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When should you eat carbs to maximize weight loss?

There tend to be two camps of people when it comes to the consumption of carbohydrates. There are those who believe they should be limited to a low-carb diet, or avoided altogether. On the other side of the fence, are those who think that eating carbs are an important element in a healthy and balanced diet.

However, if weight loss is your goal, then there’s no need to demonise carbs. Not all carbohydrates are bad for you, and research shows that they can help you reach various goals, such as improving athletic performance, and increasing muscle mass.

If carbs are a part of your diet, then you may be wondering when is best to eat them. To answer that question, we’re going to look over the topic in a little more detail.

Knowing the different types of carbs

Alongside fat and protein, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients and food groups. When it comes to fuelling your body, carbs provide 4 calories per gram, protein 4, and fat 9. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose so that they can then be used for energy.

The two main types of dietary carbohydrates are as follows:

  • Simple carbohydrates: These types of carbohydrates contain just one or two sugar molecules, and foods that are high in simple carbs include fruit, honey, and sugar.
  • Complex carbohydrates: These contain three or more sugar molecules, and foods that are high in complex carbs include quinoa, brown rice, and oats.

In general, foods that contain complex carbs are a healthier option, as they contain more nutrients and fiber, meaning they take longer to digest and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

However, simple carbs do come in handy, such as in moments when you need a quick burst of energy, such as an hour before a run or gym workout. This is because they’re easier for your body to break down, meaning the glucose is available for use far quicker.

Take care not to consume too many carbs, as ifyour body can’t process them all, they will be stored as fat.

Also Read: How many miles should you run to lose weight?

When to eat carbs for weight loss – is there a best time?

According to research, there are different optimal times to consume carbohydrates, depending on your particular goals.

For weight loss

The research conducted on the best time to eat carbohydrates for weight loss shows inconsistent results.

In one study, which followed 58 obese men who consumed a low calorie diet with more carbohydrates at either lunch or dinner time, found that both approaches were effective for weight loss.

Another study, following 78 obese adults who followed a low-calorie diet and ate carbs either with every meal, or at dinner, showed that those who only consumed carbs at dinner lost more weight.

There’s also evidence to suggest that the body is more efficient at burning carbohydrates in the morning, and fat during the evening. This would suggest that it is better to eat carbs earlier in the day, rather than with the evening meal.

These mixed results make it unclear as to whether or not there is an optimal time to consume carbs.

The number of carbs that you eat is more important than the time of day they’re consumed.

Building muscle

For those looking to increase muscle mass, carbohydrates are a vital calorie source. Although this is the case, only a handful of studies have focused on the effect of consuming carbs at different times, when building muscle is the overall goal.

There are some studies that found that consuming carbs and protein within the few hours that follow your workout could help protein synthesis, which is the bodily process of building muscle.

Some studies find that consuming carbs along with protein within a few hours after a workout may help increase protein synthesis, which is the process by which your body builds muscle.

However, there are also studies that show that eating only protein after a workout is just as handy in stimulating protein synthesis, as it is when consumed alongside carbohydrates.

But, it is important to bear in mind that the body requires carbs to fuel resistance training, so consuming carbs before a workout may help with your performance.

Additionally, the body prefers carbs over protein for providing energy. This means the protein can be used for other functions, such as building muscle.

For athletic performance and recovery

Those who exercise intensely will reap benefits from timing their carb consumption.

Exercising for long periods of time lowers muscle glycogen stores, which is the body’s main source of fuel. Therefore, eating carbohydrate-rich foods just before a workout can help with performance and faster recovery, and they also help to prevent muscle soreness and damage.

For optimal performance, athletes can benefit from eating carbohydrates at least 3 or 4 hours before a workout. It will also help restore the body’s glycogen stores if they’re consumed between 30 minutes and 4 hours after the end of a workout.

For the ketogenic diet

A low carbohydrate ketogenic diet, otherwise known as a keto diet, is high in fat, low in carbs, and contains a moderate amount of protein. This very low carbohydrate diet is popular with many people aiming to lose weight.

This low carb approach involves restricting carbohydatre consumption to less than 50 grams each day, so that the body reaches a state of ketosis, which is a metabolic state where your body burns existing fat stores instead of carbohydrates.

When it comes to the keto diet, there isn’t any substantial evidence about the timing of carbohydrate intake.

Also Read: How to take weight loss measurements of your body

Why are people trying low carb diets?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans outline that your daily calorie intake should be 45%-65% from carbohydrates, no matter your age group or sex.

That being said, some people choose to reduce their daily carbohydrate intake, in an attempt to lose weight. This is because there is substantial research that suggests that low carbohydrate diets can help with weight loss goals.

A low-carb diet means that you restrict your intake of carbohydrates, and instead focus on consuming healthy fats, protein, and vegetables. There are studies that demonstrate that low carbohydrate diets can reduce one’s appetite, which means they’ll eat fewer calories, which will help with their weight loss goals.

What constitutes a ‘low carb diet’?

There is no one specific way to follow a low carb diet, as the definition of “low” is subjective.

The optimal carb intake for each individual depends on their gender, body composition, exercise habits, preference, age, and metabolism.

Those who are very active will have more muscle mass than those who lead more sedentary lifestyles, meaning they’re able to tolerate more carbohydrates without it affecting their weight.

An individual’s metabolic health will affect their ideal carb intake. An individual who has developed an issue such as type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome will mean a person’s carb intake will need to be adjusted accordingly, with guidance from a doctor. Those who have such problems will be less able to tolerate a large number of carbohydrates.

Working out your daily carb intake

Removing the more unhealthy carb sources from your diet, such as refined grains, will bring many health benefits.

To really release the potential metabolic benefits of a low-carb diet, you will also have to restrict the intake of other carb sources.

