In theory, a low-carb diet is pretty easy: just cut carbs and bodyfat will melt away. In reality, as almost every professional bodybuilder will attest, low-carb diets can be pretty hard. They require not only cutting down on carbs (and calories), but also maintaining enough energy to train while shedding bodyfat. In addition, low-carb diets require keen management of macronutrient intake.

Supplementation can make a huge difference in improving the results of your low-carb diet. Try the following four-point supplement-driven program to increase protein efficiency, enhance bodyfat burning, control carb effects and boost energy levels. When you have full control over these four facets of your low-carb diet, you'’re guaranteed to succeed.

FACTOR 1 | Process your protein Low-carb diets are also known as high-protein diets. For the best results on a low-carb diet, consume at least 50% more protein than you do on your typical offseason nutrition plan. The added protein provides extra aminos for the physiological processes and for the demands that a calorie deficit (stemming from your carb-intake reduction) places on your body. It also will help prevent your body from breaking down your muscle mass to free up aminos.

Protein supplements make low-carb diets easier — it'’s very challenging to get in all the protein you need from whole-food sources while maintaining a calorie deficit. Protein powders provide necessary aminos without excess calories. In addition, your body can also benefit from digestive enzymes to help turn the protein you consume into usable amino acids for muscle growth. Follow these supplementation guidelines to make the most of your protein consumption.

1. Rely on both casein and whey to boost total protein consumption. Eating more than 200 grams (g) of protein per day can be tough if you'’re taking in only whole foods. Use a casein protein powder or mixed protein powder (containing casein plus whey and/or other proteins) during the day, especially between meals. Although whey has been considered the gold standard in protein powders and is useful around workout time, consider drinking casein shakes when you are on a low-carb plan. Casein digests more slowly than whey; slower-digesting foods help curb appetite. Use 40-50 g of casein protein several times a day to take in carb-free protein that will enhance fat loss.

2. Use digestive enzymes to help your body process aminos more efficiently. Eggs for breakfast, sliced turkey at lunch, a midday snack of beef jerky, chicken for dinner and shrimp as a late-night snack  that adds up to a lot of animal protein daily. Unfortunately, your digestive system might not be up to par right away for handling such massive quantities of protein. It takes plenty of enzymes to digest those animal products sitting in your gut. You'’ll likely need some assistance in the form of dietary enzymes. They'’ll help your body absorb more of the protein you'’re swallowing so it can go to work for you, preventing it from being burned as reserve fuel and inhibiting muscle breakdown. Look for a product that contains proteases (protein-digesting enzymes), such as pancreatin, papain and bromelain, and follow label directions. A typical dosage is 2-4 g of pancreatin, 250-750 milligrams (mg) of papain and 250-500 mg of bromelain. Take these 15-30 minutes before meals.


3 . Supplement with glutamine to improve gastrointestinal efficiency. Glutamine is considered a nonessential amino acid (it needn'’t be consumed in a diet because the body does not require it for the synthesis of protein). However, many bodybuilders might argue that it is an essential supplement, particularly during times of stress, such as intense training or low-carb dieting. Supplementing with glutamine helps ensure that the protein you'’re eating goes to support muscle growth and prevents it from being stripped from muscles for fuel. Not only does glutamine appear to enhance immune function, support the gastrointestinal system, reduce fatigue and prevent muscle breakdown, but it also can decrease the craving for sugar and other carbohydrates, according to recent research. Take 3-5 g two four times a day on an empty stomach.

FACTOR 2 | Fuel your fat burning Cutting carbs encourages your body to rely on bodyfat as a major fuel source. You can enhance this fat-burning effect with the supplements listed here. Use EFAs to encourage bodyfat burning. Getting the right dose of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is necessary for keeping your metabolism fired up and the fat burning. The essential fats to be concerned with are omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that can be found in fish oil and flaxseed supplements. These healthy fats actually encourage the body to use other dietary and stored fats as energy. If you choose fish oil, take 1-3 g twice a day; if you opt for flaxseed oil, a tablespoon once or twice a day will suffice.

– Take carnitine to help mobilize fat. Carnitine helps to carry fat into the mitochondria of cells, where it gets burned for energy. A recent study demonstrated that 3 g of carnitine supplementation per day for 10 days increased fat oxidation in healthy subjects. Take 1-2 g twice a day, preferably on an empty stomach.

FACTOR 3 | Cut down on carbs Eat fewer carbs it sounds easy to do, but it is much harder for some dieting bodybuilders than others. Some athletes try to cut out carb sources, such as pasta, rice, potatoes and sugar, which are bodybuilding staples. Since many foods now come in low-carb versions, you can substitute items suitable for your diet. Still, you may suffer from cravings for carbs and sugar. This is one of the greatest challenges in low-carb dieting. The following supplements can help you better manage your carbohydrate intake.

