I think we all know at this point that it’s not ideal to eliminate ALL carbs…or at least I hope you know that. Our bodies thrive off carbohydrate sources of food. We break them down into glucose and use it for direct energy! Our metabolisms become a lot more efficient with adequate carbs on board.
Can you imagine not giving your car the optimal fuel it needs? And still expect to get to your destination without any breakdowns? You wouldn’t do that. So, why did we spend the last few decades trying to get away with cutting out a major source of fuel (thanks a lot, Atkins, keto, South Beach Diet…to name a few)? No wonder we’re confused.
So, back to the question at hand – we know we need carbs, but how much do we really need to thrive and support fat loss? No fear! I’m here to help.
First things first: what carbs are we talking about exactly?
Let’s get this clear: “carbs” is a big term. Carbohydrate sources of food include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, and dairy.
So, considering this, there are so many carb sources, and I want you to have them often! Especially fruit and non-starchy vegetables. #eattherainbow
What we need to keep in mind for weight loss, however, and honestly our health in general, is how many starchy carbohydrates you are eating.
Why is this? Starchy carbs have a direct impact on our blood sugar, and blood sugar balance plays a huge role in our ability to burn and store fat…which, you guessed it…is incredibly helpful for weight loss.
To eat starchy carbs AND keep your blood sugar balanced, simply pair them with a protein source, a healthy fat source, and a fiber source. More often than not, your fiber source and starchy carb will be the same thing. For example: high-fiber bread, chickpea pasta, quinoa, or oatmeal.
This method of meal building is something we like to call PHFF (protein, healthy fat, and fiber). Not every meal needs to have a starchy carb, but we recommend having at least 1 full serving* a day.
*1 serving = 30-40 grams. Most starchy carbs will be 2/3 – 3/4 cup per serving.
Remember, this is just giving a guideline for starchy carbs specifically. Your total carbs in a day is going to be higher! If you’re eating meals that are really well-balanced with protein, healthy fat, and fiber, with 1-2 full servings of starchy carbs somewhere in the day, your total carbs will probably be upwards of 100-150 grams! Carbs are a part of many different foods – remember that list from a bit ago?
Do you need more than 1-2 full servings of starchy carbs?
We recommend having at least 2 full servings of starchy carbs a day if you’re consistently strength training more than 3 days a week and you’re trying to lose weight. You may need 2 or 3 servings a day if you are hypothyroid, or maybe if you are following a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle (simply because you’re eating more plant-based proteins with starchy carbs included). Even 3+ servings a day are ideal if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Here are some examples of needing more starchy carbs in a day:
You strength train 3+ days a week and feel like you are not progressing in how heavy you can lift and/or are very sore for multiple days after training
You’re unable to perform as well in your workouts. You notice you’re unable to lift as much weight and fatigue more easily.
You’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism or HPA-axis dysfunction.
Your energy is non-existent and you have major brain fog throughout the day.
You are breastfeeding and producing a good milk supply.
Will eating more starchy carbs hinder my weight loss progress?
Yes and no.
Eating too many starchy carbs could prevent weight loss if you’re simply eating them in portions at meals that do not support stable blood sugars. Unstable blood sugar often leads to overeating, and eating too many calories over time does lead to weight gain. This could be simply due to the portion OR you’re eating them without enough protein, healthy fat, and fiber. To make sure you’re eating blood-sugar-friendly meals, check out this post.
Side note: if your blood sugar is a rollercoaster due to imbalanced meals or high amounts of starchy carbs, our body requires more insulin to keep our blood sugar in normal ranges. Insulin essentially prevents the body from being able to burn fat.
What’s really helpful to remember is to simply not eat your carbs naked (as much as possible)! Pair with a protein, fiber, and/or fat! Your blood sugar will love you for this.
Truth is, if consumed in a balanced way, starchy carbs are actually SO helpful for a weight loss goal. Carbohydrates when broken down are direct fuel for the cellular processes of our metabolism. Think of it like giving direct fuel to your metabolic fire.
If you aren’t eating enough carbohydrates, you can imagine your metabolic flame being really dim and weak. No thank you!
What does net carbs mean?
“Net carbs” simply refers to the amount of carbs you’re getting after the fiber is subtracted. Fiber does not have hardly any impact on our blood sugar, so we honestly don’t need to monitor it. We need fiber!
On any product that has a label, simply refer to the carbohydrate section and subtract the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrates to determine the net carbs.
For example: a serving of Banza pasta is 30 grams of net carbs per 2 oz serving of dry pasta.
What about sugar?
Sugar is in the starchy carb category, but I really want to encourage you to decrease your intake as much as possible. Added sugar is just not beneficial to our health for many reasons, including inflammation, blood sugar dysregulation, and more.
Do I want you to give up cookies and cake forever? Absolutely not. But if you can find a balance where you can enjoy these fun foods in moderation, it will be really helpful for a weight loss goal. And not just because we often think of them as “bad foods.” It’s more so because of the way added sugars mess with your metabolic potential.
If you have no idea how much added sugar you’re currently getting in a day, I would encourage you to get curious! Peak at the labels of the products you have often. Are there added sugars under the carbohydrates section? If so, is it more than 8-10 grams? I wonder if there’s an alternative that you could swap for it.
I hope this brings some light to your burning carbohydrate questions. It’s time to ditch the carb-restrictive mindset and figure out how to give your body the nutrition it’s begging you for! Remember: a properly-nourished body can be a better fat burner!