How many carbs should you consume per day? It depends on what your goals are.
If you’re trying to build muscle and bulk up, your diet will have room for a higher amount of calories, carbs, protein, and fats.
But if you’re trying to lose weight or shred body fat, your daily calorie goal and allowable carbs might look totally different.
Let’s compare and contrast a couple examples to see what works best for fat loss goals:
- High-Carb Consumption
- Low-Carb Consumption
- Carb Cycling
Example #1: High-Carb Consumption
Remember the movie Forrest Gump? If you’re playing for a world championship title against China, the International Table Tennis Foundation actually recommends getting 60 percent of all your calories from carbohydrates.
“This is the main energy source for table tennis athletes,” says Dr. Chandra Madhosingh. “Carbohydrates stored in muscles can be depleted after an hour, depending on the intensity of the matches.”
So if your goal is to eat 2,500 calories a day as a pro table tennis player, 1,500 of those calories should come from carbs. Break it down, and that’s 375 grams of carbs per day.
That’s a lot of carbs. But if you’re playing table tennis like Forrest Gump, you’ll burn a ton of calories per hour, and little will be left to store as fat.
But high-carb dieting isn’t exactly the best option for fat loss and physique goals.
Example #2: Low-Carb Consumption
When Dorian Yates racked up six Mr. Olympia wins in six years, he cut calories and carbs to below maintenance leading up to every show.
Over 12 to 14 weeks, he would lose an average of two to three pounds a week, and shed body fat in the process.
But it wasn’t easy. With a serious calorie deficit and low-carb dieting, he cut his body fat down to about 3 percent before a show.
Go all-in on low-carb dieting, and you can achieve some incredible results in a short amount of time.
But there’s a price to pay, like constipation, frequent headaches, feeling light-headed, and intense cravings.
And it’s no secret that Yates’ approach to nutrition and supplementation for bodybuilding wasn’t exactly the healthiest.
Example #3: Carb Cycling
If you eat a ton of carbs without enough cardio, those excess carbs aren’t going to be used for energy. They’ll be stored as fat.
And if you opt for an extreme low-carb diet, it’s difficult to sustain, and there are some unpleasant side effects.
But there’s a happy medium. Especially if your goal is getting lean. It’s called carb cycling.
And it’s a nutrition strategy I’ve used for years to get ready for a show, or simply cut body fat to get leaner. And one that suits many of my clients, based on their goals.
Just keep this in mind. Carb cycling is one of many nutrition and training strategies you can use to cut body fat and get lean. It isn’t the only option.
Here’s how my training partner Jordan Ferguson explains it:
“Carb cycling isn't a magical diet. Its great and works well for some. But at the end of the week your total net calories are the same. It’s just that you can enjoy higher carbs on some days.”
Want to know how carb cycling works to burn body fat without extreme dieting?
Follow these five strategies:
1. Eat More Carbs on Heavy Training Days
Let’s start by assuming you’ve already figured out your daily calorie needs to reach your goal. (FYI – I calculate this for every client and use it to build a customized meal plan).
With carb cycling, you won’t be eating the same foods every day. That’s because you’ll boost your carb intake on heavy training days, and go low-carb on the other days.
Why? Your body uses carbohydrates for energy. Fuel up on carbs before you hit the gym on a heavy training day, and you’ll have more energy to go for PRs. Extra carbs on heavy days will also help replenish muscle glycogen and speed recovery.
2. Ignore Temporary Water Weight Gain
Trust the process. You’ve heard that before, right? Carb cycling is another example this applies to, and it’s important to know if you’ve never used this approach to dieting before.
Why? If you’ve got a habit of weighing yourself every day, you’re probably going to notice you’re tipping the scale by a few pounds on high-carb days. Don’t be alarmed.
The more carbs you eat, the more water your body stores (4 grams of water per 1 gram of carbs).
If you’re munching down 200 grams of carbs or more on heavy training days, you’ll add water weight, and muscle definition might disappear.
It’s just part of the cycle. You’ll typically lose the water weight and regain definition on your low-carb days.
3. Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
Does a high-carb day in carb cycling give you free reign to plow through cookies, bread, soda, and sugary snacks? No.
You still have a daily calorie goal. And while your calories might fluctuate from day to day during carb cycling, your total net calories should be the same by the end of the week. (Thank you, very much Jordan.)
Skip the high-carb sugary snacks, and choose foods that will boost glucose levels like brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
4. Adjust Fat Intake on High-Carb Days
When your carb intake goes up, guess what? Your fat intake needs to go down. It’s the only way to make room for those extra calories from carbs, and still hit your net calorie goal for the week.
The one macro that stays consistent during carb cycling: protein. Most people should aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and that’s especially important during a cutting process like this to preserve lean muscle mass.
5. Track Everything You Eat
If you’re not carb cycling and primarily eating the same foods every day, it’s easy to get into a routine. You know how many calories you’re consuming, and what your macro percentages of protein, fats, and carbs looks like.
But when you’re carb cycling, it’s not that simple. Your diet changes from day to day.
To reap the benefits of carb cycling, you really need to dial in your diet. Eat clean. Stay on track. Follow the plan. Get it?
Tracking everything you eat helps you hit your targets and make adjustments as you cycle from low-carb to high-carb and back again.
Want to learn more about carb cycling, training and nutrition to reach your goals? Let’s discuss on Facebook.
- Madhosingh, C. (2015). Nutrition for table tennis competitors. International Table Tennis Foundation. From: https://www.teamusa.org/USA-Table-Tennis/Features/2015/February/09/Nutrition-for-Table-Tennis
- Yates, D., et al. (2006). A Portrait of Dorian Yates: The life and training philosophy of the world’s best bodybuilder. Birmingham, U.K.: Health and Life Publishing. From: https://www.amazon.com/Portrait-Dorian-Yates-Philosophy-Bodybuilder/dp/0953476405
- Harvie, M., et al. (2013). The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. British Journal of Nutrition. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23591120