Keto or Carbs?

keto or carbs



This article has been written for Canadian Physique Alliance – Sept/Oct 2021 Edition

Jed HeadshotSeems like today, more often than ever before those words, Keto and Carbs, echo through our industry, social media and conversation. Always in reference to what is the best way to eat for getting big and getting shredded? Over my 18 year career I’ve helped countless bodybuilding, figure, fitness, classic, men and women’s physique athletes do exactly that, grow muscle and get shredded for the stage.

AF athletes make up around 30% of my business. The other 70% is nutritional specialty clients, lifestyle programming and health management. The same iteration is true for all of the above; everyone to some degree desires more lean muscle, less fat.

So what is really the absolute “best” diet for growing and getting lean, Keto or Carbs?

To be as effective as possible in either application, we need to understand the stark polarity between these two nutritional platforms, KETO and CARBS. We must delve deep into both approaches. By understanding protein and carbs, the differences, the effects and benefits of both, we find a direct and effective application of both, we can achieve our best.

So let’s look at the basics of each macronutrient source, digestion and availability in the body.

keto or carbs

PROTEIN is a word from the ancient Greek that actually means most important. Protein is the most important nutrient that we require. Human beings a carbon-based life form, we need amino acids for every function of our existence. We don’t store protein we only get it from outside sources. Unlike fat and carbohydrates, we can store in reserve for later use. Protein IS essential, not optional.

To build muscle and recover tissue we need “complete proteins’: nine amino acids well nine if you include (Histidine) linked together forming a chain. Meat for instance, is a complete protein that builds muscle through the process of mechanically processing (chewing) then further in procession by chemical digestion in our body. We break it down by chewing it, and upon entering the stomach begins chemical digestion. Pepsin and hydrochloric acid break the tissue down further into Polypeptides. Further along, hitting the duodenum, pancreatic enzymes, trypsin and chymotrypsin are released and break the poly, into dipeptides and tripeptides (free form amino acids). Once these are in the bloodstream as a nutrient they go to the liver to manufacture proteins for biological necessity and function. They are also going to be sent to muscles that need them for recovery for protein synthesis purposes. The nucleus of the cells needing recovery and healing calls on these amino acids to come to the specific area and do their job.

So we know without question we need protein, it is essential, meaning we cannot manufacture it, it must be added from the outside in. Knowing the basics of protein, where do carbs fit in, are they essential? Are they necessary, or unnecessary?

As I stated above, essential means the body cannot manufacture.

Keto or Carbs

Your body can manufacture carbs, and some fats, but not protein. So for the average person starch carbs are not very necessary, absolutely not essential. The average person is better off on lower carbs and more of a protein/fat and veggie low gi fruit balance to stay lean and stave off unwanted fat gain. In most cases in regular people, carbs eaten and not readily used for exercise will be stored as fat.

For bodybuilding, however, this scenario is very different. For effective muscle growth, for triggering hypertrophy, to optimize all potential growth factors, and facilitate optimal training volume and recovery we need carbs. Some carbs, more than others, depending on individual metabolic and genetic factors. But we absolutely need them, necessary 100%, but again not essential.

Carbs are our “first up” primary fuel for the brain, organs etc., and easily used source of nutrient energy. Meaning it will always be used before fat, or proteins.

keto or carbsCarbohydrates are broken down into two groups complex and simple. Complex meaning multiple sugar chains called polysaccharides and singular sugar chains monosaccharides, when we eat complex carbohydrates after chewing breaking down, and getting them into the stomach. Digestive enzymes, amylase breaks the carbohydrate down into oligosaccharides, a sugar chain consisting of more than 10, when this hits the duodenum they are further converted into monosaccharides, one sugar chain, this is a lengthy process and allows for a pulsatile and regulated amount of insulin to be released. Insulin is our most anabolic and also most Lipogenic (fat proliferation) hormone. When we eat simple carbs they are broken down immediately into monosaccharides. As they are already a simple carb, this process is much more rapid. The key here is understanding that complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and due to the higher fibre content and multiple sugar chains they call for less insulin from the pancreas. Simple carbohydrates will stimulate a very immediate and large amount of insulin, which for our bodybuilding purposes is exactly what we need. The surge in insulin will carry the carbs in the form of glycogen to our recently trained and depleted muscle tissue. Along with this the amino acids from the protein eaten with the carbs, create the perfect environment of muscle recovery development and results.

