I have been studying nutrition as it relates to health, body composition, and performance for quite a few years now. To say there is an abundance of contradictory information on the topic would be an understatement, and no specific subject is more polarizing than carbohydrate intake as it relates to achieving optimal fat loss.
At one extreme there are some hugely popular Very Low Carb Diets (VLCDs) like the Atkins and the South Beach Diets. Both restrict carbohydrates severely, particularly in the initial phases of the diet, recommending significant amounts of proteins and fats to make up the majority of one’s calories. At the other extreme we find the 80/10/10 Diet, a raw, plant-based diet that recommends that 80 percent of one’s calories come from carbohydrates, with only 10 percent from fats and 10 percent from protein.
The FDA, based on the guidelines for 2010, recommends that approximately 60% of one’s daily food intake should consist of carbohydrates, with 30% or less of fats and the remaining calories from protein. Moving further into moderation we find the Zone Diet, with a 40/30/30 ratio of calories consumed daily from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively.
Looking collectively at these different nutritional strategies, we can see a range of recommended carbohydrate intake spanning from 10% or less per day, all the way up to 80% per day. It’s no surprise that I’m asked questions nearly every week about carbohydrate intake from confused clients, friends, and family members.
I could delve into the science behind the diverse strategies mentioned above, expounding on topics like insulin sensitivity, leptin, P-ratio and T4 conversion, but in the interest of the reader I’m going to keep this brief and practical. I don’t want any of you to have to run out and buy another diet book and try to cram yet another over complicated program into your daily life. With that in mind, I’m going to briefly share my thoughts on the previously mentioned approaches and finish with a very sane and simple tool that you can start using today.
The VLCD’s, like Atkins and South Beach, can be very effective…for a while. The first ten pounds come off pretty easily, leaving the dieter pleased and eager to continue. Then comes the plateau. Fat loss slows down considerably (or stops altogether) and the spirits of the dieter are dampened by the sudden stagnation. Making things worse is the fact that the food choices are very limited, and eating out is nearly impossible. A couple of weeks go by without the scale moving, frustration builds, and the usual outcome is another failed attempt.
In looking at the FDA recommendations and the Zone Diet, we find that they are much more user-friendly approaches. Foods like rice, bread, pasta and cereal can easily fit into the plan. You can go to your cousins’ barbecue or meet the girls out for a drink and still fall within the recommended parameters. The problem? There are two, actually; results and hunger pangs. With higher carb approaches, it is atypical to lose that quick 5 or 10 pounds that seem to evaporate when on a VLCD. Progress is very slow if there’s even any at all.
The higher carb approach to losing fat is a marathon, and many find that they’re running it in place. Only those gifted with an enhanced ability to process and use carbohydrates effectively can use these approaches with success. The bad news, most who have these abilities don’t typically find themselves with much fat to lose.
Then there are the hunger pangs. You see, eating a meal high in carbohydrates tends to make one hungry, especially for more carbohydrates. This makes eating the appropriate amount of calories each day difficult and the failure rate very high.
So what is one to do? The answer, as I see it, is to find an appropriate carbohydrate intake that allows for appreciable results, manageable hunger, and an acceptable variety of foods. We have to restrict ourselves enough, but not so much that we want to throw in the towel and inhale a bucket of KFC. Based on my experience working with individuals of all shapes, sizes, and ages, I have come up with some approximate ranges of carbohydrate intake that have continually resulted in great success.
I have tried higher ranges and lower ranges, but the best results have been with a carbohydrate intake falling between 20% and 25% of total daily calories. Included below is a simple table with calorie and carbohydrate recommendations based on varying body types, assuming a moderate activity level.
If you’re over 35, have a low activity level, or both, choose the numbers at the lower end of the ranges, conversely if you’re under 30, have a high activity level, or both, choose the numbers in the higher end of the ranges. If you’re not sure what your ideal weight is, use the appropriate Broca formula. Please note that kilograms and centimeters are used in the formulas.
Men: Ideal Body Weight (kilograms) = [Height (cm) – 100] – ([Height (cm) – 100] x 10%)
Women: Ideal Body Weight (kilograms) = [Height (cm) – 100] ([Height (cm) – 100] x 15%)
Keep in mind that these are starting recommendations, and may need some tweaking. Our bodies are all unique, like beautiful, stubborn, fat hoarding snowflakes, and there is no one size fits all numbers I can give you. That being said, these guidelines should get you pretty close. If, after several weeks, you don’t seem to be noticing any results, a slight decrease may get you into the sweet spot. If you are feeling drained and losing strength or stamina several weeks in, try a slight increase.
How do I count carbohydrate grams?
To get an accurate carbohydrate count from a nutrition label, first make sure the serving you have consumed is the same as the serving size listed on the label. Next, find the Total Carbohydrate, listed as a number in grams. We then find and subtract the Dietary Fiber to get our total.
Let’s say, for example, you’re eating a piece of bread. The label says it has 21 total carbohydrate grams and 2 grams of dietary fiber. You will simply subtract 2 from 21 leaving 19 grams as your recorded total.
That’s a lot of work; do I have to count carbohydrates?
No, you don’t have to count your money either, but it sure makes things easier if you do. If you don’t know what you’re consuming every day, you won’t know how to make adjustments if you’re not getting ideal results. If you’re serious about making progress, counting is a must, at least at the beginning, so you always have an accurate idea where your numbers are falling.
What about protein and fat?
The other 70-75% of daily calories will consist of proteins and fats. Here, I have experienced optimal results with fats around 30% and protein making up the remaining 45-50% of calories. Fat continues to get a bad rap, but it is essential to healthy cell function and hormone production. Even the much maligned saturated fats are only unhealthy when consumed in excess. Foods like almonds, olive oil, grapeseed oil, fish oil, avocados, organic eggs, and organic pasture butter make up the majority of fats I consume and recommend. Avoid trans-fatty acids like hydrogenated oils and margarines.
How much fiber should I eat?
Fiber doesn’t count toward the above mentioned totals, as indicated in our sample label analysis, but is required for regularity and gastro-intestinal health. 25-40 grams per day is ideal for most.
Complex vs. Simple Carbs, which is better?
Natural whole foods contain the full spectrum of carbohydrates. They’re all okay to consume, and with the exception of fiber, they all count toward your total. Highly processed carbs like white sugar, white flower, high fructose corn syrup and the like should be minimized or excluded when possible.
Following these guidelines should take some of the mystery out of effectively managing your carbohydrate intake. To achieve the best results, keep a watchful eye on your progress and don’t be afraid to make small, calculated adjustments when necessary. The body can be a hard nut to crack. I wish you well in your endeavors, and welcome any comments or questions!
Read more at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutrition