Retired bodybuilding veteran Lee Labrada was revered for his dedication to training and nutrition throughout his career. In a recent YouTube video, Labrada opened up on the efficacy of high-carb and low-carb diets.
“There’s a lot of controversy over carbohydrates, which ones you should eat, which ones you shouldn’t eat. How much, when you should eat them, what you should eat them with, whether low-carb, high-carb, and it just goes on and on. I hope to shed a little bit of light today on which carbohydrates you should eat and how you should eat them as such so you can get leaner.”
Having finished in the top four at the Mr. Olympia contest for seven consecutive years, Lee Labrada faced the most imposing bodybuilders of the 1980s and 90s. From battling the conditioning of Rich Gaspari to going toe-to-toe with eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, Labrada’s legacy was a story of David and Goliath, having constantly posed off against athletes who outweighed him by as much as 50 pounds.
Now, having long stepped away from the stage, Lee Labrada returns to offer more dietary wisdom. Specifically, he examines the controversy surrounding carbohydrates, and which diet actions produce the best results when it comes to achieving a lean body.
Lee Labrada Compares High-Carb vs Low-Carb Diets, Talks Blood Sugar and ‘Insulin Management’
First, Lee Labrada outlines why carbohydrates are essential to healthy bodily function.
“Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, the other two macronutrients are the proteins and fats. Carbohydrates contain four calories, they are essential for health, in fact, your brain runs on glucose which is blood sugar, that blood sugar, the easiest place to get it is carbohydrates.
You have to have a certain amount of carbohydrates just for your brain to work. Secondly, muscles prefer to run on carbohydrates. The stored energy in muscles which is glycogen is from carbohydrates.”
Should the body go without the necessary carbohydrates it needs, it will start to eliminate muscle tissue, Labrada explains.
“If your muscles don’t have enough carbohydrates, then your body is going to go to sources of protein in order to get that glucose, that blood sugar that it needs to run on. Guess what? Guess where the easiest place for that glucose to come from as far as a protein store, it’s your muscles.
So long story short, if you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet and you’re exercising hard, you’re going to break down muscle tissue.”
Conversely, if one consumes excessive carbohydrates, the hormone insulin could cause fat storage.
“If you get too much carbohydrates, what happens? There is a release of a fat storing hormone called insulin. Now your body releases insulin in response to meals regardless of what you eat, you’re going to get a little bit of insulin or you’re going to get a lot of insulin.
If you take in too many carbohydrates, your insulin levels go up because what your body is trying to do is clear some of that blood sugar out of the bloodstream okay, and if that insulin goes up too rapidly, then you can get fat storage,” explains Lee Labrada.
As for low-carb and high-carb diets, Labrada believes neither option provides sufficient insulin management.
“Low-carb diets or the traditional Atkins-type diets which are high-protein high fat, low carbohydrate diets, that really is insulin management by default. What we find out is that by that engaging in a diet like that, people are keeping the insulin low just because the carbohydrates are low. To me, that doesn’t seem like the best way to manage insulin.”
“I’m not a big proponent of super high carbohydrate diets either again, the insulin goes to high. What is the right way to do it? Insulin management is the key and I believe that the use of complex carbohydrates is key. Not all carbohydrates are bad. Not all carbohydrates are created equal.”
In addition, Labrada outlined the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates.
“Simple carbohydrates, sugar, cake, cookies, crackers, baked goods those are carbohydrates that are metabolized very quickly, they are broken down into blood sugar quickly, your insulin goes up and you get fat storage.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are broken down slowly by the body so there is less insulin secreted. Less blood sugar and a more stable blood sugar level and when that happens, well, you stay in a fat-burning mode. And your body’s carbohydrate needs are met for your muscles.”
He also listed some examples of ideal complex carbohydrates like yams, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal.
“Some examples of complex carbohydrates, I love theses, yams, sweet potatoes, this is a great complex carbohydrate. That’s oatmeal. Oatmeal is another great complex carbohydrate. I have it just about every day for breakfast. Another great complex carbohydrate, rice.”
“What will also slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate is adding say a salad to your meal to adding some vegetables to your meals. That provides fiber, that slows down the conversion of the carbohydrate to blood sugar.
The credentialed bodybuilding Pro believes it’s best to avoid simple carbohydrates in favor of complex carbohydrates ‘judiciously.’
“The bottom line is that the use of complex carbohydrates using them judiciously in your diet is a good thing. You just want to stay away from the simple carbohydrates. Whenever you consume carbohydrates, combine them with protein and foods that have fiber or a little fat.”
In retirement, Lee Labrada has the luxury of witnessing his son, Hunter, follow in his footsteps. As a Men’s Open Pro, Hunter has already placed as high as fourth on the Mr. Olympia stage and earned sixth recently at the 2023 event.
From a comprehensive guide for achieving a six-pack of abs to his ideal pre-workout meals, Lee Labrada’s longevity and knowledge of fitness and health are a testament to the measures he took during his career.