Carb Strategies That I Have Found to Work Well for Staying Lean

I love carbs, which is why I could never be 100% Paleo. I do eat Paleo meals and even occasionally have low carb days, but I can’t imagine a world without carbs.

I enjoy gummy candy and red vines when watching movies and this is a habit that I don’t want to break. Anyway over the past 20 years I have learned a few carb strategies that allow a person to eat tasty carbs without putting on a bunch of excess weight.

This stuff isn’t ground breaking or anything, but I know it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of these effective strategies. I will create a list of tips and put the ones that have helped out the most towards the top. Of course, I would love to hear your thoughts as well in the comment section.


Gummy Cola Bottles

[This my latest candy of choice. They are kind of sick and good all at the same time. A slightly weird chemical flavor, but the texture is outstanding! This is for more advanced gummy connoisseurs, who are ready to move on past Gummy Bears and Swedish Fish.]

A “Thanks” to All of the Fitness Guys Who Have Come Clean

I love the trend of guys with fitness blogs who aren’t afraid to admit they like food that some people consider “junk food”. For instance, one of my favorite things this past year was Brad Pilon chomping down a pizza, while Craig Ballantyne sprinted on a treadmill.

They were trying to show you can’t out train a high calorie diet. I also love the Martin Berkhan’s Cheesecake Mastery posts over on his Lean Gains site (where he eats an entire cheesecake with hilarious photos). This is a good trend, because who wants to have out with someone who won’t let their guard down and “eat like the locals”.

Sacrificing Everything to Stay Lean is a Huge Mistake

It is easy to go overboard in your quest to get in top shape…especially if you are just starting out.

It is cool to be uber-strict for short periods of time, like getting in shape for your wedding or a vacation…but don’t make uber-strict your lifestyle.

Life it too short for that! So lets get to the carb tips. Again…you are most likely not ever going to follow all of these…pick and chose what works for you.

1) Never Eat Carbs Alone – Always Eat With Protein or Fat

I learned this principle back in the early 90’s. I am pretty sure I read about it in an issue of Muscle Media 2000. This was the small magazine Bill Philips published before he became huge.

The reason you don’t want to eat carbs alone is that it is more likely to spike your blood sugar and raise your insulin levels. When your insulin levels are high, you cannot burn body fat. When you add protein or fat to a carb source, it slows digestion and makes it less likely that you will have a strong insulin response.

I break this rule at the movie theater on a regular basis (Diet Coke and Red Vines), but for the most part I follow this rule and it has served me well. There is one exception to this rule…fruit is fine to eat alone, since the fiber slows down digestion (learned this from Bova – Spartan Health Regimen in 2002-2003).

2) Drink as Few Carbs As Possible

I know some people believe Diet Coke to be the worst substance known to man, but I drink it on a regular basis. One thing I won’t touch is regular soda.

Regular soda and those Frappuccino style coffee drinks have contributed to the obesity problem in a big way.

You can get a meal’s worth of calories in one of those fancy coffee drinks…if you are going to drink coffee drink it black…or with a smidge of cream.

Whenever possible try to avoid drinks that contain calories. This rule will serve you well. The only exception of course is beer 🙂 but most likely you aren’t drinking enough of it to make a huge impact on daily calories.

[Heck…I like Diet Coke so much, I’m going to throw in a Diet Coke commercial. This commercial proves, without question, that drinking Diet Coke makes you cool! Catchy song as well.]

3) No Carbs Before or During Your Workouts

I was tempted to make this #1. I avoid carbs at all costs before training and would never drink an energy drink while training.

I want my body to use stored body fat for energy during a workout session, not “food energy”.

I do realize that a lot of calories are burned after training and a lot of people argue that they don’t have energy when training in a fasted state. If you can learn to train in a fasted state you may actually have more energy, NOT less. I have written a whole post on this exact subject… Fasted Workouts and Fasted Cardio vs EPOC – For Fat Loss

4) Eat the Heaviest Carb Meals After Your Workout

This isn’t a rule I have followed recently, but it works like a charm. I believe I learned this tip from Tom Venuto in his BTFFTM book in 2002 or 2003.

