People seem to think it’s okay to cut out carbs or fat, but there are only three macronutrients. Nutrients like zinc and Vitamin C and what have you are necessary, but they don’t provide you with energy like that – calories – the energy your body requires in order to function. The energy we use in our day to day lives comes from fat, carbohydrate and protein. It’s not like there are nineteen different options and you’ll be okay if you just eat eighteen of them. Only three. You can manipulate ratios to a point, but if you eliminate one, bad shit starts to happen.
Carbohydrate can be complex – fibre – or simple – sugar – but it’s all carbs. Occasionally you’ll hear someone talk about how proud they are of eating “zero carb” and then they’ll talk about the broccoli they had with their steak. It’s bullshit – broccoli is full of carbohydrate. They mean they’re eating zero grains. Talk like that just contributes to misinformation.
As much as I may be oversimplifying like crazy in this post, I’m not contributing to misinformation – not like that. I attempt to fight misinformation. That’s kinda what this whole thing is about. I'm sorry it’s not more simple, but all the time people try to reduce human physiology to a simple equation. Really? That’s supposed to work? People study Masters and Doctorates in this stuff. Anyway.
Protein exists in pretty much all foods – not just meat. It’s just that there are certain specific proteins (amino acids) that we need, and all of them exist in meat so that’s the easiest option. The ratio of some amino acids to others in grains and nuts isn’t quite as ideal, but bread and beans and other things still provide the body with useful proteins. Fat also exists in pretty much everything, but sometimes only in negligible amounts.
It’s also interesting to note, cholesterol only exists in animal products, so if someone’s advertising avocado or peanut butter (which generally does not actually have dairy-butter in it) as cholesterol-free, it’s like no shit – those products are not from animals. Of course they don’t have cholesterol in them.
And as a slight aside – the production of cholesterol in the body is very complicated. It’s not like the cholesterol you eat goes straight to your arteries. Like all foods, it’s digested and processed.
In fitness, people talk about protein being so important for the repair and building of tissues. Whether you’re into bodybuilding or marathon running, it’s still important. It’s also important for wound healing – again you’re repairing tissues – but if you’re not eating carbs, you won’t have enough energy to complete the process.
Okay, so – dorky analogy time.
If protein is the steel and concrete you need to repair your building, carbs are the workers. If you don’t have any labourers, the repairs won’t get done.
And fat is the planning permit. Without a planning permit, nothing can go ahead.
Fat is essential for proper hormonal health. If you aren’t getting enough fat, hormone regulation will be off. If your testosterone is down, if your body’s systems aren’t functioning properly, the energy you are getting from food and sleep won’t go to repairing muscle or injuries, it won’t go to making you stronger, it’ll be spent on trying to rectify your deficiencies – and if you’re trying to subsist on inadequate amounts of food, your deficiencies will remain unrectified.
Then there are stimulants – coffee, drugs, energy drinks, etc. – but these don’t give you energy in a build-you-up kind of way. Long term reliance or excessive use will just burn you out hormonally. You run the risk of adrenal depletion, because stimulants don’t give you energy, they stimulate your body to action – even though there’s nothing to fuel you. No wonder they lead to depletion in the end. And then you’ve got to work seriously hard at rebuilding, because there’s a long way to go before you get back to stable, let alone before you get to the point where you can really build and develop.
So again, we come back to the crux of the matter. There are only three macronutrients. There are only three edible sources of energy. You can play around with them, but you can’t cut one out and expect everything to work out okay.
When you don’t eat enough, paradoxically you have more energy – for a limited period. That’s a survival mechanism. This perceived abundance of energy is not what it seems – you’re not nourished – your body is giving you an opportunity to go out and find more food. If you restrict for too long, sooner or later you’ll crash and burn. You’ll be depleted.
All the time you see it at a gym – there’s dieting, ‘cardio’, initial weight-loss, good feelings, good energy – then there’s the plateau, then fatigue, then depression. That’s where the real work starts.
It doesn’t matter how thin you think you need to be. If you’re not eating enough, your body won’t function properly. You’ll hit a point where you’re constantly vague or depressed, you’re not sleeping well and still you’ll have no energy, and you’ll be wondering why everything’s so bad when you’re doing all the right things. So maybe you’ll try to diet harder. You might be able to push through for a period of time. But breakdowns don’t come from being too weak. They are caused by trying to be too strong, for too long.
If your brain, organs and hormones don’t have enough energy to function right, they won’t function right.
Your body’s ‘fat stores’ are more than just ‘stored energy’. It’s part of you, it’s not just superfluous, random extra flesh. It’s not just ‘stores’ – it exists for a reason. It doesn’t actually just sit there doing nothing, getting in the way. You can’t just tap into your fat stores and compensate for malnourishment. You can’t just compensate for not eating enough fat by shrinking. It’d be nice if you could, but you can’t. Human metabolism and energy production just don’t work like that.
I just don’t buy it – the idea of ‘empty calories’. Your body needs calories in order to survive. It’s not like they’re optional. If you’re training, you need more of them than you think.
If in doubt, eat more and sleep more.