Are Carbohydrates Even Required? No, but Yes
Of the 3 primary macronutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrates, only fat and protein are essential to human life. You do not need carbohydrates to survive (you need glucose). However, your brain does need glucose, and high-intensity training like strength training uses muscle glycogen to fuel its function. So, if you don’t eat carbohydrates, where are you going to get this glucose?
It can get it from a couple of different places – protein or fat. Amino acids, which are what make up protein, can be converted to glucose by the liver through a process called gluconeogenesis. We can also derive glucose from fat. When fatty acids are released, glycerol, which is involved in fat synthesis, is released too. Glycerol can then be used by the liver to manufacture glucose. This also happens through gluconeogenesis.
All that being said, while carbohydrates aren’t required, it is still much more efficient to derive your glucose from carbohydrates, so you shouldn’t be afraid to eat them. While our society greatly over consumes refined carbohydrates, we greatly under consume whole food carbohydrates. The key is to eat the right ones.
Are You a Sugar Burner or a Fat Burner?
What happens when you eat a diet high in carbohydrates? You become more efficient at burning glucose. The enzymes needed for carbohydrate metabolism are up-regulated, and you in essence become a better sugar burner. This sounds great, except as a result, your fat burning enzymes will be down-regulated. Don’t we want to be efficient fat burners? Our goal is to burn fat, not glucose…right?
To efficiently burn fat, we need to train our bodies to use fatty acids for fuel. One of the ways we do this is by limiting (not eliminating) our carbohydrate intake so that we are only eating what we need. Anything more just promotes more efficient sugar burning, runs the risk of lowering your insulin sensitivity, and converts carbohydrates into fat via insulin when muscle and liver glycogen stores are full.
How Many Carbohydrates Per Day to Lose Weight?
All this leads us to the big question – how many carbohydrates per day to lose weight? For most people, an intake of around 150-200 grams (or 30-40 percent of calories) of carbohydrates should be sufficient to fuel their exercise and central nervous system function. At 4 calories per gram, that’s 600-800 calories worth of high-intensity fuel.
Chances are, you aren’t burning much more glycogen than that during your workout. And let’s not forget that when we exercise, we burn a combination of fat and glycogen. If you are highly active, you will probably need more than that (myself included). However, for the typical individual who exercises and then is sedentary and behind a desk the rest of the day, 150-200 grams is a good starting point.
The rest of your calories will need to be filled with healthy fats (I supplement with this omega 3 oil to get my essential fatty acids) and protein. Set your protein intake to .8-1 gram per pound of lean body mass, and fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats.
Once you have your carbohydrate and protein intake optimized to your activity levels, all you have to do is manipulate your fat intake to correspond with your goals. Want to lose 1 pound a week? Then just lower your fat intake by 500 calories per day (from maintenance levels) and use your body fat for fuel instead of dietary fat.
If you are having trouble losing weight, and you’re mostly sedentary during the day (minus your workout), and you’re eating well over 150-200 grams of carbohydrates a day, you might want to reconsider your intake to put it more in line with what you actually need. Doing so will help keep your insulin levels down so that fatty acids can more easily be mobilized and used for fuel.MUST READ: The Definitive Guide for How to Lose Weight
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