Going low carb is still all the rage today if you are attempting to lose weight but is it necessary for everybody?
In my opinion the answer is… it depends.
If you are overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and not really done much exercises at all or for a long time then I would recommend starting your weight loss diet plan with a low carb, high protein approach.
However as you lose weight and become more active then the need for carbohydrates in your diet becomes more important. In fact, I would state if you are training regularly with both weights and cardio then you are going to get better results by having carbs in your diet.
Nevertheless, you need to understand why and how to do this properly which is what the article is all about.
However before I continue let me walk you through a scenario I have encountered many times with friends, associates and clients.
Step 1 –Decide to lose weight and cut down on carbs.
Step 2 – Weight starts to drop and everything is great
Step3 – Weight loss starts to slow down and then eventually stops
Step 4 – Do more exercise and diet even harder
Step 5 – Still not losing weight, feeling tired, burnt out and de-motivated
Step 6 – Workouts become erratic, start eating more again
Step 7 – Lose focus completely, weight creeps back on.
Step 8 – Realisation they need to lose weight again. Blames diet especially carbs.
Step 9 – Go to back to step 1
Can you relate to this?
I have literally seen people follow this process for years and still not realised what the actual problem is.
The thing is once you have a belief hardwired into your brain that eating carbs equals weight gain it is very hard to think differently
I hope that after reading this article you will see that carbs can actually be your friend when it comes to losing weight.
So why are carbs associated with weight gain?
The issue with eating carbohydrates and gaining weight is all about insulin and its role in the body when we eat carbs.
When you eat carbs it is broken down into glucose also known as blood sugar. This spike in blood sugar from eating carbs results in a release on insulin from the pancreas.
The role of insulin is to transport this blood sugar to cells in the body so that we have enough energy to function, stay alive and perform any activity we need to do.
As you can see, it has very important role to perform.
The issue against insulin is that when it transports the glucose for energy it takes it to all cells including your fat cells. It also sends messages to the body telling it to stop burning its fat reserves and burn the new energy source instead and to store some of this food for energy in case you need it later.
Therefore, when you have a lot of insulin in your body you are not burning fat and if you have more blood sugar than your body needs this excess energy will end up in your fat cells making them grow and in turn making you bigger.
Therefore, if you limit carbs you limit insulin production, which in theory keeps your body in a fat burning state and reduces the potential for fat storage.
Obviously, this is a very simplified version of events but it makes for a compelling argument and one that has convinced many people to go low carb.
But I remember when low fat diets where all the rage and people were losing weight so is it really just about controlling insulin?
This study for example monitored two groups over a 12-month period. One followed a low fat diet the other a low carb diet. At the end of the study, weight loss was the same for both groups and in fact, the low fat groups had seen better improvements in their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol value.
In another study comparing low fat diets to low carbs diets again results showed there was difference between the two approaches in terms of weight loss.
Other research such as this one also concluded that if protein and energy levels remained the same reducing carbs or fats produced the same weight loss results.
Although this is not an overwhelming amount of research, we can argue that insulin is not the only problem when it comes to gaining and losing weight.
No, the big problem is that people are eating too much and not burning off enough energy.
Of course insulin is there to increase fat storage because we need energy to keep going when we don´t have food.
However, if you are consuming large amounts of carbs and creating big insulin spikes then yes you are going to store more energy in your fat cells.
If the energy in your fat cells is unused up either through your natural metabolism or activity when insulin is not present then over time, your fat cells will increase in size and you will gain weight.
Your body does not create energy and store fat on its own it only reacts to how you manage it. If you consistently feed, it more energy in the form of calories and create an energy surplus then over time you will gain weight.
Whether this extra weight is all fat or a mixture of fat and muscle will depend on your exercise program.
The basic fundamental issue for weight management is energy balance. Create a surplus and you will gain weight, create a negative balance and you will lose weight.
Whether this energy reduction is from carbs, fats or both does not make a difference.
How many carbs can you eat and lose weight?
Ok I am hoping you understand that if you want to eat a decent level of carbs and lose weight you can and that the more active you are the more carbs you need to keep energy levels high and allow your body to recover properly.
Now all we have to do is figure out how many actual carbs you can eat on a daily basis and achieve your goals.
Here is a simple guideline
1. Work out your daily calorie intake that will put you in a moderate negative energy balance.
First, use this calculator to work out your BMR (basal metabolic rate)
Then multiply that number by whichever figure is applicable to your activity level.
1.0 = sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.2 = light activity (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week)
1.35 = moderate activity (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week)
1.55 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week)
Once you have the daily calorie total then it is time to look at the nutrient amounts.
Therefore, here is how I recommend you calculate how many carbs to eat for weight loss:
Although there is some argument as to what is the optimal level of protein consumption 1g per pound of bodyweight is often considered to good starting point.
3. So the higher the carbs in your diet the less fat you should be eating. Start with 0.3g per pound of body weight.
4. All other calories should consist of carbohydrates. Try to make the bulk of these carbs from good natural sources because you will get more nutritional bang for your buck so to speak. I lay out my preferred choices in our top 100 lean body food list you can grab it here free.
Let me do an example so you can see how this all looks on paper.
A woman is 150 pounds, 5, 6 tall, 41 years old, and exercises for 3 hours per week
BMR – 1,362 x 1.2 = 1634
To create a moderate calorie deficit we would start by reducing this figure by 20%
1634 -20% = 1307 – daily calorie intake to start losing weight
Protein – 1g x 150 = 150g x 4 = 600 calories
Fat – 0.2g x 150 = 30g x 9 = 270 calories
1307 – 870 = 437 calories for carbs which equates to 437/4 = 109g per day.
