I’m now eight months deep into fasting for 20 hours per day while lifting pretty damn heavy weights for my bodyweight. I’ve learned a few very interesting things during that time, one of which is that there’s a big difference between getting lean and getting dry. To me, getting lean means dropping body fat, while getting dry means dropping water weight and glycogen. The first is achieved through caloric deficit, while the latter is achieved primarily by drastically reducing carbohydrate consumption (which also usually coincides with caloric restriction). For me, going low carb for more than a few days to lose a little vanity “blur” that might be sitting under the skin in the form of water is utterly counterproductive to strength gains, size gains AND, surprisingly, fat loss.
When I first went low-carb (i.e. less than 50g/ day), I immediately began losing weight. I think that virtually everyone experiences this during the first couple of weeks of a low-carb diet. What’s really going on is probably less fat loss and more glycogen and water loss. I think I read somewhere that the average size adult male carries around three pounds of glycogen between the muscles and liver. A lot of water (like several pounds worth) also follows that glycogen out. This is how elite fighters drop so much weight right before a fight; they’re dehydrating and “deglycogenizing” their bodies. But I see no point in dropping weight this way if there’s no practical need for it, especially if most of that weight isn’t fat, but rather the fuel the muscles prefer to use before anything else. This is also why those same fighters who drop so much weight immediately flood their bodies with fast and slow carbs and water immediately after weigh-in gaining virtually all of that weight back; if they didn’t their performance in the ring would suffer severely.
Eating Carbs to Lose Fat
Getting ripped is accomplished by losing fat while maintaining [or modestly growing] muscle mass. That’s it. There’s no secret. For novice lifters with extra body fat (like above 15%), more significant strength/ size gains and significant fat loss can happen simultaneously, but for more conditioned and experienced bodies, the focus really should be on either strength/ size gains or fat loss/ getting shredded, not both. So what do carbs have to do with this?
A calorie is a calorie with respect to the fact that energy is energy. A caloric deficit will result in weight loss, but different sources of the same number of calories can elicit profoundly different biological responses and can mean the difference between losing primarily muscle versus primarily fat. Because the body is so efficient, it naturally prefers to drop muscle first under an energy deficit, since muscle is far more metabolically active than fat and requires energy simply to exist, while fat doesn’t. To maintain muscle while in a caloric deficit a person must lift heavy weights with great effort. The volume need not be high (in my experience), but the effort must be to provide the proper stimulus for the body to be forced to keep its muscle. To put this kind of effort into every repetition, the muscles need fuel. Clearly, right? But with low glycogen stores, it’s almost impossible to exert that kind of force. This is why fuel mixture is so important while dropping fat.
When I put my body into an energy deficit when I want to drop a few pounds of fat, I make sure to increase the proportion of carbs in my diet to around 50% of my total calories so that my muscles have ready access to the fuel they most readily use (i.e. glycogen) so that I can lift heavy and hard. This, of course, means that either fat or protein consumption must decrease. Since protein is an important substrate for muscle development/ maintenance, that should stay relatively high as well. So the only remaining macronutrient to cut back is fat, which I cut back to around 20% of total calories.
Does that make sense?