highfat-highprotein-lowcarb

So the last few weeks I’ve been miserable, as I’ve been unable to train properly due to injury. But ever the optimist, I try to seek the positive in everything and I decided to use this opportunity to focus on my nutrition. My body fat was higher than I would have liked as the result of a few weeks of inconsistency in my diet, so I wanted to experiment with a low carbohydrate / high fat / high protein diet in order to try and reduce my body fat while maintaining my hard earned lean muscle mass. This post covers an overview of what I did and the results I achieved.

The diet

So high fat sounds great, but of course the focus was on healthy fats. These include:

  • Coconut oil / extra virgin olive oil / flax seed oil 
  • Certain nuts including cashews, almonds and organic peanut butter
  • Eggs, avocados and olives
  • Fats from animal protein including lean steak mince, chicken and fish
  • Fats from some dairy including grass fed butter and small amounts of cheese

I tried to make sure that around 50-60% of my calories came from these fat sources.  I then had somewhere between 30-40% of my calories from protein sources.  A large majority of this protein would come from lean meats including beef, chicken, turkey, fish etc.  As long as they were unprocessed, they were acceptable.  Some protein came from the nuts and dairy, as well of course from eggs.

The remaining 5-10% of my calories came from carbs. These carbs would be from the nuts, as well as fibrous carbs from vegetables.  Typically this would be no more than 30g of carbs per day.

Finally, I drank 2-3 cups of coffee per day and I drank maybe 3 litres of water or more. It might sound like a lot but it’s easy to do.

Example meal plan

Here is an example of my daily diet.

Breakfast 7.30am

  • Black coffee, tall glass of water (approx 400ml)
  • Multivitamins and omega 3/6 supplement
  • Huevos rancheros using 3 eggs, 3 eggs whites, half and onion, half an avocado, a tablespoon of coconut oil, have a tomato, 10-20g of cheese, some coriander and some chilli powder

Mid morning snack 10.30am

  • Black coffee, tall glass of water
  • 20-30g of almonds of cashew nuts

Lunch 1pm

  • Tall glass of water
  • Half a roasted chicken, skin on
  • Salad consisting of rocket/spinach/cucumber/grated carrot with 5ml of apple cider vinegar, 5ml of balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil

Afternoon meal 4.30pm

Dinner 8pm

  • I would eat whatever my family was having for dinner, just without the carbs
  • For example if they were having spaghetti bolognaise, I would eat just the meat and the sauce with some vegetables
  • Alternatively if I was working late, I would fry up some lean meat like turkey in coconut oil and add a side of asparagus, brocolli etc
  • Tall glass of water

Snack (before or after dinner)

  • Tablespoon of organic peanut butter
  • Tall glass of water

Calories

In order to maintain my current I typically eat somewhere between 2,400 – 2,600 calories per day.  On this diet, I ate between 2,100 – 2,400 on average.  I wasn’t aiming to do this particularly it was just how it worked out.  It would have been very easy to bump my calories up or down as required with another portion of healthy fats.

Exercise

My injury prevented me from doing my normal kind of weight lifting routine, however in some evenings I would do some stretching and bodyweight exercises. Other than that my lifestyle is quite sedentary as I work in an office, but I would often break up my day with a 30 minute walk into town to stretch my legs and get some fresh air.

Breaking the cycle

Throughout the week I was very strict with my diet, however at the weekends anything was back on the menu. I didn’t go “massively” overboard although I did enjoy some some carbilicious sweets, puddings, potatos, fruits, bread etc. I didn’t track these days as closely but I’m guessing that my carbs would have shot up from 30g to about 300g+ per day!

The results

The results were certainly surprising. Although my body fat was higher than I wanted it to be, I didn’t have a huge amount of weight to lose, at maybe around 19% body fat. In the first week I lost 6lbs, which concerned me quite a lot as I wanted a much slower progression to try and preserve as much muscle as possible. However I believe that the carb depletion also enabled me to lose some water weight which will have added to the overall loss. In week 2 I was expecting this to stabilise, or maybe I would even put some weight back on but in fact I lost another 2lbs despite that following a particularly heavy carb loaded weekend! I’m currently in week 3 now, and following a cheeky mid week check up I’m currently on track to lose another 2lbs this week.

I also kept track of my body measurements, with the biggest change happening at my waist which has reduced by 3.5cm so far. My chest and legs also have small reductions, but my arms and neck have remained the same. In the mirror I can see some improvements in muscle tone in my shoulders and stomach, and also in my face!

The final thing I noticed was that I had a really productive week at work, and this is perhaps largely because my energy levels remained high. On Wednesday last week I ended up working from 9am to 10pm, but I did it with relative ease and actually had to make myself finish what I was doing to go home! Normally I think I would have been counting down the minutes and reaching for the coffee.

Conclusion

I expected to lose weight on this diet for several reasons.

  1. I was eating at a calorie deficit, below a level that I know from experience is my maintenance level
  2. Your body will store around 2-3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen. By depleting these levels I would lose water weight as well as fat
  3. By eating a large amount of healthy fats and low carbs over 5 days, I believed that my body would use fat for it’s primary energy source by going into a state of ketosis

I only weighed myself once per week which was at the end of the low carb period. Had I weighed myself after the high carb period as well, I expect that I would have gained some more weight – maybe 1 or 2 lbs more. By eating carbs at the weekend this cycled my diet, and refuelled my depleted glycogen stores. This would then promote hormone activity that would otherwise be surpressed by the diet. It also made it easy to stick to the diet during the week, knowing that I could enjoy carbs again at the weekend.

Most of the weight lost will probably just be water, but I look better for it and I feel much healthier. If this was combined with an exercise regime, then my results would likely have been even better.

Although I don’t feel that my energy levels are that much greater, I do feel like I have more mental clarity, and that my energy levels are more consistent. Normally I hit a slump around 4pm that requires coffee or some sort of stimulation to get me though it, but that’s not been an issue at all these last few weeks.

I’m hoping that due to my high protein intake and the small amount of bodyweight exercises I performed that I will have preserved most of my muscle mass. The measurements suggest that this is more or less the case, with the biggest reductions on my waist and chest and the lowest on my arms (my waist and back had the highest skin fold measurements, with low measurements on my chest and arms). I will continue to experiment with this diet when training resumes but I will raise my calorie levels to meet the needs of my training.

Finally, I’ve only been testing this diet for a very short amount of time – less than 3 weeks. A much longer time frame would be needed before I can really see how effective it is, and if there are any issues with the protocol. If anyone else would like to comment of offer any expert opinion, then please do!