Therefore, once you have your figures you can plan your meals and divide the appropriate amount of nutrients into each meal.
Two Strategies to optimize your carb intake.
Eating your carbs throughout the day is fine and so long as you don´t go over your allowance you should be fine. However to get the best and quickest results there are two strategies you can apply when eating your carbs.
These will ensure any carbs you eat are absorbed and digested efficiently with as little potential for fat storage as possible. Using these strategies will give you a little more flexibility if your carb intake fluctuates a little high one day or you do not have time to plan properly your calories and need to “wing it” a little bit.
Strategy 1 – Nutrient Combining
Your meals should be a mixture of high quality proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. However if you want to ensure each meal is fully absorbed with little potential for fat storage you want to focus on optimal nutrient combinations
The food combination to avoid for optimal fat loss.
If your goal is to lose weight and quickly every meal should include a protein source. This will help increase the thermic effect of your meal, slow down the digestion of the other nutrients and leave you feeling fuller for longer after the meal.
Eating carbs with high levels of protein is fine but what you want to avoid is consuming large amounts of dietary fat and carbohydrates together.
We know that when carbs are eaten blood sugar levels are raised causing an insulin release to transport the glucose to your muscles and fat cells for energy. However, insulin can also transport fatty acids into your fat cells through the stimulation of the fatty acid transporter protein (FATP), that bonds to the cell walls and allows absorption of these fatty acids from the bloodstream.
As you can imagine if you combine high levels of insulin with high levels of fatty acids in the bloodstream then we have a greater potential for fat storage. This is why for example foods such as ice cream, pizza, cakes and many other fast foods that contain lots of carbs and fats cause quick weight gain if eaten too much.
To avoid this situation when deciding how to construct your meals there is a simple formula to follow and that is
Always have a protein source with every meal the add either a carbohydrate or fat source
Whatever option you decide on, try to ensure there is no more than about 10 grams of the other nutrient present.
Obviously, it is almost impossible to eat a meal that has a zero carbs or zero fats because some foods just contain small amounts of them. However anything above this natural level needs to be controlled and I suggest trying to keep it under 10 grams.
To summarize here are the two meal combinations you need to follow as much as possible when trying to lose body fat.
Protein + Fat meals (with less than 10 grams of carbs)
Protein + Carb meals (with less than 10 grams of fat)
However you can take this a step further by timing and synchronizing your meals more strategically especially the ones that contain carbohydrates so that your body is far more set up to burn fat instead of storing it.
Strategy 2 – Carb timing and syncing
The problem with carbs for most people is that unless you are actually measuring out the actual amounts you eat there is a tendency to overeat them.
In an ideal world, this is what you should be doing every day to keep on track with your daily calorie allowance for losing weight.
The truth is we are not all perfect in keeping this going all the time and we will just guess the right amounts.
If this is the case then using the first strategy of nutrient combining and the second strategy of carb syncing will give you a little more flexibility.
That said to get lean you have to be exact with your calorie intake so guessing your amounts and using these strategies will only get you so far.
Carb syncing is simply about eating carbs at the most optimal time. Now I say optimal here because you can eat carbs at any time of the day and lose weight if you are in a moderate negative energy balance.
There are 2 occasions during your day when the body in more receptive to carbs than normal.
These are first thing in the morning and after an intense session of exercise.
In the morning when blood glucose levels are low after being asleep assuming you haven´t consumed a high level of carbohydrates late at night is an optimum time to have carbohydrate because the tolerance for glucose is much higher.
Therefore, it makes sense to consume a fair amount of your carbohydrates in the morning especially on non-training days. But if you don´t like eating first thing in the morning you could fast until lunchtime and then have your carbs then.
The second time for optimal consumption of carbs is after a workout. During the 1-2 hour window post workout, your body is ultra primed to absorb carbs for recovery, energy replenishment, and other anabolic processes but not fat storage
If you do your training in the evening you can still follow it with a meal, that contains carbs and it can actually be beneficial to your results (as long as the fat content is minimal).
Therefore, the best time to consume a large majority of your carbs is directly after an intense workout
To help explain this better here are some sample meal plans depending on your workout times
Meal 1 – Pre workout – Either train fasted or have a small amount of protein/carbs 30 mins prior to workout.
Meal 2 Protein
Meal 3 Post Workout – Protein/ Carbs
Meal 4 Protein/Fats
Meal 5 Protein/ Carbs/small amount fats
Meal 1 – Protein/fats
Meal 2 Protein/ Carbs/small amount fats
Meal 3 Protein or train fasted
Meal 4 Protein
Meal 5 Protein/ Carbs/
By the way 5 meals really translates into 3 main meals and two snacks one of these being a protein shake straight after your workout.
Summing it all up
As we can see going low carb doesn´t have to be the default plan when trying to lose weight. Yes restricting carbs will give you results and depending on your training and lifestyle maybe the best choice for you.
However if you want build muscle, get stronger and keep improving performance you will need a certain level of carbs in your diet.
From a weight management perspective energy balance is critical not how many carbs you are eating.
If your body is in a consistent moderate negative energy balance then you will start to lose weight. It is the fundamental principle that you should always consider when looking to get lean.
Thanks for visiting my site and I hope you got some value from this article. If you have any questions or want to chat about some other topic please leave a comment below.