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High carb or low carb? It’s that age old debate that goes round and round in the nutrition industry. It’s no wonder people are confused about carbohydrate intake. But no more.....

Say Hello to Carbs

Before we even get into how many carbs you, as an individual, should be eating every day, let’s talk about what carbs are, what they do, and what purposes they serve.

You probably know carbs as providers of energy, and that’s exactly right. While we can get energy from fat, and even from protein, carbs are our bodies’ most easily accessible source of energy. The carbs we eat are broken down, either into glucose to be used for energy virtually straight away, or for glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscle cells and can be used at a later date.

Therefore, it would make sense that the more energy you expend, the more carbs you need. This brings us on to the first general point regarding how many carbs you should eat.

While it isn’t an exact science, the more active you are, the more carbs you need. It’s almost a case of “earning” your carbs.

If you have an active job, train hard several times per week, and especially if you’re a competing athlete, you’ll be using glucose and glycogen at a much faster rate than the average person, so therefore need to eat more carbs to replenish your energy stores. Likewise, if you spend eight hours every day behind a desk, drive to and from work, sit on the couch when you get home, and rarely exercise, you really don’t need that many carbs to sustain your energy output.

Define your goals

The second point of consideration is what your goals are.

Low carb is often touted as a method of losing weight, and while there are flaws in the theory that cutting carbs automatically leads to weight loss, it is true that by slashing your carb intake, you do two things that help with weight loss.

Firstly, by taking your carb intake down, you slash your calorie intake, which will almost certainly put you into a calorie deficit, which leads to fat loss. Secondly, lower levels of carbohydrate in your diet leads to lower levels of insulin and blood sugar, which may be beneficial for burning fat.

Those looking to gain weight and build muscle mass however, should aim for a higher intake of carbs.

Carbs are highly effective for laying down slabs of lean muscle, as they aid recovery and provide a much needed source of calories to aid with bulking.

The final consideration here is your current condition and dieting history. If you’re currently overweight or obese, you may well benefit from a lower carb intake. Your body has plenty of readily available body fat to use for energy, so doesn’t need much in the way of carbohydrate to survive. If you’ve frequently yoyo dieted, and always had trouble with sticking to a plan, then going slightly lower with your carbs may be helpful too.

Conversely, if you’re particularly lean, your insulin sensitivity will be much better, and your body will process carbohydrate more efficiently.

Genetics play somewhat of a role too, as simply put, some people just tolerate carbs better than others. You’ll probably know how well you deal with carbs, simply by monitoring how you feel after eating a high carb meal:

Feel energetic and ready to go and work out? Then you respond well to carbs.

Feel like going straight to bed? High carb diets probably aren’t for you.

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