Determining how many carbs are ideal for weight loss is becoming a more prominent question asked by many everyday people, as well as dietitians, nutritionists and fitness personal trainers alike. That’s because carbohydrates have recently been demonized by some due to a rise in obesity rates which are attributed to their intake. Carbs have been used as nothing more than the scapegoat for deteriorating health in North America.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbs are one of the three main macronutrients, along with protein and fat. When digested, carbs are broken down into glucose, which is the body’s preferred energy source. The muscles and brain specifically seek out and expect energy to come from carbohydrates, since they fuel their ability to function properly.
Your body needs more calories from carbs than any other macronutrient. They provide a great source of nutrients like B vitamins and are the only source of dietary fiber. Fiber is essential for good health.
What is the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs?
Not all carbs are the same. There are two main categories of carbs: simple and complex. The type of carbs you eat can make a big difference in your health.
Simple carbs are made up of short molecules. The body digests these quickly and easily. Simple carbs have a high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a ranking of how much a food raises blood glucose.
Examples of simple carbs include:
- Desserts like cookies, pastries, and cake
- Refined grain products like white rice and white bread
- Dairy products
Complex carbs are larger molecules. They take longer to digest and be absorbed in the body. They have a lower glycemic index, meaning they do not raise blood sugar as rapidly or quickly. The energy you get from complex carbs is more long lasting. Foods with starch and fiber are types of complex carbs.
Examples of complex carbs include:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
Some foods, like fruit, contain a mixture of simple and complex carbs.
Which carb is the healthiest?
Complex carbs are the healthiest choice. They provide more fiber and nutrients than simple carbs. Since they take longer to digest, they can help control appetite and support a healthy weight.
Which carbs are the least healthy?
Simple carbs are the less-healthy choice. They don’t contain as many nutrients or as much fiber and sometimes provide no fiber at all.
Eating too many simple carbs can lead to the development of conditions like diabetes, obesity, and digestive issues.
How many carbs should you eat a day?
The dietary guidelines recommend that between 45% to 65% of the calories you eat come from carbs. This is the greatest percentage of all three of the macronutrients, which reinforces how important carbs are in your diet.
For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, this would mean between 900 and 1,300 calories coming from carbs. This is equal to eating 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how many carbs you need each day. There are many factors that affect your needs, such as activity level, metabolism, age, and health conditions.
It is better to focus on eating healthy, complex carbs rather than focusing too much on a specific number.
EASY-TO-FOLLOW CARB RULES FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Here’s the bottom line on those pesky, yet very necessary carbs. Know and follow these rules, and you’ll sculpt the physique you seek.
If you want to lose weight, following a low-carb diet could yield better results than following a low-fat diet, according to research out of Tulane University, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal. The study followed 148 obese patients for a year who were following either a low-fat diet, where less than 30 percent of daily calories came from fat or a low-carb diet, where they consumed less than 40 grams of digestible carbs per day. After a year, the low-carb dieters lost nearly eight pounds more than the low-fat group, and also improved their cholesterol numbers.
But the truth is, carbs aren’t all good or all bad. Some promote health while others—when eaten often and in large quantities—can pile on the pounds and increase your risk for disease.
Sugar-laden carbohydrates such as doughnuts, sodas and other highly processed foods may indeed kick-start weight gain and interfere with your ability to reach your physique goals. But sources such as fruits, oatmeal, vegetables, whole-grain breads and other varieties of intact carbs do just the opposite when eaten in moderation: They promote good health.
Eat 1-1.5 grams of Carbs Per Pound of Bodyweight Daily
If you’re a hard-training female, carbs should comprise 30%-40% of your daily caloric intake. Skimping on carbohydrates—most of which should come from slow-digesting sources such as brown rice, grains, oatmeal, veggies and yams—can actually cause you to lose muscle. Carbs form muscle glycogen, the fuel for strenuous training, and when these stores are depleted the body turns to its own lean tissue for fuel. Consume 1-1.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight; for a 125-pound woman, that’s 125-187 grams. Taper your intake as the day progresses (see No. 9) and consume the majority of these carbs.
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Choose Slow-Digesting Carbs for Most Meals
By eating slow-burning (low-glycemic) carbs, you not only stave off catabolism but also keep blood-sugar levels in check, which helps offset fatigue while preventing insulin spikes. Research shows that athletes who consume slow carbs have more energy during workouts, and burn more fat as they train and the rest of the day. Choose complex carbs such as brown rice, fibrous vegetables like broccoli, fruit, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Start Your Day with Slow Carbs for Breakfast
Breakfast is a good time to refuel your body with slow-burning carbs. Following an overnight fast, blood-sugar and muscle-glycogen levels are low, and your body must replenish them. Research also shows that by consuming carbs along with your protein first thing in the morning, your body is less likely to stimulate fat storage. In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond), researchers compared the diets of 94 obese, physically inactive women. Subjects were divided into two diet groups, both of which were low in fat and total calories but differed in carbohydrate distribution.
A group of 46 women followed a very strict low-carb diet, consuming 1,085 calories a day comprised of 17 grams of carbs, 51 grams of protein and 78 grams of fat. The smallest meal was breakfast at 290 calories and included only 7 grams of carbs. The other 48 subjects followed a modified low-carb or “big-breakfast” diet, consuming 1,240 calories a day comprised of 97 grams of carbs (58 of which were eaten at breakfast), 93 grams of protein and 46 grams of fat. After eight months, those eating the modified low-carb “big-breakfast” diet lost more than 21% of their bodyweight; the very strict low-carb group lost just 4.5% (39.5 pounds vs. 10 pounds). What’s more, the women who ate a big breakfast reported feeling less hungry, especially before lunch, and had fewer carb cravings than the strict low-carb dieters.
