How Many Carbs Per Day to Lose Body Fat? It Depends…

February 12, 2013

If I was to hire someone to create a diet plan customized for my goals and activity levels, Nate Miyaki would be that person. Nate spends his days teaching advanced nutrition mastery workshops in the Silicone Valley area. He has recently decided to branch out to the Internet to teach people all over the globe. Bottom line…he is a full-fledged expert when it comes to diet and body composition. He just created a video and guest post for Fitness Black Book. My guess is that you will learn more in this 10 minute video about carbs and fat loss, than scouring the internet for 3+ hours.

[He’s a laid back surfer type, but get him in front of a white board and prepare for a serious knowledge drop.]

CLEARING UP CARB CONFUSION…FOREVER
-by Nate Miyaki


If you’ve been involved in fitness for any length of time — as a coach, athlete, or general enthusiast — you’ve probably noticed two themes:

1. The relatively high percentage of d*cks within our industry that bash any approach that is not their own. 

I don’t know what it is man — lack of confidence or maybe lack of a life outside the gym?

2. The seemingly never-ending debate about low-carb, higher fat vs. high carb, lower fat diets.

First off, I’m a laid-back dude like Rusty.  Maybe that’s why he invited me here to hang out with you?

I really just want to help you sift through the bullsh*t that’s out there, get you on an efficient path towards achieving your goals, and then go hang out at da beach surrounded by beautiful bikini babes, not in the forums with angry bro-scientists.

And about that Ol’ Carb Debate — it’s a real doozy huh?  There’s religious-like passion and cult-like followings on both sides of the fence. The pendulum of popularity seems to swing back and forth between the two.

steakandpotatoes

The worst part is that you — the person that just wants a simple plan to improve your physique, not getting caught up in debates between a bunch of science geeks or meatheads — end up confused as all hell and getting nowhere.

You want the unbiased truth my friends?

Both sides can be right.  Both approaches can work.  Research and anecdotal evidence can support both.  Unnecessary confusion stems from coaches trying to slot everyone into one Universal system and proclaiming it the best for everyone, everywhere.

It doesn’t work that way.  That’s like saying there is only one way you should train despite your performance or physique goals, or only one sexual position you can use despite your flexibility or mood or number of partners or blood alcohol content.

The diet industry has lost the principle of Specificity.  There is no “Perfect Diet” that can claim a throne.  There are multiple effective diets based on different situations and goals.

fork in the road

THE CALORIE EQUALIZER

We need to take a step back before we move forward, kind of like a good Salsa Dance.

Attaining a negative energy balance is the most important, but often most overlooked, fat loss step.  If you are in a calorie deficit, a variety of macronutrient percentages and distribution of energy nutrients can be used to get the job done.

I do believe that different breakdowns are more efficient, and more enjoyable and sustainable, for different demographics.

But that doesn’t change the fact that calories are the most important “number” to get right in the 6-pack game.  The only way to force your body to burn off stored fat is to take in fewer calories then you expend, on average, over some time frame.

Once you account for calories, you set optimum protein levels for the growth or maintenance of lean muscle mass, and essential fatty acids for normal functioning.  Anything beyond that is just an energy nutrient.

left hook

THE LOW-CARB LEFT HOOK

In determining energy nutrient intake, you should first assess how many carbohydrates you need, and for what reasons.  A sedentary person is not exercising and burning through MUSCLE glycogen stores (300-600g depending on body size), so they do not need to worry about replenishing them on a daily basis.

High carbohydrate diets (300g or more) are more appropriate for athletes and regular exercisers that undergo the cyclical depletion and repletion of muscle glycogen stores.

Sedentary populations really only need to worry about providing adequate carbohydrates to support LIVER glycogen stores, which regulate normal blood sugar levels and fuel the brain and central nervous system at rest.

This assumes a non-ketogenic diet.  Although ketosis may be beneficial for certain disease states, it is NOT necessary for an optimal fat loss plan.

Research shows that ketogenic diets are no more effective than non-ketogenic, low carbohydrate diets for fat loss.  Yet, they have a ton of metabolic and hormonal drawbacks.

Thus in most cases, I advocate a low-carbohydrate BUT non-ketogenic diet for sedentary populations.

This can be accomplished with roughly 100g of carbs a day (this does not vary much with weight and gender, as the liver is roughly the same size regardless of those two variables), unless perhaps you’re hanging with Frank the Tank.

