Carbs get something of a bad rap in our society today, especially among dieters. There are heaps of low carb diets like Atkins, Keto, South Beach, and many others.
Their bottom line is all the same: you cut carbs, you lose weight. Each of them is a bit different in how they approach it. It seems to be that 140g of carbs or less per day is acceptable: South Beach, for instance, has users eating 140g per day or less during the first phase; meanwhile, Keto people eat about 50g or less per day. Atkins has carbs as low as 20g per day in some phases.
But how much do YOU need to lose weight?
It Varies From Person to Person. Everybody’s needs are different. However, we can get a general idea of a good daily carb intake by looking at the current RDA (recommended daily allowance).
This is currently set to 130 grams per day. This is the minimum that you need-not the optimum daily intake, so keep that in mind too. This level is designed so that your brain and liver can function at their best. You also need this amount to keep muscles healthy.
If you work out, your needs are going to change. Exercising at a very intense level makes it so over 75% of the energy to execute those moves comes from carbs. They go through the bloodstream as glucose and are stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. The body burns 60 carbs per hour during intense fitness, and may even improve athletes’ performance during HIIT workouts.
However, if you do not eat enough carbs to meet the basic needs of your body and your workouts, your performance will be lessened and the calories you burn will be lessened as a result of your inability to correctly execute the moves at the appropriate level of intensity.
The Optimum Number
So…drum roll please! 200 grams is the beneficial number for weight loss. This number is also dependent on your calorie intake. 45 to 65% of your daily intake should be from carbs. That being said, if you are consuming an 1800 calorie a day diet, you should aim to eat 203 to 293 grams each day.
Going below this is not advised, as getting all the vitamins and minerals is also hard to do.
Remember, everybody is different. This number comes from Donald Layman, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois.
Assuming you are making exercise part of your weight loss routine, having a carb intake above the minimum RDA is helpful. It will give your body the energy it needs to make those gym sessions count but also keep you alert and ready to handle the needs of work, school, and other activities that require our full attention, such as driving.
But there is a catch. These carbs should fuel the body, not get stored as fat. You should cap off each meal at about 40g of carbs and bring it up to about 60 to 80g when eating before a workout or after one.
Eating post workout will not fuel your fitness, but insulin is needed so your body can build lean muscle that will provide a boost to your metabolism. Go ahead and have a slice of whole-grain toast!
The Science of Carbs
Proteins, fats and carbs are the three macronutrients you must consume en masse for good health. Carbs are necessary to keep your muscles, liver and brain functioning at optimum efficiency.
Even though muscle tissues can use fat and protein for their energy, it does so using metabolic processes that are just too inefficient and lead to feelings of brain fog, headaches, and fatigue. If you have ever had to fast for medical or religious reasons, chances are you have experienced these feelings.
Extreme measures to cut carbs should be avoided. Fruits, veggies, legumes, and even dairy products are all good for you when consumed in moderation, and contain carbohydrates. These are good carbs. The reason carbs today got such a bad rap is because of the cakes, refined sugars, sodas, and cookies that contain this macronutrient.
In America, it is common for us to eat carbs that come from poor sources. Even when we have healthy carbs, we tend to eat too much. For instance, 15g of carbs is a standard serving. 2 cups of brown rice, which is a good carb, brings you to 90g. In the USA, we tend to eat three times the recommended daily carb allowance.
Complex Carb vs. Simple Carb
A complex carb has longer chains of sugar molecules as opposed to simple carbs. The body will change these sugar molecules to glucose and then use it for energy. Complex carbs’ longer chains make them take longer to break down and thus provide more energy than simple carbs.
Simple carbs are made of short chains of molecules and digest a lot faster than complex carbs. They cause your blood sugar to spike and you end up with a short lived energy boost.
Complex carbs bring blood glucose levels and provide lasting energy.
Simple carbs are most often found in cookies, sugary drinks and other junk foods, but they can be found in perfectly healthy foods, too: milk, and whole fruits, for instance, contain them. Even complex carbs can be found in foods like white refined flour.
It is very important to look at the nutrition labels of foods you eat. Look for foods that contain fiber, for instance. This keeps the digestive system functioning and healthy. Whole grains are another great source of good carbs. You can choose foods like brown rice, barley, oats and bulgur to get what you need.
Simple carbs are found in processed foods. Candy, cereals, syrups and sugary sodas or sports drinks are some examples of things to avoid.
In sum, you have to consider the overall nutrition of the food or drink you are about to consume. For instance, milk contains simple carbs, but also includes vitamin D and calcium. Meanwhile, a sports drink also contains simple carbs, but features no vitamins or minerals. In this case, milk would be a better choice.
The amount of carbs you need to lose weight will vary from person to person, but the number that experts agree on is about 200g. It is dependent upon your calorie intake as well as your physical activity level. Make sure at least 45% of your intake comes from good carbs, and be sure to integrate physical activity in with your healthy eating for best results.