How Many Carbs Should You Eat per Day to Lose Weight?

A low-carb diet is low in carbohydrates, primarily found in sugary foods, pasta and bread. Instead, you eat whole foods including natural proteins, fats and vegetables.

Studies show that low-carb diets result in weight loss and improved overall health.

These diets have been in common use for decades and are recommended by many doctors.

Best yet, there’s usually no need to count calories or use special products. All you need to do is to eat whole foods that make for a complete, nutritious and filling diet.

The number of carbs a person should eat every day for weight loss varies depending on their age, sex, body type, and activity levels.

In this article, we take a look at how many carbs someone needs to eat to lose weight, and whether or not a low-carb diet is healthful? We also examine the best and worst sources of carbohydrates to eat.

What is a low-carb diet?

There’s no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a low carb diet, and what’s low for one person may not be low for the next.

An individual’s optimal carb intake depends on their age, gender, body composition, activity levels, personal preference, food culture, and current metabolic health.

People who are physically active and have more muscle mass can tolerate a lot more carbs than people who are sedentary. This particularly applies to those who do a lot of high intensity exercise, like lifting weights or sprinting.

Metabolic health is also a very important factor. When people develop metabolic syndrome, obesity, or type 2 diabetes, their carb needs change.

People who fall into these categories are less able to tolerate a lot of carbs.

How many carbs do you really need?

Dietary guidelines recommend you get between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

But since everyone needs a different number of calories every day, there is no set number of carbs that equals a “low carb” diet for everyone.

If you know how many calories you typically consume daily, you can do a little math to find your low-carb range: For example, if you’re eating 1,800 calories per day, that equates to 203 to 293 grams of carbs per day.

The current recommended daily allowance, or RDA, of carbohydrates is set to 130 grams per day. That total, contrary to common sense, represents the minimum rather than optimal daily intake, and covers the amount your brain and liver need for prime functioning, plus a little extra for your muscles and good measure.

How many carbs do you need if you are exercising regularly?

Introduce exercise into your routine, though, and your needs begin to vary widely. That’s because when you exercise at high intensities, about 80 percent of your energy comes from carbohydrates – both those coursing through your bloodstream as glucose as well as those stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. 

During intense exercise, your body burns through roughly 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. According to research published in Sports Medicine, carbohydrate supplementation can significantly improve high-intensity interval workout performances. And better performances mean better caloric burns.

Meanwhile, if you don’t consume enough carbs to meet both your basic biological needs plus those needed to fuel your exercise, your body will earmark whatever carbs you do have for your brain. 

As a result, your workout will feel harder, your performance will actually decline and you’ll burn fewer calories every minute that you are in the gym.

How can I exactly calculate how much carbs, fats, proteins do I need?

Let’s look at an example on how to set your starting calories, protein, carbs, and fat levels if you want to lose weight.

Calories = Body weight x 12

Protein = 1 gram per pound

Carbohydrates = 0.9-1.25 grams per pound body weight

Fat = The remainder of your calories (Note: There are 9 calories per gram of fat while protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram)

So for a woman who weighs 140 pounds:

Calories = 1,700 (1,680 rounded up for ease of calculation)

Protein = 140 grams

Carbohydrates = 140 grams (using 1g/lb)

Fat = 64 grams

The easiest way to track your food and calories is to use a food log app like MyFitnessPal or Fitocracy Macros.

At this level of calories and carbs, both are restricted but not to the point where you should experience any signs of fatigue, brain fog, or any other miserable symptoms people generally complain of while dieting. 

Follow this plan for two to three weeks and see how your body responds. If you are not losing weight, then don’t lower your calories but first add some high-intensity exercise (like interval training) to your workout regime, aiming for four hours of total exercise per week. 

Do this for another two to three weeks. If you need to elicit greater weight loss, then remove about 100 calories (5 grams of fat and 15 grams of carbohydrates) from your daily diet.

How to decide your daily carb intake?

