Very low carb are a great way to lose weight and one that I happily recommend to all my friend because eating fewer carbs means your body will preferentially burn fat for fuel. However, many low carb dieters suffer side effects when they initially reduce their carbohydrate intake. These side effects are often called “low carb flu” and include:
- Mental fogginess
- Joint pain
- Muscle cramps
The good news is that these symptoms indicate your body is depleting its on-board carb supplies and is preparing to turn into a fat-burning machine. The bad news you may feel this way for 3-5 days or even as long as two weeks.
Luckily, there are several things you can do to alleviate the symptoms of low carb flu so here are my top “beat the low carb flu” tips!
1. Drink more water
Your body stores carbohydrates in your muscles and liver as a molecule called glycogen. Glycogen is simply glucose bound to water. As your glycogen stores are depleted and not replaced, your body eliminates the now-free water which can lead to dehydration and is what causes your initial rapid weight loss.
Being dehydrated is the cause of many of the symptoms of low carb flu so make sure you increase your water intake to avoid this problem. Shoot for half a gallon a day as a minimum to replace lost water; more if you live in a hot place or exercise a lot.
2. Increase your salt intake
Increased urine output can lead to a drop in sodium levels. Sodium gets a bad rap in nutrition but too little can lead to muscle cramps and other low carb flu symptoms.
For rapid relief of many low carb fuel symptoms, add 3-5 grams (about a teaspoon) of salt to a large glass of water or add more salt to your food. Only do this for as long as it takes for your low carb flu symptoms to abate. Once you feel okay again, cut your salt intake back to the accepted 1500 mg a day.
3. Reduce your carbs gradually
Arguably the most common cause of low carb fuel is dropping carb intake too fast – often from 300 grams or more per day to 50 or less. This represents a BIG shock to the system. Avoid this problem by weaning yourself off carbs gradually over several days.
Using a food tracking app, see how many grams of carbs you eat on average. Reduce your carb intake by 10-20% for a couple of day and then subtract a further 10-20%. Continue this plan of action until you reach your intended carb target. This will make the transition from high carbs to low carbs much more tolerable.
4. Increase fat intake
When you cut carbs from your diet, your body needs an alternative source of energy. This cannot be protein as protein can actually be converted to glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis. That leaves dietary fat. While your body is quite happy burning body fat for fuel, it cannot do this quickly and will leave you feeling hungry and tired.
Replace your missing carbs with dietary fats to provide your body with a ready source of energy and prevent many low carb flu symptoms before they get chance to start.
Around 50-70% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat so make sure you add coconut oil, butter, lard, olive oil, or nut oils/butters to all your meals to add the necessary calories and fat.
While you might not feel much like exercising during the low carb flu, staying active will make your symptoms pass far faster. The sooner your on-board carb stores are depleted, the sooner your body will flip the fat-burning switch and your symptoms will disappear.
Exercise depletes muscle and liver glycogen and the sooner that happens, the sooner your body will start using fat exclusively. It is at that point that your low carb symptoms will end. Speed up this process by exercising or, at the very least, staying as physically active as you can.
Low carb flu doesn’t happen to everyone but for even those unlucky souls who experience it, the low carb flu seldom lasts very long. Once you make the initial transition from carb to fat-burner, your body will reward you with rapid fat loss, boundless energy, and no hunger or cravings. Remember this if you experience low carb flu; any suffering now will be offset by great results later.