LeBron James is Cutting Carbs. Should You?

by Jenna Birch
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LeBron James is Cutting Carbs. Should You?

Basketball forward LeBron James is known for his sheer size and strength on the court—which is why instagram photos of a noticeably slimmer LeBron made such waves. Why is the NBA’s best player losing weight and how is he doing it so quickly?

The skinny on why LeBron might be cutting carbs: although we don’t have any explicit talk from the LeBron on this matter, Chris Chase at USA Today speculates that, as the star approaches age 30 and moves into the latter half of his career, he may want to drop some weight to cut down on the wear-and-tear his knees are sustaining. (Afterall, the guy is carrying around a ton of muscle.)

Another theory from Sports Illustrated suggests cutting carbs might be part of a trendy, out-of-the-box approach to training the body for endurance. Carbohydrates convert into glucose—which is great for getting revved up for a workout, since an athlete will get an adrenaline rush as he begins a run, swim, bike, or game; however, its often followed by a crash towards the middle or end of the exercise period. But when a low-carb diet is introduced to the body a metabolic shift, called ketosis, occurs after around four weeks, and the body will begin to rely on fat as its fuel source, instead of the glucose from carbs. In LeBron’s case, since his body isn’t feeding off sugar (or glucose) for fuel, he may not experience the second-half performance crash other players do, and he might be able to play close to peak for most of the game.

I checked in with Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, to see if LeBron’s approach is a good one for weight loss or better athletic performance—and she’s skeptical. “It doesn’t matter what size you are, you should not eliminate carbs or any entire food group,” says Gans. “Carbohydrates have iron, magnesium, B-vitamins, and other essential nutrients. If you eliminate a food group, your body won’t be getting the nutrients it needs.” She also notes that, according to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up the highest percentage of your diet when you look at all the food groups. That’s around 45 to 60 percent, which translates to between 900 and 1,300 calories per day if you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet.

In addition, if you’re an average active person, you probably should not compare your diet to a professional athlete, says Gans. She stresses dietary balance whether you’re looking for better athletic performance or weight loss—rather than elimination or restriction. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight should involves all food groups, carbs included. “If you eliminate a food group, you will lose weight initially,” she says. “But the question is: at what cost?” With carbs in particular, Gans predicts you’ll begin to feel fatigued, and your concentration level might drop off as your body craves a fuel source. “You’ll be running down your body. You really need to replete the glucose you use,” she says. “Elimination might be effective at first, but it’s just not sustainable.”

What can you do if you’re an amateur athlete or workout a bunch, though? Grab a snack to fuel your body the right way. A few options Gans recommends:

  • KIND bar “Easy to grab, and low in sugar. You’ll get a jolt of protein and carbs at just the right calorie amount: around 200,” says Gans.
  • Whole-wheat toast and almond butter “Again, a great mix of carbs and protein here,” says Gans.
  • A piece of fruit and Greek yogurt Ditto. “It’s got the right combo of carbs and protein,” says Gans.
  • Chocolate milk “Studies support chocolate milk being great for fueling and recovery. You get all the nutrition in one glass: just enough carbs, sugar, protein, and fat,” says Gans.

Photo: Keith Allison (Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, November 18, 2009 at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.)

Have you considered eliminating carbs from your diet, like LeBron? Or do you feel sluggish when you don’t get enough? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

About the Author

Jenna Birch

Jenna Birch is a health and lifestyle writer. She has written for many web and print publications, including Marie Claire, Runner’s World, mom.me and WomansDay.com. As a nutrition and fitness junkie, she’s a lifelong athlete, major college sports fan and developing yogi—but still can’t resist the allure of an occasional chocolate lava cake. (Everything in moderation, right?) For more, visit her at jennabirch.com or follow her on Twitter.  


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