The Great Carb Debate can be found just about anywhere online and it’s always interesting to read the opposing (and rather dogmatic) views of fitness enthusiasts and professionals.
What’s your take? High carbohydrates or low carbohydrates for burning fat and getting lean? Does it really matter much?
It does matter and unfortunately, there is no globally uniform answer. That would sure be nice and it would simplify much confusion in the world of dieting and fat loss.
If you’re struggling to find the right number of carbs you need, it can be frustrating to hear that you need to figure out the ideal carb intake for your unique situation. Regardless, that’s the truth of the matter.
The good news is that it’s not as hard as $300 a month online trainers portray it to be. My formula is explained a little later in this article, but first…
My Carbohyrate Experiences
Starting January of last year and extending into the first five months of this year, I’ve performed just about every imaginable carb test on myself. It taught me several important lessons. If you’re looking for peer-reviewed, scientific studies in this post, you might be disappointed but hopefully, you can see some value in my real-world results, even if your experiences prove to be different. Here’s what I’ve learned.
1) Calories are king. While different carb levels do have a noticeable effect on my body composition, it’s not to the degree that calories do . Adjust calories first and foremost and then manipulate carbohydrate intake secondly.
2) Ketosis and HIIT don’t mix. Higher, intense anaerobic exercise requires more carbs. If you’re going to try this combination, expect decreased energy, loss of muscle, decreased libido, decreased thyroid output and all around piss-poor results. Despite the advice of HIIT to avoid muscle loss, anaerobic exercise is a catabolic activity and fueling that activity with ketones ain’t going to happen.
3) A “No-Carb” lifestyle is not optimal for individuals training regularly. It’s fine for individuals living sedentary lives but if you’re training several times a week, you’re better off getting some degree of carbohydrate. Training hard and going no carb leads to a skinny fat body.
4) Believe in the re-feed. If you’re going low-carb (and especially no-carb), more isn’t better. I made that mistake. Remember that the leaner you get, the more your body requires re-feeds. Those aren’t cheat days where anything goes, but meals with significantly elevated carbohydrate intake. Leptin has to be regulated and not refeeding is going to hurt your leptin levels and ultimately any and all results. Some people will need to re-feed less than others. Experiment with refeeding once every couple weeks, once a week and even 2X a week.
How Many Carbs Should I Take?
Approach carbs the same way you should be approaching calories. Experiment with a higher number first and decrease if necessary. It’s just that easy. When I’m handing out calorie and carb advice these days (in relation to getting lean), my specific approach is always the following:
Body weight x 16 for total calories. Make 50% of those calories carbs. Try it for 1-2 weeks. Still gaining weight? Drop carbs before calories. Make only 20% of your calories come from carbs and go for another week. Still gaining weight? Reduce daily calories by 300 for a couple thousand less calories p/ week. Raise carbs back up to 50%, then 20%… You get the idea.
This is the method that has gotten me the best results since starting on my lean journey a year and a half ago. After messing up my metabolism with prolonged extreme low calorie dieting, I accepted some slight fat gain for a couple months while eating almost twice as much and then jumped into this formula. It took me four weeks to get it right but it showed me exactly where my TDEE was and how many carbs would burn fat the best for me. And unlike the “me” from last year, I’m losing fat while increasing both strength and muscle size. I’m ten pounds heavier now and leaner than ever before.
While I believe more people will find success in the 20% range (because the majority of adults have some degree of insulin resistance), you could be getting less than optimum results if you’re a person that can benefit from more carbs. Don’t do that to yourself if you don’t have to.
Too many people get in too big of a hurry when making the decision to get lean and lose fat. I was guilty of that too. If you can accept a longer timeline from the very beginning, you’re simply going to find a lot greater success.
In the end, experience is the best teacher and it’s my contention that people don’t experiment nearly enough. The fitness world lacks having more individuals who are willing to go to extremes to find out how their bodies respond. Read a lot, get a lot of different opinions and then try a few different tests on yourself. We’re unique as snowflakes so we’re all going to respond differently to the same stimuli.
Continuing in your pursuit of fitness excellence and testing with both high carbs vs low carbs on your body is the only way to know how many you need to achieve your lean body goal. Eat em’ up.