If you’ve ever been on a low carb diet, you know there’s a period of time after you begin the diet, when you basically feel like crap. But if you’re able to get over that hump, the rewards are well worth it.
Although I don’t take many supplements, there are some that I highly recommend, if you’re currently on a low carb diet OR you’re about to embark on one. Taking these supplements have helped me get over some of the common (annoying) symptoms associated with low carb dieting.
It’s important to keep in mind that these symptoms happen to everyone, at different intensities. The severity of the symptoms can vary depending on how much your body is dependent on sugar. The more you’re used to consuming sugar, the longer it will take for your body to become fat adapted. But, don’t worry you’re not alone and taking these supplements will make your transition much easier.
Here’s a list of some key supplements that I recommend:
- First and foremost when you shift to a low carb diet, your body ends up excreting more sodium and water. This can lead to lower blood pressure and a feeling of sluggishness. These symptoms are often mistaken for low blood sugar as well and many people end up trying to alleviate these symptoms by eating sugar which only perpetuates the vicious cycle. The best solution is to increase your sodium intake. How much sodium you need really varies according to your body, but an additional 1 - 2 g of sodium per day will help. There are many ways to increase your sodium intake, but one easy way is to consume vegetable or chicken bouillon cubes. I personally add more Himalayan salt (my favorite salt) to all my cooking and even add it to my water. A dash of salt with a squeeze of lemon or lime balances out the saltiness, so you don’t feel like you’re drinking ocean water. BTW, if you’re already consuming adequate amounts of salt (2 - 4g depending on your activity level) you don’t need to be concerned about lack of sodium
- Secondly, along with sodium depletion another common mineral that gets depleted is magnesium. Lower magnesium levels can cause muscle cramping, increased muscle discomfort during intense exercise and can even affect your sleep. Some 70% of the general population don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, even without being on a low carb diet, so it’s best to make sure that you’re getting enough magnesium throughout the day. Around 200 - 500 mg of magnesium is recommended depending on your activity level. One easy way to check if you’re taking too much magnesium is the hardness of your stool…if it becomes too loose you’re taking too much.
- Thirdly, when you’re on a low carb diet, your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. The only issue is that until your body becomes efficient at burning fat as fuel, you’ll probably go through a period of time where you’ll gas out during your workouts due to glycogen depletion…especially if you’re doing high intensity workouts. Since you don’t have glucose to provide you with quick energy, your body turns to fat, except energy from fat isn’t easily accessible like glucose, which is why you end up gassing out. One way to help you avoid this is by supplementing with medium chain triglycerides (MCT). It’s the main fat content found in coconut oil. The great thing about MCT is that unlike other dietary fats, when consumed it’s utilized immediately (much like sugar) for energy, rather than being stored. It’s a great way to provide your body with much needed energy when you’re performing high intensity workouts. You can take 2 - 3 tablespoons of MCT oil or coconut oil 30 - 60 minutes before your workout. It’s important to note, that MCT can cause digestion issues, if you’ve never taken it before, so give yourself 2 - 3 weeks to let your body adapt. Start off with 1/2 tablespoons and slowly increase it every 5 - 7 days until you get up to 2 - 3 tablespoons.
- Lastly, sometimes when you’re on a low carb diet, you can experience some lean muscle loss. The lack of glucose can lower your body’s ability uptake amino acids (building blocks to help build lean muscle) from protein into your muscle for quick muscle recovery. This is one reason why consuming glucose along with easily digestible protein (like whey protein) is recommended after your workout to ensure that your muscles get the required nutrients for enhanced recovery and to promote building lean muscle rather then breaking it down. However, when you do this your insulin inevitably spikes up. This shouldn’t be a concern for most “healthy” people, but it you’re insulin resistance from being heavily sugar dependent for a long period of time, you may want to avoid any insulin spikes for awhile. This is when taking BCAA (branched chain amino acids) can really help you. BCAA’s help slow down muscle breakdown, so you can avoid lean muscle loss when you’re working out hard on a low carb diet. You can take can 5 - 10 g of BCAA before and after your workouts.
Keep in mind that these supplements are effective only if you’re on a low carb diet (50 - 100g of carbs). You should be getting majority of your nutrients from real whole foods and make sure that you’re doing the right types workouts to maximize your fat burning.