The chronic bombarding of a sedentary body with highly processed carbs can indeed lead to full glycogen stores, sugar backing up into the bloodstream, and a host of negative health conditions, the most serious of course being MBMT — Man Boob & Muffin Top Syndrome.

That’s why research shows that lower carb, Caveman-style diets may be the best approach for improving body composition and biomarkers of health for obese, insulin resistant, and sedentary populations.

Get in a calorie deficit, eat adequate protein, get roughly 100g of carbs from unlimited vegetables and a few pieces of fruit, make up the rest of your calories from healthy fats, and walk daily.  You’ll have yourself one hell of a plan.

If you are a low-carb guru and want to snuggle with me now, I accept.  But be forewarned, I’m about to piss you off.

ll

DON’T CALL IT A CARBOHYDRATE COMEBACK

ANAEROBIC exercise completely changes the name of the game.  It creates a unique metabolic environment, an altered physiological state, and changes the way your body processes nutrients for up to 48 hours after completion of a training session.

If you exercise intensely 3 or more days a week, than your body is virtually in a recovery mode 100% of the time, thus its nutritional needs are completely different than sedentary populations.

If the training program is different, the diet should be different.  Beyond dietary dogmatic creeds, that’s just common sense. I think high and mighty, low carb cult leaders, whose only form of exercise is jogging, should take a class in exercise physiology before making Universal proclamations, and dismissing thoroughly researched Sports Nutrition principles.

While those diet plans work great for certain demographics, they are a complete mismatch for others.

I don’t want to bore the sh*t out of you with too much technical stuff, so lets narrow this down to some bigger picture bullets.

PHYSIOLOGY BULLETS

  • The anaerobic energy production pathway (what we use while strength training, sprinting, cross training, competing in intermittent team sports, or basically performing any high-intensity activity) runs on glucose/carbs.  It can’t use lipids or ketones.  While the body can use fatty acids as fuel at rest, and even those who train only in the aerobic zone can become “fat adapted”, high intensity muscular contractions require glucose.
  • Therefore, chronic carb depletion combined with anaerobic training can eventually lead to muscle loss.  The body will break down amino acids as a reserve fuel to provide the necessary glucose to fuel high intensity activity.  You know how they say fats are more “muscle sparing” than carbs?  Not when you factor in anaerobic training baby.
  • Intense anaerobic training is actually a highly catabolic activity.  You need to offset that with an anabolic recovery period, including carbs and insulin, to restore balance and ensure that training stimulus triggers muscle growth.  No hormone your body naturally makes is inherently good or bad.  Insulin can be very beneficial at times for physique enhancement.
  • Hard training can cause a temporary impairment of the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness. With consistent high-intensity exercise, adequate carb intake lessens the potentially negative changes in immunity brought about by training.
  • In other words, are you training all of the time like a madman, yet are still flabby or Skinny-Fat, with no shape?  Are you getting sick all of the time, or seem to catch every cold or flu going around?

METABOLIC & HORMONAL BULLETS

  • Sufficient carbohydrate intake supports an optimum free testosterone:cortisol ratio IN RESPONSE to high intensity activity.  Our industry focuses on how important dietary fat is for supporting natural testosterone levels in all populations, which it is, but carbohydrates also play a role specifically for athletes.
  • If you’re hitting the juice or TRT to compensate, it doesn’t matter so much. But if you’re doing it naturally, you need a more informed approach.  What good is a 6-pack if you have a lifeless noodle hanging between your legs (or whatever the female equivalent would be), and would rather play video games than hang out with bikini babes.
  • Low carb diets coupled with intense training protocols can impair thyroid production and sabotage normal metabolic rate.  More specifically, it can impair the conversion of t4 thyroid hormone to its more active T3 form. Feel like your metabolism is shot, still flabby despite high amounts of training and ultra-low calorie levels?
  • A carb-depleted state can effect natural production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which affect mood states and the ability to induce sleep. Suffering from insomnia?  Are you grumpy, depressed, and just generally a d*ck to everyone around you?

Just frickin’ trust me man, there is no one Universal diet that works for everyone.  While a sedentary person overdosing on carbs can have drastic negative health and body composition effects, chronic carb depletion combined with consistent anaerobic training can be just as disastrous.

