could it help with energy and pump?


#4

So, if I am reading correctly, if properly done low carb dieting should not have one looking flat?


#5

Any hypocaloric diet, especially low in carbs can lead to a certain level of flatness, of course. That’s part of the process and does not indicate loss of muscle. But if done properly you should not always feel flat… you will feel small in your clothes… the fat, water and glycogen you are losing takes space; but the feeling of flatness (where it seem that you can’t feel your muscles when you are flexing) should not happen all the time


#6

With the pump yes… with energy, possible. Might want to add glycerol to the water… helps keep the muscles fuller


#7

Did not want to start a new thread but, can one build muscle on low carb? You always read articles stating that carbs are necessary for muscle growth but, as long as you are getting adequate protein, enough carbs to fuel a hard session and your overall calories are high enough why would you need more? What is the fascination with trying to get carbs as high as possible?


#8

Can you build muscle without carbs? Yes

Can you build muscle EFFICIENTLY without carbs? No

Building muscle is so much more than just having enough protein to build the muscle and enough calories to avoid being in a deficit.

It’s a lot about triggering mTor activation (the more it is activated, the more protein synthesis you will stimulate, the more protein you will build). And among other things, insulin and IGF-1 are some of the strongest activators of mTor. When you are low carbs you don’t get a lot of insulin release and IGF-1 stays low too. This alone makes it much harder to build muscle without carbs, even when on a caloric surplus. But there is also the issue of cortisol which can be increased more when you are low carbs (especially if your serotonin and/or GABA are low).

I have personally dieted low carbs for a long time. Both when trying to get lean and while trying to add muscle. And while it worked well for getting leaner while preserving muscle, I’ve never been able to build a significant of muscle on a low carbs diet.

Now, you don’t need to get them as high as possible… this is a recipe for disaster. But you do need some carbs (especially around workout time) to maximize growth.


#9

By efficiently do you mean rate of muscle gain or total amount? Any wild guess as to how much the difference in rate may be or is it to dependent on personal biology?


#10

Both…

The amount of anabolism/protein synthesis will be much lower when insulin and IGF-1 levels are lower. And that means that you can’t build as much overall muscle to.

“Yeah but if I build muscle at a slower pace wont that just mean that it will take me longer, but that I can end up the same size?”

By using that reasoning we can all get as big as pro bodybuilders using steroids, it will just take up more time (which is not true).

Listen there is A LOT more to it that that.

But simple answer you cannot build as much muscle (rate of progress or total growth) naturally on a low carbs diet as you would with carbs.

You might not need a huge amount of carbs but you do need some. How much? It depends on your neurological and physiological profile. For some it will be 20% of their caloric intake (mostly centered around workouts) for others it will be as high as 60%.


#11

No. That is splitting hairs and impossible to answer.

Think about it.

It’s impossible to predict how much muscle you can gain. Much less predict how much more you can gain by manipulating one variable.

  1. You don’t know your muscle-building potential. Some people have the trainability to be able to add 50lbs of muscle to their frame naturally while others might only have the potential to add 15lbs

  2. Trainability (capacity to improve performance or muscle mass in response to training) changes constantly. Normally the more experience you have the less rapid (or significant) progress you can make. I’ll give you an example of an IFBB pro I worked with. In his career he went from competing at 154lbs to competing at 208lbs. So pretty much added 54lbs of muscle tissue (since both weights were in contest shape). He went from 154lbs to 176lbs in one year, then going from 176 to 187 took 1 year and he stayed there 2 years too (still gaining some muscle, but getting even leaner) then 2 to go from 187 to 195. Then 2 to go up to 208.

So while he gained 22-25lbs his second year of competition, then he added 11lbs the next year and from there it was about 5lbs per year. And keep in mind that this guy obviously uses steroids. But the moral of the story is that even drug using bodybuilders have a decrease in growth potential over the years… you can imagine a natural!

I think that a lot of hype (supplement ads, bro talk, etc.) create unrealistic muscle gain expectations. I used to say that under the best circumstances a normal man can hope to add around 0.5lbs of muscle per week on average. Doesn’t sound like much? That is 24lbs after a year!!! And you know what In my career I have never seen someone who was NOT a beginner and NOT detrained gain that much in a year (weight yes, but pure muscle tissue, no). I’ve seen people gain more weight, or gain muscle faster for a few weeks. But if someone adds 7-10lbs of muscle in a year naturally (not fat, not water, not glycogen… muscle) it is an awesome year.

