Low carb for mental performance.
Low carb for weight loss.
Low carb for better fat burning.
Low carb for endurance performance.
Low carb for hunger management.
Low carb for metabolic health.
What can’t low carb diets do?!?!?!?!?
It is no wonder that low carb diets are becoming so popular.
When it comes to low carb diets the most important thing they do for the general population is remove highly refined carbohydrates from the diet.
We live in a world today where nearly all the food around us is full of carbohydrates….not the starchy vegetable kind, the highly processed, calorically dense kind. Now throw poor sleep, high stress, questionable gut health, and a sedentary lifestyle on top of a carbohydrate rich calorically dense diet and what do you get? You get a population where only 12% are metabolically healthy.
Enter low carb diets.
The theory behind low carb diets is simple, eliminate the carbohydrates and you can eliminate a majority of the processed foods in your diet resulting in a caloric deficit and better blood sugar control. The result of a caloric deficit is weight loss, and more stable blood sugar helps prevent things like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
While this is fantastic, it is getting people healthier after all, I think that is not the best approach to improving your health.
Because it only addresses a very small piece of the problem…your diet. It does nothing to help you improve your sleep, stress, movement, exercise or social connection, all of which play an important role in your overall health. In addition to that, just because you eat a low carb diet does not mean you are eating a healthy diet. Ever heard of the bacon, butter, and cheese diet? That is low carb, but not necessarily healthy.
So if low carb diets are only getting you the benefits of keeping your blood sugar in control and eliminating some extra calories, is there something else you can do that would accomplish the same thing but also promote a more well rounded approach to overall health?
Why strength training?
First let’s address the blood sugar control issue. Muscle is a great sink for carbohydrates. What does that mean? It means the more muscle you have the more places you have to store those carbohydrates. We store carbohydrate in 2 places, our liver and in our muscles. We can store about 100g in our liver so everything else must be stored in muscle. The more muscle you have the more you can store away. In other words muscle is a great way to buffer against carbohydrate consumption.
Permit me to dive down the nerd chute for a bit to elaborate on why.
A healthy blood glucose level for people is around 80-89 mg/dl. Let’s say you have a fasting blood glucose of 85 mg/dl, right in the middle. This is equivalent to .85 grams/dl. On average you have about 5 liters of blood in your body. That means you would have about 4.25 grams of sugar in your blood.
Now let’s say you have pre-diabetes and your fasting blood glucose level is 115 mg/dl. That means you would have 5.75 grams of sugar in your blood. You would have to somehow remove 1.5 grams of sugar from your blood to get back to a healthy range.
If you have type 2 diabetes and your fasting blood glucose level is 126 mg/dl, that would mean you would have 6.3 grams of sugar in your blood. You would have to somehow remove 2.05 g of sugar from your blood to get back to a healthy range.
How much muscle would you need to add in order to help you get your blood sugar back to a healthy range?
Research has shown that when given a bolus of 68g of glucose that muscle will take up 26% of that bolus. 26% of 68g of glucose is about 18g of glucose.
We can also see from this same study that participants had on average 27kg of muscle mass. That means each KG of muscle mass would take up 0.7g of glucose.
So knowing that you would need to remove 1.5g of sugar from your blood if you had pre-diabetes, and that each KG of muscle mass takes up 0.7g of glucose, if you added about 2.1 KG of muscle you could get back to a normal healthy blood sugar range.
If you have type 2 diabetes and you needed to remove 2.05g of sugar from your blood you would need to add 2.9 KG of muscle to get your blood sugar back to a healthy range.
That is not a small amount of muscle to add, especially in a short period of time, but it is doable.
Of course the human body does not follow mathematical formulas like this either. All of these numbers will fluctuate from person to person as well as within the same person depending on a number of other factors. The point here is to show that when we look at how to have better blood sugar control, modifying out muscle mass is one way to do that.
Adding muscle mass also allows us to tack the blood sugar control from other avenues as well. To build the optimal amount of muscle mass you need to have a good diet, get the right amount of sleep, have a healthy gut, and have good stress management factors. In other words, you need all the other lifestyle factors that make someone healthy dialed in as well. Compare that to the diet only approach which does not address any of these other factors, and you can see why focusing on building muscle mass is far superior
My approach to diet is to find the one that works best for the individual. I think low carb diets have their place, especially if the individual is starting out metabolically unhealthy. Low carb diets can work wonders on changing one’s metabolic health. However, diet is one piece of what makes someone healthy. Sleep, stress, exercise, social connection, and movement are all important points. If we look at other ways to address blood sugar dysregulation, adding muscle mass can not only help us better control our blood sugar but encourages individuals to also address the other lifestyle factors that make someone healthier. Better sleep, stress, movement, and social connection also promote more muscle growth. That is why I think that you are better off adding muscle than eliminating carbs from your diet.
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