I know athletes can suffer through miserable diet plans to look great for the stage or photo shoots, but that’s not a sustainable lifestyle plan for most of us. What are you going to do after 8 weeks of hell and 1 day of glory?  Just get fat again? Who wants to live like that?

I’d rather find a plan that I can integrate into a functional lifestyle, and allows me to look good at da beach year round.

dazed-and-confused

STILL DAZED, LOW-CARB, & CONFUSED

Sorry about the above rant.  Sometimes you have to get more technical in order to simplify. Let me see if I can give you an analogy for clarification.

It’s like gas in your car.  If your Shagging Station Wagon just sits in the garage collecting dust, it doesn’t need gas.  Loading up on starchy carbs is like trying to fill up a full tank.  It just spills over the side.  In the human body, overspill equates to body fat storage, and a host of other negative effects — like elevated triglycerides, cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

However, if you drive a Bad A$$ Ferrari around town every day, sometimes for long mileage, you have to fill up the tank often.  If you don’t, you will run out of gas.  An empty tank in the human body equates with becoming depressed, lethargic, irritable, impairs performance; leads to muscle loss, stubborn fat, non-functioning wieners, frustrated that despite dieting your body is not changing, etc.

Make sense?

For those who fear the carb during fat slashing phases, just remember that total calories are still the most important step.

If you strength train while maintaining a relative calorie deficit, you can still include some starchy carbs in the diet while losing significant amounts of body fat.  The best part is you get better support of that anaerobic training, better energy, better muscle retention, don’t screw up your metabolism, don’t set yourself up for huge post-dieting rebounds, and maintain natural hormone production.

Why am I so passionate about this fight?  I suffered a lot of the drawbacks of combining low-carb diets with high intensity training myself.  I hope to help people avoid the same mistakes and struggles I went through.

CARBONOMICS

“Carbs” tend to get a bad name because of the ones most people emphasize in the typical Y2K American Diet.

Concentrated sources of fructose (sugar, high fructose corn syrup) are metabolically disastrous in the body and can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, and rapid fat accumulation.

Many are allergic or sensitive to gluten (wheat, rye, barley).  This can lead to gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, body fat, bloating, and water retention.

Paleo nutritionists refer to a group of compounds collectively as “anti-nutrients” (lectins and phytates found in most grains, cereals, legumes).  These can lead to gastrointestinal distress, and impair protein and mineral absorption.

The key is adding back in the right “types” of carbs to an anaerobic athlete’s diet.

japanese diet

That’s why I use what I call the Traditional Japanese Village Diet Template.  It is just as cheesy as the Caveman theme, but also just as easy to remember, thus making it a great educational tool.  It is really just a Paleo Diet with the addition of rice and root vegetables as your primary starchy carb sources to support anaerobic training.

TAPPING OUT

By now, you’ve either learned something useful or are sick of me rambling. Either way, I got to take a piss.  So lets say Aloha, and call it a day

Keep in mind, most of the above is “da why”.  The “what to do” is simple.

If your goal is fat loss, get in a calorie deficit and eat adequate protein to support your lean muscle mass.

If you’re sedentary or only perform low-intensity/aerobic exercise, lean more towards the lower-carb, Paleo Diet template.

If you perform high-intensity anaerobic activity on a consistent basis, lean more towards The Japanese Village template.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –  End of Article – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Nate-Miyaki I highly recommend you check out Nate’s full blown diet plan, called Intermittent Feast.

He takes all the guesswork out of macronutrient ratios and gives a phenomenal approach to staying lean year-round.

 

Thanks for the article Nate!

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Rusty Moore

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{ 106 comments… read them below or add one }

Christiane April 20, 2013 at 12:52 am

Excellent article. I have found that porridge suits me very well. I am a cyclist and a good plateful before a hard run works very well. Porridge is a complex carbohydrate with many other health benefits. We are all individual and I have found its essential to find out what balance of protein and carbohydrate works best for yourself and your sport.

Fred April 21, 2013 at 4:43 am

Well that clears up a lot of the mystery about carbs and all the hype flying around regarding them. I’m currently having a lot of success following a Paleo eating style, which pretty much reflects the 100g a day carb intake you talked about. I’ve quit weighing myself more than about once a month and just concentrate on creating great nutritional meals rather than worrying weight loss. I don’t exercise a lot, just walk about 45 minutes a day, but I’m down a couple of pant sizes in 3 months and am happy with my progress.

