There is a lot of conflicting information floating around on social media these days, related to Carbohydrates. Carbs have been given a bad name in recent times, with diets like Keto and Paleo completely eliminating them. On the other hand, some diets, like the Mediterranean diet, are high in carbs.
Advocates of these extremely low carb diets suggest that going low carb is the reason they’re losing fat, since that turns their body into a “fat burning machine”. The body uses fat as the preferred source of energy, in the absence of carbs. Well, that is true, but only to a certain extent.
Are carbs actually bad for you? Let’s see what science says.
Carbs are NOT your enemy
Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy. Though unlike fats and protein, carbs are not essential in our diets. Meaning, we can completely eliminate carbs from our diets and our body will still function properly, hence diets like Keto and Paleo.
Other nutrients such as certain amino acids and fatty acids can’t be manufactured by the body, and hence, we need certain amounts of protein and fats in our diets without question.
But, the fact is, we need carbs to perform our best when it comes to endurance as well as resistance training. The sport/activity you engage in will dictate the amount of carbs that you need per day. Going extremely low carb/carb free can have an impact on your performance. More for endurance athletes, and less for resistance training athletes.
Calories In vs. Calories Out
When it comes to fat loss, the main guiding principle is Calories In vs. Calories Out. Meaning, if you stay in a calorie deficit, your body will lose fat irrespective of whether you’re eating carbohydrates or not.
In diets like Keto, though the body is burning fat for energy, that does not mean that if you stay in a caloric surplus, your body will lose weight. It will gain weight. And since your diet is high in fats, most of the weight gained would be in the form of fat.
The reason someone on Keto is losing weight is because they are in a caloric deficit, and not because they’ve completely eliminated carbs. Though some people like doing Keto simply because it helps them feel satiated for long without eating a lot. And if that’s the reason you want to do Keto, then by all means, go ahead.
But if you’re someone like us who like carbs around their workouts, then by all means, add them to your diet. Just make sure that you’re keeping your protein intake high, and are in a caloric deficit.
How much Carbs per day?
The amount of carbs you need in a day is largely dependent on the sport/activity that you engage in, your goal and your body type. There is no generic answer here. If anyone tells you that every human has to eat “X” amount of carbs every day, know that they have no clue what they’re talking about.
What we can do, though, is look at figures that have worked well for a lot of people.
If you’re someone who is into resistance training, a good starting place would be 2 to 5 grams / Kg bodyweight.
This figure is pretty low compared to someone who, let’s say, is an endurance athlete and does marathons. Carbs intake is not necessarily essential for strength athletes. Low carb intake has far less impact on resistance training, compared to endurance training.
People who engage in endurance training need way more carbs than someone who engages in resistance training. Since the former need to maximize the amount of glycogen that is stored in their bodies. That way, when they’re out there running the race for prolonged time periods, they can delay fatigue as long as possible.
Hence, they need anywhere between 5 to 12 grams / Kg bodyweight per day, depending upon their training intensity.
Carbs are the most mysterious of the three macronutrients. Unlike fats and protein, carbs are not essential for your body's proper functioning. There are no specific recommendations for daily carb intake. How much carbs you need depends solely upon your goals and activity levels.
Those who resistance train need much less carbs than someone who is into endurance training. And if you’re someone who doesn’t like carbs, feel free to keep them at a minimum in your diet. And if you love them, feel free to add them in your diet, but just make sure you’re having enough protein, and staying in a caloric range that supports your goals.