Sunday, November 13, 2011

12 Weeks of Not Livin’ La Vida Low Carb

This post has been months in the making. It was initiated by comments at Hank’s Journey (formerly My Low Carb Journey) about an interview with the blogster formerly known as “Castle Grok” (new moniker TBD). As a side note, this is why I don’t go by a moniker, I’m just Kelly. These interactions were followed by a smackdown from the inimitable Anthony Colpo, where he rightly suggested I was smoking something. I had a few private exchanges (and one public) with Anthony which then lead to reading his gifted book “Fat Loss Bible” and writing these two posts on my blog (formerly LoKarbKelly, just kidding):

Body Weight Loss: Carb or Calorie Restriction

Transitioning my Macronutrients via Fat Loss Bible

Long story short, I’ve gone from eating a low carb diet patterned after Sisson’s Carbohydrate Curve in the “Primal Blueprint” to a diet with enough carbs to adequately fuel endurance activities and provide nutrients for proper recovery as outlined in Colpo’s “Fat Loss Bible”. This is a point of distinction: Sisson advocates carb restriction, Colpo advocates calorie restriction.

Sisson acknowledges in his book that the chronic cardio crowd (his description) needs to eat more carbs than his recommended carbohydrate curve, but he also recommends against this lifestyle citing eventual weight gain from eating more than 150 grams of carbs daily (pg. 89, 92 in PB). In contrast Colpo recommends carbs as “jet fuel” (chapter 15) for endurance activities. He promotes the combination of exercise (both endurance and resistance) and calorie restriction (or deficit) as the recipe for fat loss.

I’ve experienced both diets during periods of running and non-running. I’ve lost similar amounts of weight on both diets, and the weight loss was proportional to my approximate activity level (running accelerated the weight loss for both diets). On average, the total calorie levels were a little lower for the low carb diet which I will address below. Given similar weight loss no matter the diet, I’m no longer carbophobic, as I experienced weight loss in the region of 250-300 grams of daily carbs, which is well into Sisson's warning and danger zone on his carbohydrate curve.

In fact I’m carbophilic as I’ve experienced more energy for performance during hard interval running sessions. My one regret during these experiments is that I did not track my body fat content until recent months, so I can’t say whether body weight loss on both diets was due to fat, muscle or some combination. In the last 12 weeks my body fat content dropped from about 20% to 16%.  If you want to know the nitty gritty of my experiences, then please read on.

Macronutrient Statistics

It was the last week of August when I decided to make a change in my diet. My previous diet was a ketogenic diet, or one targeting under 75 grams daily carbohydrates ala Mark Sisson's "Primal Blueprint". The targeted daily grams of fat and protein were around 130-150 grams each. The calories from this diet consisted of less than 15% carbohydrates and more than 50% fat, and the remainder is protein. It looked like this:

For the next twelve weeks my diet targets changed based on these calculations to 200-250 grams carbohydrates, about 144 grams proteins and 47-69 grams fat. To reduce the fat, there were three staples from my ketogenic diet that had to be cut: nuts, cheese and heavy whipping cream. A typical daily menu looked like:
  • breakfast: 2-3 hard boiled eggs
  • lunch: 2 bananas, 2 apples, carrots, grapes
  • dinner: meat, potatoes, veggies
The table below shows the average daily totals for macronutrients and my body weight. These numbers came from my food log.

The average daily calories and average daily grams of carbs for each week are plotted in the chart below.

Weeks 1-3 could best be described as a transition ramping up the carbs. It was difficult to figure out what and how much to eat since the proportion of the macronutrients changed so much. Week 1 resulted in eating too few calories and losing a few pounds. In week 2 and 3 I gained 4 pounds even though my total calories were relatively low and I was running moderately. I think this initial weight gain can be attributed to restoring glycogen and hydration levels in my muscles after eating a ketogenic diet for months. For someone who weighs 75 kilogram (close to my weight) there are about 450 grams (about 1 pound) of glycogen in the muscles (chapter 15, FLB). Each gram of glycogen is bound with 3-4 grams of water (chapter 1, FLB). So gaining about 1 pound of glycogen would be accompanied with a gain of about 3-4 pounds of water.

In weeks 4-7 I lost 7 pounds while eating 240-280 grams carbs daily. My activity level was still moderate, running about 25-35 miles per week including a few interval sessions per week. I ate more calories than I intended to as I found it difficult to restrict calories while running.

In weeks 8-12 all running stopped from the return of an old groin injury. I did about 30 minutes per day of core exercises for rehabilitation. Weight loss continued as I dropped total calories by about 15-20%. I lost 5 pounds.

The point of my experiment was to measure weight loss from a low carb diet compared to an isocaloric diet with enough carbs. The comparisons of both diets while running and non-running is shown in the table below:
  • during periods of non-running (minimal exercise), I lost 1 pound per week on both diets (14% vs. 50% carbs).
  • during periods of running (moderate exercise), I lost about 2 pounds per week on both diets (11% vs. 45% carbs). However, the diets were not precisely isocaloric. The higher carb diet had about 20% more calories and weight loss was about 10% less. I think the extra calories were partially offset by better running performance.

So what's the next step? Logan wants to get P90X. Apparently, he's experiencing the "freshman 15", although you couldn't tell from the pic below. I'm sticking to the same eating plan, intending to drop more pounds. I'm looking forward to dropping some time from races as well, if or when I get back to running. My groin injury is better, but it seems like a long road to recovery. If things go well, I'll sign up for a spring half and full marathon.

Me and Logan - November 2011


  1. So do endurance athletes today perform better than our paleo ancestors due to the modern abundance of carbs? Or does evolution work in spurts, and we are now more of a carbovore due to the agricultural revolution?

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  2. For sure, good nutrition (high quality food, not necessarily just carbs) is a pillar of endurance performance, but I think endurance performances have improved during modern history (last 100 years) for two reasons: one, all of the modern conveniences that allow talented individuals to focus on their performance (and not just existing through hunting and gathering) and two, because of adapting the central governor - Tim Noakes' theory that the brain limits physical exertion through fatigue to protect the heart. I think Bannister's 4 minute mile is a good example of changing what we believe is possible, or Geoffrey Mutai's 2:03:02 makes a 2:02 look in-reach. Actually, you are a pretty good example of adapting the central governor (not to downplay your training/technique improvements). Agree?

  3. Please publish your current lipid profiles are (triglycerides, HDL, LDL, blood sugar) so we can evaluate how healthy you are on your new diet.

  4. Anon: I'll see what I can do, but I don't have a baseline to compare it to. Improving my health (better blood lipids) is desirable, but it wasn't specifically the goal for me as I wasn't on any medications or had specific health concerns other than losing some extra pounds mostly around my middle.

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