I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ).
This stems from the work done by Cordain, Eaton and others whose research found that the majority of paleo and hunter gatherer diets are lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fat than today’s diet. A diet high in refined carbohydrate diets is not healthy – especially the standard western diet, where carbohydrates are eaten far in excess of requirements.
Of course you don’t need to count carbs, but in my observation, many in the paleo world do not eat enough carbs. Do you know how much carb would have vegetable juice only from spinach salad and celery 32 oz? While this may be the impression that you have or it may even have been stated in comments by those who jump to conclusions, this has never been the position of any leading proponents of low carb eating that I have read: such as Gary Taubes. Surely it is up to each of us to find out the level of dietary carbohydrate that we can tolerate? And yes for the most part I am talking to people who have some weight to lose but are generally healthy.
If you were to have more than 1 cup of the “non carbs” would you consider them a carb then? Before I discuss the clinical research on carbohydrate intake and thyroid hormone levels, allow me to get a little ‘unscientific’ and report some anecdotal findings noted by myself and others. Well, I never did move to Queensland, but something did change dramatically around 3 years ago.
In late 2008, I had successfully reduced my serum ferritin (a reliable marker for bodily iron levels) to the average levels of a teenager. This development could not have come at a better time, as I’d just bought a single speed bike that I used, not for commuting, posing or pub-crawling, but for hill climbing. My thyroid status was finally getting some love, in the form of carbohydrates, and giving me back plenty in the form of improved cold tolerance.
Before we delve into the science, let me also report the results experienced by some very large men whose livelihoods depend on being able to achieve insanely low body fat levels. Those of you who follow competitive bodybuilding will no doubt be aware that Jay Cutler and Branch Warren scored first and second place in the 2009 Mr. Warren, meanwhile, did what few thought a relative newcomer to the Olympia could do and pulled off a surprise second with his excellent combination of cuts, size and symmetry. In fact, the entire contest was characterized by a higher than usual standard of physiques. Had renegade scientists working in clandestine underground labs formulated some super-powerful new steroid? George Farah, the nutrition consultant who guided Branch to his impressive second place in the Olympia, was perplexed at the widespread use of low-carbohydrate diets in bodybuilding. Farah reported he often had clients on very low-carbohydrate diets coming to see him, exhibiting low morning temperatures of 96?F that quickly rose when he increased their carbohydrate intake. Harry Rambod, the consultant who helped Cutler reclaim his Olympia title in stunning fashion, also shunned the use of low-carb eating and instructed his trainee to eat 750 grams of carbohydrate per day[Gwartney].
While bodybuilding is a somewhat subjective endeavour, professional sports are unmercifully objective. There will be a certain segment of people reading what I’ve just written, the kind that loses bowel control and screams “steroids!!” upon seeing anyone with a neck circumference bigger than a broomstick, that will poo-poo any mention of bodybuilders. Before we delve into the science, a quick explanation of the key thyroid hormones is in order. In the early 1970s, researchers from the University of Vermont published the results of the landmark Vermont experimental obesity studies, in which young men were deliberately overfed for seven months. The first of these experiments involved closely supervised volunteer inmates from Vermont State Prison. Before and after the mixed diet overfeeding phase, the volunteers spent four weeks consuming maintenance level high-carbohydrate or low-carbohydrate diets. During maintenance eating, levels of T3 (triiodothyronine) were higher on the high-carb diet. In the men overfed fat for 3 months, there was no change in mean T3 levels before and after the diet. The second series of experiments involved 17 subjects housed at the General Clinical Research Center of the University of Vermont. The differences were much more pronounced when the results for eucaloric and hypocaloric diets were tabulated.
Another group followed a “protein-supplemented modified fast” for six weeks, eating a low-calorie zero-carb diet consisting of nothing but lean meat, fish, fowl, and vitamin and mineral supplements. The Vermont findings indicate that during short-term experiments, eucaloric and hypocaloric low-carb diets decrease levels of the all-important thyroid hormone T3. Because concentrations of T4 were unaltered in most of the experiments, it appears that higher caloric and carbohydrate intakes increase T3 levels by accelerating the conversion of T4 to the more active T3, rather than directly stimulating secretion of T3 from the thyroid gland [Danforth 1979]. The Vermont studies were hardly the only ones to find a negative impact of low-carbohydrate intakes on thyroid hormones. Spaulding et al found that 800-calorie diets containing no carbohydrate (20 percent protein, 80 percent fat) mimicked the fall in T3 found during starvation. In a study by UCLA researchers, six normal weight subjects followed 5 different diets for 5 days each. Not surprisingly, T3 levels declined significantly during fasting, the decrease being greater in men than women. In an additional experiment, four subjects were again fasted and then re-fed with only 25 grams of carbohydrate daily for 4 days. Average carbohydrate intake in grams was 250 grams on the standard diet, 71 grams on the low-carbohydrate diet, and 533 grams on the high-carbohydrate diet. Fery et al studied the effects of a 4-day isocaloric dietary replacement of carbohydrate by fat in six healthy subjects. Hendler and Bonde admitted seventeen obese but otherwise healthy subjects to the Yale Adult General Clinical Research Center, where they spent one month under close medical supervision.
