Whether someone is trying to build muscle or lose body fat, I am constantly asked the question do carbs make you fat? The simple answer is yes, they can. However, this doesn’t mean you should cut them out your diet.
Carbohydrates play such an important role whether you are someone who is inactive or trains 7 days a week. The key is consuming the correct amount to match your current activity levels.
Carbohydrates – The Nutrient With The Worst Rep
There is so much miss leading information and crazy diet plans on the internet, and because of this, it’s no wonder carbs have the worst reputation out of all the nutrients. If you read something enough whether it is true or not, you will start to believe it.
Not one single nutrient is the cause of you gaining weight. What I mean by this is, you don’t gain weight because you are eating carbohydrates, you gain weight because you are overeating on calories.
Once the body has converted any carbohydrates you have just eaten into glucose, it will use some for instant energy and fuel body functions, then fill and replenish muscle glycogen stores and whatever is left will get shuffled into fat stores.
So I want you to understand that even if you were on a calorie-restrictive diet (eating less than your body requires each day) but all these calories came from carbohydrates, you could still increase your body fat levels. Notice how I said body fat and not weight.
Your weight would still drop due to being on a calorie-restrictive diet, but due to not having any protein in the diet, your muscles are missing the most vital nutrient in order for them to stay, repair and recover.
This leads to muscle wastage, which then leads to a decrease in metabolism, which then makes it harder for your body to burn fat. For more information on this read “how much protein is needed to build muscle”.
Carbohydrates play such a key role in any nutrition plan, whether you are trying to build muscle or lose fat. The key is simply establishing the correct amount your body needs.
Understanding Our Friend Carbohydrates
Here are some bullet points giving an extremely brief overview of what carbohydrates are
- Carbohydrates come in mainly two forms, complex and simple.
- Examples of complex carbohydrates are potatoes, rice, and pasta.
- Examples of simple carbohydrates are, jelly sweets, caster sugar, fruit.
- Regardless of which form (complex or simple) you have, the end result is always the same. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and then used by the body as glycogen to fuel the brain and muscles.
- The difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is the speed at which they are digested and processed.
- Complex carbohydrates are processed slowly by providing the body with a slow and sustained source of energy. This should 100% be the preferred choice.
- Simple carbohydrates are processed quickly providing a sharp increase in energy levels. This is however normally followed by a huge crash in energy levels as the huge blood sugar spike come crashing back down to normal levels.
The Vital Role Carbohydrates Play
Carbohydrates are vital to your nutrition plan. They not only fuel the brain and nervous system, but they are an important energy source which is converted to glycogen to fuel your muscles. So our jobs are to provide the body with just enough for these purposes and no more.
How Many Carbohydrates Should You Eat?
So it’s all well and good telling someone you just need to make sure you are eating the right amount to avoid getting fat. But how much is the right amount?
So like with protein consumption, not everyone requires the same amount. Someone who is inactive will require a lot less than someone who weight trains 5 x per week and does high-intensity cardio 3 x per week. Also if two people weigh the same but one is ripped and carrying loads of muscle and the other has very little muscle but carrying lots of fat, then both of these people would require very different amounts. The more muscle you have the more carbohydrates you will need to fuel them.
When Dieting To Lose Fat
So taking all this into account and through a lot of trial and error on both myself and clients over many years, the magic number I use is 40% of your daily calories. This is the same for someone who trains 2 x per week as it is for someone who trains 7 x per week.
Using the above example if both people weighed the same but one trained twice in a week for an hour at a time and the other trained 7 x per week for an hour at a time, you would still use the 40% figure. The difference would be their total calorie intake required. The person only training twice per week would need fewer calories per day which would then naturally bring the carbohydrate level down.
The other 40% should be made up of protein and 20% of calories from fat.
This is slightly different. When someone is going through a bulking phase and their calories have been worked out, I always make sure they are getting 1g of protein per lb of body weight.
I then work out what their fat consumption should be. This is simply 20% of their overall calories.
Once both of these are worked out, however many calories are left will be made up of carbohydrates.
The reasoning behind the two different strategies for cutting and bulking mainly falls down to protein consumption.
If you followed the 40% rule for protein when bulking, your protein requirements would be unnecessarily high and you just simply don’t need that much.
For example, a 250lb man needs to consume 3500 calories when bulking. This means he would need to consume 350 grams of protein. This figure is much too high and not needed.
There is of course more to it than this but all we really need to know is the two strategies keep the macronutrients to the right levels for each particular phase.
- When dieting it allows you to consume slightly more protein which is essential for maintaining muscle.
- When bulking you will still consume the correct amount of protein, but the strategy allows you to consume more carbs which is essential.
Do Carbs Make You Fat – Final Words
- Do Carbohydrates make you fat? No carbohydrates don’t make you fat, eating too many does
- Carbohydrates are used to fuel body functions and replenish glycogen stores in the muscle
- 40% of your diet should be made up of carbohydrates
- Our preferred choice is complex carbohydrates
- Don’t stress too much at the beginning of your fat loss/muscle building journey about your carb and fat levels. Your first priority should always be to hit your estimated calorie level and your estimated protein level.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and if you have any comments or questions then please feel free to do so below.