  1. Life circumstances (stress for example) can have a huge impact on how much muscle you can grow.

The moral of the story, you can’t even guestimate roughly how much muscle you might gain over a certain period of time. Obsessing about it will actually hurt your gans (read the book “The Subtle art of not giving a fuck”).


#12

Daily insulin output is much more closely related to total caloric intake than to carb intake. Studies with type 1 diabetics have found that doubling daily carb intake (from about 150 to 300 grams) only increased daily insulin requirements by about 25%, suggesting that a non-diabetic will release similarly “moderately increased” amounts of insulin but not in any way proportional to carb intake, given a constant daily caloric intake.

(This changes if someone starts to use significant amounts of ketones as ketones can be produced and burned in the absence of insulin).

Also, there are three ways to increase carb intake, 1) eat more fructose containing foods like sugar, and sugar containing plants, 2) eat low GI starches like high gluten wheat, oats, legumes and 3) eat high GI starches like white rice, potatoes, plantains, yams, or glucose polymers (branched dextrin for example).

The issues with those are that, #1 raises daily fructose load, and the liver can only process about 25 grams of fructose normally a day (plus more with high activity levels, #2 low GI starches are low GI because they contain inflammatory substances which raise cortisol, and require more insulin as a result, and #3 high GI starches can cause greater blood sugar excursions in the high range, as well as late post prandial hypoglycemia, or at least mild low blood sugar (60-75) which tend to cause hunger as well as, guess what? Increased levels of stress hormones.

So the problem with carbs is not the carbs, it is that all three sources of carbs 1) fructose containing, 2) low GI “pro-inflammatory” like wheat and legumes and 3) high GI starches can lead to metabolic syndrome by raising stress hormone levels and or causing liver insulin resistance (EXCESS fructose turns to liver triglycerides).

Now even though total daily insulin output only rises a little as the percentage of carbs in the diet rise (at a constant caloric intake) the post meal insulin spike will be greater after higher carb meals. Also, eating carbs tends to upregulate muscle glycogen storing enzymes, and glucose burning enzymes in muscles. It also tends to result in clearing of fatty acids from muscle cells which can result in greater insulin sensitivity-So a high carb, low fat diet CAN RAISE insulin sensitivity as long as calories are not excessive.

But the key to carbs strategically is to avoid a) excess fructose, b) inflammatory starches and , c) post prandial stress hormone release due to low blood sugar after an insulin surge.

A question I have then is, DO we want to elicit a big insulin spike similarly to what happens with protein pulsing for AA levels to trigger anabolism, and then let insulin levels return to baseline? There are good reasons that suggest this might be the case. One is that elevated insulin levels block GH and so it is beneficial to have periods in the day, especially early during sleep, when insulin levels are very low. Also you can’t burn fat with high insulin levels.

The solution seems to me to be using low inflammatory, high GI carbs around training, but always following it up with something that will stabilize blood sugar on the way down to prevent low blood sugar levels 2-4 hours post prandial (which itself causes a release in “anti-inflammatory” but catabolic stress hormones). In a way, we are trying to walk the narrow path between pro-inflammatory and pro-stress hormone (which are actually anti-inflammatory, but catabolic). The inflammatory part is bad because inflammation results in release of anti-inflammatory cortisol.

Anyway, I think the main reason that carbs cause gains then is not raw insulin levels, but in an insulin spike being an anabolic trigger, and secondarily that carbs bring water into muscle cells and cause volumization. If, however, you have been on a calorie deficit, muscles will pull in fatty acids just as well as they will pull in glucose and I know many bodybuilders will use “fat loading” to revolumize after a period of depletion.

Top athletes tend to have muscles loaded with glycogen AND fatty acids, and yet they tend to be insulin sensitive all at the same time.

