In this article, we go over five of the most common questions on carbohydrate consumption’s effect on the human body, what their function is and how to use them to your advantage.
Question#1: What is the amount of carbohydrates one should consume in one day? Can you suggest a precise ratio or is there some equation used to calculate the exact amount for me?
The amount of carbs you need to eat in a given day depends on several factors like the size of your body, how physically active you are, your fitness goals and last but not least, your genetics. The prevailing suggestion among nutritionists is that approximately 50% of the calories you ingest every day should come from carbs. The majority of professional bodybuilders get around 50% of their total calories from carbs while the advocates of low-carb diets suggest consuming maximum 10-15%.
Carbohydrates are actually a non-essential nutrient, which means they are not necessary for our survival. Having said that, striving to eat a low amount of calories is unnecessary to achieve your fitness and health goals.
The best method to calculate how many carbs you need to eat each day is to first calculate how many grams of fat and protein you need to eat, with the rest of your calories coming from carbs. For example, if you want to shed some fat and keep your hard-earned muscle at the same time, you can consume 1 gram of protein and 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight, and the rest will be carbohydrates.
For a person who weighs 180 pounds, that translates to 180 grams of protein and 90 grams of fat. If we assume he needs to ingest a maximum of 2000 calories per day, it means he has 200 grams of carbs left over (one gram of protein or carbs has four calories, and one gram of fat has nine calories). The macro-nutrient ratio in this example is approximately 35% protein, 45% carbs, and 20% fat.
A general rule would be to ingest something in the range of 40-50% carbs, 25-30% protein and 20-30% fat if you intend to be on a cutting diet. Of course, you can always play around with the percentages and increase or decrease the carb or fat level and see what’s the best ratio for you.
Question#2: When should I eat a high amounts of carbs, and when should lower the amount?
Immediately post-workout is the most optimal time to consume a relatively high amount of carbohydrates, especially fast-digesting simple carbs. In this instance, they can be quite anabolic since they increase blood sugar levels, which then triggers the release of insulin. This hormone has gotten a lot of bad rap over the years, because of its tendency to increase the fat storage, but you can also turn it into a powerful ally by helping the muscles get more protein. After a training session, consuming carbs with protein in 2:1 ratio has been proven to help the body use up the protein more effectively.
Consuming more carbs when you’re preparing for an endurance race or any kind of competition can also be quite beneficial. “Carb loading” or eating high quantities of carbs to saturate the sugar storage deposits, like the muscles and the liver, before a competition can greatly improve your performance.
There’s no need to eliminate carbs completely, however eating them in excess should be avoided. So, if you weigh 180lbs, you train a few days a week and work a sedentary job, circa 200 grams of carbs should be enough fuel for your essential bodily functions, as well as your training sessions without wasting the excess and turning it into fat. For every additional hour you spend in the gym exercising, you can add around 50-100 grams of carbs. As a reference point, endurance athletes consume up to 300-400 grams of carbs a day.
Question#3: What is this “carb cycling” I heard about and how does it work?
“Carb cycling” is a diet framework, which can vary depending on your goals, whether losing fat or building muscle. The most popular variation is eating a low amount of carbs for 3 subsequent days and then a high amount on the 4th day. You need to take a lot of factors into consideration like body size in order to calculate the upper carb limit and base your percentages off of that.
It should be noted that carbohydrates are only one parameter in the overall nutrition equation, because you still need to calculate your total daily calories right, which is much more important. Basically, the reason why this diet approach works is not because of the varying carb consumption, but because when reducing carb consumption you also reduce total caloric intake.
A nice tip when doing carb cycling is to follow the “tapering” method where you consume more carbs with your breakfast in the morning and then slowly taper them during the day on low-carb days. It’s worth noting, that no study has confirmed that this method helps burn more fat, but a lot of people have said that it helps them implement the carb cycling diet much easier.
Question#4: Is timing carb consumption important in regards to my training routine? Should I always eat one hour before workout and immediately post-workout?
Whether you’re trying to lose fat or build lean muscle, the prime goal is to always have stores of energy to be ready for training. If you find yourself energized without needing to eat carbs before the morning workout, for example, then you don’t need them. However, if you’re looking to build lean muscle mass and feel that you can’t finish your workouts any more because of increased fatigue, then gulping a protein shake and some fruit before your workout can help you a lot since they are easily digestible while giving your body lots of protein and carbs.
Question#5: What’s the relationship between carbs and fiber? Is fiber actually carbs? And what are sugar alcohols?
There are two kinds of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble. When added to water, soluble fiber turns into a gel-like substance and is digested minimally, while insoluble fiber doesn’t change when added to water and passes through the digestive system almost intact. Both kinds of fiber, coming from plants, are counted as carbs because of their molecular structure. Yes, you heard that right – Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. That’s why it does not affect your blood sugar levels.
Nutritionists are still debating whether dietary fiber should be counted as a carbohydrate and is treated differently depending on the country. Most of them consider that insoluble fiber has no caloric value, but it is generally agreed that fiber slows down digestion, which maintains reduced blood sugar levels. This is in stark contrast to most carbs, which greatly increase sugar levels. The majority of nutritionists suggesting subtracting the dietary fiber from the total carb amount to get the amount of the so-called “net” carbs. In an ordinary average-sized apple, the total amount of carbs is 26 grams, dietary fiber 5 grams, which leaves 21 grams of net carbs.
Sugar alcohol takes its name from its molecular structure, a hybrid between an alcohol and a sugar molecule. The majority of sugar alcohols have less calories and less impact on blood sugar levels than normal sugar, which is why nutritionists suggest that they be subtracted from the total amount of carbs, the same way fiber is subtracted.
These are the three main takeaway points: sugar alcohols are safe for consumption, they don’t cause an increase in blood sugar levels the way normal sugars do and third, they can cause bloating, gastric illnesses and diarrhea if consumed in large amounts or if one already has an existing condition such as irritable bowel syndrome.