How many carbohydrates should you eat?

The nutrition impact of carbohydrate

Carbohydrates play an important role in providing energy for high-intensity exercise (including both cardio and resistance training), and there are numerous health benefits associated with a wide variety of high-carbohydrate foods. 

For example, high-carb foods often provide plenty of fiber that is good for supporting satiety, blood glucose regulation, and gastrointestinal health. Fruits and vegetables are also made up of mostly carbohydrate (rather than fat or protein), and both provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and other biologically active phytonutrients. 

How much carbohydrate should you eat? 

Most health agencies recommend carbohydrate to comprise about 45-65% of total energy intake, though exact carbohydrate needs can differ based on a variety of factors, including weight change goals, activity levels, and total energy needs.

People who perform more high-intensity exercise generally need to consume larger amounts of carbohydrates in order to maintain their performance. For avid endurance athletes, it’s probably not a bad idea to aim for at least 6g of carbs per kg of body weight, whereas the typical lifter can probably get by with at least 3-4g/kg.

If you don’t exercise, your workouts are minimally carb-dependent, or performance during your workout sessions isn’t critical to you, then you have a lot more wiggle room when balancing the Calories from carbohydrate in your diet.

For non-exercisers who are just aiming for balanced macronutrient intakes, a carb intake of around 40-60% of total Calories is pretty typical, which should facilitate a diet rich in fiber, micronutrients, and phytonutrients, as long as carbs are obtained from a diverse selection of nutrient-dense foods.

Learn more about carbohydrates, including recommendations for good sources of carbs, in this knowledge base article.

What about low-carb and ketogenic diets? 

Without question, some people prefer low-carb diets for a variety of reasons. For example, some people simply find that low-carb diets fit their food preferences better than low-fat diets do, and others find low-carb diets to be more satiating per Calorie. 

Ketogenic and low-carb diets have some pros and cons. They are viable options for weight loss or weight maintenance diets, and some people find that these diets help them manage their hunger or food choices more effectively while dieting. 

However, carb restriction can make it a little harder to get adequate intakes of certain micronutrients, and people who do a lot of high-intensity exercise might find that their performance is impaired when their carbs drop too low. 

Low-carb diets are not significantly more effective for losing fat, building muscle, or improving cardiometabolic health than low-fat diets with similar protein and Calorie content, but they are a viable dietary option nonetheless.

A typical low-carb dieter will often set carbs at 30% of energy or lower (up to an absolute upper limit of about 200g/day). For a more extreme approach, ketogenic diets involve even more intensive carbohydrate restriction, with daily intakes rarely exceeding 50-60g or so. Again, ketogenic diets are not inherently better than low-fat diets, and probably aren’t ideal for muscle growth or exercise performance, but they are an option for individuals aiming to lose or maintain weight.

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