Do carbs improve or worsen body composition? Perhaps you read my recent post Carbs Save the Day, where I profiled a client for which I increased her carbohydrate (and caloric) intake to improve her body composition. She experienced both an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in fat mass. The Holy Grail for body comp!
Does increasing carbs always end with this result though? Of course not. Today’s profile outlines another recent nutrition client experience where we reduced carbs and kept calories about the same to prioritize fat loss.
Nutrition Client Profile
H.F. is a 35 y/o male. He is a busy professional. Though he is busy with work, he manages his stress level quite well. He tries to make it into the gym 3 times per week, but it doesn’t always happen. When it does, he mostly attends the weight training classes at 24 Hour Fitness.
I ran an intake body composition test on him a couple months ago, which revealed he had 22.5% bodyfat. This was a concerning result to him. H.F. had noticed a trend toward increasing fat mass over the last year and he wanted to find a way to reverse that trend for general health purposes. Given that he’s a pretty busy guy, his best bet was to continue to get into the gym when he can, but focus on his diet, since he’s spending the time eating either way.
The thing that stood out the most to me in his food log was his morning smoothie habit. Each morning he’d throw a bunch of fruit and ice into the blender, maybe some fat free yoghurt too, and voila… quick and easy breakfast. There are a couple things I don’t like about this breakfast for him though.
First, an all fruit smoothie is an all carbohydrate smoothie. Not a great way to start your day. Don’t get me wrong, fruit can be healthy for the right person at the right time, but for almost everyone, protein needs to be the focus for breakfast. Why? Protein improves satiety – you stay full longer, protein has a high thermic effect – you burn more calories digesting it and protein has a much more favorable hormonal response – insulin and glucagon in particular, the storage and release hormones.
Second, even if he were to include a scoop of protein in his smoothie, I still wouldn’t be a fan. Liquid meals like this are more difficult for your body to absorb. When you don’t chew your food you’re missing out on the excretion of saliva, which is what initiates the digestive process. Also, liquid calories lead to faster gastric emptying (clearing your stomach quickly) – this also results in lower satiety. Generally, I only like liquid foods for those trying to gain mass or focused on other performance metrics.
So, fast gastric emptying and low protein, my first follow up question to H.F. was, when do you find yourself getting hungry after breakfast. Sure enough, he stated that he’s ravenous in the mornings and can barely wait until 11am to each lunch.
To correct course and get him on the road to improved body composition, I simply had him replace his morning smoothie with a protein focused breakfast. For him, it was usually a couple of eggs and some bacon or ground beef.
Sure enough, with this simple change, he reported that he was waiting until at least 1pm before he was ready to eat lunch and even then, he wasn’t nearly as hungry as he used to be at 11am after his smoothie. He also reported improved energy and focus in the mornings.
His new breakfast choice enables him to control his hunger levels and hormonally sets him up for fat loss. After approximately one month of modifying his breakfasts, we measured his body composition again. He lost 3 lbs of body fat and managed to put on a half pound of muscle (in spite of not really working out). These changes improved his body fat percentage from 22.5 to 21.1%.
Again, not a huge change, but one that is sustainable and will continue to compound over time. If he keeps this up and adds more lifting to his regimen, he’ll continue to accelerate his fat loss.
So there you have it, two client profiles in the last month. Both improved body composition by gaining muscle and loosing fat, yet one was through increased carbs and the other decreased.
Nutrition truly is highly individual! Your unique prescription must account for your lifestlye, activity level, goals, etc. If you’re interested in becoming an HD nutrition client, head over to the contact us page and shoot me a message. If you want to implement a protein-focused breakfast, we put together a few ideas which you can get here.