Since the 1970s when Dr. Robert Atkins published his book Dr. Atkins Revolution, low-carb diets have been the rage amongst Americans looking to shed a few pounds while still being able to enjoy their favorite savory foods.
The diet was simple: keep your carbohydrates to a minimum and replace all the carbs you would normally be consuming with a high protein and fat diet. People loved it. After all, who wouldn’t want to diet that allows you to eat steak and eggs for breakfast or as much bacon as you want and still lose fat?
Eating fat to lose fat was the name of the game, with carbs being kept under 20 grams the first few weeks. It didn’t come without its controversies, though—The Journal of the American Medical Association claimed the high-fat diet would dramatically increase the risk of heart disease.
Furthermore, while fats are necessary precursors to create testosterone in men via cholesterol, how would this diet affect overall hormone production in men? Could restricting carbs lead to actually LOWER testosterone production in men than those who included higher amounts in their diet?
A 2010 study took a look at the influence of daily carbohydrate intake on testosterone levels as a possible biomarker or indicator for over-training. They examined healthy, active males who performed workouts three consecutive days for a week while having a 40 percent reduction in their daily carb intake. When their blood serum levels were analyzed, they discovered their free testosterone had dropped significantly compared to the control group who only reduced their carb intake by three percent. The findings suggested that, for men who tended to train intensely, it was in their best interest to avoid cutting carbohydrates.
Now the word “intensely” may make you think of a triathlete or bodybuilder, but keep in mind that intensity is relative to the person training. Someone who's just starting a workout routine and is 50+ lbs overweight may fall into the “intense" crowd if he/she is lifting weights, running, and cutting serious calories for the first time.
The body’s response to overtraining—again, relative to the individual—is a rise in the stress hormone cortisol. Anyone who’s stayed up late watching TV has seen the infomercials for drugs to “reduce your cortisol!!” Whether these drugs work or not is another story, but the point is that an excess amount of cortisol will result in either weight gain or difficulty losing it. This would be the last thing someone would want when starting the uphill battle to get their workout going.
The importance of carbohydrates and muscle mass were also seen in a 2009 study conducted by researchers at the University of Rhode Island that looked at how low and high-carbohydrate intakes affected exercise-induced muscle damage, strength recovery, and whole-body protein metabolism after a strenuous workout among novice lifters. Test subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet lost more strength, recovered more slowly, and showed lower levels of protein synthesis.
“These findings indicate that dietary carbohydrate, as opposed to protein, may be a more important nutrient to the novice weightlifter when recovering from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.”
A final study demonstrated the impact a low carb diet could have on leg day by examining test subjects who underwent daily leg workouts. The ones who consumed less carbs showed higher rates of protein breakdown with less muscle growth.
So the bottom line here is that carbs are not simply an evil food group—they’re a necessity for both muscle building AND maintaining optimal hormone levels in men. Carbohydrates have also been seen to aid in fat-loss while cutting, meaning the body builder doesn’t have to suffer their way to a slimmer waist.
If you feel like you’ve been overreaching and training yourself to exhaustion with little to no energy the following day, you may be negatively affecting your body’s natural hormone production with your diet. Check out our set of hormone tests or our comprehensive hormone panel to make sure your levels are optional before starting on a new diet or exercise routine.