Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Carbs are not your enemy. But, compared to fat and proteins, carbs—in their endless snackable forms—can be the hardest macronutrient to resist. “Carbs don’t carry a strong appetite-satisfying effect,” says Paul Kriegler, RD, a Minnesota-based certified sports nutritionist and personal trainer with Life Time Fitness health clubs. So even if you crush a bag of Goldfish while bingeing Selling Sunset, you might still be hungry and crave more. For that reason (and others), dialing back on pasta, cookies, and bread has become a popular diet move.
Whether you’re following a carb-restricting diet like keto (which limits carb intake to 5-10 percent of your total calories) or just cutting some of that extraneous starchy snacking, adjusting your workouts is vital. Consuming fewer carbs can stall your fitness progress and make your workouts feel, well, more like work. Here’s how to tweak your sweat sessions so you can stay on top of your fitness game.
1. Keep your workouts short and sweet.
“Someone who’s generally well-nourished can store about two hours worth of carbohydrate energy—in the form of glycogen—in their muscles and liver,” says Kriegler. That’s a pretty decent tank of gas for a standard workout. But if you’re not adequately refilling that tank with enough carbs, you’ll be starting subsequent workouts from a glycogen deficit. “That could cause you to feel more fatigued than normal during a workout and want to cut it short,” he explains.
You can avoid that entirely by planning to shorten your workouts from the get-go. How much you should dial things back depends on your training experience and overall health, says Kriegler. Exercising for as little as 10 minutes was shown to have the same benefits as traditional endurance training in a study published in PLOS One. So, consider starting there and slowly adding on 5 or 10 minutes to your workouts. This way, you can ease into working out with less fuel and get a sense of how much energy you realistically have to put toward your sweat sesh.
2. Vary the intensity.
Carb cutters might need to dial back on high-intensity workouts (like running, swimming, boot camps, and boxing) in favor of more moderate-intensity ones (like the elliptical, resistance training, slow cycling, and walking), says Audra Wilson, R.D., a clinical dietitian with the Weight Management and Bariatric Surgery Program at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital.
“You’re just not really fueling yourself adequately to be able to perform high-intensity exercise to your utmost ability,” she explains, “and that can lead to muscle damage and breakdown.” That doesn’t mean you can’t do any high-intensity workouts; it just means that if you do them too frequently, you may be self-sabotaging. Kriegler recommends that those cutting carbs stick to one to…