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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 | Last updated: 2:54am

Ditching carbs risky, not healthy



As a member of the running community, I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet, which is protein and plant-based with minimal carb intake. Many of my running friends swear by it, claiming that they feel better eating mostly fat and protein instead of carbs. I, however, am skeptical.

All of my attempts to lower my carb intake left me feeling depleted on my runs, unable to move as swiftly and easily as I could when I had eaten a balanced meal. I needed carbs.

Low-carb diets like the Atkins, the Dukan and the Paleo have risen to the top of the trendy diet pack, attracting both Average Joes trying to lose weight and athletes seeking to improve their performance.

But if athletes, UA or otherwise, want to perform at their best and foster favorable long-term health, they need to maintain a well-balanced diet. Dieting fads, on the other hand, foster only poor performance and, in extreme cases, death.

Not all carbs are bad, as many people believe. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all carbohydrate sources with plentiful health benefits. They contain vitamins and minerals, nutrients that our bodies need to grow, repair and function properly.

Carbs also provide the energy that our bodies need just to perform daily activities — as well as to exercise — regularly. And we need to replenish them often, even more so if we’re very active.

According to Jennifer Ricketts, a UA faculty member and registered dietician, the body needs some carbohydrates in order for its metabolic systems to function properly.

But though the body contains unlimited fat stores and lots of muscle, it can only store a limited amount of carbs. When the glucose from carbs runs out, fatty acids accumulate and produce ketones, which form when fat in the cells is not completely broken down.

Too many ketones in the body cause acidic pH levels, known as ketoacidosis, which could kill.

Other cells without the capacity to use fats as energy, like red blood cells, are totally reliant on carbs. Without the carbs they need, these cells will start to eat away at protein tissue and muscles.

It’s apparent that replenishing carbohydrates regularly is critical for anyone’s health, especially an athlete’s.

Athletes also need carb intake more than others do because of the recovery period they engage in after a workout. Optimally, the body needs a 3.5:1 carbs-to-protein ratio post-workout so that it can replenish its glycogen stores as well as repair the muscles torn during exercise.

Depleted glycogen stores can cause fatigue. When combined with a diet lacking enough calories or a variety of nutrients for proper maintenance — like a low-carb plan — repairing bones, muscles and organs is significantly more difficult.

Though low-carb diets could work for some, they must first be given trial runs. This period of adaptation, not ideal for any athlete during training and racing periods, is necessary in order to determine whether these diets will be an effective energy source. If the body is able to adapt, it will use less energy and feel satisfied faster at meals, and it may experience euphoric feelings from the higher ketone levels.

But even with the knowledge of these potential benefits, Ricketts still warns about the long-term damage, such as acidic pH levels, that low-carb diets can inflict on the body.

The risk is just too great. Without the nutrients that carbohydrates provide, athletes put their best performance, long-term health and even their lives at danger.

So, instead of monitoring every calorie and carb that enters your body, you should pick up the foods that will nourish it. Your body can perform at high levels, but only if you fuel it right.

Eleanor Ferguson is a pre-journalism freshman. Follow her @DailyWildcat.


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