In yet another group, the fasting phase was eliminated and the glucose diet (100 grams) was given immediately after the mixed diet.
For six weeks, six moderately obese, untrained subjects ate a zero-carb diet of lean meat, fish, or fowl, supplemented with minerals and vitamins and providing 500-750 calories per day.
Atkins-sponsored Volek et al examined the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet delivering a mean 46 grams of carbohydrate per day on body composition and hormonal responses in normal-weight young men, most of whom were recreational excercisers. All the abovementioned studies examined the effect of altering carbohydrate intake on thyroid hormone levels. I know this article is focused on carbohydrate’s effect on thyroid hormone levels, but what about the effect of keeping carbohydrate intake constant and only altering levels of protein and fat? Ullrich and colleagues compared two diets of equal carbohydrate content, one containing 35% protein, 30% fat, and 35% carbohydrate, the latter 10% protein, 55% fat, and 35% carbohydrate. Almost everyone assumes that low thyroid function equals excess weight gain, and that if only they could get their thyroid humming along like a Keonig-tuned Ferrari, eternal leanness is theirs for the taking. Researchers, for example, have observed almost no difference in various measures of energy expenditure and body composition in obese individuals with normal thyroid function and subclinical hypothyroidism (of the numerous measurements taken, only resting energy expenditure per kilogram of fat free mass was significantly different and lower, and only in the most severely hypothyroid patients)[Tagliaferri]. Which makes it less surprising to learn that treatment of obesity with thyroid hormone has delivered lacklustre results. Indeed, as explained in great length in The Fat Loss Bible, tightly controlled metabolic ward trials dating all the way back to 1935 repeatedly show no difference in fat-derived weight loss on isocaloric high- and low-carbohydrate diets, no matter what the caloric intake. However, the longest lasting of these trials is around 2 months, which leaves open the possibility that the changes in thyroid levels seen on low-carb diets could cause unfavourable effects on weight status over the longer term, especially in susceptible subjects. Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher, physical conditioning specialist, and author of the groundbreaking books The Fat Loss Bible, The Great Cholesterol Con and Whole Grains, Empty Promises. Disclaimer: All content on this web site is provided for information and education purposes only.
This is a collection of motivation posters I created, covering low-carb food, diet and fitness motivation. Sharing: I would be delighted if you decide to share these on your website or with your followers on social networks, however, please always retain the credit on the bottom of each image, and link back to this page if possible. I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. However it needs to be noted (again) that this may be because of the dietary availability of carbohydrates, and the higher availability of protein sources.


Very low carbohydrate diets are widely promoted for weight loss, and the low carbohydrate trend has become entwined with paleo eating. Most feel better on a moderate carb diet, which is still a lot lower in carbs than the standard western diet, and more importantly if you eat a paleo diet, you will be cutting out the damaging carbohydrates.
I also see many CrossFitters eating low carb diets and suffering – low energy, poor recovery, sleep problems, adrenal fatigue. This is because they eat lots of volume of vegetables, but not enough of the carbohydrate containing ones.
It was as close as I could get to net carbs, there is a lot of variation in foods, so this should be seen as a rough guideline. I juice every morning but only leafy green like spinach lettuce, celery lime lemon, cucumber, no beet no carot, how should I count it?
So, I am considering backing off protein a little and increasing carbs a little to see if this will help increase my energy and workout recovery. Rest assured, I’ll tie these observations in with plenty of published research when I’m done.
Doing so has been shown to cause significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and glycemic control in both diabetic and non-diabetic folks.
More carbs meant quicker glycogen replenishment, which meant more frequent and intense rides, which meant improved fitness and cadence, which meant continually improving times.
Many bodybuilders and strength athletes had embraced these diets as eagerly as the general population, but needless to say, the nutritional needs of individuals performing intense daily training differ greatly to someone who spends their day staring at a computer in a seated position.
