Ultra Low-Carb/High Protein, The Quick Fix, Needs A Fix

Bacon eggs

Likely the most elusive piece of the physique changing equation for you is nutrition. It’s been no different for me. Which brings me to the crux of today’s post. That is;  the ultra low carb/high protein diet is likely the most popular nutrition plan for maximizing body-composition of them all, yet in my view misses the mark for long term physique enhancement.

Born from trial and error, and meticulous contest-prep done by the most hyper-obsessed physique enthusiasts on the planet; competitive bodybuilders, it’s about time  the ultra low carb diet got updated to meet the needs of those of us who want to stay lean and muscular year round.

A lifetime of “dieting” will really open your eyes to the realization that the value of any nutrition plan is determined by the ratio of; how difficult it is to maintain, versus the long term “cosmetic” benefits.

That’s where my issue with ultra low carb diets ends, but it started with an over-simplification of what is a good concept.

Low Carb Word Salad

There are various marketing “faces” for low carb diets, such as the; Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Protein Power, to name but a few. The concept is also the “hidden magic” inside many calorie reducing diets, as well as the popular Paleo Nutrition Plan.

When marketed primarily to sedentary people, the most popular low carb diets simply emphasize severely restricting carb intake, while you can eat all the fat and protein you want.

These are the worst variations for our needs.

For purposes of this discussion we’ll assume that a low carbohydrate diet also means one that calls for higher protein intake, which is the form bodybuilders popularized.

Lose Some Fat, Gain a Straightjacket

The standard bodybuilding low carb/high protein diet calls for eating 50 to 100grams of carbohydrate per day, while keeping protein levels at about 1-gram or more per pound of bodyweight. Most users are told they can add liberal amounts of fats into the diet to meet energy needs (which IMO is more marketing than a biochemical reality). Some low carb diets do offer a buffer by telling users to eat carbs in a cyclical manner, e.g. every few days or after training only. The cyclical diets can work, but in my experience they force the user to become very rigid socially, and generally make nutrition more difficult to manage than is actually necessary.

But, the gains are yours only while you adhere to the plan, meaning short term at best.


In principle, low carb/high protein diets have scientific merit. The basic idea is to; 1) limit the amount of glucose your body gets through your diet (all carbs eventually become glucose), which increases the use of bodyfat as fuel and 2) cause fewer spikes of the hormone insulin, which keeps your fat burning switch on. The combination arguably makes you leaner, but there are significant trade offs. For the physique athlete this diet should be avoided because:

  • Physique Athletes do more work than sedentary folks––even typical weight lifters, though less than endurance athletes.
  • Training for Physique Athletes involves a relatively high-intensity, high-volume of work, which requires stored carbohydrate energy (glycogen) in muscle.
  • Training for Physique Athletes is designed to build contractile muscle fibers, and also increase your muscles capacity to store energy—which requires carbs to make your muscles look full and healthy, not flat.
  • Low carb diets are good for people who are insensitive to insulin in muscle, meaning they have severe difficulty (or rather no need) to shuttle glucose into muscle cells –– Physique training is a much better solution, and done correctly creates a radically different metabolic environment.
  • Low carb diets must be adhered to long term because your fat cells become more sensitive to insulin, which is the bodies way of saying; “when you give me carbs, I’m going to store every last molecule”.

For the record, I have personally used low carb/high protein diets, but always came back to a more moderate approach, which consists of roughly 40% Protein, 40% Carbohydrate and 20% Fat highlighted in my book; No Mistakes, which I wrote with a true physique training and nutrition genius, Rob Thoburn.

Stay tuned, I’ll cover that in a future blog post.



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