Optimizing Carbs for Training During Fat Loss II

If you read last week's post about the the importance of carbohydrates for performance, recovery and function then there should be no question that dietary carbohydrates carry a ton of benefits and they do not correlate to poor health, fat gain or insulin resistance when eaten in the proper context. In fact, eliminating them all together carries much more  "risk" for the average person than keeping an optimal amount in. 

Arguing this point even seems silly, those who advocate carbohydrates as being the ultimate dietary woe generally agree vegetables are good.  Zealous minds often forget that vegetables are carbs. So if those condemning carbs can still agree that vegetables are a healthy food then it really points to the AMOUNT eaten as the factor in question, not the food group.

Arguing insulin is also a head scratcher since low carbs generally means high protein for most people. Beef, dairy, protein powders just to name a few all spike insulin to a high degree so again, it can't just be the insulin.

This ties back in to the title of this series: Optimizing Carbs.  Optimal means something different for every dietary situation.  500g per day might be optimal for an athlete needing to put on muscle mass. 100g per day might be optimal for a woman with PCOS. 

For the rest of us who exercise, are looking for positive physical adaptations like strength and aerobic capacity, want to optimize body composition but don't want to feel like dog doo doo....you can eat some carbs.

Determining Your Needs

Research generally uses carbohydates as a percent of total calories when quantifying, rather than gram per pound or kilo like they do protein.  This pretty easily scales your carbohydrate intake to your calorie intake.  Individuals can go higher or lower based on preference or special situations but most people do fine within a certain range once protein is determined.

Protein can be determined off of percent lean body mass.  This is problematic for many individuals because they simply can't get an accurate body composition analysis and don't know how many pounds of lean tissue they carry.  It also ends up being a game of splitting hairs and I'd prefer to determine protein needs of total body weight, only scaling down if an individual is morbidly obese, which skews the numbers,


1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram OR

0.8 to 1 gram per pound

Dr. Layman, a protein researcher categorizes 0.6 g per lb as "normal" for an non-training individual and fine for meeting all of their needs.  Once you are training your protein turnover increases and you can derive a greater benefit from going to 0.8g per lb.  You certainly could stay as low as 0.6 g/lb but I think the benefits froma  slightly higher intake outweigh any potential downsides (of which I don't see many),

So if you weighed 150lbs, then 0.8 g/lb is 120g which pretty much anyone can hit without too much trouble.


You k now, I could give you a complex equation to figure out your calories but I won't.  I'd rather have you plug some numbers into a tried and true, scientifically backed calculator and entrust that within a small margin of error, you're going to be in good hands.  I use multiple calculators and equations myself for clients to get the most accurate numbers possible but even then, you are always trying to hit a moving target.

I recommend visiting the following link and plugging in your numbers : http://www.leighpeele.com/mifflin-st-jeor-calculator

I like this calculator because it is uses the Miffilin St Jeor calculations, is very easy to use (no need to know your body fat) and the ability to add your activity multiplier.  

When completing this, know that this is going to give you the calories you need to eat to STAY THE SAME weight.  This merely determines the calories you expend each day for your age, height, weight, sex and activity.  It does not tell you how much to eat to lean out.

For your activity multiplier I recommend the average person who trains with intensity 3-4 times per week start with 1.3 to 1.4 activity multiplier.  Most people overestimate how much and how hard they train so starting more conservative is a safer bet, especially for women who can't get away with larger calorie intakes like most men can.

Calorie Deficit

So you plugged in your metrics and received a calorie number as your baseline needs. Super duper.

I personally do not like drastic calorie reductions or arbitrary numbers like "500 calorie per day deficit".  500 calories for a small woman is a huge hit, though a large man (or woman) could easily take a 500 calorie reduction.  It's better to determine off of percentage so it is scaled to each individual's calorie needs.

10-20% is a great range for most people.  It depends on how much you can handle, how much your currently eat and what will create the most adherence.  For the sake of middle ground lets take 15% as a solid starting deficit.

