I was going to write this somewhat long email response and I figured why not turn into an article? It’s been a while since I made blog post, so I felt this would be totally appropriate
How should I eat to lose weight? How many carbs should I have?
First off, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to nutrition. I know there are a ton of diets out there – some of which have gotten people great results. Most fad diets out there are meant to give a basic frame work for how to eat to lose weight quickly. An example would be Carb Nite. That’s a program that I like for most people who don’t exercise hard or frequent enough. It’s also simple to follow and almost error proof. The only problem with it is that it’s an ultra low carb diet which is very difficult to follow.
In other words you have to be “gung-ho” to follow that program.
When it comes to nutrition for health, sports performance and weight management I subscribe to a Pro Paleo diet + dairy approach. Another way to look at it is a vegan / vegetarian that eats meat. In a nutshell it means I do my best to eat foods with the least amount of processing possible. It either has a face (like an animal) or it game from the ground (like a vegetable).
Health and performance for the reason of eating a diet that is low in anti-inflammatory. This allows for overall better health (less inflammation) and better recovery from intense training sessions.
If you’re interested in a paleo approach diet for weight loss you can view the guidelines I wrote on this blog post.
There’s always more to this nutrition story, but it really depends on the physical demands placed on the individual. In this article I wanted to address the specific question about “how much carbs should I have if I’m trying to lose weight?”
As much as necessary to sustain reasonable energy level. (well, how much is that?)
From my personal experience and knowledge, I would prioritize diet over exercise performance. The common problem with a lot of people trying to go on an aggressive “fitness” plan is to start making better food choices, cut the calories, increase the protein and workout hard.
Working out hard could be a body builder workout plan, a marathon training program or crossfit endurance. All of which have different energy demands.
In my case it would be mean workout less (and/or reduce intensity) and eat less carbs. Increase protein and fat intake.
(the example I’m going to descirbe below is a very simplistic explination of what happens in the body, its doesn’t go into detail. This is a kind of “bird’s eye view” of what goes on, but lots of stuff are happening. If you want to know more, you know where to look.)
Why would I workout less or reduce intensity? Most exercise is highly glycogen demanding. Glycogen is primarily created from ingested carbohydrates. When carbs are reduced and you’re blood sugar isn’t being propped up by dietary carbs your pancreas starts to release glucagon.
“The pancreas releases glucagon when blood sugar (glucose) levels fall too low. Glucagon causes the liver to convert storedglycogen into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream.” -taken from wikipedia about glucagon
When liver glycogen gets depleted, the body starts to rev up ketogensis and ketone bodies are formed causing the body to run on fat metabolism better.
Okay, that’s more science than I thought I was going to write. Here’s what I usually tell people:
When you go on a low carb or ultra low carb diet, your body has to shift gears from burning sugar to burning fat. Depending on how high your carb intake is and current physical activity is like it could take a while before your body adjusts to burning fat as a primary fuel source.
If you’re the average sedentary american with a high body fat, I would argue that you have enough fat on your body to function just fine.
If you’re a high intensity athlete, ultra low carb days may not always be ideal for days that consist of intense physical activity exceeding 60+ minutes and if you multiple training sessions a day.
With the main goal of fat loss, eat enough carbs to get by and function reasonably well. However if it’s your first time attempting an ultra low carb diet, you have to give your body 2 weeks to adapt.
I say start at 100g of carbs a day and tinker around with what works (after the 2 weeks).
The success of low carb diets has to do with controlling blood sugar levels which keep insulin levels relatively low. You will inevitably become more insulin sensitive and break a weight loss plateau. Different things work for different people, but that’s the reason why the low carb works for weight loss.
Here’s a common mistake that happens on a low carb diet: not eating enough fat. If you go low carb and low fat you will fail. If you think having low carbs is bad, try eating low fat and low carbs. Why doe this happen? The reason why mistakes similar to this happens is that people are afraid of fat. People are use to counting calories and/or points with weight watchers. People learn about the paleo diet, atkins, warrior diet, fruit diet or some other diet that causes a lot of confusion. This leads to combining information and following practices that contradict one another. I could easily go into a rant, but I won’t.
Anyways, I’ll leave it there. Post a comment if you have a question.