Low Carb vs High Carb for Calisthenics: Pros and Cons of Each Type of Diet?

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In recent years, “carbs” have been the subject of intense debates, particularly in the weight loss world. This is partly the result of different diets such as the ketogenic diet, high-fat vs low-fat diets, vegetarian vs carnivore, and most recently, the debate over low carbs vs high carbs diet. Like the fasted vs non-fasted cardio conundrum, this debate is one of the more contentious in the fitness world.

The concept that “carbs are bad” has baffled many people. This is because carbohydrates are significant to our health, and play a central role in preserving our energy levels and keeping a healthy diet. However, there are still many misunderstandings that abound regarding this topic. That’s why we put together this article, to delineate the pros and cons of the low carb vs. high carb diet for calisthenics.

Low Cab vs. High Carb 101

Do you remember the food pyramid? The big triangle contains bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and other starchy carbs at the bottom. These are all carbohydrates, and they form the basis of our diets are our primary source of glucose, which our bodies use for energy.

A low-carb diet is one that restricts carbohydrates, mainly found in starchy (bread and pasta) and sugary foods (candy and sweets). Instead, practitioners of this diet consume protein-rich whole foods and vegetables. Taken to its most extreme form, this regimen is also known as the keto diet. 

While there is no universal definition, consuming 50-100 grams of carbs per day is considered a low-carb diet. For the average adult, this constitutes about 10-30% of calories from carbs in a day.

A high-carb diet is a diet that incorporates a larger share of carbohydrates in your daily intake, which is around 50% of your caloric intake, and reduces the share of protein and fat intake. This diet is less restrictive in comparison to the low-carb diet.

What is the Best Diet for Calisthenics?

It is important to know that everyone has their own personal combination of the different starting points, fitness levels, goals, and different genetic makeup. Therefore, the diet you are currently following, or you intend to follow, might not necessarily work for you.

In fact, you could be following a low-carb diet, but actually, you should be consuming more carbs, and vice-versa. It all comes down to your current physical state, genetics, and your future goals. Therefore, knowing how to evaluate where you are currently, and where you want to be will determine what you SHOULD eat and what you SHOULDN’T eat. 

Someone may have different goals such as gaining weight quickly to improve their one-rep max on weighted pull-ups, dips, and squats. They may not be fussed with gaining additional fat, water retention, along with losing their athleticism in the process, as this may be more important for them to develop size and power. 

On the other hand, a person may want to build lean muscle, that is, quality dense muscle, which will take longer to develop in comparison to the former. This will improve your athleticism as you will have less fat, water retention, and weight slowing you down and decreasing your repetitions. This path could be better for endurance, statics, and freestyle athletes. 

What you eat may vary as you will need to fuel specifically for what your goals are, as this will enable you to develop the best body possible for a specific goal that you have. Each individual has their own starting point, goals, and genetic makeup, and these must factor into your dietary decisions, even if you have to arrive at them via trial-and-error.

What is a Low-carb Diet?

A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates to only about 25-30%, at most, of one’s caloric intake. Only eat when you’re hungry and stop when content, and it can be as simple as this. There is no need to calculate your calories or weigh your food.

  • Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, natural fats, fruit, nuts, seeds, and high-fat dairy
  • Avoid: Sugar and starchy foods (such as pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes)

Low-carb Pros

Weight Loss

This can be an effective and simple way to lose weight due to lower insulin intake, as carbohydrates release the insulin hormone, which is a fat-storing hormone, therefore, cutting down on carbs will help to reduce the insulin levels, which will help you to reduce weight. Research suggests that a low-carb diet, especially keto, induces rapid induction of weight loss.

Reduce Cholesterol

Having high cholesterol means that you have an exceeding amount of fatty substance, which is called cholesterol. The greatest influence on blood cholesterol level is the combination of fats and carbohydrates. By cutting down on fatty foods and eating more healthy can increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is a good, and protective cholesterol.

Lower Risk of Health Issues

According to research, low-carb diets which are rich in plant-based fats have proven to be connected with decreased cardiovascular risk and mortality. 

Low-carb Cons

Low Energy

A low carbohydrate diet can be hard to stick to and can cause you to feel tired, which could reduce concentration, and possibly constipated, as large sources of fiber are excluded. 

Difficult to Maintain

Let’s be real, a restrictive diet is very hard to maintain, therefore, your progress to shredding fat is most likely to be temporary. You could experience headaches, weakness, dizziness, and irritability, due to lower sugar levels from healthy carbs. 

Nutrient Deficiency

Consuming a limited range of food, specifically fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can cause micronutrient deficiencies. These foods are an important source of nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. This can lead to health problems. 

What is High-carb Diet?

A diet that allows for significant carbohydrate intake (i.e., 50% or more of one’s daily calories). There has been a lot of negativity around carbohydrates in recent years, despite that they are one of the primary nutrients that the body needs besides protein and fats.

  • Eat: Sweet potatoes, beets, corn, quinoa, brown rice, oats, bananas, apples, and high-carb pulses (kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils)
  • Avoid: Refined carbohydrates such as candy, sugary breakfast cereals, white pasta, white bread, white rice, and processed foods.

High-carb Pros

Less Restrictive

This is the most obvious benefit as you can consume carbs such as bread, rice, and grains, along with the tasty fruit salads you might rely on as a dessert. Indeed, it’s a bowl full of carbs. Also, your veggies are also packed with carbs. These are an important source of nutrients. 

Provide Energy

Carbs will fuel your workout as the body likes it so much. This is because glucose from carbs is transformed into the energy that your brain and muscles require to function. Your output could potentially be higher if you consume more carbs.

Longer Life Expectancy

The Blue Zones consists of countries where people live the longest and healthiest, with high numbers of centenarians, for example,  Sardinia, Italy. The classic Sardinian diet consists of: 47% whole grains; 26% dairy; 12% vegetables; 5% meat, fish, poultry. 

High-carb Cons

Less Protein

A high-carb diet could neglect protein intake, which is crucial for speeding recovery after exercise, building lean muscle, and maintaining a healthy weight. 

Weight Gain

If you consume an excess amount of carbs, your blood sugar level could spike up too high and cause you to produce more insulin, which instructs your cells to store the extra glucose as fat. This increases the risk of being overweight, which makes all aspects of calisthenics training more difficult, and increases the performance of movements such as bodyweight squats and leg raises.

Health Issues

Carbs could cause type-2 diabetes as they are converted into glucose to produce energy. Glucose is sugar, thus, a large amount of sugar in blood could increase the risk for type 2 diabetes.

Low-carb vs High-carb for Calisthenics

There are clear pros and cons to both diets, so which one is best for you? In the end, it comes down to your individual needs and goals. 

This will be the lifestyle that you’re seeking, and it needs to be something that you can stick to. As with all foods, the best tip you can take away from this is to make smart decisions and limit the bad ones that are not healthy for you. See how you feel by running each diet for two or three weeks. Stick to whichever is more sustainable for you, and which allows you to pursue your goals with greater ease.

The best diet is one that you can stick to. Consume nutrient-dense carbs that have plenty of vitamins, fiber, minerals, and consume sugar in moderation. Also, consider what are your personal goals. Is it to bulk up and maximize your strength, or is it to build lean muscle and remain athletic? The answers can, and should, influence your ultimate decision.


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