How many carbs should you eat?

Carbs, carbs, carbs - probably the most common thing I read about online. Many people cut them altogether when 'dieting' (hate that word!), some people eat loads of them, others eat them pre workout, and some cycle them. But how many carbs should you eat?

Here's my answer - it depends. There is no magic amount of carbs to eat for the perfect physique, it depends on your goals, training and lifestyle. Guys who want to build muscle will need some carbs in their system, but it depends how much body fat they have. Let's look at two examples - an overweight guy who is training for a muscular physique, and a guy who has a pretty low body fat percentage and wants to add muscle mass. I will say this first - there are many different opinions about carbs and building muscle, and my opinion is based on research, personal experience and information from trainers and nutritionists (I never voice an opinion without any kind of knowledge to it). So, the first guy. I would not recommend eating many carbs, simply because he has enough stored energy (fat), and that's what he wants to use rather than external energy (carbs). So I would lower his carb intake to allow the body to burn the stored fat. He will need an occasional higher carb day as constant low carb isn't a smart idea. As his body fat reduces, he can add more carbs into his diet.
The second guy. He can take more carbs, simply because he won't have much stored energy at all. Hard weight sessions take energy, and if you lack energy, your workouts will suck - simple as that. I have had workouts where I have had low energy, and they've felt pointless to be honest. So he can take carbs better, as his body will utilise them for the workouts rather than storing them. Obviously if he ate too much, the excess will get stored as fat. I don't advise having carbs pre-workout, as they won't be fully utilised in time, but If you workout in the afternoon/evening, you will have fuel in your system from your daily food intake.

Let's look at it from a fat loss point of view. Carbs are not the enemy, but the amount can be. When losing fat, you don't want to gain any more, so you need to watch your intake of fats and carbs. Healthy fats are fine, very good actually! but a lot of saturated fats is just bad news. It's similar with carbs to be honest, too many and you'll store body fat, too little and your body can refuse to burn the stored fat, so balance is key. If you are working out as well as changing your eating habits, then a few more carbs on training days wouldn't be a huge problem, but to maximise fat burn, you want to keep them lowered for a while, so your body goes all out at burning the stored fat. To counteract the calorie deficit from lower carbs, you will want to eat more protein and more healthy fats.

The type of carbs is important too. You have two types - simple and complex. Simple carbs are the typical sugary sweets and foods such as white carbs (white bread etc) which release energy far quicker, but drop off quicker too (good for post workout though to restore glycogen levels!). Complex are slower release energy which avoids that 'drop off', so it keeps your blood sugar more stable. Foods are brown carbs (rice etc) and sweet potatoes.

Just remember, the bigger you are (muscular wise) the more energy your body will need day to day to 'run', so you will need more carbs. Guys like Jay Cutler and Phil Heath will eat a lot of carbs (depending on competitions and events) simply because they are huge and their bodies need a lot more energy to perform daily functions.

Don't be afraid of carbs, whether you are muscle building or fat burning, just don't go overboard.

Lee Gregory Fitness

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