If we were an average person or have not just trained and consumed simple carbohydrates these sugars would be stored as fat. More insulin means more rapid storage, if there’s no new room in liver and muscle tissue because we just trained and made space available, we are ensuring these sugars to be rapidly shuttled off to adipose storage centres. So it becomes a little more complex, how can we maximize building muscle while staving off fat stores?

This brings up a very important point. Something called “Respiratory exchange ratio” A coefficient between 0.7 and 1.0. Normal 0.8 RER is our body using some fat and carbs. To understand this, further imagine effective fat burning cardio correct bpm, low impact being at 0.7 RER (using only fat), then think of anaerobic training 1.0 RER (using only carbs) with intense weights, ideally, we are training with ultra-high intensity and focus.

So how do we use these macros to get the greatest out of both and create effective results from what they can provide?

keto or carbsFirst regarding muscle anabolism and optimal fat burn we will call this “Muscle Maintenance Phase’: this simply means eating enough protein to stay anticatabolic and eating very little carbohydrates to allow our body to use stored fat as our primary fuel source, KETO. In the absence of carbohydrates, our body will turn fat and carbohydrate-like energy called Ketone bodies in the liver and will burn fat continually and consistently in the carbohydrate-free and insulin blunted environment.

How do we then accelerate our body’s ability to gain muscle to its greatest potential? Well, we need to create a highly anabolic environment primed for performance and recovery.

Carbs are used during every muscle contraction, they allow for more blood to flood and saturate the area with nutrients and volume (hypertrophy) for expansion of facia and fascicle alike. We certainly know what it’s like to train flat and the difference of having a carbohydrate-rich training session, carb cycling. Carbs equal insulin, our most anabolic and Lipogenic (fat gaining) hormone. So it’s all about source and timing to reap the carb rewards. Again carbs are necessary for the bodybuilding platform but they are not essential. They are a tool to help build a bigger better structure, but not foundational. As in, you take them away you will not lose muscle. Unlike if you take protein away you will lose muscle without a doubt.

A body that can recognize the fuel applied at the times necessary is a body that will produce the best in results. This is from something called effective nutrient partitioning. For example, eating carbs around training will have you fuelled, anabolic and recovering rapidly. Protein eaten at all meals will have you in a consistent anti-catabolic state.

If we are disciplined, and we are using a steady nutritional influence to the body, we can actually see, feel and track this. For example, consuming carbohydrates specific to the time or times of the day we train, we stay anabolic, not Lipogenic, we use the carbs provided and they are not lumped into excess fat storage.

Eating in a track-able and analytic way, we see our body’s recognition for specific fuel identity. Protein/fats or Carbs. We have immediate and effective fuel for our body and brain’s requirements. Eventually, you’ll notice the carbohydrate introduction into that portion of the day much more pronouncedly than if you’re always working at that RER 0.8 range. For MAXIMUM results we have to lay the foundation of protein first with some healthy essential fats, do fasted cardio and we are burning at .7 RER. When it’s time to train we pre-empt this carbohydrate fuel at an amount that works best for us, this is person to person. This has us burning at 1.0 RER. Now if we then remove carbs and go back to protein as a foundation we are burning closer to 0.7 RER using fats. So you see we can alternate back and for between these two coefficients to build muscle and not gain excess fat or to maintain muscle and get shredded.

We are a powerful machine; so much we have available to us harnessed in this meat suit. We have to recognize this power and apply the right fuels at the right times to get to our best. I always encourage people to study to learn how to amass the most knowledge possible, education after all is powerful AF. To advance to your greatest potential, I believe we need to have a coach that knows the specifics, the formulas and the details and is able to analyze your body properly to be able to apply these tactics to the greatest benefit. Our goal to always make progress, take ground moving forward and never stagnating is within our grasp. So Keto? Or carbs? Well, it’s just not that simple, ultimately we must strategize tactically and operate in the best of both worlds.