The Low-Carb Dieter's Edge


The Low-Carb Dieter's Edge

by Chris Aceto

Low carbohydrate dieters traditionally focus on food, and minimize their intake of carbohydrates in hopes of shedding unwanted fat. Unlike athletes, bodybuilders and health enthusiasts, “low carbers” have not been sticklers for nutritional supplements. That may change as caffeine can definitely enhance fat loss when combined with a low carbohydrate intake.

Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee that “wakes up” the nervous system. In waking up the nervous system, it sets in motion a chain of events that can help you get lean.

Caffeine and Fat Loss 101

Caffeine has the ability to trigger fat cells to open up, to let fatty acids -- the building blocks of body fat -- to be used as energy. The catch is carbohydrates. You see, when you take a caffeine pill or drink coffee on an empty stomach, it promotes the liberation of body fat. Fat is broken down and used as energy. Unfortunately, when carbohydrates are added, glucose derived from carbohydrates initiates the release of insulin, which dampens the fat liberating effects. And that’s some of the confusion as to the effectiveness of caffeine. Some tout it to be a fat burner, while others say the research is disappointing. The answer boils down to how it’s used. A black coffee or a coffee with cream only (no carbs from adding sugar) will help cause a mild metabolic shift where fat becomes more readily used as fuel.

However, add a couple teaspoons of sugar or a few bites of a Danish, bagel or muffin, and say good-bye to the fat burning benefits. The insulin response, a common event that occurs with eating carbohydrates, negates the fat burning effect of caffeine. Therefore, caffeine on an empty stomach can help burn fat. On the other hand, when combined with carbs, it won’t support or accelerate fat burning.

The physiological dynamics of caffeine include an increase in catecholamines, also referred to as the “fight or flight” hormones. Catecholamines refer to the hormones epinephrine and norepinepeherine, which are released during heavy bouts of exercise and during a fight or flight experience. Here's an example of a fight or flight experience: Ever been pulled over for speeding? What happens? You become alert, really alert. That’s a primary effect of catecholamines. That super alert feeling is the result of epinephrine and norepinepeherine being pumped into the blood stream. Besides feeling more alert and anxious, you also – surprise – start burning more calories. A lot of those calories are derived from body fat.

With caffeine usage and a low carbohydrate diet you experience:
• An increase in metabolic rate (total calories burned each hour)
• An Increase in lipolysis: fat breakdown

Both are exactly what any dieter wants, revved up calorie burning with a greater reliance on body fat as fuel.

A lot of dieters prefer to do aerobic work to burn extra calories and believe the ideal time to exercise is in the morning on an empty stomach. This is a very astute time to use caffeine and to keep a strict restriction on carbohydrates: whether you prefer a low carbohydrate diet or not. The caffeine will liberate fatty acids from body fat stores to provide ample fuel for the exercise. While the effect of caffeine is immediate - you can usually “feel it” upon consumption, the effects last up to 4 hours. To maximize fat loss with cardio work, you ought to perform your aerobics within 4 hours of consuming coffee or taking caffeine supplements. After the 4-hour mark, in general, the catecholamine effect wanes. The bottom line with caffeine use and exercise is that while calories are important in shedding fat, hormones also play a huge role in creating the ideal fat burning environment. To maximize your fat burning and to take advantage of peak levels of catecholamines, hit the gym within four hours (or less) of drinking coffee or taking caffeine pills.

When calories are kept low and carbs are also controlled, your body virtually becomes a fat burning machine. Internally, a metabolic shift occurs where the body thrives on fat stores as a back-up fuel source of energy. When insulin remains low and calories are kept under control, fat burning occurs around the clock. However, with all good things, there are a couple of drawbacks, and low carb diets have a flaw or two. One potential issue with low carbohydrate diets is the burning of protein. When calories and carbohydrates remain low, the body burns more fat but can also begins burning protein as a fuel source. The problem is that your muscles are made of protein ,and muscle tissue exerts a huge effect on your metabolism -- the total amount of calories you burn in any given day. When you burn muscle, you alter your metabolism causing it to slow down. The last thing any dieter needs is a slower metabolism, and protecting your muscle mass is an important step in burning body fat.

Caffeine, by its ability to promote the release of catecholamines, helps spare or prevent a burning of muscle tissue, thereby side-stepping this metabolic trap. Here’s how. When you keep your carbs low, you burn mostly fat with a very small reliance on protein. Regular caffeine consumption helps swing that balance so your body burns even more fat – it relies nearly exclusively on body fat as fuel – without tapping protein or metabolic friendly muscle mass. The result is you get leaner because you not only burn fat but prevent the loss of muscle, thereby off-setting any drop in the metabolism. By keeping catecholamine levels even slightly elevated – while at the same time keeping carbs and calories low – you’ll always be a winner at a losing game.

A Final Note

For those who might balk at regular coffee consumption, take note: Studies are showing coffee can exert an anti-diabetic effect – it actually protects you from developing diabetes. The March 10 Journal of the American Medical Association carries the latest epidemiological evidence. Two separate studies out of Europe show that heavy coffee drinkers tend to develop type 2 diabetes at lower rates than individuals who drink 2 or fewer cups a day. This is quite significant because just a few years ago it was thought that coffee may be a contributor to diabetes.