Abby April 21, 2013 at 6:54 am

This is very valuable information. There seem to be so many conflicting reports about carbs and their effect on fat loss that it drives me crazy. Thanks for this post.

Sarah April 21, 2013 at 10:48 am

Wow – so powerful. So much info in such a small space of time. Talks so much sense and cuts through all the crap…..fantastic!

Josh April 21, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Great article. I like the Dazed and Confused reference and how you summed it all up by comparing it to fueling up your car. I think this is a great analogy. Keep up the good work!

Valerie April 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I like the way he explains how the liver only stores about 80 – 110g of carbs, and the muscles’ glycogen stores are about 300g; and the difference between someone who lives a more sedentary lifestyle vs. an athlete. That gives the “why” behind what your carb intake should be on a daily basis.

David April 24, 2013 at 7:53 am

“The anaerobic energy production pathway (what we use while strength training, sprinting, cross training, competing in intermittent team sports, or basically performing any high-intensity activity) runs on glucose/carbs. It can’t use lipids or ketones. While the body can use fatty acids as fuel at rest, and even those who train only in the aerobic zone can become “fat adapted”, high intensity muscular contractions require glucose.” That says it all. As a former runner AND strength trainer from a long time ago (with a lot fewer injuries than I have now). That is definitely true. What I am trying to do now that I have a less varied regimen (though no less intense for the most part). I have to work on my balance of carbs and proteins, but either way, I do not go to complete extremes. Finding a balance has been the best way for me. Great post!

Sam April 24, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for the video on clearing up the confusion around carbs Nate. It is a very confusing area with so many different spins on what is the right way to do it.

Timothy April 25, 2013 at 11:46 am

Good information in the article. It’s important to understand that all carbs aren’t bad, and the body needs them to function, especially for those of us that are lifting weights, running on the treadmill, or just trying to be more active.

Charlie April 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm

I think it comes down to a balance. You need to plan your carb intake according to the intensity of your workout. BTW “non functioning Weiner” LOL

sabrina j April 29, 2013 at 8:44 am

Help me!!!

Although this information was beyond helpful. I’m still not really sure what is right for me. I’m a professional dancer, but im currently returning from several injuries all connecting to bad posture, hypermobile joints, a tight si joint, and poor upperbody strength. I’ve dealt with a weight issue my entire life and I still can’t seem to shake the weight. (skinnyfat isn’t even enough to describe what im goin through lol)

I’m 23, afro American, 5’9′, 191 lbs (although I don’t look it)

With age I gained a serious lactose intolerance. So anything that has to do with a cow… (meat, cheese, milk) no can do.

since my injury ive put on even more weight when I was already aiming to lose.

since march I started limited cross training including; yoga, spinclass,swimming and pilates.

but, I don’t know what diet lifestyle is good for me. when I go low-carb I feel more awake but I cant even make it through the most simple work out. when I increase carbs I feel sluggish, sleepy and I cant make it through workouts that way either. Could i be having a gluten intolerance as well?!?! My energy levels are totally unpredictable even though I follow a more “Japanese village template”. (sidenote: I love juicing veggies)

I had a thyroid sonogram. (normal)

and I went in for blood work as well. (normal, except low vitamin D)

Please anyone. some suggestion are much needed.

– Sabrina J

Jennifer May 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm

This is a great explanation of where carbs go and how they end up being stored as fat. So glad I found this. Now the recommended carb intake makes more sense to me.

Kevin James May 3, 2013 at 12:11 am

I love how you’re bringing carbs back, they’ve taken a thrashing recently and it’s awesome to see a fresh perspective on the issue!

Shelly May 5, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Great post Nate! You have given me great information on Carbohydrates. I Thank you for sharing this post with others and keep up the good work.

Dimitris May 6, 2013 at 2:12 am

At last somebody who knows what he is talking about ! Of course all carbs are not bad ! Just control them ! Great article ! Thanks

Jenny Gregory May 7, 2013 at 8:22 am

Thanks for an interesting article. I weight train and have been feeling increasingly tired recently (and yes I do want to lose weight), I now think my diet may be at fault even though it was specified by my gym instructor. It is such a confusing area, so many different opinions and conflicting advice.

Richard Bamber May 10, 2013 at 6:40 am

Thanks for the article, lots of good tips there. I liked the video, carbs is a confusing subject and that’s cleared up a few things for me.

