Low and high carbohydrate isocaloric diets on performance, fat oxidation, glucose and cardiometabolic health in middle age males

Front Nutr. 2023 Feb 9:10:1084021. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1084021. eCollection 2023.


High carbohydrate, low fat (HCLF) diets have been the predominant nutrition strategy for athletic performance, but recent evidence following multi-week habituation has challenged the superiority of HCLF over low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diets, along with growing interest in the potential health and disease implications of dietary choice. Highly trained competitive middle-aged athletes underwent two 31-day isocaloric diets (HCLF or LCHF) in a randomized, counterbalanced, and crossover design while controlling calories and training load. Performance, body composition, substrate oxidation, cardiometabolic, and 31-day minute-by-minute glucose (CGM) biomarkers were assessed. We demonstrated: (i) equivalent high-intensity performance (@∼85%VO2max), fasting insulin, hsCRP, and HbA1c without significant body composition changes across groups; (ii) record high peak fat oxidation rates (LCHF:1.58 ± 0.33g/min @ 86.40 ± 6.24%VO2max; 30% subjects > 1.85 g/min); (iii) higher total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol on LCHF; (iv) reduced glucose mean/median and variability on LCHF. We also found that the 31-day mean glucose on HCLF predicted 31-day glucose reductions on LCHF, and the 31-day glucose reduction on LCHF predicted LCHF peak fat oxidation rates. Interestingly, 30% of athletes had 31-day mean, median and fasting glucose > 100 mg/dL on HCLF (range: 111.68-115.19 mg/dL; consistent with pre-diabetes), also had the largest glycemic and fat oxidation response to carbohydrate restriction. These results: (i) challenge whether higher carbohydrate intake is superior for athletic performance, even during shorter-duration, higher-intensity exercise; (ii) demonstrate that lower carbohydrate intake may be a therapeutic strategy to independently improve glycemic control, particularly in those at risk for diabetes; (iii) demonstrate a unique relationship between continuous glycemic parameters and systemic metabolism.

Keywords: carbohydrate oxidation; fat oxidation; high fat diet; high-carbohydrate; low-carbohydrate; prediabetes.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Grove City College Swezey Fund.