Carb-free: If King James does it, should you?

Basketball fans were buzzing this week over LeBron’s reduced-carb diet and reported weight loss (because, hey, what else can you cover in the off-season?)

Many of us non-sports stars are now asking, if the Sports Illustrated fittest athlete in the world  is cutting carbs, should we be rethinking our diet mix?

In the context of working out, training for fall marathons, or playing sports, don’t take LeBron’s choice as gospel for high performance. Leslie Bonci, RD, a nutrition consultant for many major sports teams, cautions “our muscles need carbs for quick energy, protein for muscle repair, and fat for the long haul- so don't shortchange.” For strength, Leslie says adequate protein and carbohydrates AND when you consume them matters. She recommends 12-20 grams of protein and 35 grams of carbs pre- and post-lifting (check out her blog post for how to customize your diet for strength, endurance, and even stop-and-go sports like soccer).

Big picture, when you eat most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. Glucose is the primary fuel utilized by the brain and working muscles, and you aren’t doing your muscles any favors by eliminating foods that create it.

But what if you’re just looking to slim down? LeBron is definitely looking trim on his new low-carb kick, and maybe you don’t need to worry about upping your athletic performance right now.

Carbohydrates are a source of calories, and if you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. The important thing is that you choose carbohydrates wisely and include plenty of foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products, without going over the right number of calories for you (SuperTracker has a great tool to find this number). So why do people seem to lose weight going carb-free?

“Because the majority of our calories come from carbohydrate sources, it makes sense that cutting back on carbs could reduce one’s total calories and therefore help with weight loss,” says Kris Sollid, RD, IFIC Associate Director for Nutrients. “However, this doesn’t mean that carbs are the enemy of weight loss. Someone who tries to cut calories by severely restricting or eliminating carbohydrates should understand that just because a diet supports weight loss, doesn’t mean it supports health.”

We wish LeBron a great and healthy season, and hope he gets all the nutrients he needs to keep his performance high on the court!


For more on carbohydrates, check out our Frequently Asked Questions About Sugars and Carbohydrates


Article Image, right, from Business Insider, August 6, 2014