Carbs – Friend or Foe?

If you want to start an argument about diet, bring up carbs (or gluten, but that’s a topic for another time.) Carbs have long been dubbed the enemy of fat loss & are usually the first to get cut from the diet! But how much of those carbs should be cut out? And for how long should you cut them out for? I personally have always been a fan of reducing carbs to ignite some fat loss, but here’s the key word “ignite”. I would only recommend a short period of low carb dieting (less that 100g a day), lets say 14-21 days is ample time to reset those carb receptors! Technically, carbs are not an essential nutrient so we don’t need to eat them to survive. With that said, going very low carb long term is simply unnecessary to reach your health and fitness goals.

How many carbs should you eat?

The best way to calculate your desired carb intake is to first establish how many grams of protein and fat you want to eat. For example, if you are looking to cut some fat for the summer without losing muscle, you can intake 2.5 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, .75 gram of fat per kilo, and the balance will be carbs. For a 80kg man, that means 200 grams of protein and 60 grams of fat. Assuming a 2,000 calorie diet, that leaves 165 grams of carbs left over (1 gram of protein/carbs has 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat has 9 calories). This is again assuming that you are working out on that day. On a non-workout day I like to cut that carb intake in half (say 2 days a week), and on a hard workout day (or muscles that need the most work) I would double that carb intake to 330g for 1-2 workouts a week. This type of diet framework is called carb cycling – I’ve found this to be the most effective to drop fat & maintain low levels of body fat both with myself and clients.

Carb Timing:

After your workout is a great time to eat relatively more carbohydrates and even faster digesting carbohydrates. Carbs are anabolic because they raise your blood sugar level, which in turn stimulates the storage hormone insulin. Insulin gets a bad reputation because it can increase fat storage, but it can also be your friend by helping your muscles suck in more protein. After a workout, eating carbs with protein in a roughly 2:1 ratio can help your body utilize the protein most effectively. Eating more carbs when you have a endurance race, or competition can also be helpful. “Carb loading”, or consuming large amounts of carbs to saturate your sugar storage tanks (muscles and liver) leading up to an athletic event can help you perform better.

Types of Carbs:

Personally I don’t believe all carbs are created equally – the carbs from white rice do not have the same response in the body as sugary cereal. Getting your carbs from whole food sources will always be the healthier option –

  • Rice & potato varieties (I mean sweet or white potato not potato chips)
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Fruits

Low carbs diets certainly have their place in the fat loss equation, but long term low carb diet aren’t the most effective for either fat loss or your health so don’t be afraid of carbs! Learn to use them effectively and your results will improve dramatically.