One of the most common questions I get asked by people trying to put together the best diet possible for their goal (to lose weight, build muscle, etc.) is how many grams of carbs they should eat per day.
This never surprises me, because carbs are pretty much always the nutrient that people are most often scared of and confused by these days. Why? Because all of this talk about good carbs and bad carbs, simple and complex, the glycemic index and the various low carb diets and low carb foods is enough to drive a person insane.
To help end your insanity, let’s figure out exactly how many grams of carbs you should eat per day to lose weight or build muscle, and cover what types of food sources they should come from.
How Many Carbs Per Day?
Let’s start with the biggest question first… how many grams of carbs should you actually eat per day? Answering this question is actually REALLY easy once you understand a few simple facts about how the rest of your diet should ideally be set up.
What I mean is, before we can figure out your daily carb intake, we need to take 3 other steps first. Let me show you what I mean…
Step 1: Figure Out Calories
Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle or do anything similar, every diet plan starts with calories. They are ALWAYS the #1 key to making your body do what you want it to do, so they are always the first thing that needs to be figured out. I’ve already written full articles that explain how to calculate how many calories you need to eat per day for your goal, so feel free to do that using the following links:
Step 2: Figure Out Protein
Once your calorie intake is all figured out, you then need to figure out how many grams of protein you should eat per day. Why? Because protein is the next most important part of every diet plan.
My article about the high protein diet explains why it’s so important when trying to lose weight or build muscle, and my article about how many grams of protein per day explains how much you should eat. To save you the time, 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is usually the ideal range for most people.
Step 3: Figure Out Fat
With calories and protein set, we’re still not ready for carbs just yet. Why? Because fat is actually the next most important part of your diet. My article comparing good fat vs bad fat also covers how much you should eat per day. To again save you the time, usually about 25% of your total calorie intake should come from fat in most cases.
Step 4: And Now We Can Figure Out Carbs
With all of that out of the way, we’re finally up to the least important part of our diet… carbs. Surprised how unimportant they are? Don’t be. Calories are the key to controlling our weight, and protein and fat are the only macronutrients that are truly essential to the human body. Carbs on the other hand are not. We should definitely eat a sufficient amount of them each day, but they are no where near as important as calories, protein or fat.
So, how many grams of carbs should you eat per day? Simple. Carbs should be used to fill in whatever amount of calories are still left over after protein and fat have been factored into your diet.
Confused? Let me show you an example…
- Let’s pretend you calculated that you need to eat 2000 calories per day to lose weight or build muscle or whatever your goal is.
- Next let’s pretend you figured out that you need to eat 150 grams of protein per day. Since 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, that means 600 of this example person’s daily calories will come from protein.
- Next, since 25% of your calories should come from fat, this example person can calculate that 500 of their 2000 daily calories will come from fat.
- So that’s 600 from protein plus 500 from fat which gives this person 1100 calories accounted for so far. Now they’d just subtract 1100 from their 2000 total and get 900 calories. Since 1 gram of carbs contains 4 calories, this example person can see that they should eat 225 grams of carbs per day.
And that’s why the 3 other steps needed to come before carbs. We needed to figure out calories, protein and fat in order to figure out how many carbs we should eat per day.
Once again keep in mind that the amounts used in the example above were just made up examples. You’d obviously need to use the amounts that are specific to you. If any part of this process was confusing, my article about creating your entire diet plan covers it in much more detail.
What Sources Of Carbs Should I Eat?
Now that you know how many grams of carbs you should eat per day, you also probably want to know which foods you should get these carbs from.
For the most part, people trying to lose weight, build muscle or just be healthy should get the majority of their daily carb intake from higher quality nutrient-dense sources as opposed to simple, high glycemic, processed crap. Some ideal examples include…
- Brown Rice
- Potatoes (sweet, white, etc.)
- Various Whole Grains & Whole Grain Products
Foods high in sugar (candy, cookies, cereals, soda, etc.) should be avoided most of the time, and typical refined sources of carbs like white bread, white rice and white pasta should usually be limited to some extent in favor of the foods on the list above.
Now, the reason for avoiding or limiting these types of carbs is NOT because they make you fat. That’s a myth. The type of food you eat is NEVER what makes you fat. Eating too many total calories is the only thing that does that. It doesn’t matter where those calories come from (protein, fat, carbs) or how healthy or unhealthy (or “good” or “bad”) they are. Too much of anything will cause fat to be gained just the same.
Instead, the reason for avoiding/limiting these types of carbs is mostly for the purpose of controlling hunger and choosing better sources that are higher in various important nutrients, which is crucial for overall health.
No More Carb Confusion
So, there it is. That’s how to figure out how many grams of carbs you should eat per day, and those are the basics of which food sources those carbs should most often come from in your daily diet.