Fat Intake

A very safe and moderate fat intake for most individuals is 1 gram per kilo of bodyweight. For everyone who can't convert pounds to kilos that is 0.45g per lb.  This keeps you above 0.3g/lb  which ensures no negative impacts on hormone production, your integumentary system or even food palatability.  Most people can make these numbers work.

Naturally, you can eat more fat and less carbs (or vice versa) based on preference or needs as long as you don't go below 0.3g/lb or hover around there for too long.  And yes, you can go higher than 0.45g/lb too!

You think really low carbs is an issue?  Really low fats will tank your hormones, decrease fat soluble vitamin absorption, dry out your hair, skin and nails and make all your food taste like damp cardboard.  It's not a good place to be and that's why I give a cutoff.

Putting It Together

We can use the above numbers to figure out how many carbohydrates are left over in our calories after meeting the basics.  This is a good way to ensure you DO meet the basic requirements and you aren't screwing up like setting protein too low or calories too high.  Then you'll have some numbers you can adjust to make it work better for you knowing you are in a good range.

Example Time!

Everyone loves examples so lets use a 170lb 30 year old male who is 5' 8" looking to lean out on a 15% calorie deficit as our plug-in.  He trains 4 times per week, Remember we';; go through the steps above to figure this all out!

Protein: Minimum 0.8g/lb.  Since he's a dude and dudes love protein, we'll give him 1g/lb of protein = 170g 

Calories:  He trains 4 times per week so in the calculator we plugged him in with his sex, age, height, weight metrics plus an activity multiplier of 1.4 = 2434 calories per day for maintenance

Deficit: At a 15% deficit (multiplying 2434 by 0.85) his total fat loss calories  = 2069

Fat Intake: 170lbs x 0.45 = 77g 

Quick math uodate: Protein and carbohydrates both have 4 calories per gram.  Fat has 9 calories per gram.  So we multiply his protein x 4 and fat x 9 to see how many of the calories he gets are taken up by these numbers.  The remaining calories go to carbohydrates.

Protein: 170 x 4 = 680 calories

Fat: 77 x 9 = 693

Total = 1373 calories

So out of the 2069 he needs to eat daily to lean out, 1373 of those are already accounted for in protein and fat.  To find how many carbs he gets, we subtract 1373 from 2069.  Then, since carbs have 4 calories per gram, we divide the final calorie number by 4 to get his total daily carb grams.

2069 total daily calories - 1373 = 696 calories for carbs

696 / 4 = 174g of carbs

Not too shabby!  An adult male leaning out on a bunch of protein, a moderate amount of fat can still eat some decently tasty and filling food from 174g of carbs.  He'll have productive workouts, get a nice pump, maintain blood sugar, have good food volume and refill glycogen enough so that he can train HARD.

Now, lets compile all the goodness in one place:

Protein: lbs x 0.8 to 1

Calories: Use this link http://www.leighpeele.com/mifflin-st-jeor-calculator

Deficit: Calories x 0.8 to 0.9 (I like 0.85 to start)

Fat: lbs x 0.45


Now, take those numbers.....

Protein Grams x 4 

Fat Grams x 9 

Add protein and fat calories together

Subtract that number from your total daily calories (with deficit factored in)

Final number / 4 = Total carb grams

Final Thoughts

Too many people choose random numbers for their calories without ever factoring in whether the calories and macros even align with their goals.  We also need to think about having productive workouts, good sleep, proper recovery and adherence.  Those can't be achieved optimally without a little solid planning.

In dieting, you may very well have to eventually take c arbs lower.  But why rush the process?  Metabolic adaptations are going to happen regardless, you WILL adapt to a calorie deficit. Rushing to a lower number only means rushing to stalling out.  Dan Garner says to "keep an ace up your sleeve", meaning don't play all your nutrition cards at once.  Keep some things (like lower carbs) off the table for a while so you can play that ace only when you need to.

In the meantime, enjoy your carbs!