The battle lines have been drawn and everyone has taken sides. This vicious battle has pitted brother against brother and husband against wife. It is by far the most heated subject in nutrition, and self-proclaimed gurus have crawled out of the woodwork to weigh in with their opinions on the high carb diet vs. low carb diet debate.
As a fitness enthusiast, you no doubt have been in a few discussions, some of them probably a little heated, about how much of your daily calories should consist of carbohydrates. Both sides have compelling arguments, so who's right? They both are, to a point.
First, you have to realize that no diet, no matter how compelling the evidence, is going to work for everyone all of the time. In other words, you have to take your individual differences into account when deciding which approach will work best for you. It is not high carb vs. low carb, it is which one will work best for you, based on your metabolism and training goals. This fact has been missed by most, and this has led to a lot of confusion and frustration among fitness enthusiasts.
The low carbs diet work, and work well, but only for some selected purposes. The proponents of the low carb diets claim that by eating less carbs and more fat you switch your body's metabolism from one that favors carbs to one that favors fat for fuel. This has obvious benefits for someone looking to lose fat. In addition, these diets tend to be very low in total calories and help to control hunger with the addition of protein and fat to each meal. That has probably been the number one positive impact of these diets on the fitness community - getting people to eat less calories, and adequate amounts of protein and good fats.
Some of these low carb diets tend to be a little extreme, namely the ketogenic carbs where carbs are virtually eliminated from the diet to force your body into a state of ketosis, where body fat is burned in the form of ketones for fuel. These diets can be very dangerous if not used properly. If you are a bodybuilder who already has low levels of bodyfat and you want to get extremely cut up, then the ketogenic diet - or better yet, its close cousin the cyclical-ketogenic diet - is perfect for you.
However, if you are overweight, and have several pounds of fat to lose to get to a healthy range, then a more moderate approach to the low carb diets, like The Zone Diet, will work best. Ketosis is not a natural state for your body to be in. It lowers the blood pH, leading to a more acidic internal environment, and long-term exposure to such an environment will cause damage to your internal organs.
Pass The Bread
The advantage of a higher carb diet - and disadvantage of the low carb approach - is that you will not get big and strong without eating an adequate amount of carbs and calories. This does not mean an extremely high carb intake, as total carb intake should still be no more than 50- 60% of your total calories. But this extra amount of carbs will go a long way in your strength and muscle-gaining goals.
Carbs fuel the anaerobic (literally meaning "without oxygen") pathways of muscular energetics. These two energetic pathways, named the ATP/ CP and glycolitic pathways, are the major suppliers of energy for activities that take less than 90-120 seconds to complete, depending on your fitness level. As I'm sure most of you have realized, the vast majority of activities in the weight room when pumping iron take less than 2 minutes to complete. In fact, most sets take less than 1 minute to complete, falling well within the anaerobic pathways of muscular energetics.
What's my point? Well, if most of your weightlifting activities run off of stored glycogen - i.e. carbs - then why do you want your body to favor fat for energy? You don't. Several studies have shown that carbs increase performance. Cutting carbs from a mass and strength diet program is just as bad as not including protein or creatine. No one in their right mind would try to add strength and mass without those two nutrients. However, most of these same individuals will not hesitate to eat a Meal Replacement - which was designed for fat loss - in water three times a day, obtaining miniscule amounts of carbs in the process.
In addition, since intense weightlifting burns up blood sugar and stored glycogen, you will have to replace them. This can not be done optimally if you are following a carb-restricted diet. This means that you will have to allow longer recovery periods, or suffer a performance decrease, which does not help when trying to add pounds to your squat, or inches to your chest and biceps.
Most fitness enthusiasts get themselves in trouble when they become married to one concept. Frustration is brought on when they get stuck in a rut, afraid to try something radically different. Nutrition and dieting is no exception to this. Instead of debating which diet is the best, we need to look at which diet is the best for what circumstances. Eating for your specific goals, and not someone else's, is the key to figuring out which approach is best suited for you.