OK, before I even begin this article, let me just say that I know it’s bound to recieve a few heated reactions from people who disagree with my opinions.  I completely respect that.  In fact, I invite it.  My goal is to teach people the truth in regards to fitness and health.  If that means I have to butt heads with a few of you for a while, then so be it.    In today’s society, there seems to be an increasing pressure to look good.  Along with that pressure comes a fierce determination to do whatever it takes to achieve the desired goal of physical perfection.  This determination is what causes so many people to go running to the latest trend or supplement to help them achieve that goal.  The trend I will be focusing on in this newsletter is the Atkins diet.   All of my opinions on this particular subject are based on my own research that I have found through different medical journals and articles from the top experts in the fitness industry.
In recent years, many people have found success in losing weight through the Atkins Diet.  I will not deny that for a minute.  However, the first major point that I want to stress is that the majority of these people did not exercise regularly.  For non-exercisers, the Atkins Diet can be a realistic formula for weight loss; notice I said realistic, not healthy.  But for people who do exercise,  there are many other factors that must be taken into consideration.
Hey Everybody!  Welcome to my monthly newsletter.  I have a lot of  information to share with you.  First of all, my website has been updated with pictures and information since last month’s newsletter.  Click on the links to the left to take a tour.   Now, on with the newsletter.
The Atkins diet is just one of several low carb diets on the market.  The basic message of these diets are:  carbs are the enemy and if you eat them, you’re bound to gain weight.  While I do agree that excessive carbohydrates in the diet can lead to weight gain, I also believe that a closer look must be taken in order to fully understand the function of carbohydrates in the diet.  In a nutshell, carbohydrates are designed to fuel the body with energy.  When we eat carbs, they are broken down into a substance called glucose, or “blood sugar”.   Some of this glucose is transported and stored in the muscle tissue as glycogen.  The glycogen becomes your fuel.  It is the body’s preferred source of energy for performing exericse and normal every day activities.  Carbohydrates=glycogen=fuel.
“But what about fat?  Doesn’t  it take the place of carbs in burning fuel?”  This is one of the most common questions I hear.  In order to answer this question, we must take a look at a couple of important factors, the first of which is muscle.  Muscle is the main calorie burning tissue in the body.  That’s right, muscle burns calories, fat does not!  Therefore, when we restrict carbs from our diet, the body must turn to muscle tissue (amino acids) for energy.  This means our muscle tissue is actually being broken down for energy!   This will cause the metabolism to slow down . Will this lead to weight loss?  Sure.  But guess what?  It will also lead to loss of muscle and energy, and as exercisers, I don’t think that’s what we want.  Another thing to remember here is that most people on the Atkins diet are eating foods that are high in saturated fat, which has been conclusivley linked to coronary artery disease.   So will people on the Atkins diet burn fat?  Of course!  But they will also be losing muscle, slowing down their metabolism, suffering from low energy, and increasing their risk for coronary artery disease.
Exercise places a great demand on the body.  That is why we must fuel it properly.  Non-exercisers are able to get away with the Atkins diet because they don’t have near the amount of energy requirements that exercisers do.  In my personal experience, people on the Atkins Diet who exercise at the same time suffer from low energy during their workouts and are not able to accomplish as much work as those who are eating carbs.  I know this sounds very blunt and to the point, but I think this is a very important message to get across.
And what about resistance training?  Fat loss is only one part of the equation.  If we are interested in building muscle, resistance training is mandatory.  And as I have already mentioned, glycogen (carbohydrates) is what  is stored in the muscles for energy (muscle contraction).   It is also important to mention that people on the Atkins diet who are also exercising may feel fine at first and experience no loss of energy.  This is because we all have a limited amount of glycogen on reserve.  But after about two days, the reserve will be depleted and  your body will enter a state called Ketosis.  Dr. Atkins leads us to believe that these ketone bodies are what facilitates fat release.  What he neglects to tell us is that extended periods of ketosis may affect the chemical composition of the blood in such a way that you increase the risk of cardiac incident.  In regards to resistance training or anything else for that matter,  this is certainly not a healthy state to be in.   In his books, Dr. Atkins makes very little mention of resistance training.  He also makes no mention of lean body mass and its link to metabolism.  Any diet that fails to consider body composition (fat mass vs. lean mass) is going to generate random conclusions at best.
Above all else, I have to ask:  Where is the proof that the Atkins Diet can work together with exercise to help us achieve our goals.   Of course there are the many non-exercisers who claim that it has worked for them.  But, as you’ve read, it really isn’ the same thing is it?  I personally would love to see a case study performed over a long term period (3-5 years) which can act as a foundation upon which proof can be built that the Atkins Diet and exercise can go hand in hand.
I know it sounds like I’m condemning Dr. Atkins’ work.  But that’s not completely true.  In fact, I fully agree with his position on cutting simple sugars and refined and processed flours.   But my focus is on exercise and the Atkins Diet.  While I do agree that excessive carbs can lead to increased weight gain, I also believe that carbohydrates.are essential for anyone who is on a consistent exercise program.   Carbohydrates are a nutrient, and a nutrient by definition means “something your body needs to sustain life.”  Think about that for a minute.  Now add the factor of exercise which places an increased overload on your body.  Why would we want to cut nutrients of any kind out of our diet if we need them to sustain life and help us with the every day tasks at hand, in particular exercise?
Having said all that,  I will tell you that I have no problem with people cutting carbs at the appropriate time of day.  As I already mentioned, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.  Therefore, at times when we are inactive or less active, it would make sense to eliminate or decrease our intake of carbs.  For example, the typical 9 to 5 worker will get home from work feeling tired and hungry.  He doesn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking.  So therefore, what’s quick and easy to make?  You guessed it, Pasta!  So He makes himself a huge pasta dinner and then lays on the couch and doesn’t do anything for the rest of the evening.  As a result, those carbs are not being utilized for energy and it leads to immediate weigt gain!  However, there is no reason that he cannot have carbs earlier on during the day in smaller portions along with his protein.  This way, he is utilizing those carbs and burning them off throughout the day.  When he gets home from work, a good protein and vegetable meal would be ideal.  That way, he doesn’t have to worry about unutilized carbs converting to fat.  Is this starting to make sense?  THE OFFICE WORKER DOES NOT NEED TO ELIMINATE CARBS ALL DAY, IN FACT WITHOUT THEM, HE’S BOUND TO HAVE LESS ENERGY!
In conclusion, let me re-iterate that I do believe the Atkins Diet has allowed many people to lose unwanted weight.  But again, my concern is for people who are exercising.  YOU MUST HAVE CARBS IN ORDER TO EXERCISE EFFICIENTLY!  You must also have protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.   Your body needs all the nutrients in order to strive and be optimally healthy.  I also know that Dr. Atkins does allow some carbs in his diet on a slowly increasing  baisis.  That still is not going to cut it for people who are exercising.  You must have carbs in order for your body to adapt appropriately to exercise.
I hope you all were able to get something form this newsletter.  I will speak to you again next month!
Michael Elder
Certified Fitness Professional
Licensed and Certified Massage Therapist
Certified Reiji Practitioner