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Low-carb diet doesn't mean loss of muscle mass or strength

Gymnasts who want to lose weight can safely follow a low-carb diet. This won't cost them their strength or explosiveness, researchers at the University of Padua in Italy discovered. According to the Italians, gymnasts who follow a low-carb diet for a month lose one and a half kg of body fat and also build up a small amount of lean body mass.

Low-carb diet doesn't mean loss of muscle mass or strength

In the experiment that the Italians published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, nine male gymnasts from the Corpo Libero Gymnastics Team ASD functioned as test subjects. They were among the top gymnasts in the country and two of them were on the Italian national team. The men trained for thirty hours a week.

The researchers studied the performance capacity of the gymnasts during two periods of 30 days. During one of the periods the athletes ate 'normally'. The energy in their diet was derived for about 45 percent from carbohydrates, 40 percent from fat and 15 percent from proteins. The athletes consumed about 2270 kcal per day.

During the other period the athletes were put on a strict very low carb diet. The basic foodstuffs allowed were leafy vegetables, olive oil, fish and meat. Alcohol, bread, pasta, rice, milk and yoghurt (most dairy products contain more carbohydrates than proteins) were forbidden.

In addition the men used low-carb readymade meals from Gianluca Mech. [] The athletes also took a low-dose multivitamin, also produced by Gianluca Mech. Gianluca Mech helped finance the study, and the first author of the study also works as a consultant for the company.

The energy in the very low carb diet was derived for 55 percent from fat, for 40 percent from protein and for 5 percent from carbohydrates. The gymnasts consumed 1970 kcal per day. Their protein intake was high: 2.8 g per kg bodyweight per day. The low-carb diet was therefore also a high-protein diet.

Before and after each period the researchers tested the performance capacity of the gymnasts. They found no effects. JS = jump squat; CMJ = counter movement jump.

Low-carb diet doesn't mean loss of muscle mass or strength

Low-carb diet doesn't mean loss of muscle mass or strength

In older studies low carb food has led to a decrease in performance capacity. But in those days researchers didn't take into account that the body needs a week to get used to a low-carb diet. The Italians didn't make this mistake.

"Our data suggest that athletes who underwent a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diets with adequate protein intake lost weight and improved body composition without any negative changes in strength and power performance", the Italians conclude in the last section of their article. "In conclusion, this dietetic approach in the short term could be helpful in sports that involve weight categories."

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul 26;9(1):34.

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