A more recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that mice eating a large breakfast were likely to lose weight as long as breakfast was high-carb and high-calorie, and smaller meals were eaten for lunch and dinner. Aim to get 20-30 grams of slow-digesting carbs at your first meal of the day.
Fuel Your Weight Training With Slower-Digesting Carbs
Your pre-workout meal should supply slow carbs from sources such as brown rice, fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas. Complex carbs take longer to convert to glucose, which will keep blood sugar levels in check and prevent you from crashing in the middle of your workout. It also keeps insulin levels low, so it won’t interfere with fat-burning as you train. During strength training workouts, take in 20-30 grams of slow carbs along with 20 grams of protein from a protein shake.
Eat Fast (High-Glycemic) Carbs to Help Recover Faster Post-Workout
The carbs you ingest immediately after a hard training session should be of the fast-digesting variety. Postworkout, these carbs are less likely to be stored as fat since they’ll be used to restock depleted glycogen levels. A number of studies have found that a postworkout meal containing fast carbs and protein dramatically increases muscle-protein synthesis, the process that results in muscle recovery and growth. These carbs will bolster insulin levels and help drive much-needed amino acids into your muscles so they can start to recover (and grow) while fending off cortisol, a muscle-wasting hormone. Go with 30-40 grams of fast-digesting carbs such as a baked potato, dextrose, a plain bagel with jelly, Vitargo or white bread along with 40 grams of protein from a protein shake.
Skip Carbs Before Cardio to Burn Fat
Cardio training burns both fat and carbs, so the fewer carbs and less insulin you have in your bloodstream before hitting the treadmill, the more fat you’ll shed. Contrary to popular belief, however, cardio on an empty stomach isn’t the most effective means of burning fat. Research also shows that fat-burning can be enhanced if you take amino acids before cardio exercise. Swap the carbs for a half scoop to a full scoop of whey protein before your cardio session to push fat-burning into high gear.
List of Carbs You Can Consume on Keto
Now that you understand which foods should be avoided entirely, let’s talk about the best Ketogenic-friendly carb sources you can still incorporate into your diet plan.
Some of the foods listed below still contain some carbohydrates, so it’s best to be sure to read labels and carefully track your intake so you don’t overdo it, especially if you’re a beginner.
#1. Cocoa Powder and Dark Chocolate
Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are great alternatives to eating sugary chocolate bars. They’re a great source of antioxidants. Chocolate is even considered a “superfood,” because it contains essential nutrients to help you stay healthy.
Dark chocolate also has flavanols, which have been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering your blood pressure.
It’s important to only consume dark chocolate that contains 85% cocoa or more. Anything less usually contains other higher carbohydrate ingredients that could potentially interrupt ketosis
Tip: A great low-carb snack you can make with cocoa powder or dark chocolate is a Keto Coconut-choc Fat Bombs. Simply add cocoa powder into a bowl with almond butter and coconut oil and put it in the microwave or heat on a stovetop and stir until it becomes a consistent liquid. Then place it in the freezer for half an hour and you’ll have a tasty, sweet low-carb snack! Add a little stevia if you need a little more sweetness.
#2. Low-Carb Vegetables
Vegetables store sugar in the form of starch. Non-starchy vegetables store less sugar, so they are low in starch and carbohydrates. They are also low in calories, high in fiber, and nutrient-dense, making them the perfect Keto-friendly carb source.
Many non-starchy veggies contain high amounts of fiber, which is a carbohydrate itself. However, fiber doesn’t break down into glucose, or sugar, in your digestive system like other carbohydrates do, so the fiber doesn’t count toward your carbohydrate limits! This fact about fiber becomes important when reading labels because fiber is included in the grams of total carbs. Remember, take total carbs – fiber to determine how many carbs in the food count towards your carbohydrate goal.
You can consume large amounts of the following low-carb veggies on Keto:
- Brussel’s sprouts
Veggies that grow above ground tend to be non-starchy and low in carbs (there are some exceptions – always check nutritional information in the Carb Manager app).
Avocados should be a staple in everyone’s Ketogenic diet. They are high in essential vitamins and minerals including potassium and magnesium, and are a great source of monounsaturated fat.
Avocados make the Keto-adaptation phase much easier, because you replenish your body with the essential minerals it excretes during the initial fat-adaptation stage.
One avocado only contains about 2-3g of net carbs per serving, making it the perfect Ketogenic-approved fruit!
Most other fruits are too high in carbohydrates, so they’ll mostly need to be avoided. Berries are the one exception.
Berries are both low in carbs and high in fiber.
These fruits are packed with antioxidants that have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory effects and protect against disease
Remember, they still have some carbs, so try to keep your berry consumption in moderation.
#5. Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles are great for Keto-ers who miss eating pasta. These noodles contain less than 1g of carbs because they’re mostly water and fiber.
You can get them at your local health food store, often in a fettuccine, linguine, or rice shape.
If you want to make a pasta dish, substitute normal pasta for shirataki noodles for a delicious low-carb meal!
Research has found that polyphenols from olives can help reduce inflammation, protect cells from damage, decrease blood pressure, and have anticancer potential.
Half of the carbs from olives are fiber, so they make for a great carb source on Keto.
A 14g serving of olives only contains 1g of total carbohydrates. This means around seven olives come out to 1g of carbs!
If you’re looking for a Keto-friendly food to take the place of starches like rice and potatoes in your diet, look no further than the friendly cauliflower.
Cauliflower contains only 2g of net carbs per cup, so you can fill up on it and hardly move the carb needle.
Run some raw cauliflower through your food processor until it’s a rice-y consistency, then microwave or pan fry the bits in coconut oil, and you’ll have delicious cauliflower rice to accompany your main course. Or boil and mash cauliflower with cream and butter, and you’ll have a tasty substitute for mashed potatoes.