The reason why this works well is that your muscles will absorb a lot of the nutrients you eat right after training. If you do eat a bunch of carbs right after training, they will be much less likely to get stored as fat.

Some of the leanest people I know eat their biggest carb heavy meals within 2 hours after training and taper down the carbs the rest of the day.

I don’t eat like this anymore because I now train in the morning and like to eat my biggest meal at night.

5) Starchy Carbs Earlier in the Day Fibrous Carbs at Night

This is another thing I learned from Tom Venuto quite a few years back. As it gets later in the day, make sure your carb sources are mainly fibrous.

So if you love bread and potatoes and want to eat them, either eat them earlier in the day or right after training – (Tip 4). In the evening, go for green vegetables, salads, etc. Try to fill up on green veggies and a good protein source, while minimizing the amount of starchy carbs.

I break this rule all of the time, because I often eat my biggest meal at night. I will only follow this rule if I am trying to get ultra-lean.

[I’ve posted this video before. This is the best explanation of Paleo anywhere on the internet…and entertaining.]

6) Go Paleo Every So Often

I love the idea of eating Paleo and to be honest I like the way it makes my body feel. While I’m not committed to the full-blown Paleo lifestyle, I do like to go low carb for short periods of time. I also like to make Paleo meals.

It is fun to get creative and figure out ways to make a meal with no wheat, rice, potatoes, etc. This is fun to do to just switch things up…plus some of my favorite blogs are based on the Paleo lifestyle.


7) No Carbs After 7:00 PM (or any other set time)

This is a tough rule to follow. I know a lot of people would put this as #1, but I think it is too rigid to follow on a regular basis. I don’t think it is a good idea to eat a bunch of carbs right before bed, but if you are craving some carbs then a little bit won’t kill you.

In fact, if you do an intermittent style fast on a particular day and eat a late dinner…then a decent amount of carbs will be fine. If you are someone who trains after work, then these night carbs won’t hurt either.

I do see this strategy as a good one if you are trying to reach lower than normal levels of body fat, but not a hard rule the rest of the time.

Summary: My hope is that adding one or two of these tips, will help you get past a fat loss sticking point.

The most important thing is to simply create a calorie deficit through diet and exercise, but tweaking your carbs can make your diet that much more effective.


78 thoughts on “Carb Strategies That I Have Found to Work Well for Staying Lean”

  1. Rusty,
    I eat low carb all the time and do very well on it. I try to eat as “Paleo” as possible but budget determines just how extreme I can go with that. Right now I’m doing lots of cardio, 6 days a week trying to lose fat and muscle mass in my legs. I have great energy on 30 grams of carbs or less every day and do 60 min of either marathon cardio or hybrid cardio and one day of spot training with weights.
    Would there be any reason for me to have carbs if I do great without refeeds?

  2. Oh by the way… I’m a girl i’m at 140 pounds now, i’m 5’4″ tall and i’m still at 29% fat.. i’m working out 3 to 4 times a week (a day on two). And I cheat once a week, like saturday diner: I drink and eat whatever I want.

  3. Hey Rusty,
    So glad I found you! 🙂 I had been low carbing for quite a while now, stopping then going back. I also had been training, stopping then going back. Within a year I lost 25 pounds. I’m still chubby and the workous they gave me in the gym at first was soooo long and debilating cardio for a whole hour was just frustrating on the scale, nothing happened out of that workout!
    So i’m back on track with my usual less than 30 g of carbs a day. I’m also back to gym, but i’m lifting heavy weights, as you just teach me! I’m doing resistance cardio for 15 minutes, at 180HR. and at the end of workout I do it for another 15 minutes at 160HR. Then I squat with 30 pounds dumbbels 10reps x3 times, Bench 35 pounds, 10 reps x 3times… abs + everything I don’T know in english (I’m french sorry) Anyway I get out of there sweating half death… I’m just wondering, I increased my carbs intake after workout (to get out of my dizziness) so I eat an apple and 140g of greek yogurt. I’m just wondering if it’s ok? And do you think what I do is good?
    Thanks a lot for this real nice blog! Love it x1000

  4. I’ve been reading your blog for about 4 month’s or so and I just love all the fitness information on here. Thank you Rusty!