The rest is history - on the front cover of its January 2010 issue, popular bodybuilding magazine Muscular Development exclaimed “CARBS ARE BACK!” The prodigal son of bodybuilding nutrition had returned, and with a vengeance. Intakes of up to 900 grams of carbohydrate per day, for example, are par for the course in professional road cyclists during the Tour de France[Saris WHM]. Before doing so, they should remember this: bodybuilders tend to be ‘early adopters’ of nutrition trends and the strategies they embrace routinely go on to be widely used by the general population (examples include whey protein, omega-3 fat supplementation, low-GI foods, meal replacement shakes, multiple daily meals). That these men gained weight, ending up an average of twenty-five percent above their ideal bodyweight, was hardly an earth-shattering finding.
During the overfeeding experiment, one group consumed a hypercaloric mixed (high-carb) diet for 7 months, while another group ate a hypercaloric high-fat diet for 3 months from primarily fat. Thyroid hormone levels were measured at the end of each maintenance period, and after the overeating phase.
When subjects on the low-carb diet began eating the higher-carb mixed weight gain diet, their T3 levels rose. These subjects consumed a variety of diets, varying in caloric and macronutrient content, for periods of 1-6 weeks each. Serum concentrations of T3 increased whether the volunteers were overfed with carbs (25% increase), protein (17%), or fat (29%).
Over longer time frames, this finding may also extend to hypercaloric diets that result in significant weight gain. Over the years, an abundance of research has gathered to indicate that, for those who wish to maintain optimal thyroid function, very low-carbohydrate diets aren’t a wise idea.
Total fasting resulted in a fifty-three percent reduction in serum T3, while the 2-week zero-carbohydrate diets exhibited a similar 47 percent decline in serum T3. Three of the diets provided 2100 calories and 104, 202 and 409 grams of carbohydrate daily. Fereidoun Azizi took forty-five obese subjects and studied them after 4 days of fasting and then after re-feeding with 800-calorie diets of varying composition. Re-feeding with protein or fat failed to restore the low serum T3, but re-feeding with a mixed diet resulted in a progressive rise of serum T3 to pre-fasting values (from 112 ng with fasting to 150 ng after 4 days of re-feeding). This small amount of carbohydrate was able to raise fasting levels of T3 from a mean 110 ng to 136 ng.
The experimental ketogenic diet was preceded and followed by a 3-day period on a mixed diet.
During this time, they spent 3-5 days on a weight maintenance diet then followed one of two extremely-low-calorie diets for 21 days. Kenneth Burman and colleagues from the Walter Reed Army and National Naval Medical Centers studied obese subjects during consecutive periods of differing diets. Despite the extremely low calorie consumption during the glucose-only phase, there was no decline in T3 values. Serum concentrations of T3 decreased thirty-three percent and rT3 increased 72 percent after one week of the diet. Levels of various hormones were measured whilst the men were following their habitual high carbohydrate diet, then during and after six weeks of the carbohydrate-restricted diet. Calories were adjusted so that each individual could maintain their weight throughout the study, but each individual consumed at least 200 grams of carbohydrate daily. The human hormonal network is amazingly intricate, with an endless array of feedback loops that impact upon hormonal output and function in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. In a 1984 report, minor weight loss was seen with treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism, but bodyweight gradually returned to pre-treatment levels at 24 months[Hoogwerf].
Numerous clinical studies have compared the effect of low-carb and high-carb diets on dietary induced thermogenesis (the increase in metabolism that occurs after a meal) and overall energy expenditure. The thyroid gland and the hormones it secretes have a profound effect on your overall health and energy levels.
Study on food intake and energy expenditure during extreme sustained exercise: The Tour de France. Effect of carbohydrate and noncarbohydrate sources of calories on plasma 3,5,3'-triiodothyronine concentrations in man. Effect of dietary composition on fasting induced changes in serum thyroid hormones and thyrotropin. Effects of slimming and composition of diets on V02 and thyroid hormones in healthy subjects.
Hormonal and metabolic changes induced by an isocaloric isoproteinic ketogenic diet in healthy subjects. The effect of varying carbohydrate content of a very-low-caloric diet on resting metabolic rate and thyroid hormones. Sucrose substitution in prevention and reversal of the fall in metabolic rate accompanying hypocaloric diets. Glucose modulation of alterations in serum iodothyronine concentrations induced by fasting.
Capacity for moderate exercise in obese subjects after adaptation to a hypocaloric, ketogenic diet. Effect of low-carbohydrate diets high in either fat or protein on thyroid function, plasma insulin, glucose, and triglycerides in healthy young adults.
Subclinical hypothyroidism in obese patients: relation to resting energy expenditure, serum leptin, body composition, and lipid profile.