Aqua May 11, 2013 at 3:45 am

Wow – what an eye opening article. It is great to read that there is NOT one diet to fix all problems. Lately I was following the Paleo Lifestyle, but had some rice from time to time. Thanks to you I know now that this is called Japanese Village Diet :)

CL May 16, 2013 at 4:27 am

Great info on Carbs. Really useful!

jennie May 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Great article, I Have been trying to watch the carbs that I eat now that I am getting older. The information on this post is super.thanks for sharing with others.

Terry Powers May 19, 2013 at 3:48 am

Useful info – thanks.
Carbs, like anything need to be controlled and are needed when you have endurance sports like running.

Terry

Karen May 20, 2013 at 2:35 am

Sabrina, maybe you need to be very careful of what carbs you have – avoiding gluten completely – and just have the carbs right before or after your workout? Like a banana an hour before and then some rice after, but none the rest of the day? And did you read the earlier posts on resetting your metabolism to avoid lectin resistance? It sounds to me like you might find that plan very helpful.

Fran May 21, 2013 at 7:12 am

A negative energy balance is only possible when you know calories in and out, to a certain extent. It seems everyone can use the same yardstick: what really works when looking in a mirror and the verdict of an accurate scale.

Julianne May 23, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hey Nate, I’m glad you laid it all out. This sets a lot of crooked thinking straight (I hope so). We are flooded with conflicting opinions from all directions, we are dazed and confused.

Sallie May 24, 2013 at 4:52 am

Carbs are an important part of our diet. Thanks for this post, it is very educational.

Lonnie Thaler May 25, 2013 at 4:16 pm

This is a very informative article. I agree with Nate. There is no perfect diet program that can truly claim that it is the most effective diet strategy. It depends on the person who undergoes diet program. I am an athlete and it is really necessary for me to have a high carb diet especially one month before my race.

jeff carpenter May 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I’ve followed Rusty for a while and have also done his Visual Impact course which as really good for me by the way.

But i needed to stop by to thank you for such an awesome article – full of useful information! This was an excellent read.

Thank you!

Jeff

Dianna July 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

I feel that the problem is that people are looking to find the ‘one right answer’ and as you mentioned the ‘Perfect Diet’. It simply does not exist and our bodies react differently to each other.
Thanks for clearing up a few things as there is so much info out there about carb diets that it can get rather confusing.

biceps Boy July 30, 2013 at 7:00 am

I found that low carb dieting helps me cut body fat quicker, but high carb diets help me pack on muscle.

I guess it just depends on what your goals are…

Thanks for the article.

Milan August 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

Keep is simple. If you are sedentary person, get all your carbs from mainly vegetables and fruit. If you are fairly active throw som pasta in. If you are competitive athlete throw some more pasta, rice and some grains in. It doesn’t matter your activity level, stay away from sweetened foods and beverages and you will do very well.

Melanie August 20, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I read the article and it made sense however I can see from this that some people disagree,so I’m still confused of what to do with my diet,is there anyone who can help??!!
I have started training,4x per week,weight training,and high and low intensity cardio.
I’m training to lose body fat and tone, please help!

Jack August 21, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Hey! Really cool article! Its nice seeing your point of view on carbs.. seeing as there are so many from so many different people.. Sounds like you really know your stuff. Low carb diets are really tough.. especially for those who are used to rich and yummy foods(myself). But they do work.. so good luck to anyone about to start one!

Branger63 August 25, 2013 at 6:03 am

Great article. I actually live in Japan presently and am quite familiar with the “Japanese Village” way of eating :) I do intermittent fasting along the Lean Gain model (16/8) and work out with weights at least three times a week and do HIIT for my other training, primarily on the spin bike or concept rower. My biggest challenge is getting enough calories on a daily basis. I eat very healthy and healthy food, especially vegetables, are not very calorically dense. I do get at least 200 grams of protein a day (I currently weight between 195 and 198 based on liquid intake) but have lost over 10 pounds without trying. Definitely getting lean. I probably need to increase my carbs as I typically take in 100 or less grams per day. I get most of my fat from coconut oil, it tastes so good in coffee :) Still a novice so appreciate articles like these! Keep up the great work.

Reggie October 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm

As someone who lives the paleo diet, it’s interesting to see you talk about rice. Traditionally, the paleo diet doesn’t “allow” rice, but you brought up interesting points. I already eat rice anyway (always try brown), it’s just too good and a staple food to give up. Very good and eye opening article. Thanks!

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