You may have heard the new term floating around the gym: "Train-Low". The term refers to a way to burn fat while one works out. More specifically, "training low" refers to the minimal intake of carbohydrates before exercising. Similar to the ketogenic diet, training low, may help one achieve ketosis; however, is training low the most effective way to exercise? This article will be exploring what you need to know about training low.
What is Train Low?
Training low is the process of using broken down fat for energy instead of using glycogen stores. The training low method uses fat for energy during exercise and is suggested to spare glycogen stores until the end of a workout or competition. Studies have found that the train low technique may be beneficial on an inter-cellular signaling pathway supporting enhanced performance with low glycogen stores (2). Muscles adapt to using fat for energy over glycogen stores (2). Many individuals train low by not consuming breakfast before a morning exercise or exercising twice in a day without recovery meals including carbohydrates, ultimately depleting glycogen stores. Glycogen stores are found in the liver storing broken down carbohydrates (glucose) for later use when the body needs energy. Glycogen stores are the most effective method of giving the muscles energy during exercise.
What is the Evidence Behind Train Low?
With all the trending news and research for the Ketogenic Diet out on the internet, many may believe, training low is the solution to achieve their health and fitness goals for burning fat; however, current research still points to carbohydrates being the most effective fuel for exercise (3). Studies have found benefits of the ketogenetic diet for specific health conditions, but for athletes and active individuals' carbohydrates is the most effective way to give the muscles energy throughout a workout (3).
When training low, the body is utilizing fat for energy, weakening the ability to use glycogen stores (2). This may indicate that glycogen stores are not utilized sparingly as intended with training.
A 4-week study examined participants following the low carbohydrate diet performing high-intensity interval training exercise (3). Fat breakdown was observed, and no adverse effects were noted (3).
A 3-week study was conducted on world-class race walker athletes to investigate the effects of the train low method. The individuals were given a ketogenetic low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet. Another group had a high carbohydrate diet (1). Results found despite fat breakdown for energy, the low carbohydrate diet had impaired exercise economy (1). Exercise economy is the amount of energy required to move. In comparison, the high carbohydrate group had improved performance outcomes.
Potential Benefits of Train Low?
To date, many studies have not found benefits of train low in regard to performance. The greatest benefit to train low is adapting the body to utilize fat storage (2). Fat loss is observed in individuals (2.) Fat utilization reduces the need for carbohydrate consumption during a race, reducing risk of gastrointestinal upset during races (2). Also, controlled blood sugar regulation has been documented when training low (4).
Expert Concerns on Train Low?
An expert panel, comprised of doctors and sport registered dietitian nutritionists, came together to discuss train low vs. traditional training of high carbohydrates intake. The concerns of train low are increased risk of illness, lower training intensity, fatigue, and increased muscle breakdown (5). The experts, sited carbohydrates are the most readily digested macro-nutrient metabolized by the body to give energy to muscles during exercise, preventing fatigue or injury (5). Experts acknowledge more research has to be conducted on train low to identify a clear regiment for health, performance, and recovery from exercise (5).
Train low is the new emerging nutrition trend considered to possibly have benefits for exercise and health; however current research still points to carbohydrates being the best fuel for our body during exercise. Studies have found the body uses fat energy when eating a low carbohydrate diet, but impaired exercise economy has been reported. Experts concerns with Train low can possibly lead to fatigue, injury, muscle breakdown, and lowered training intensity. More studies have to be performed to clearly identify the benefits and nutrition regiment of train low.
(1) Burke, L. M. (2010), Fueling strategies to optimize performance: training high or training low?. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20: 48-58. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01185.x
(2) Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Garvican-Lewis, L. A., Welvaert, M., Heikura, I. A., Forbes, S. G., … Hawley, J. A. (2017). Low carbohydrate, high fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers. The Journal of physiology, 595(9), 2785–2807. doi:10.1113/JP273230
(3) Cipryan, L., Plews, D. J., Ferretti, A., Maffetone, P. B., & Laursen, P. B. (2018). Effects of a 4-Week Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet on High-Intensity Interval Training Responses. Journal of sports science & medicine, 17(2), 259–268.
(4) Jeukendrup A. E. (2017). Periodized Nutrition for Athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(Suppl 1), 51–63. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0694-2
(5) Kanter M. (2017). High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutrition today, 53(1), 35–39. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000238
Amanda Nicole | Registered Dietitian Technician
Amanda Nicole is educated on the most effective diet practices for active individuals with chronic diseases, seeking weight management, and increasing energy. She is informed about diet misconceptions and debunks these theories. She is excited to help people become more active and healthier through her passion in nutrition… READ MORE