Individuals wishing to make changes to their dietary, lifestyle, exercise or medication regimens should do so in conjunction with a competent, knowledgeable and empathetic medical professional. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Quality carbohydrates eaten in the context of a paleo diet will be less that the standard diet.
I then experimented with Atkins, thinking this must be the ultimate in avoiding carbs, and gave myself some sort of terrible hormonal imbalance – my skin was shocking, periods irregular, no energy, just a mess. Don’t have any food issues other than enjoy eating sugary food which I stopped since Paleo became my way of eating. What followed was a predictable annual cycle, where winter would roll around and I’d freeze my ass off, despite wearing so many layers of clothing I could’ve doubled for the Michelin Man. In my case, the improvements were more than “significant” – after years of having to follow a low-carb diet due to poor carbohydrate tolerance, the results were nothing short of remarkable. Eschewing gears and relying on good old brute force to get up steep hills dramatically increased the intensity of my rides. Eventually, my ride times would improve to the point where I was doing faster climbs on a heavy-assed steel-framed single speed (purchased for $400) than what I once did on my feather-light, uber-expensive carbon fiber road bike! I didn’t need to dress as heavily, I didn’t need as much covering on my bed, my hands didn’t feel cold all the time, and I wasn’t continually fantasizing about relocating to Queensland. While the body views calorie restriction as a stressful response, it gets doubly concerned when carbohydrate availability drops.


And those of you who've seen the pictures of these guys will know that their condition was mind-blowing: deep cuts, full muscles, and a healthy glow rather than the all-too-common dehydrated and drawn-out appearance. He had Warren consume as much as 1,000 grams of carb per day in his preparation for the Olympia[Gwartney]. During the 2010 Tour Down Under the Adelaide Hilton, which serves as the base camp for riders and team staff, dished up 3,800 kilograms of pasta, noodles and rice, 3,000 bananas, 10,000 x 300 ml bottles of juice, along with 1,400 kilograms of chicken, fish, beef and pork, and 6,000 eggs[The Advertiser]. And that’s why low-carbohydrate diets never caught on in the world of athletics; it’s all well and good for armchair Internet gurus to wank on about low-carb diets and “fat adaptation”, but when you’re a pro athlete with thousands and often millions of dollars in prize money and endorsements on the line, you simply can’t afford to have your glycogen-depleted butt being kicked around like a soccer ball by your competitors. The popularity of low-carb diets has been waning ever since 2004 and the news that those at the highest levels of bodybuilding are abandoning low-carb nutrition does not bode well for the future of this paradigm. It affects almost every physiological process in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, body temperature, and heart rate. What was surprising was that the men required fifty percent more calories to maintain this new heavier weight than they did at their usual lean weights. Baseline differences in metabolism between the two groups were ruled out, as there was no difference in total calories required to maintain initial lean weights.
For an average adult, the amount of carbohydrate consumed during the high- and low-carbohydrate weight-maintenance phases would translate to around 600 and 200 grams daily, respectively. T3 levels among those who went from the high-carb maintenance diet to the mixed diet remained unchanged. Seven moderately overweight subjects even fasted for 7 days, consuming nothing except for water and electrolytes.
However, serum concentrations of rT3 decreased when carbs (15%) or protein (23%) were overfed, but no overall change in rT3 concentrations occurred when fat was overfed (meaning the high fat diet still resulted in less T3 actually stimulating their cells than the high-carb or high-protein diets). Serum concentrations of rT3 responded in the opposite direction to those of T3, rising with the low-carbohydrate intakes and falling again on the high carbohydrate diets. In contrast, the same subjects receiving isocaloric diets containing at least fifty grams of carbohydrate showed no significant changes in T3 levels. Compared to the high-carbohydrate diet, the low carbohydrate diet caused a significant drop in T3 levels.
The changes in serum thyroid hormones were not related to the degree of weight loss or initial body weight.
