In today’s article, which is a continuation of parts #1 and #2 on how athletes benefit from carbohydrates, we will briefly discuss two areas that are vastly misunderstood and impacted by the consumption of carbohydrates. And that is how carbohydrates influence both hormone levels and muscle growth, as well as fat loss.
SPARES MUSCLE AND ASSISTS IN MUSCLE GROWTH EFFORTS
Insulin is essential in preventing protein breakdown or degradation and sparing precious muscle mass. One of the primary ways insulin accomplishes this is by inhibiting the stress hormone Cortisol from inhibiting the extremely powerful and influential amino acid known as Leucine which is partly responsible for muscle growth. Moreover, Insulin activates and influences several key pathways involved in muscle growth, including the protein MTOR, which is a vastly popular sub-topic in muscle building arena these days. So much that MTOR has been labeled as one of the most important muscle-building factors in the human body at this point. In case you are wondering MTOR stands for Mammalian Target of Rapamycin.
Last but not least, Insulin has impacts on testosterone levels and eventual muscle building since it works to prevent testosterone from binding to SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin), which naturally reduces Testosterone’s ability to operate and grow muscle. With that being said, you might be wondering how much of an influence carbohydrates actually have on Testosterone levels specifically. As I just mentioned, when we decide to ingest and digest carbohydrates, the Insulin released from cells in our pancreas will prevent a hormone by the name of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) from attaching itself to Free Testosterone circulating through our bloodstream. What happens afterward is that your potential to grow muscles and other tissue is improved overall.
Moreover, I was able to locate a fantastic study that examined the effects low carbohydrate diets had on Testosterone levels. In this particular study, researchers studied two groups of male athletes. One group consumed moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates (60% of caloric intake), while the other group consumed low quantities of carbs (30% of caloric intake). After 3 consecutive days of high-intensity training, blood samples were taken from each group, measuring each group’s testosterone-to-cortisol ratio. The control group only showed a 3% decrease in T while the low carb group showed a pitiful 43% drop in T. 1 Keep in mind, the exercise protocol did not involve heavy-weight training, so it would be interesting to see the effects of pre and post-percentage drops in each group with very high amounts of muscular damage induced from resistance training protocols. So, when it comes to preventing injury and enhancing recovery, our body naturally desires higher amounts of testosterone to get the job done, as I’m sure all of you know by now, and carbohydrates really benefit us in this arena.
INCREASES FAT LOSS PRODUCTIVITY
You may have already heard the popular notion that “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” I realize that the statement I just made may throw folks up in arms, but it’s a pretty sound scientific statement when you honestly and objectively consider its meaning. There is no denying that when there is an intentional shortage of carbohydrates, the body can scrounge and make glucose from a number of sources to fill in the gap. But for now, I just want to discuss one aspect and a real-life observation that you should ponder. When you eat fewer carbohydrates, you effectively reduce your fat-burning ability to some degree. Nothing good can come from this if you are competing or active in any way while this situation occurs. “That is to say; maximal fat utilization cannot occur without carbohydrates to continue Krebs Cycle activity. When an endurance athlete “hits the wall,” it is the result of fatigue created by severely lowering and making glycogen. This occurs even though there is sufficient oxygen being delivered to the muscles and an abundance of potential energy from fat stores.”2,3,4 The statement from the study is extreme but applicable to any appreciable level of activity.
#1-Lane, A R, et al. “Influence of Dietary Carbohydrate Intake
on the Free Testosterone: Cortisol Ratio Responses to Short-Term
Intensive Exercise Training.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National
Library of Medicine, 20 Dec. 2009.
#2-Shils, Maurice E., and Vernon R. Young. Modern Nutrition in
Health and Disease. Lea & Febiger, 1988.
#3- Rose, William C. “Amino Acid Requirements Of Man.”
Nutrition Reviews, vol. 34, no. 10, 2009, pp. 307–309.,
#4- Martineau, A, et al. “Simultaneous Determination of Glucose
Turnover, Alanine Turnover, and Gluconeogenesis in Human Using a
Double Stable-Isotope-Labeled Tracer Infusion and Gas
Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry Analysis.” Advances in
Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 1985,