Adapting your carbohydrate intake and limiting certain types of carbs is certainly a significant aspect of optimal health for most people. We have spoken before about establishing your carbohydrate tolerance and manipulating carb intake to help optimise hormone function. However, watching the cast of TOWIE ditch the ‘carbs before Marbs’ alongside those awesome results many of us experienced when we first dropped out the bread, potatoes and pasta, often makes it easy to creep back into low carb habits, perhaps even limiting carb intake much more than we need to.
The following are five signs you may be a little too controlling when it comes to your carbs:
1. Nausea and Light Headedness
Nausea was one of the first symptoms I experienced when I drastically dropped my carb intake, usually upon waking but sometimes I even woke in the night feeling sick. This is a common side effect of excessively low blood sugar, it’s suspected to be a contributing factor to morning sickness during pregnancy as the growing baby utilises most of mum’s glucose. I often craved bananas when the nausea struck and if I ate one the sickness disappeared pretty much immediately. So to address this I slowly started to eat more fruit, root vegetables and sweet potatoes and the nausea completely disappeared.
Feeling dizzy and light headed upon standing or during exercise (known as postural hypotension) is another sign your carb intake maybe sub-optimal. Once blood glucose is low our insulin levels are low. Insulin plays a key role in assisting the kidneys with sodium excretion and retention (which in turn controls blood pressure levels). In addition to low insulin the elimination of processed foods and limiting fruit and vegetables inevitably decreases sodium and potassium levels in the body. When carbs are cut the resulting loss of electrolytes causes blood pressure to drop, water retention declines and whilst this may bring weight loss results (much of which is water) many people suffer from head rushes and dizziness. This is worsened when training as you don’t have the blood pressure to deliver nutrients fast enough. Adding some sea salt to your water and salads can help but also eating potassium rich foods like bananas, sweet potato, tomatoes and butternut squash makes a huge difference – essentially increasing your carb intake ☺
2. Insomnia or Disrupted Sleep
Struggling to fall asleep or waking a few hours after going to bed and being unable to get back to sleep could also be linked to low carb intake.
Blood sugar levels are lower at night as we’re fasting. Overnight the liver will break down stored glycogen in the body and convert it to glucose to keep our blood sugar levels stable. If blood sugar levels are too low and we don’t have the carb stores to release more glucose our body will go into survival mode. The adrenal glands will secrete cortisol to increase blood sugar levels, cortisol is your waking/action hormone so of course you wake up and won’t be able to sleep until your blood sugar levels have stabilised. Many people find adding in a serving of starch-based carbohydrates to their evening meal helps improve the duration and quality of their sleep.
3. Poor Training Performance
We need around 600 calories of glucose on a daily basis (around 150g of carbs) whilst we can produce some via the conversion of protein and thus limiting intake to as low as 200 calories (50g of carbs a day) glucose is generally the preferred source of fuel for training, especially when it comes to more intense forms of exercise. Many people on low carb diets experience training performance plateaus, fatigue and poor recovery with muscle soreness lasting for days.
This may not happen at the onset of your low carb adventures as the body can store around 1500-2000 calories of glucose as glycogen. Some people are also a little more flexible metabolically and can ultilise fats and protein as fuel much more easily than others. However, in the long-term excessively low carb intake will deplete levels of stored glycogen and many experience a performance decline. Most people participating in frequent training tend to need around 150-250g of carbohydrates as this is more appropriate to their energy needs. Of course this is just a guide and other factors need to be considered including body composition, frequency and intensity of your training and your adrenal health.
4. Stubborn Body Fat
If you’ve hit a fat loss plateau you may find increasing carb consumption actually helps by improving a number of physiological mechanisms. Firstly, insulin (such an important hormone!) plays a role in converting thyroid hormones into their active form. Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism by controlling calorie utilisation. Secondly, as discussed in point 2 carbohydrates play an important role in sleep health, which is essential aspect of fat loss. Thirdly carbs are vital for good gut health as they feed the beneficial bacteria that support optimal hormone function and energy balance.
Finally, a key to hitting and sustaining fat loss goals is to increase lean muscle mass. At our Fitter Food Academy back in May we discussed how many people struggle to increase lean mass with excessively low carbohydrate intake as insulin is an anabolic hormone that helps shuttle protein and glucose into the muscles (hence the reason it’s best to take on carbs after exercise). If you never elevate blood sugar levels, insulin levels will be too low to benefit from its anabolic properties.
A typical side effect of a low carb diet is sluggish bowel movements. You should be passing a stool daily and anything less than this is technically constipation. Ideally bowel movements should be easy with no straining, blood or pain. If we do not pass a stool daily waste products will build up in the body adding to the toxic burden on the liver and increasing inflammation. Constipation may also cause the hormone estrogen to be recycled back into the body, a high estrogen load will lead to more fat storage around the chest, hips and thighs and increase your risk of hormone related cancers.
Furthermore, gut bacteria play an integral role in digestive function and low carb diets starve the healthy flora of the food and nutrients they need to survive. Gut flora need fibre especially in prebiotic form to thrive; potatoes, fruit and vegetables offer the best sources. Resistant starch found in cold potatoes and rice also helps to bulk the stool making bowel movements much easier and more frequent.
The Low Down
If you’ve been suffering from any of these symptoms try slowly increasing your carbohydrate intake from Fitter Food sources and keep a health diary monitoring the improvements you experience.
We’re running a series of webinars in our 12 week Fitter Food Summer Camp over the next few weeks – including this carbohydrates 101 session. Alongside the nutrition plan and training programme we’ll be detailing the important steps to personalising your carbohydrate intake and adapting macronutrients to your lifestyle and activity levels. Summer Camp has a limited number of spots left and will be closing at the end of June. You can grab one of the last few slots here.