I’m often given shit because my answer to most questions related to training and nutrition is “it depends.” Do most things truly depend on the circumstances?

Of course! The client’s background, current lifestyle and goals all directly impact their prescription. To hammer this home, I’ve decided to start highlighting experiences with clients that demonstrate this on the blog.

So, here we go….

Nutrition Client Profile

C.H. is a 42 year old, female, crossfitting, nutrition client of mine. She approached me a couple of months ago after completing a paleo / nutrition challenge at her gym that didn’t go as planned.

The strange thing to her was that she followed the exact same eating regimen the year before during a similar challenge and experienced dramatically different results. During this challenge she lost 13.6 lbs of fat and gained 2.2 lbs of muscle. This time around she lost 1.7 lbs of fat and 1.8 lbs of muscle.

She came to me frustrated. How could she do the exact same thing with such different outcomes?  She was especially disappointed with her muscle loss.  Is this just an inevitability that comes with age?

Change in Muscle Mass+2.2 lbs-1.8 lbs
Change in Fat Mass-13.6 lbs-1.7 lbs
Chang in BF %-7%-0.5%

Intake Data

So, as I do with all nutrition clients, I had her complete my comprehensive intake form that gives me medical history, supplementation protocol, exercise program and health / fitness goals.

Ordinarily, I would have had her complete a seven day food log too, but lucky for me she tracked everything she ate during the challenge, had it all analyzed in spreadsheets… suffice it to say, C.H. is my type of client!

When examining her situation the first thing I analyzed were differences between the challenge last year and this year. Her nutrition was the same. He exercise program was the same, 5 days / week of CrossFit. Her stress profile and sleep were all the same too.

Isn’t that everything? Not exactly. One difference is she is now one year more advanced in her training. Last year during the challenge she was relatively new to throwing around heavy weights and high intensity training. Now she has over a year under her belt. So her training age has increased.


This is particularly important because her diet was one of the best I’d seen as far as food quality goes, but her carbohydrate intake was very low. So low in fact, that she likely was in ketosis. For many people, this type of diet is incredibly effective at peeling off body fat. And that is exactly what she experienced during that first challenge.

The problem with very low carbohydrate intake is that it can push the body into a more catabolic state – that’s why she was still able to loose the fat. However, to gain muscle we need anabolism to counter the catabolism.

The Prescription

To correct this, I had her continue to eat exactly what she was consuming before, except now she was to add some starchy carbohydrates to her dinner on workout days. This wasn’t a prescription to eat doughnuts and pizza, rather to enjoy a small sweet/white potato or a half cup of white rice/quinoa with her dinner.

sweet potatoAfter implementing this change, I checked in with her each week to see how she was feeling. She reported feeling stronger and more powerful during workouts, which is an indicator to me that she was in fact, deficient in carbohydrates relative to her function.

C.H. continued with this protocol for two months and then we rechecked her body composition. Below is a comparison of the results from the challenge vs. the last two months.

Change in Muscle Mass-1.8 lbs+1.5 lbs
Change in Fat Mass-1.7 lbs-1.8 lbs
Chang in BF %-0.5%-1.3%


musclesA modest change for sure, but one that demonstrates that muscle loss isn’t an inevitability for her. That this increase of about 150 kcals in carbohydrates on workout days swings the pendulum back in the other direction. A direction that , if continued will yield continued muscle growth and improved health and function for her into her later years – her exact goal.

So is ultra low carb good? It depends… and I stand by that.