Let’s face it; carbs are currently under heavy fire. Every second person I talk to is cutting out carbs or following a low carb, high-fat diet.

It’s not hard to understand why.

A lot of influential people are arguing in opposition of our starchy, delicious friends. Throwing down scary words such as insulin, sugar, diabetes and high-fructose corn syrup to scare people and blaming carbs for everything that’s wrong with humanity. They’re selling a convincing story of carbohydrates being the villain we should banish from our lives. Go figure, many of these influential low-carb enthusiasts are also releasing high-fat promoting books.

Now I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole that is low carb, high fat versus moderate to high carb diet literature, as that’s a very long article in itself, so let’s just knock this on the head and move on. A number of recent highly controlled studies showing that low carb, high-fat diets have no additional benefits to weight loss when compared to more balanced approaches. To quote the most recent ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition) position paper on body composition:

A wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low-carbohydrate/ketogenic, and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition, and this allows flexibility with program design…

And health?

Well, we know that while carbs aren’t an essential nutrient for the body that doesn’t mean that they aren’t beneficial. Carbohydrates have numerous important roles in the body and provide the majority of our vitamin, mineral and fibre intake via vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

The evidence is fairly clear that carbs, in and of themselves, aren’t the problem many make them out to be.

However, there are issues.

The two main problems with that we deal with regularly at The Hub in regards to our client’s current carbohydrate intakes are where they source the majority of their intake from and consuming disproportionate amounts for their personal needs.

We’ve written ad nauseum about what types of carbohydrates we should aim to make the majority of our intake. (see here)

But what about quantity? One of the most common questions I receive is

how many carbs should I be consuming?

The answer is ‘it depends’. When setting your carb intake, you need to consider:

Body size

The larger an individual is, typically the more energy they need to maintain that weight. This allows more carbohydrate relative to someone of smaller stature.

Muscle mass

Those with greater amounts of muscle have a larger capacity to store glycogen (stored form of carbohydrates in the body) and can, therefore, handle more carbohydrate.

Fat mass

Increasing fat mass beyond a certain % will reduce an individuals insulin sensitivity, meaning they don’t handle carbs quite as efficiently as a person of lower body fat.

Goals

Are you looking to lose body fat or gain muscle? Improve performance on the field or reduce your fasting blood glucose. Your goals will dictate your diet.

Daily activity levels

The more active you are, the higher your energy expenditure, the more your muscles are contracting and the more carbohydrate you may need.

The type, duration and intensity of activity

Higher intensity and longer duration activity/exercise utilises carbs predominantly as fuel while the body can break down fats at an appropriate rate at lower intensities.

Age

As we age, our overall energy expenditure and lean body mass tend to decrease, reducing our need for as many carbs.

Genetics

There are those who genetically blessed to handle more carbohydrates. From personal experience, individuals who naturally sit at very low body fat percentages tend to do well with very high carbohydrate intakes.

Personal preference

What foods do you enjoy eating? Do you prefer a diet that includes more carbs and less fat or the other way round? For the majority of individuals, choosing a macronutrient ratio that makes eating towards your goals easiest is going to improve adherence and be the most likely to result in success.

For example, a muscular, young, male athlete who plays rugby and trains twice daily is going to need high amounts of carbohydrates within his diet to perform and recover optimally. A sedentary, 68-year-old woman who does tai chi once a week is going to need much fewer carbohydrates within her diet.

These are obviously extreme examples. The majority of people aren’t going to find themselves at either end of the spectrum.

So how do we figure out how much we need based on our lifestyle?

We first need to increase our awareness. How much are you currently consuming? This doesn’t need to be down to the gram. Even rough servings will do. Cups, fists, the percentage of the plate/bowl covered, whatever way you portion your carbs currently.

Not currently portioning your carbs? This is a great first step. Be as consistent as possible for 1-2 weeks with your intake and portions.

During this time you should also figure out what metrics can you track that are related to your goal? Energy levels, mood, performance in the gym, body weight or body fat? Rate these levels each day as well.

After a week or two reflect on your data. First, consider:

“Have I been consistent with my intake?” Be honest. If you haven’t then your data is likely not accurate enough to derive meaning from.

If yes. “How have your key metrics tracked?”

“Hmmm, well while eating 3 cupped portions of carbohydrates a day my performance in the gym has been a little lacklustre. I tend to run out of steam 30 minutes into my workout.”

Boom! Now we have something to work off

Increase your carbs by one portion this coming week and see how your performance tracks.

It’s important to remember that key metrics are very rarely influenced by one variable. Multiple variables will affect weight, energy, performance, mood, digestion. The important point is to start paying more attention to how you’re feeling and make changes when things feel off.

While it can be initially time-consuming and a pain to track how you feel, it provides insight and allows more accurate adjustments. And when you think about it, what’s the other option? Continuing to do what you’re currently doing and not achieving your goals? Wasting time and money randomly guessing and hoping that what you’re doing is working?

I don’t like either of these options and neither should you. Take responsibility and take action.

If you’re looking for a head start and someone to provide a guiding light to make the process easier, consider coming in to chat to one of our practitioners.

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