Carbs are tricky. We need some to support our training, particularly if working out hard or being engaged in endurance training and racing. But too much causes fat gain, and what’s really annoying – cravings. Finding the balanced amount that works for your body is a matter of self-experimenting and trial/failure attempts. We’ve already learnt to distinguish the healthy carbs, the crappy sources and the training supporting sources of carbohydrates. Now it’s a good time to provide you with something to help you figure out what the right amount of carbs could be for you.
Allow for a brief reminder that carbs are only the third item in the hierarchy of a healthy plate. It’s always the best to start with protein and ensure that there are some healthy fats on our plate. Fill the rest of your plate with colorful low-carb veggies starting with leafy greens as a base and only at this point think about whether you will need to add a piece of “carby” fruit or starchy vegetable depending on your level of physical activity that day.
What is the healthy amount of carbs per day in average?
Well… it depends on our size, muscle mass and goals. However, there is a tool I like to use to begin with as a reference value. It is the so called carbohydrate curve of Mark Sisson, which helps us to get oriented in where the current carb intake is, and where we want it to be to achieve our goals. Then we can to play around the reference amount by experimenting until figuring out the ideal for one’s own body.
Sisson claims that between 50 and 100 grams of carbs per day in average leads to effortless continuous fat loss. Maintenance amounts are between 100 and 150 grams per day. Anything under 50 grams is ketogenic. Ketosis happens, when a person goes extremely low in carbs, glycogen stores get depleted and ketones become a source of energy that body creates from… stored fat!
Ketosis is not necessarily recommended in a long term (although I’ve read stories of men being in ketosis for a while and feeling on top of the world), but it helps to speed up fat loss once you are fat adapted and able to introduce intermittent fasting. Skipping meals here and there and thus going less than 50 grams of carbs in average will boost your metabolism, and we will burn faster, particularly if killing a “hungry workout” at the end of your fast. Once again, do not practice intermittent fasting until you are fat adapted. Once you get there, I can promise you that you will experience the most powerful workouts on empty stomach after 12-24 hours of fasting. Before being fully fat adapted, anyone would most probably faint or at least felt very weak.
Of course that we won’t be losing on 99 and get stable on 101 grams of carbs per day. 2 grams over the carb curve threshold don’t mean a thing. Here is where the personal approach needs to be applied. Being an active person, I learnt that pushing towards or below the 50 grams threshold doesn’t work well for me, unless I’m fasting intermittently. I feel at my best, perform well and lose fat slowly at around 80-90 grams of carbs a day being pretty active (lifting weights, HIIT training here and there, long hikes and bike rides over weekend, some running).
Do I count my carb intake? Definitely not. I eat uncontrolled amounts of low-carb veggies and I have a half of sweet potato or plantain on training days, or when I play outside a lot. I usually have an apple every day (I prefer sour varieties) and treat myself one more serving of fruits, when something is really calling me or when I have access to fresh local produce. I do 21 day sugar detox twice to three times a year, and during those days my carb intake goes lower. Yet on heavy training days or with too much outdoor cardio, I need to re-fill with sugar detox approved sources (sweet potatoes and beetroots, here we go again!). I think that figuring out my personal best for carbs has taken me the longest and it keeps changing based on the way I train and the time of the year. The great thing is that with time of being Paleo or primal our bodies starts sending clear trustworthy signals about what they want and need, and so “experimenting” and adjustments happen naturally without too much effort.
Carbs are the variable to play with when feeling like losing a kg or two. For ladies, carb curve can vary on “their days” and in time of pregnancy. I figured out that ladies in general have a bit higher carb needs than guys (talking about regular folks, not body builders or endurance athletes) and also higher fat percentage even when they become super lean. As I have already said, I recommend that you start experimenting with Mark Sisson’s carb curve as a reference tool, but once you are fat adapted, try to vary your carb intake to see how your body reacts and adjust accordingly.
If you feel a bit overwhelmed, here is a short summary of the most important points from all three parts about carbohydrates:
• Processed food with sugar added
• All grains
• Vegetables in all colours of the rainbow
• Low-carb fruits such (berries)
To EAT WITH MODERATION or to fuel workouts:
• Fruits (opt for regional and seasonal)
• Starchy vegetables
Last but not least, if you decide to go low-carb, make sure you eat plenty of healthy fats. At the beginning of the transformation from a sugar – to a fat burner, a body will still crave sugars, but it will not get it. You may feel sluggish, grumpy, and irritable, even have migraines. This state only lasts a few days, then a whole new world will open.
Focus on feeding your body enough healthy fats, even if it seems excessive. Once the transformation happens, your body will start sending correct signals and the amounts of protein and fat will adjust with time and activity. The withdrawal stage take between 7-10 days, afterwards sugar cravings will disappear and you will start enjoying stable (high) levels of energy, improved sleep, glowing skin, stronger, fitter and leaner body and overall new ALOUDED you. To introduce and test intermittent fasting, wait for at least 2-3 months of being Paleo/primal.
I am very curious about your thoughts on carbs, carb sources you like and experience with transformation from sugar to fat burning beasts. Let me know in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading and have a good day living loud!