Carbohydrate Candor – Part 2
Last week we took a journey together in hopes that we’d return with a bit more understanding about carbohydrates, what they are, how they can help us, and hurt us. Carbohydrates can hardly be explained and understood in the course of one article alone, and I realized there were quite a few other questions that I left unanswered.
So today we’re going to talk about your relationship. But don’t worry, your palms don’t need to get sweaty, your knees don’t need to be weak, and your arms don’t need to be heavy. Instead of that relationship, we’re going to talk about your relationship with carbs. So to kick this off, let’s look at one of the most important things you need to understand about carbohydrates and how they fit into your diet.
Carbs and fats have an inverse relationship.
Fat is delicious, and so are carbs. And therein lies the problem. Much of the delicious foods that are highly palatable and easily accessed contain A LOT of fat and carbs.
In order to keep your physique and health in line it’s best to view the relationship between carbs and fats as an inverse one. So if you start eating more carbs, it would be wise to drop how much fat you’re eating.
But why, though?
If carbs and fats have an inverse relationship this allows you to control for calories a bit more easily, since if one source of energy goes up, another must go down. And conveniently, both carbs and fats are energy sources that we can overdo if we’re not careful.
But that much is obvious, what isn’t so obvious is that both macronutrients can flip on the fat storage switch if not handled properly, especially when they’re consumed in high amounts.
Everyone knows that carbohydrates raise insulin, and while insulin isn’t anywhere close to the devil that some people have made it out to be, it can have an impact on fat storage.
Fats, on the other hand, by their very nature can be stored as body fat. So when you mix the two, creating a high insulin spike along with fats, which can be stored as body fat to begin with, you create a situation where the potential for unwanted fat storage increases.
Aside from that, when it comes to general health carbs and fats just don’t mix very well together, and the result manifests in most the western world lifestyle diseases that we are inundated with today.
Carbs and genetics.
This is where things get super fucking tricky. There are a whole host of factors to keep in mind when it comes to how many carbs per day you need to be eating.
Genetics is going to be one of the most obvious players that you’ve got to keep in mind. We all know someone who drank bourbon, smoked cigarettes, and gambled until they were 100 years old, and the same goes for carb intake.
Some people are that same way when it comes to carbs. They can eat all they want, and it doesn’t seem to impact their health at all. While others were dealt a hand at the poker table of life that had poor insulin sensitivity in it. As such, they have to eat fewer carbs to keep body fat down and their health in check.
On top of the obvious genetic factors things like how lean you are and activity level is going to play a major role. If you’re extremely lean then chances are you’ll be able to handle carbs much more effectively than someone who has extremely high body fat levels.
If you’re an active individual who likes to work out and keep moving you can afford to eat far more carbs than a sedentary individual who doesn’t do anything.
To put this in perspective lets take a look at two of the most popular figures in the world today, and how their nutritional requirements change.
Our first case study is Robert Baratheon. He sits on the Iron Throne all day long, drinking wine and carousing with women at the brothel. He’s not exactly in a position that allows him to eat all the bread he wants. That is, of course, if he cared about how he looked.
One day Robert decides he wants to get jacked because he’s got a big boar hunt coming up, and in turn starts lifting weights. He’s building muscle and dropping body fat. Along with looking like a stud, his carb requirements now change.
Gone are the days when he couldn’t so much as look at a piece of bread. Now he’s an active dude, and he needs to fuel that intense activity, and carbs are the name of the game here.
This is an example of someone who changed how many carbs they can tolerate by altering their activity level and lifestyle for the better.
To contrast, let’s look at Jon Targaryen. Jon has been working his ass off, fighting battles, swinging swords, and killing off the living dead. That requires a lot of fuel. But when Jon ascends to the Iron Throne, he probably won’t be as active.
If Jon keeps on eating like he’s slaying white walkers day and night he’s bound to pack on unwanted pounds. He can’t eat a loaf of bread every morning just to keep himself going anymore. He now has to pull back on the carbs a bit, because his activity level has changed.
In Jon Targaryen’s case this is an example of someone who changed their tolerance of carbs for the worse due to lifestyle. Especially since sitting on the Iron Throne seems to be a deadly deal to begin with.
Exactly how much should you eat?
Serious lifters are going to require far more carbs than a sedentary individual. That much should be a painfully obvious fact by now. Just how many should that serious lifter eat, though?
1-3g per pound of bodyweight seems to be the sweet spot for most people. A really easy way to figure out where you stand would be figuring out how lean you are. Because in most cases people who are leaner are going to be able to handle more carbs than people are who carry more body fat.
To give you a broad sense of what I mean:
- Men at 10% or below and women at 15% or below = 3g of carbs per pound of bodyweight.
- Men in the 11-15% range and women in the 16-20% range = 2g per pound of bodyweight.
- Over these? You’re at 1g per pound of bodyweight.
Now, you may happen to love some carbs more than Robert Baratheon loves Littlefinger’s brothels, but if you can’t handle carbs well then you can’t start out at 3g per pound of bodyweight.
It’s best for most people to start out on the low end and slowly work your way up if you can.
What about carb cycling?
Carb cycling is one of the oldest tricks in the bodybuilding playbook when it comes to building lean muscle mass, keeping body fat relatively low, and making sure you’re able to slice and dice white walkers.
What is carb cycling, exactly?
It’s nothing more than alternating how many carbs you eat on certain days. The primary way to view it is that if you’re training that day, you’re going to eat more carbs than if it were an off day.
Why do that, though? Primarily so that you’ve got more carbs in your system to fuel hard training, performance, and growth on days that you’re training, and then keeping carbs lower on off days in hopes that you’ll facilitate more fat burning.
Here are the three most common ways people practice carb cycling:
- High and low days.
This is the most common, and most simple form of carb cycling. The high carb days fall on training days, and low carb days fall on off days. Typically the high days will be anywhere from 1.5 – 2g per lb of bodyweight, and pretty low on the low days. Think somewhere around .5g per lb of bodyweight.
- High, medium, and low days.
This is a slightly more advanced option, but in reality, all it entails is making your high days a bit higher, and those days now fall on really intense training days like legs or back. These days are probably 2g per lb of bodyweight, if not more.
Moderate days are on an easier training day, like arms or chest, and usually involve somewhere around 1.5g per lb of bodyweight.
The low days go very low, and typically fall on an off day, and probably mean you’re eating somewhere around .5g per pound of bodyweight.
- Low for most of the week and a reefed.
This is by far and away the most advanced strategy, and is typically used by most people who have been training for years, and are looking to stay really lean for most of the year.
For 5-6 days out of the week, they’ll keep carbs around .5g per lb of bodyweight, and then institute a reefed day that involves bringing carb intake anywhere from 3-4g per lb of bodyweight in order to replenish glycogen stores.
What if you want to go low carb?
Obviously, we’ve already touched on a number of reasons why people would like to go low carb, and if that’s the move you want to make, then more power to you.
If you’re doing that, then it’s best to try and keep your total carbs around 100-125g per day. This is usually enough to supply the brain with enough glucose to fuel your thoughts and Instagram creeping.
And this doesn’t mean you need to be eating a few slices of bread per day, either. All vegetables are carbs, so if you’re eating a couple of salads per day, along with some fruit, then chances are you’re already getting close to that number.
Now, I recognize that for most of you reading this you might think you’ve got a special circumstance on your hands. And you very well might. If so, then shoot me a message and let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you out