Eating 100–150 grams per day

These days, it’s simple to figure out how many carbs are in certain foods, with a simple search on the internet.

The consumption of 100-150 grams per day is considered a moderate carb intake. This sort of amount could work for those who are lean and active, and who are simply trying to maintain their weight.

That being said, it is also possible to lose weight with this level of carbohydrate intake, as long as your body burns more calories than you consume in your overall diet.

The carbs that you should eat are as follows:

  • All types of vegetable
  • Fruit
  • Moderate amounts of healthy starches, such as sweet potatoes, rice, oats, and healthier grains

Eating 50–100 grams per day

For those looking to lose weight, without omitting carbs entirely, may aim to eat between 50 to 100 grams of carbs per day. This amount will also help those who are sensitive to carbs to maintain their weight.

The types of carbs you can eat include:

  • Lots of vegetables
  • 2 or 3 pieces of fruit per day
  • Minimal amounts of starchy carbs (potatoes, rice, grains etc)

Eating 20–50 grams per day

Those who want to lose weight quickly, or have metabolic problems or diabetes, should aim to eat between 20 and 50 grams per day.

When eating only 50 grams or less per day, the body will reach a state of ketosis, and supply energy to the brain via “ketone bodies”. These are metabolites that replace glucose as the main fuel to the brain when there’s a lack of glucose in the body. This can dampen your appetite, helping you with your weight loss goals.

Carbs that are acceptable on a sub-50 gram diet include:

  • Low carb vegetables
  • Some berries. Served with whipped cream if you’re feeling a bit fancy
  • Trace carbs, present in foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds

A low-carb diet doesn’t have to mean a no-carb diet, as you’re able to eat plenty of low-carb vegetables, such as bell peppers, spinach, and zucchini.

Experimenting with a low carbohydrate diet

Everyone is different, and what works well for one person might not work so well for someone else. Playing around with different amounts of carbohydrates will allow you to figure out what works for you.

If you do have type 2 diabetes, talk to a doctor before you make changes to your diet, as this sort of diet has the potential to reduce your need for medication.

Types of carbs and what to focus on

There are also other health benefits to eating a low-carb diet, beyond just weight loss.

Therefore, the diet should be made up of unprocessed whole foods, and healthy carbohydrates. Remember, just because something is low carb, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Low-carb junk food isn’t a healthy choice.

If you want to improve your health, then opt for unprocessed foods including:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Healthy fats

Choose sources of carbohydrates containing fibre. And, if you prefer a moderate carb intake, opt for unrefined starch sources, such as potatoes, oats, and brown rice.

Refined carbs and added sugars aren’t healthy options, so we recommend that you limit them, or avoid them altogether.

Low carb diets and fat-burn

One of the effects of a low-carb diet is that it significantly reduces the levels of insulin in your blood. Insulin is the hormone responsible for bringing glucose from carbs into the body’s cells and controlling your blood sugar levels.

One of the things that insulin does, is that it stores fat. Lots of experts believe that low-carb diets work so well because they reduce the levels of insulin.

One of the functions of insulin is to store fat. Many experts believe that the reason that a low-carb diet works so well is that they reduce your levels of this hormone.

Insulin also tells the kidneys to retain sodium, which is the reason why diets high in carbohydrates can lead to excess water retention.

Therefore, cutting carbs can reduce insulin, and cause your body to shed excess unneeded water. This means that people often lose a lot of water weight during the first few days of a low-carb diet.

After the initial weight loss experienced during the first week, the rate of weight loss will slow down. But, your fat mass may continue to decrease if a low-carb diet is maintained.

Weight loss will slow down after the first week, but your fat mass may continue to decrease if you maintain the diet.

Studies also show that a low-carb diet works effectively in reducing overall levels of body fat.

Also Read: How to calculate your weight loss percentage

Tips for staying on track:

Whatever your weight loss program, staying on track can prove to be difficult at times. Whether you’re following a low carb diet, or a low diet, or another one of the popular diets, we’ve put together a selection of ideas for helping you to stay motivated, reduce your body fat mass, and reach your ideal body weight.

  • Meal prep: Preparing a selection of healthy meals ahead of time mean that you will always have something to eat at lunch at work, which will stop you from buying an unhealthy meal deal full of high-carb foods.
  • Tracking progress: Whether you keep track of your progress using a set of scales, or by taking measurements of different body parts, keeping a record of your achievements will help you to stay motivated.
  • Cooking new recipes: For many, healthy food means boring foods. However, this needn’t be the case. There are hundreds of recipe books and food blogs dedicated to healthy meals, meaning there are plenty of options for delicious meals, right at your fingertips.
  • Meal plan: At the start of each week, make a meal plan for the days ahead and write a shopping list accordingly, and ensure you stick to this list when shopping. This will help you to avoid buying unhealthy snacks.
  • Avoid shopping while hungry: For most people, shopping when you’re hungry means you might throw the odd extra snack in the basket, which can lead to unhealthy food choices. Try to go food shopping with a full stomach, as this will help stop you from consuming more carbs than you need.

The bottom line – to carb or not to carb?

It’s clear to see that there are many potential beneficial effects associated with a low-carb diet, Whether or not you should eat a low-carbohydrate diet depends entirely on your goals, overall health conditions, and activity levels. Those who are looking to lose weight, and have found that other diets – such as intermittent fasting – haven’t worked for them, may want to try a low-carb diet.

While a low-carb diet alone could be enough for you to reach your weight loss goals, it’s important for your overall health levels to commit to the consumption of healthy whole foods and regular exercise. Healthy living will also have a positive effect on your overall well-being and happiness.

Even if you’re not interested in quitting the carbs, try to reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates, sugary foods, and processed foods. Instead, focus on consuming healthy carbohydrates, and healthy sources of protein and fat.

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