Anyway, I have been a low-moderate carb proponent for a long time, but I have come to believe that the main issues with carbs are fructose, and high inflammatory, LOW GI whole grains and beans that all contain KNOWN pro inflammatory compounds, in fact it is the presence of those inflammatory compounds that makes them low GI, by inflaming the cells lining the gut and slowing absorption.

So most issues can be dealt with by consuming low inflammatory, low fructose carbs like white rice and potatoes again with a strategy to consume them when they are going to get into muscles, and a strategy to prevent rebound “low” blood sugar which itself causes inflammation.

Anyway, just wanted to point out that high fat diets tend to require more insulin per gram of carbs due to muscles loading with fatty acids so insulin is not much lower on a low carb diet than on a high carb diet (calories being equal), but rather blood sugar and insulin peaks and valleys are more pronounced with higher carbs, while they are more stable with high fat.

(I wanted to clarify one thing). If someone has been eating lowing carb (20-30%) and high fat consistently, they WILL need a lot more insulin if they suddenly bump up carbs, for the first 2-3 days while their muscles switch over from fatty acid based to glycogen based energetics). I don’t think it is a good idea to alternate high fat and high carb days anymore, but rather to go from high fat to semi-fast (like pulse fasting) THEN to high carb.


#13

What would be a good range for carb intake? To keep it simple would it be best to keep carbs only in the pre and post training meal?

I have been eating a moderate protein meal with rice as well as a bowl of frozen blueberries and strawberries pre-training. After training I will have a meal with either potatoes or rice with a couple tortillas. I am like the results so far. However, I am only at around 25% daily carbs 100-150 net carbs a day and am wondering if I should bump them, up a bit.


#14

I think you are pretty spot on here. Like you, I have been a ‘low carb guy’ for some time simply because it’s the only strategy that has worked for me in the longer term. There is a lot of hype out there based on intra and/or post WO shakes phenomenon where even fat folks are chugging down tonnes of carbs. Suggest to them to have a small baked potato instead and they’ll think you’re mad!


#15

That depends on whether you are trying to gain muscle, lose fat, or to basically maintain your current size and condition.

For a merely moderately active individual trying to maintain, 25% carbs on a calorie neutral diet is about right because it will produce the most stable blood sugar, and tend to prevent overeating, and provide enough fat for a healthy hormone profile.

For both fat loss or muscle gain, I think the percentage of carbs goes up. For fat loss it goes up because at 25% carbs baseline you don’t really have a lot of carbs to cut, and so you cut fat (your body will supplement your energy needs by mobilizing adipose). For muscle gain carbs go up because you will consume more carbs for training and growth.


#16

Couldn’t he cut protein as long as he is at 1g protein per lb?

What would you suggest for a recomp or slow lean gain?


#17

Yes, but again I see protein as kind of built in, about .7-.85 grams per pound of BW per day. Anything above this ends up netting glucose one way of another.

Recomp/slow:

  1. basically 25% carb, 25% protein, 50% fat at baseline total calories on non-training days.
  2. Add peri-workout carbs and protein, about 50 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein for a one hour workout.
  3. Pulse fast 1 day a week to gradually improve insulin sensitivity.
    I think the key to long term recomp is to gradually improve insulin sensitivity, which oddly enough, comes from losing fat, and also burning fatty acids out of muscles once or twice a week which results in repartitioning.

Also fairly short HIIT to improve lactate metabolism and generate GH. If you are intent on dropping fat, (without injecting GH) you have to go to sleep with low insulin levels, but high fat, moderate carb meals will still require insulin for an extended period of time (3-4 hours) after eating, so eat 4 hours before bed and make the first 4 hours of sleep count. If you are not falling to sleep well right away and sleeping great for hours 1-4 of the night, GH doesn’t get released, cortisol goes up and the result in increased insulin resistance.


#18

I would dispute that. Some recent developments are showing that optimum fat burning can be achieved on a traditional ketogenic diet. The same diet will also flat line insulin levels far more substantially than your prescribed 25% rule. That said, I would agree that certain individuals can get to the stage where their carbohydrate intake can be at that type of level yet their body still burns fat at a near keto adapted state.