– Take 5-HTP to enhance mood. A naturally modified version of the amino acid tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) works in the brain. It enhances mood mainly by generating serotonin— a brain chemical that is released after eating carbohydrates. Since you consume so few carbs on a low-carb diet, your mood can be negatively impacted due to lack of serotonin. In fact, when you crave carbs, your body is actually craving serotonin. Taking 5-HTP will restore serotonin levels so you can feel good, even when carbs are lacking. Several studies have shown that consuming 5-HTP decreases carbohydrate intake and enhances weight loss. The supplement also enhances relaxation, which makes it ideal for use in the late evening when carb cravings tend to strike the hardest. Take 50-100 mg when your hunger for carbs is greatest.

– Use chromium picolinate to reduce carb cravings. A study undertaken by researchers at Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) and presented at last year'’s National Institutes of Health conference showed that chromium picolinate supplementation significantly reduced carbohydrate cravings in patients with atypical depression. It will also help blunt desires for carb-laden foods while you're dieting. Scientists hypothesize that chromium'’s essential role in insulin function may be the link to carbohydrate cravings. That'’s because insulin's effects on metabolic function may impact serotonin levels in the brain. Try 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium picolinate with breakfast daily. – Try starch blockers to reduce the effects of carbs. No matter how disciplined you are, sometimes your cravings win out, so stash away some starch blockers for when you just have to have some carbs.

Starch blockers do just what the name implies— they block the absorption of starch by the intestines. They are sometimes called carb blockers, but they do not work on all types of carbs. Simple sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar), glucose and fructose, are not effectively blocked. The active ingredient is extracted from white kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). It contains an inhibitor that blocks the enzyme that'’s responsible for breaking down starches — from foods such as pasta, potatoes, bread and cereal— into their simple sugar components.

Clinical studies show that 1-2 g of the extract taken 15-30 minutes before a meal can prevent up to 66% of the carbs you eat from getting absorbed. When you crave carbs, try to keep your intake moderate and use a starch blocker to help minimize the effects of those that you do consume. FACTOR 4 | Boost your energy For many bodybuilders, the most challenging element of a low-carb diet is coping with depleted energy levels. Without carbs, many bodybuilders don'’t have enough energy to make it through a grueling workout. Although the body can function without dietary carbs, it typically prefers not to. Whether it'’s micronutrients, energy or strength that you seem to be missing, there are supplements that will support you during your low-carb diet so that you don’t feel like you're running on empty.

– Consume caffeine for enhanced energy. If you'’ve tried going extremely low carb for any length of time, you know this practice can drain your energy levels. Caffeine from coffee, supplements or energy drinks can help. Caffeine can affect many tissues directly, including the central nervous system, cardiovascular system and fat cells. In addition, caffeine increases epinephrine and norepinephrine secretion, resulting in multiple metabolic effects that could help delay fatigue and enhance performance. Caffeine has been shown to spare muscle glycogen and to enhance fat burning. Take 100-200 mg of caffeine up to three times per day as needed, and be sure to have one dose an hour or two before your workout.

– Take creatine to increase muscular energy during training. Creatine is a must for a bodybuilder on a low-carb diet. Creatine enhances anaerobic energy and cell volumizing. It provides a form of quick energy that is used during weightlifting, so it'’s a must for lowcarb bodybuilders. Consume 3-5 g shortly before and after workouts.

– Supplement with a multivitamin/multimineral to ensure against deficits. When you avoid carbohydrates, you also avoid the beneficial micronutrients they impart. A good multivitamin/ multimineral is like insurance for bodybuilders who will be limiting certain foods. Take a full dose in the morning and at night with food. In addition, you may also consider supplementing with extra vitamin B complex, as well as antioxidant vitamins C and E, plus alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). The Bs are important for proper protein and fat metabolism, and C, E and ALA will provide free-radical scavengers that can protect your body from cellular damage that may even harm your DNA.

ALA also boosts insulin levels, which can be helpful after a workout to drive muscle growth when carbs are in short supply. Look for a B complex that provides 50 mg each of B1 and B6, as well as 50 mcg of B12. Take 500-1,000 of vitamin E, both with food. (Vitamin E can be taken in two split doses of 400 IU each.) Get in 100-200 mg of ALA twice a day. Factor in these four strategies when you’re on your next low-carb diet, and watch your physique change for the better. FLEX