The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Low Carbs: The Diet and Singing

Before I start, I am not demonizing anybodies diet of choice, I've done that enough and I'm tired of it (for the time being.) However, I am going to delve into the consequences of living that low carb life and having to sing a bunch.

When the general public thinks of carbs, they think of comfort food such as starchy potatoes, breads, pancakes, buns, rolls, cookies, brownies. All the good shit in life. However, carbs come from lots of different food sources. Marketing, fitness, and dietary industries have painted carbs to be a negative thing over the past few years, when in reality, without even some trace carbs, you're not gonna make it through most days. At least pleasantly.

Some explanation of carbs is required before I continue...

Scroll down if the thought of learning pisses you off. I completely understand.

Carbs explained.

What are carbs?

Carb = Carbohydrate: any of a large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose. They contain hydrogen and oxygen in the same ratio as water (2:1) and typically can be broken down to release energy in the animal body.

Here is a large list of carbs and their nutritional information.

How do carbs work in the body?

Glucose is the carbohydrate transported by the bloodstream to the various tissues and organs, including the muscles and the brain, where it will be used as energy. If the body does not need glucose for energy, it stores glucose in the liver and the skeletal muscles in a form called glycogen.

If glycogen stores are full, glucose is stored as fat. Glycogen stores are used as an energy source when the body needs more glucose than is readily available in the bloodstream (for example, during exercise). The body has limited storage capacity for glycogen. *

*From Martin Berkhan of * carbs can only be converted to fat by a process called de novo lipogenesis (DNL). This metabolic pathway is very ineffective in humans and in studies it only comes into play during massive carbohydrate overfeeding. How come people still got fat from eating all those low fat foods back when low fat was the craze? Well, the body has the ability to upregulate key enzymes involved in the DNL pathway, making carb to fat conversion more efficient. And this occurs on high carb/low fat diets. So, there is no tricking the body from gaining weight during caloric excess by excluding fat or carbs from the diet. 

Carbohydrate spares the use of protein as an energy source. When carbohydrate consumption is inadequate, protein is broken down to make glucose to maintain a constant blood glucose level. However, when proteins are broken down they lose their primary role as building blocks for muscles. In addition, protein breakdown may result in an increased stress on the kidneys, where protein byproducts are excreted into the urine. *Their stress on the kidneys has been highly debated over the past few years, and it's something I will write about more in the future.*

Finally, glucose is essential for the central nervous system. The brain primarily uses glucose as its energy source, and a lack of glucose can result in weakness, dizziness, and low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Reduced blood glucose during exercise decreases performance and could lead to mental as well as physical fatigue.

Here is a scientific break down of the chemistry behind the process, if you care.

Why low carb is bull shit.


When we consume carbohydrates, our body sends out a signal to produce insulin to reduce blood sugar levels. People like to blame insulin for our woes, saying that it causes obesity. However, high levels of insulin are a result of obesity, they are not the cause of obesity. Insulin is important to the body. It allows blood sugar (or glucose) to get into cells to provide them with energy. 

In other words: Insulin is the regulator of energy, there is no magical fat loss properties to maintaining your insulin levels by monitoring your sugar/carb intake.

Monitoring your sugar intake is necessary In type 1 diabetes, where the body does not produce Insulin. For people who inject insulin, they notice some initial weight gain. However, insulin therapy itself does not induce weight gain. The weight gain is usually because if a diabetes treatment is working, the body begins to process blood glucose more normally, and the result can be weight gain. (This is one reason unexplained weight loss can be an early symptom of diabetes.)

Carbs will not inherently make you fatter. When carbs are consumed, metabolism switches to glucose dependence; that is, while carbs do not get converted to fat, they do inhibit fat metabolism to a point where dietary fats are more readily stored.

People who are on low carb diets tend to make up for their lack of carb intake by increasing their dietary fat and protein. This is just as easily a flawed weight loss venture. Dietary fat is stored easily as body fat without the presence of carbs or insulin. If you over eat on protein and fat, you'll store it just as easily as carbs.

Fat metabolism increase when fat intake is increased, but it is primarily dietary fats that are burned off, not fat stored in adipose tissue. For the latter to occur, energy balance needs to be negative. Energy can't just disappear and an excess is stored.

Why and how low carb diets work.

Carbohydrates promote water retention; protein acts like a diuretic. However, once the effects of dehydration even out, the weight loss difference between a high protein/low carb to a moderate protein/moderate carb were identical. Meaning the low carb diet may give you faster immediate results, but it's not more effective than just a normal calorie restriction diet.

Again, with the restriction of carbs come the increased intake of protein. What increased protein usually occurs is diet induced thermogenesis (DIT). Because of the thermogenic effect of protein, meaning your calorie absorption of protein is actually 20-35% of its total caloric value, you're creating more of a calorie deficit that you're used to. The added metabolic advantage is due to protein and not specifically related to the low carb element.

There is also higher satiation effect on ketogenic diets, which may help initially. And one must also consider those who are insulin sensitive or have insulin resistance. Physiologically, some people may have better responses to a diet low in carbs. There are genetic outliers in all dietary practices. 


