by Cade Thomas
In the mid 2000’s, many tragic things happened. Children were kidnapped, dogs were murdered, families were torn apart and terrorism was rampant. Shockingly, every single horrible event was caused directly by the disgusting and vile force known as carbohydrates. While women cried and disaster swept the human race, carbohydrates laughed in the face of mankind. How did one macronutrient become so horrendously evil? The world may never know, but dammit we fought back.
Mainstream dieting fads are cyclical in nature, and bodybuilding diets share that tendency (although we are always ahead of the curve). We are going to focus on the low-to-zero carb diets that swarmed bodybuilding roughly a decade ago. It has always been common for competitors to lower carbohydrate totals as the weeks go by in relation to their upcoming contest. In the simplest and most basic terms, calories have to be lowered for fat loss to occur, and keeping protein intake high is a safe bet to ensure muscle retention. This leaves us with the 2 stepchild micro nutrients, carbohydrates and fat.
Bodybuilders in the 90’s generally relied on lean meats and carbs for dieting purposes. As the diet progressed, more and more starchy carbs would be exchanged for fiberous ones from vegetables. Somehow, someway, things changed to a point where it seemed that most people forgot that any bodybuilder ever got ripped eating orange roughy and jasmine rice. One copy and pasted diet spread through the online bodybuilding world like wildfire.. one that still haunts our industry. You know the one….2 scoops whey, natural peanut butter….etc etc. The most basic and parroted diet of all time…the “Palumbo Diet”. Now, this article is not about Dave Palumbo or his nutrition advice, as he is a great mind in our industry and isn’t personally responsible for how ridiculous this whole scenario became. This movement of carb free dieting became so wide spread that people were ripped apart for claiming they could possibly improve body composition while ingestion anything resembling a carb. Carbs became only for the “metabolically gifted” and anyone who had ever even see a love handle was commanded to steer clear.
Personally, I have no idea how it reached such extreme levels. I found myself repeatedly forcing myself into very low carb diets even though the results sucked and I progressed much quicker eating meats and rice as a base with a balance of vegetables and fatty meats. Now, I am in no way stating that low-to-no carb diets have no place and won’t be effective for some people, or even many people. There are some people who really are carb sensitive and carbs force them to store more fat than they should. And even for someone like myself who generally is opposed to this dieting method, short phases of zero carbs can help get some fat off quickly and restore insulin sensitivity for future phases. But as a general long term approach or idealogy? I feel it was grossly over used in this period. So please consider that the majority of this article is referencing the people who feared carbs due to them being told they should and not the people who experimented and learned that it was a necessity to limit intake.
Many people even tried to use this “ketogenic” (I use quotations as a true ketogenic diet is much higher in dietary fat than the keto diet bodybuilders claim to use) in off season plan. My brain still spins at some of the AAS cycles I have read that people planned to put on tons of size…yet they wouldn’t touch an oz of sweet potato. The amount of drugs wasted due to the absence of a macronutrient so beneficial to building muscle is pretty sad in retrospect.
We are just now seeing the shift back to a sane approach to bodybuilding diets. What’s rather comical is that diet coaches and prep gurus who generally use moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates in their diets are considered cutting edge and against the grain (sorry, bad pun). How come the athletes eating them aren’t becoming obese and turning into human marshmallows? If you could go back a few years the “law” would have doomed them to a life of moo-moo clad diabetes.
I personally hope we don’t see any fads swing our entire sub culture too far one way or the other again anytime soon. Many have succeeded in the past doing things their way so for a new methodology to come that claims the old proven methods don’t work is illogical. Carbohydrates might not “build muscle” themselves but they certainly help your body build muscle. Sometimes we get too lost in minor details we lose sight of the basics. Moderation might be the enemy of a successful bodybuilder, but it definitely provides a smarter starting point.