In the folks taking oral T4, however, levels of T3 still fell markedly during fasting, confirming that impaired conversion from T4 explains much of the decline in T3 levels seen with fasting and severe carbohydrate restriction[Azizi]. The remaining two diets were either low- or high-carbohydrate, and were consumed by all the subjects in random order between the two standard diet phases. During the ketogenic phase, a significant fall in T3 and concomitant rise in rT3 levels was observed, while T4 levels remained unchanged. There were no differences in RMR, but the ketogenic diet caused a significantly greater decline in T3[Mathieson RA]. These included a mixed diet (40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, 20% protein, mean 1440 calories) for four days, followed by a fast of 7 days, then 5 days of glucose ingestion only (one group consumed 50 grams of glucose daily, the other 100 grams). T3 levels continued to decrease slightly, albeit non-significantly, while resting rT3 levels returned toward base line after week six. There is either no detectable difference or a slight increase seen with higher carbohydrate meals and diets (I discuss this in detail in The Great Eades Smackdown, Part 1). Any diet that produces untoward changes in thyroid hormone levels should be regarded with great caution – especially so if you are a hard training athlete whose physiology is subject to the added burden of regular and vigorous activity, or if you've previously displayed symptoms of low thyroid function (heightened cold intolerance, low morning temperature, clinically diagnosed thyroid dysfunction). Anyone who chooses to apply the information on this web site does so of their own volition and their own risk. I really don’t need to lose weight but am flabby around the waist especially after gaining weight to help increase muscle mass while lifting weights (back squat, deadlift, and military press) which are part of my Crossfit workouts.
My hands and nose were often ice cold, and at night I’d throw not one but two heavy quilt covers over my bed to stay warm.
As such, my muscles needed all the glycogen they could get their hands on and a high-carbohydrate diet became, not an option, but a necessity.
Don’t get me wrong, as a certified and lifelong sun-worshipper, I still think winter sucks immensely, but nowadays it isn’t anywhere near as unbearable as it used to be. Production of T3 and its prohormone thyroxine (T4) is activated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is released from the pituitary gland. The researchers later discovered that short-term overfeeding was associated with increased thermogenesis (energy expenditure). In contrast to T3, serum concentrations of T4 were unchanged by overeating or changes in dietary composition. The decline in serum T3 during the no-carbohydrate diet correlated significantly with blood glucose and ketones, but there was no correlation with insulin or glucagons[Spaulding SW]. Serum T4 levels rose after fasting and did not decrease after protein re-feeding, but did return to baseline values after 4 days of re-feeding with mixed dieting. Mirroring these changes, rT3 rose significantly only on the low-carb diet, while T4 did not change on any of the diets[Serog P]. These changes were accompanied by a significant increases in glucagon and serum ketone levels, and a marked drop in blood glucose and insulin levels. One diet contained 95% protein, 3% fat, and 2% carbohydrate, the other 41% protein, 4% fat, and 55% carbohydrate.
Similar results were obtained in subjects who consumed 100 grams of fructose instead of glucose.
T4 concentrations were unaffected after the first week but showed a slight though insignificant fall after six weeks[Phinney SD].
There was a significant increase in total T4 (+ 10.8%), but for some reason the researchers did not directly measure T3 nor rT3. However, even when differences are observed they are quite small and unlikely to have any meaningful impact upon weight loss.
The owner and contributors to this site accept no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any harm, real or imagined, from the use or dissemination of information contained on this site. Also, as I’ve gotten fitter and slimmer, my carb tolerance and maybe even need for carbs has increased. To keep my noggin from freezing I acquired enough beanies to fill a backyard pool, and I kept swearing I’d move to Queensland in due course so I wouldn’t have to put up with “this winter crap!” any longer. I began eating more and more carbs, until my diet was essentially a high-carbohydrate diet. After having lost his title and being criticized for problematic symmetry and muscle imbalances, he did what no dethroned Olympia winner has ever done before – he came back better than ever and blew away the competition to reclaim his title. Speculating that changes in thyroid function could be responsible, they proceeded to examine the effect of altering calorie and carbohydrate intake on thyroid hormone levels. As with the Vermont findings, these results would indicate that zero-carbohydrate dieting is an especially stupid endeavour.
The remaining two diets were hypercaloric, providing 4100 calories daily and 206 and 407 grams of carbohydrate daily. Changes in levels of gluconeogenic amino acids and the branched chain amino acids reflected those seen during the catabolic environment of total fasting[Fery]. They instead tested T3 uptake, an indirect measure of thyroxine binding globulin (TBG) in the blood, which tells us little of any real value about changes in actual thyroid hormone levels.
The researchers also measured IGF-1, glucagon, total and free testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), and cortisol. In this study, increasing carbohydrate intake over a range of 104-409 grams daily at eucaloric levels resulted in greater T3 levels, while on the high-calorie diet T3 concentrations were similarly increased with carbohydrate intakes of 206 and 407 grams per day[Davidson MB]. Estimated lean mass loss was slightly lower in the high-protein group but did not reach statistical significance.
The only significant change noted was a reduction in insulin following the low-carbohydrate diet[Volek]. The high protein group experienced slightly greater decreases in the thyroid hormones T3 and free T3, although in this study the differences were not statistically significant[Hendler].




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