If you simply remove the unhealthiest carb sources from your diet, such as refined wheat and added sugars, you’ll be well on your way to improved health.

The following sections discuss what some dietitians believe about carb intake and weight loss.

100 to 150 grams carbs per day (the moderate way)

Maybe you’re already pretty healthy. You’re happy with your size. You’re feeling good.

But since you’re always looking for ways to maximize your body’s potential, the moderate approach is a good fit for you. 

Your carbs can include:

  • veggies any time of day or night
  • a handful pieces of fruits per day 
  • moderate servings of starches like potatoes (sweet, russet, Yukon, etc) and healthy grains like rice and oats

Eating 50–100 grams per day

This range may be beneficial if you want to lose weight while keeping some carb sources in the diet. It may also help to maintain your weight if you’re sensitive to carbs.

Carbs you can eat include:

  • plenty of vegetables
  • 2–3 pieces of fruit per day
  • minimal amounts of starchy carbs
 

Eating 20–50 grams per day

This is where the low carb diet has bigger effects on metabolism. This is a possible range for people who want to lose weight fast, or have metabolic problems, obesity, or diabetes.

When eating less than 50 grams per day, the body will go into ketosis, supplying energy for the brain via so-called ketone bodies. This is likely to dampen your appetite and cause you to lose weight automatically.

Carbs you can eat include:

  • plenty of low carb vegetables
  • some berries, maybe with whipped cream
  • trace carbs from other foods, like avocados, nuts, and seeds

Good carbs vs. bad carbs

Carbohydrates are important to health as is staying at the correct weight. It is important to note that not all carbs are the same, however.

Carbohydrates are commonly referred to as either “good carbs” or “bad carbs.” When trying to follow a healthful diet, and especially when trying to lose weight, carbohydrate intake should focus on good carbs vs bad carbs.

Good carbohydrates (Simple carbs):

Good carbs are complex carbohydrates, which means they are high in fiber and nutrients and take longer to break down. As they take longer to break down, they do not cause blood sugar levels to spike or rise too high.

Examples of good carbs include:

  • millet
  • chickpeas
  • rolled oats
  • barley
  • multigrain hot cereal
  • sweet potatoes
  • spelt
  • butternut squash
  • potatoes
  • kamut
  • black beans
  • whole-wheat bread
  • sprouted-grain bread
  • whole-wheat pasta
  • quinoa
  • brown rice
  • farro
  • lentils
  • green peas

Bad carbohydrates (Complex carbs):

Bad carbs are simple carbohydrates that are easily broken down and quickly cause blood sugar levels to spike.

Examples of bad carbs include:

  • dairy
  • fruit juices, jams, and jellies
  • white bread
  • white rice and pasta
  • candy and soda
  • most breakfast cereals
  • sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, among others

How does a low-carb diet help you lose weight, exactly?

On a very basic level, weight loss happens when the number of calories consumed is less than the number of calories burned. Eating low-carb is one way to get there, but it’s not the only way. 

More important than the sheer amount of carbs is the kind of carbs you eat; replacing simple carbs, like refined grains and sugar, with complex ones, like carbs from veggies and legumes, can have many of the same low-carb benefits.

A low-carb diet can lead to weight loss as it prevents spikes in blood sugar while also improving insulin sensitivity. This means you’ll feel hungry less often and be less likely to store energy as fat.

When you limit carbs, you’re also more likely to get more of your daily calories from protein and fat instead, both of which are more filling than carbs. You may eat fewer calories overall because you’re more satisfied by what you are eating.

Summary

A low-carb diet can have some benefits, including weight loss. With some planning and appropriate substitutions, most people can follow a low-carb diet. However, a low-carb diet may not be the best way to achieve long-term or sustainable health goals.

When following a low-carb diet, it is essential that people eat healthfully and do not overeat certain foods, such as very fatty meats.

People looking to lose weight or considering going on a low-carb diet should speak to their doctor or nutritionist before making any significant changes.

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