Carbohydrate Study at Iowa State University
Lean Gains on Low Carbs
Malcolm Gladwell

Here's my Break Down of the situation:

You don't need to reduce your carbs to nothing and fill your diet with meat and nuts in order to lose weight. Honestly, the ideas behind it are not really sustainable (in my opinion) and I would be not able to do the kind of regular lifting that I do without the benefits of carbs. There are easier, safer, and more optimal ways to lose weight while maintaining muscle mass.

However, I do feel that there is a place for having low carb or even no carb days. Carb cycling has a very explosive affect on helping people break past plateaus and reach lower body fat percentages. It sucks hardcore. As I talk about frequently, I utilized it with great affect to achieve the low body fat percentage and lean scrappy look for Frank Maurrant in Street Scene. However, that was easily the most miserable I have ever been with my dieting. I was moody, aggressive, tired, and I had dreams about chocolate chip cookies. DREAMS!!!

*Side Note: Street Scene fell on the week of My birthday. I was dieting really hard, so I decided to gave myself a cheat day on my day of birth. This cheat day was so bad. I had a giant plate of chocolate chip cookies with heaping scoops of peanut butter, a big-ass glass of milk, A Pizza, cheeseburger, french fries, and a cheesecake cupcake. That day was awesome, but I felt so full. I pulled my first 400lb deadlift the next day. True Story, Bro.*

Singing and low carbs

Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, singing and performing is a very physically demanding activity...if you're doin it correctly. Singing a big, beautiful (or not so beautiful) high note requires a great deal of musculature, anybody that says differently doesn't have a good understanding of either how loud (or resonant, or whatever you want to say to indicate being "audible") you are required to be to sing over an orchestra in a 3,000 seat hall, or has a very limited understanding of human anatomy. Although I've always been of the camp that believes great singing (at least for males) is controlled screaming, I understand why people find that so distressing and taboo. Regardless, anybody that's ever sung a full role knows that it is an exhausting adventure, regardless if its physical or vocal (or maybe both.)

How many calories one burns while singing really has too many factors to quantify. How much you're singing, what you're wearing, how warm are the lights. How difficult is the singing, staging or both of them combined. How big of a person are you, are you in great shape, are you in terrible shape. Stress and fight or flight mode and how it affects the individual greatly affect the physical experience as well.

Depending on the aggressiveness of your vocal technique, you may also be engaging a great deal of chest compression, abdominal lean, or lat stimulation. Those muscle groups are quite large, and they require a great deal of energy. Anytime I'm under fed and I have to sing a great deal, my lats are the first thing to feel exhausted. I lean on them aggressively with my "breath support." Whenever I was on my low carb cycling days, singing was exhausting.

Rather than say singing without enough carbs, I'll say singing while energetically underfed. If you do this you may notice: Less focus, sagging energy (I've also heard this translate to sagging pitch), complete apathy for the dramatic demands of the scene, and more vocal exhaustion as the support muscles fail to provide. (These are the things I notice from personal experience and the experience I've heard from others.)

The point I'm trying to make is this, you may not need to carb up like you're a professional athlete, sipping on a simple sugar source like Gatorade the whole night so you can perform optimally, however, draining yourself of carbohydrates is going to leave something lacking in your performance.

How many carbs do I need??

That's up to every individual and what that individual is attempting to do or attempting to look like. If you're trying to just sing well, carb up to the point where you feel satiated but not exhausted and bloated and full.  Don't carb up so much that you spike your insulin through the roof and need a nap. I strongly suggest people to find the amount of carb intake that best suits their performance needs. If you can't sing (or train) well on anything below 300 grams of carbs, then find out how you can consume that much and maintain the body you want. You might have to do a lot of HIIT cardio to earn those carbs, but thats your cross to bear, not mine.

If you need to look good (or need to be partially naked on stage) and you haven't prepared yourself with months of proper conditioning like you needed to, you may consider carb cycling in combination with cardio, and a calorie deficit. On performance days, give yourself enough carbs to sing the role well, don't stuff yourself, use the weeks before to give yourself a test run and find the parameters that give you energy, but don't make you look and feel all puffy.

Alright, that's all I got for now. If you have thoughts or think I'm an idiot or a jackass, tell me in the comments below!


  1. How come people still got fat from eating all those low fat foods back when low fat was the craze? Well, low carb diet

  2. Thanks. I have read many of your post, it really good and interesting.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I never got any better explanation regarding low carbs before. Thanks a ton for sharing your knowledge in this beautiful blog.

    Mantis Hugo
    Pure Noni Juice

  5. Hi, thanks for this explanation on low carb diets.

    Jenny - Pressure Cookers HQ

  6. I've been in a low carb diet with the 3 Day Military diet and I can say that it made me lose 8 pounds, which was great! I think the veggies, fruits, lean meat and no sugar during the duration of the diet helped me a lot. I also exercised with my sister doing light weights and cardio exercises such as running, cycling and brisk walking. I love the set meals that made me aware of what food I'm eating. I also appreciated the fact that having no sugar for 3 days was detox for me! For more information, see this site:

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