  5. The paleo style is interesting, but it would be wrong to say that some humans are not adapted to eating grains and milk. There is studies that show that certain population have adapted very well to eating grains and milk (even alcohol), and some that have not. Depending on your ancestral origins you may or may not be able to eat grains and milk. Also evolution can happen inside of 10,000 years, it can happen inside 1,000 years given the right conditions.

  6. Martin suggests BCAAs on Leangains which is a good idea. I’ve also seen caffeine pills as a suggestion for people who have problems with energy, but I think the dehydration on an empty stomach isn’t worth the extra boost. It can make some people dizzy. After a few workouts the body adjusts in an amazing way.

  7. Great article Rusty.

    I find I have to be careful messing around with carbs because I can fairly easily crash if I mess things up. You can get seriously lean with your suggestions though I have seen lots of people get great results.

  8. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Big thanks for the useful info.

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  10. Just found this site today–very interesting–I bookmarked it. Thanks for this article. Just curious-have you Red Vine aficionados considered the sugar-free version? I am addicted to the sugar-free Black Licorice Vines–bought over half the store stock of these yesterday because they were on sale.

  11. I, too, am a lover of diet coke, but I have given it up because of all the articles I’ve read about how bad it is and my mother’s constant nagging. I’ve found that a good replacement for taste is mineral water with lemon juice, and for an energy boost, I just add some emergen-c to normal water. Also, there are some organic drinks similar to diet coke sweetened with stevia instead of aspartame, for instance, Zevia soda.

  12. Can someone help me out PLEASE…. I am totally and utterly confused and bemused and depressed about all the different diets, exercise and training programs etc that can be so different to each other. I used to train many years ago but have not trained seriously for some time. I have three small children and work full time. I already start work at 7.30am so am up around 6am. If I tried to train in the morning, I would be up at around 5am and I have tried this and it makes me exhausted. I don’t know what to eat, when and how to train. I am feeling so fed up and fat. Help anyone……

  13. Awesome post! I love cola bottles and that picture made my mouth water 😀

    Thanks for helping me to feel human and know that its ok no to be 100% hardcore all the time and live a fun life.

  14. Hey Rusty, I just found your blog and am really enjoying it. But, most of your advice seems to be for people who are already is pretty good shape. Do you have any real world advice for someone who is obese? Please help!

  15. Great tips for staying lean, Rusty. When I decided that I’ve put on a few too many pounds I make sure my primary (if not only) source of carbs comes from vegetables. I increase my bodyweight cardio workouts to four times per week and always complete them in a fasted state first thing in the morning. I also use ESE twice per week. I only need to do this for about 14 days and I’m usually right back where I want to be (a.k.a. eating Peanut M&Ms).


  16. I’d like to introduce you to a new way of getting fit called the perfect me program. I have used it for just over 3 months now and it has improved both my physical and mental wellbeing. It uses a new technique called hypnexercise which adds hypnosis to your workout. It works by developing the mind and body at the same time making you stronger both mentally and physically. I highly recommend this program to everyone!

  17. I have found that people can get sugar from their complex carbs so when training people that are looking to drop the extra stubborn weight taking a no-to-low fine sugar approach works extremely well. This is a great site by the way. A lot of complex fitness issues being addressed.

  18. Rusty-

    I remember your old jump rope workout post that described the benefits of ‘starved state’ cardio.

    Just doing some HIIT followed by standard cardio allowed me to cut A LOT of fat.

    The starved state workouts are still a huge part of my regime.

    Excellent post.


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