No Carbs for Fat Loss (And How to Build Your Diet Plan)

The Hype Machine is the crossroads where science meets real-life. The goal: debunking some of the biggest health and fitness myths, by Born Fitness editor in chief, Adam Bornstein.

I rarely start people with carb-starve plans, even in fat-loss scenarios.

I know this is a surprise for those that read Engineering the Alpha, or for anyone that has ever looked at a fat loss diet plan. But “low carb” is one of the  most misunderstood terms in all of nutrition, and removing carbs is not my typical approach or one that seems to work in the long run.

Super low carbs can also cause a drop in libido. No cake or sex? I think I’ll pass.

If you want to be deceived, drop all carbs. If you want to lose fat and keep it off, there’s a much better approach.

When creating diets for Born Fitness online coaching, I look at the entire system. I’ve been lucky to work with Alan Aragon, Mike Roussell, Nate Miyake, John Berardi, and John Meadows. They are some of the best in the world at creating diets and nutrition plans, and each takes a different approach to help their target client.

While they each have developed their own style, learning from them has made three things very clear:

  1. Science works. Neglecting or ignoring what we have learned is pure ego and stubbornness.
  2. Beyond science, every body is different. So if you’re going to work with people, you better consider the person and not just make blanket assumptions.
  3. If it’s not sustainable on some level, then it probably sucks. I don’t waste my time on quick fixes that are little more than a short-term solution that causes a bigger long-term problem.

And that’s exactly why going no carbs for fat loss is a huge mistake.

Creating a Flexible Diet Plan

If you looked at my diet and nutrition formula, you’d see it’s a combination of:

1) Total training hours: How much time are you spending per week on the workout plan that’s been designed? (This is also why I like creating both training and diet plans because it allows me to control as much of your environment as possible.)

2) Training volume: Total number of reps and sets you perform for each workout.

3) Target bodyweight (TBW): TBW is a measure of targeted amount of lean body mass (LBM) plus a margin of safety. Using TBW allows us to set macros based on the maintenance requirements of the goal, rather than simply just selecting some arbitrary adjustment to calories. More importantly, it adjusts so that you’re eating for the body you want, not the body you have. 

4) Body fat (current) and body fat goal: I want to know your baseline and your goal body fat. I care about body fat percentage much more than scale weight. And your starting point will make a big difference on how aggressive you can be in attacking your goal, especially if focusing on fat loss.

Obviously, the volume, current and goal weight, current and goal body fat will differ by individuals. If someone is leaner I’m going to make sure they eat more carbs. Why? Because a primary focus is always going to be making sure you feel good and can train at the highest intensity possible. Same goes if they have a higher training volume.

If someone just wants to focus on body recomp (dropping body fat percentage) you’ll see fewer carbs and higher protein, but I’ll never start carbs super low. That’s a common mistake.

Carbs for Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

Carbs should be manipulated when progress stalls, not just started low to manipulate body weight.

You see, adjusting carbs can create an illusion of results. Drop all your carbs and the scale will change because of water weight fluctuations. But a rapid drop could only lead to even more rapid gains (when you add back carbs) or long-term frustration when you progress falls flat after just a few weeks.

Do you want to trick your scale or transform your body? That’s the real question, and the answer is taking a more progressive approach to carb manipulation.

The first step should be finding the maximum amount of carbs you can eat and still lose body fat. From there, then you want to make small adjustments to how many carbs you eat to prevent plateau. In some cases, you can even increase carb intake and still see your weight decrease. Why? Because there’s nothing about carbs that is inherently fatty. Vegetables are carbs, so this only makes sense if you think about it.

Super low carbs can also cause a drop in libido. No cake or sex? I think I’ll pass.

If you want to lose body fat and gain significant weight (not just lean body mass), I tend to utilize carb cycling. Put simply, this is a way of making sure you eat more carbs on the days you exercise and fewer on the days you don’t. This is as much about physiology as it is about psychology. You might be hungrier on days you exercise, so why not allow for more food on those days?

For Best Results: Emphasize Workouts, Not Carb Depletion

Like any good health plan, my formula is meant as a guide, not a hard rule. Within each of those variables there are many factors that allow for adjustments to proteins, fats, and carbs in a few different ways. And one of those ways is considering the foods that a client loves or enjoys.

At the end of the day, the macros I recommend are completely driven by your goals. The worst thing I can do for any client is prescribe a diet that makes them miserable or removes all foods they love.

You want to know why so many diets fail? It’s a matter of consistency.  Not to mention, we know that many diets work.

That’s why I try to make sure carb amounts remain a little higher so that we promote a “training effect.”

I want all my clients to crush their workouts and feel great. That means eating carbs to keep you performing at your highest level or just simply enjoying your plan to prevent burnout or diet frustration. Never forget that the biggest “secret” in fitness is personalization. That’s when the real magic occurs.

From there, the rest is touch and go. I create the formulas to establish a baseline, but if you don’t respond it’s my job is to adjust and make sure you see progress.

Curious what your own diet plan might look like? Click here to find out. 

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