How Many Carbs Do You Need?
Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Every week there is a new headline in the news about what you should or shouldn't eat. It's hard to keep up because they often contradict themselves when reporting on different studies.
That's because not all studies are created equally, but they don't often report on how the studies were conducted, nor do most people understand how to differentiate them.
But don't worry. There is still a way for you to determine how many carbs you should be eating. Any guesses how you can do that? [Hint: It's not the scale.]
What Is a Carb?
Before we get too deep into how much, let's talk about what foods are carbs.
Carbohydrates aren't just sweets and bread. All forms of produce are also carbohydrates...yes, even vegetables.
Some foods are higher in carbohydrates than others. They're often divided into different categories. Maybe you've heard the terms simple carbs, complex carbs, or refined.
They're also ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, called the glycemic index, according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels.
It's important to note, that there is also a scale for glycemic load. This scale considers the quality and quantity of carbohydrate. It considers the fiber content and how it's prepared (i.e. baked, boiled, etc). It's the best way to predict blood glucose values.
So How Do I Find The Magic Number?
There isn't a magic number of carbs for everyone. Some people feel great eating about 100g of carbohydrate a day. While others might need 150g or <50g.
There are many factors that play a role in your own carb tolerance. Things like
how insulin resistant you are
what type of exercise you do, if any
your stress level
how much sleep you're getting
your gut microbiome
These factors also change over time and therefore the amount of carbs you need will also change.
It's an ever changing number, but once you dial it in and feel good, then your body will tell you when you need to make adjustments.
Do I Have To Weigh or Measure Everything I Eat?
Nope! I'm actually not a fan of weighing and measuring.
You can simply take note of how much you're eating in terms of whole, half, or quarter. Maybe it's the size of a baseball or your phone.
Sometimes it may be based on the cup or dish you're using. As in 1/2 a bowl full.
My point is, you don't need to be exact. You don't have to know the number of grams you're eating per day to figure this out.
If you prefer to weigh or measure, that's okay, but I think the majority will agree that it's cumbersome to be that precise.
How To Find Your Threshold
The best way to find your threshold is to do an N of 1 experiment. This is a process of learning exactly how foods impact YOU.
No one else.
Not 30 random males or females trying to recall what they ate each week last year.
Just you, learning to listen to your body.
If you've been diagnosed prediabetic or type 2 diabetic, and are checking your blood sugar, you can easily see the impact on your meter.
Eating to your meter is the best way to find your carb threshold. If this is you, skip to Step 3: Take Action.
If you haven't been diagnosed, but you're trying to prevent it or just have interest in finding your carbohydrate threshold, follow these steps.
Want more info on how to balance
Step 1: Take Notes
If you typically eat oatmeal or cereal in the morning, do that, and then see how you feel in an hour. Then two. At what time do you get hungry again?
Do this for a few days and then change to a low-carb breakfast, say eggs and bacon. How do you feel in an hour, then two? At what time do you get hungry again?
If you prefer yogurt, do the experiment with what you're normally eating, then switch to a plain, full-fat variety and add your own berries or toppings.
You can do the same when you eat lunch or dinner. How did you feel when you had a whole baked potato with butter and sour cream? Next time try eating just half. How did you feel?
How was your energy throughout the day? During and after your workout? How well did you sleep?
Take note of anything you notice.
Step 2: Compare Your Notes
You may notice you feel full longer after having the low-carb breakfast or the full-fat yogurt instead of the 100 calorie variety.
After experimenting for a few weeks you might find you have fewer cravings when you start your day with a low-carb breakfast and have more energy throughout the day.
Understanding the glycemic index or glycemic load of foods may help you make choices of when and how much.
For example, you may notice that boiled sweet potato made into mash doesn't spike your blood sugar, but roasted or baked sweet potato does.
How you've paired your food can also make a big difference. Balancing your plate can help slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream. Make sure you are including protein and healthy fats and not just having a plate of carbs.
Step 3: Take Action
Every meal is an experiment. You're paying attention to how foods are making you feel and how long you feel satisfied after the meal.
Take the feedback and determine if your portion was too big at that meal or maybe your plate isn't balanced with protein, fat, and carbs. Sometimes it's a matter of preparing it a different way, or in the case of someone insulin resistant, removing it all together.
You may determine that having your higher carb meals later in the day or after your workout works best for you or maybe you feel best eating lower carb meals all day long.
Anyone who tells you to eat X number of carbs is using a general rule. This is not a personalized recommendation.
Sure, you can start there. In fact, I would say beginning with a range is a great place to start. Then comes the fine tuning.
And remember, you don't have to know the specific number of grams to determine if you feel better eating foods lower in carbohydrate.
I help clients adjust their macros all the time. After feedback we fine tune and repeat the process. Without their feedback it would not be possible for me to determine how many carbs they need to feel their best.
It does take some effort, but finding your sweet spot, pun intended, is a process very worthwhile.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase I will receive a small commission. There is no cost to you when purchasing through an affiliate link on this website.