How Many Carbs do I Really Need?

Our society as a whole is confused about carbohydrates (a.k.a. carbs).  For over 30 years the FDA, diet gurus & doctors have vacillated on their opinions of the macronutrient known as carbs.  

 Many people think of carbs as only being in breads, pastas or sweets, but carbs are found in almost every whole food item that is grown underground, on a bush or in a tree. 

Though all of the above do contain carbs, there is a huge difference in getting carbs from a potato versus carbs from a candy bar.  The biggest difference is how quickly the carbs affect your blood sugar levels, which in turn determines if a carb will be used up or stored by your body.

So why did carbs get a bad rap in the fitness & diet industry years ago?  Carbs directly affect your blood sugar levels. When the body senses a rise in blood sugar, it has to immediately figure out what to do with it.  Hopefully it will be used in energy that is expended through activity.  But if not, it will have to be stored.  Extra glucose (the result of eating carbs) can get stored as fat cells. 

However, when carb intake is at a normal level, it can also be stored in your muscles & liver as glycogen.  This is the fuel your body uses for back up when it needs energy, but this type of fuel can only be stored for a couple of days.

So how many carbs do YOU actually need per day to maintain a healthy weight?

The thing is, carb intake need is directly linked to activity level, body composition & overall diet.  Everyone’s carb need per day is different.  

So why did you even read this far?  

I’m going to tell you an easy way to get started on knowing how many carbs you need per day.

First, let’s take an honest look at your activity level.  
Rank yourself in one of the following categories:

 20-30 minutes of activity, 4-7 days per week = lightly active
30 – 45 minutes of activity, 5-7 days per week = moderately active
45+ minutes of activity, 6 or more times per week = highly active

 Now here is a starting point of carb levels for each category:
Lightly active category à start with 60-100 grams of carbs per day
Moderately active category à start with 80-130 grams of carbs per day.
Highly active category à start with 120-180 grams of carbs per day.

In order to track your carbs you will need to either log all food into a journal or using a food tracking app or website.  These can also be good sources of figuring out what percentage of your daily intake (macronutrients) should be dedicated to carbs.

Remember, this is a starting point.  Everyone’s body will respond differently to varying levels of carbs.  You will have to do some self-exploration & evaluation in order to know how your body is responding.  

Also, keep in mind that these carb counts MUST come from whole foods, not processed foods if you want to achieve a level of health & wellness.  Not all carbs are created equal! 

What does a day of whole foods carbs look like? Let’s use an example of someone who is eating 100 carbs per day.  If that person eats those carbs in whole foods, then they get to eat 6 ounces of sweet potato, 1 apple, ½ cup of blackberries, 2 cups of broccoli & 2 dates per day.  Compare all of that food to 100 grams of processed carbs:  1 candy bar & 1 soda!

Yikes!  Please, please, please for the love of all things good, choose the whole foods.  Beyond the inequality of the compared carbs & the health implication of the rush of insulin that would be delivered to your body with the processed choice, there are so many negative aspects to using up your carb “bank” in a binge of processed foods.

Remember that overall health for a long time should always be your key goal.  If you are choosing whole foods, with a moderate amount of higher starchy choices, you will not likely overdo on the carb load.

Use the formula above & track your carbs for a couple of weeks to see if the amount you come up with works for you.  Since everyone is different, there is no mathematical formula that can be 100% right every time when figuring macronutrients.  Adjust up or down based on your daily activity level, energy levels & athletic performance.

If you want more help figuring out your daily carb intake or other macronutrients, click HERE to contact me about health & nutrition coaching.