#19

I agree with that. Basically 25% would be my prescription unless you are going the ketogenic route. Actually insulin levels don’t drop much as someone drops carbs from say 50%+ down to around 20-30% because intermuscular fatty acid increase makes insulin less efficient at disposing of glucose into muscles. By the time you get to the ketogenic level of carbs, the muscles are already loaded with fatty acids and so daily insulin needs drop dramatically. For example, let’s say a 100 kg person may release 100 units insulin per day on a 3200 calorie diet with 400 grams of carbs (50%). At 3200 calories and 200 grams of carbs they will still release perhaps 85 units of insulin per day because the insulin has a harder time moving glucose into muscles that are more loaded with fatty acids. Below this point though, insulin starts to drop more as carbs drop because the fatty acid load in muscles is topped off. Insulin is still needed to keep the liver from over-secreting glucose so at 100 grams this person maybe down to 50 units and drops pretty consistently with further decrease in carbs. I am not sure that being in ketosis is critical to cross the low insulin threshold though. Muscles are maximally loaded with fatty acids on a maintenance level of calories with 20-30% carbs and so the efficiency of insulin should not drop anymore, there is just a reduction in the need for carb “disposal” from the blood because carb intake decreases. I do think that basal insulin probably drops as you get into ketosis because the liver will not have much glycogen (insulin, you may know is as important in holding glucose IN the liver as it is in moving glucose into muscles and about half of a typical persons insulin output goes to manage (block) liver output Anyway, main point, just decreasing carbs on a maintenance (or higher) caloric diet and replacing it with fat has very little effect on total daily insulin output after a few days of eating that way because muscles turn to fat and become less efficient at disposing of glucose. To put some numbers on this, my son has type 1 diabetes. If he eats 25% carbs and 50-60% fat, he needs about a unit of insulin for every 8 grams of carbs he eats (plus some basal insulin to manage the liver over the course of the day and night.) If he eats 75% carbs and 10% fat for 2-3 days, he only needs 1 unit of insulin for every 15-20 grams of carbs he consumes at the end of the 3 day period because presumably his muscles have used up fatty acid stores and are more sensitive to insulin with regard to uptake of glucose. (the biggest problem with the high carb approach for diabetes is that the high carb diet produces such fast blood sugar curves both up and down that spikes go higher and there is a tendancy toward hypoglycemia 2-4 hours later. On a 25% carbs 60% fat diet, the blood sugar rise is much slower, and the fat provides a buffer 2-4 hours after eating that sops up extra insulin and prevents hypoglycemia. In fact, it is pretty evident to me that a 20-30% carb diet (baseline, maintenance, not counting exercise needs) matches the natural curve of insulin action while a high carb diet raises blood sugar very fast and then leaves insulin in the system 24 hours later with nothing to do except cause lower blood sugar and potentially trigger cortisol, glucagon, adrenaline release to counter-regulate

Ketones themselves may make the liver slightly insulin resistant. IF one reintroduces carbs suddenly to someone who is in nutritional ketosis, it takes some insulin to turn off ketone production. As a result of this, as well as muscles loading with fatty acids as dietary fat replaces carbs, low carb individuals can get massive blood sugar spikes (200-265 has been observed) if they suddenly consume fast carbs at the level of a glucose tolerance test, but the effect goes away in 2-5 days of higher carb eating. (This may not be true if the person was eating significantly sub-maintenance level calories). So it is not a good idea for ketogenic, or even fairly low carb eaters (<30%) to suddenly ingest large amounts of carbs to load muscles because their muscles are full of fatty acids, and the glucose will back up and cause hyperglycemia which would be considered diabetic otherwise. Again, the key is that carb loading only works if if follows a period of hypocaloric eating (not just low carb eating). In reality, someone on a ketogenic diet will have very low levels of glycolytic enzymes in their cells. Insulin upregulates the synthesis of glycolytic enzymes.


#20

Brother I find some of your posts fascinating - I’ve been keto for a good couple of years and have been experimenting with different types of food to see what I can get out of them.

I do a lot of whole eggs and salmon, but one thing I have noticed is that when I throw in a small amount of red meat I fill out like crazy and get pretty damn dry looking. The results start to happen in a matter of a few hours - It isn’t subtle, it’s to the point people I know have questioned what the hell is going on when I throw in some red meat…

Do you have any idea what it is with beef that might be doing this? - cheers