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How Many Carbs Should I Eat in a Day?

Apr 16, 2008
Everyone eats carbohydrates. You pretty much can not get around it. We need carbs for energy after all. But the question still remains: how many carbs should I eat in a day? Are there drawbacks from eat too little or too many carbs? What are the side effects of eating carbs or abstaining from eating carbs? Well once again, as with protein, it depends on what you do on a daily basis. Furthermore, ingestion of carbs should be focused more around the question: WHEN should I eat carbs during the day?

As with how much fat to eat in a day and how much protein to eat in a day, it all depends on a couple factors:

* job
* insulin resistance
* activity level
* target body weight
* exercise goals
* lifestyle

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as stated by the Department of Health and Human Services, suggest that roughly 50% of your daily calories come from carbs. Thus, a person who eats approximately 2,500 calories per day should take in about about 300 grams of carbs. This number is not altogether bad for the average American, but we have to take into consideration the sources of those carbs.

These are the kinds of carbs to avoid at all costs:

* sugary snacks and pastries
* sugar-sweetened soft drinks or fruit juice
* candy
* cookies
* regular fried greasy chips
* processed, packaged snack foods
* high sugar kids cereals
* processed white flour products such as white bread and pasta

These foods offer virtually no nutritional value, and they contain far too many calories. Some of these foods also contain saturated and trans-fats that are bad for your heart, and sugary foods can lead to such maladies as type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Specifically if you are already insulin resistant, you should avoid these bad carbs as they will just ruin your day by making you tired, slow, dumb, and hungry.

Instead choose these kinds of carbs:

* fresh fruit
* vegetables
* whole wheat and whole grain products
* beans, nuts, and other legumes

When Do I Need More Carbs?

People that exercise with high intensity or with prolonged endurance, can benefit from a high carbohydrate intake before exercise. It is feasible to consume a high carbohydrate meal before a marathon, or a moderately high carbohydrate meal before lifting weights or martial arts training. It is not a good idea to consume too many carbs in one sitting, but 50 grams is not out of the question if you are preparing for a physically draining event.

During and after exercise is also a key time to consume carbs. In fact this is the only time it is recommended to consume sugary carbs. I tend to sip on Gatorade during a workout and my post-workout drink contains about 40 grams of carbs in the form of dextrose. If allowed to choose, I would choose Biotest Surge as my post-workout drink of choice. This is a product that is specially formulated to replenish lost glycogen stores and restart protein synthesis after a demanding workout.

When Do I Need Fewer Carbs?

There is no need to eat carbohydrates at night. Ever. Some folks believe in consuming a high-carb meal the night before an event like a marathon, but I just don't see it. I would say eat that meal in the morning if the event is in the late morning or early afternoon. The best time for a high carbohydrate meal is in the morning, when your body is prepared to uptake glycogen for energy for the day. Lunch should be a moderate carb meal as you don't want to get that 'bonk' feeling in the middle of the afternoon. Also consider that if you don't plan to exercise during the day then there is really no need to gulp down many carbs at any point in the day.

Carbs and Fat Loss

If you are on a fat loss diet, then there is definitely no need to eat more than 100 grams of carbs in any one day. I don't necessarily support Atkins, but there are valid points to that diet. When I am in the middle of a hardcore cutting phase, trying to get as lean as possible in a given time frame, I will only consume 20-30 grams of low glycemic index carbs for breakfast.

For lunch I will try to avoid most carbs, opting for whole grain bread or a salad if necessary. My pre-workout drink is typically 1/2 a serving of Biotest Surge, I sip on Gatorade during the workout, then finish off with 1 serving of Biotest Surge after the workout. On non-workout days, I skip all of that and choose a protein bar, cheese, or a meat snack instead.

Dinner is always low carb during a diet. Soup, meat and vegetables, and salad are all great choices for low carb dinners. Appropriate snacks are meats, cheeses, protein bars or shakes, veggies, and other super-low carb foods. Typically in the midst of a diet phase, I eat around 75 grams of carbs on a non-workout day, and maybe 120-140 grams of carbs on a workout day.

In conclusion, I recommend that if you are moderately active, you should derive maybe 30% of your daily calories from carbs. Sure, my opinion differs from specialist government agencies, but that is only because I have seen low carb diets work. I have also seen Americans grow obese and suffer from a long list of carbohydrate induced diseases.

A 200 lb man on a 2500 calorie diet would probably eat maybe 180 grams of carbs in a day, all from unprocessed whole food sources. A 140 lb woman on a 1500 calorie diet might only eat 100 grams of carbs in a day.

Someone on a strict diet might limit themselves to 50 grams of carbohydrates a day regardless of sex or weight. Just remember to avoid those nasty sugary processed carbs so that you can stay healthy, avoiding energy crashes and adult-onset type II diabetes.
About the Author
Steve Hanson has 10 years experience in the fields of exercise science and sports nutrition. He writes articles on all forms of athletic training and nutritional theories. View the blog to learn more about your favorite exercise and nutrition topics.

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