December 3, 2009

How low should low-carb be for best results?

In the 8 or 9 months that I've been eating low-carb, I've experimented a lot to see what works best. One obvious thing I've varied is the amount of carbs I eat, making sure to always keep it between 40 and 60 g per day or less. I don't think it's even gone far above 40, aside from the handful of weekends that I've allowed myself to indulge.

Recently I tried out a more teetotaling approach, probably taking in around 10 g per day, 20 g at most. I ate a good amount of food, just almost all protein and fat. Your body and brain do require some glucose, but most of this can be made by eating protein, as the liver will convert the amino acids into glucose for you in a process called gluconeogenesis.

Still, I felt less energetic on this stricter regime, so I thought Thanksgiving weekend would be a good time to change things up. I had a good deal of carbs over the weekend, though nothing crazy -- some not so saccharine cherry pie with a little whipped cream, and the odd handful of candied walnuts or honey-sesame covered cashews. As of yesterday I've stopped eating sweets, but I've stepped up the carb count to around 30 - 40 g per day for the first time in awhile, and I feel much more invigorated than before, like I did back in March or April when I also ate slightly more carbs than I had been recently. The clearest signal is always libido -- impossible to misread that gauge. I was far from ignoring girls recently, but now I'm back to teenage levels again.

Now, 30 - 40 g is still pretty low and doesn't include candy bars or other junk -- a bit of roasted red pepper, half a fresh pear or apple, some peanut butter, maybe a small corn tortilla too.

Some people who've tried low-carb have told me they felt somewhat fatigued or foggy on it even after the week-long or so adjustment phase. There could be all sorts of reasons for that (too much protein and not enough fat, for example), but one may simply be that they were going too far in the low-carb direction. If you haven't tried it out, or if you have but are questioning how great it is, try dialing it up in little steps until you notice a big change. Although humans in general are designed for low-carb diets, there's still variation among individuals. You may just need a bit more carbs than others. The Eskimos and Masai seem to thrive on incredibly low levels, but you may need something in the 50 - 60 g range. The only way to find out is to dive in and play around until you figure it out.


  1. Well, when I was very overweight, I felt better at much lower levels of carbs. I think the ketosis from burning fat helped a lot. If you're closer to goal weight, and you exercise, I believe some carbs are required to keep things humming along.

    Now, near goal weight and exercising regularly, I eat between 60-100g per day. I weight train, and it's really hard to get in enough calories without some carbs during the bulk phases. However, these carbs are from fruits and vegetables mostly, with a rare bit of grain thrown in. I definitely feel it when I overdo the wheat carbs.

    As in all things, go by how you feel.

  2. Consuming the appropriate number of carbohydrates in a day isn't necessarily determined by how low-carb you want to take your diet. Google "The Zone" by Barry Sears.

    Ideally, you should first determine how much protein you need to consume in one day, and then figure your carbs and fat intake from that. And you will be consuming more grams of carbohydrates than protein.

    I've been using The Zone approach for over 10 months now, and I can tell you I feel more energetic than I ever did. Prior to this discovery, I would consciously eat protein at every meal, but I found that I was ingesting far more carbs, and far less protein, than was necessary to replenish spent fuel.

    I'm also an avid crossfitter and I consume a HUGE amount of food due to the increased workload. I also found that once I switched to the zone principles, I made gains across the board.

    This stuff works just as well when you're not working out. Seriously, google this shit. It's amazing. I tell everyone I can to switch to this mindset.

  3. The problem with the low carb diet is it depends on genes as well. Some people can eat more carbs than others and feel fine.
    A lot of very white people are better adapted to carbs than others (because they lived out the shit for so long). And Asians can consume a lot more rice than others races (again, because it was their primary diet).

    However, as the above commenter said, you should find out how much food you should be consuming (in this case calories) and work from there.

    And secondly you might want to look at carb cycling. Go over to t-nation and search some of their articles.

    - Breeze

  4. I don't eat wheat at all anymore and when I do even in small amounts I practically pass out with exhaustion. I wondered for a few years why around mid-day I could hardly stay awake. It got to the point where for almost a year I'd have to sleep in my car at work mid-day. Finally I cut out wheat and to a lesser extent dairy and I've been great since then. I still probably eat too much rice and especially potatoes but my protein & fat intake is quite solid.

    I've been a bit off and on with sugar and started cutting it out as much as possible again. Interestingly the less active I am the more I crave junk food while the more active I am the more healthy I eat. It's no coincidence that now I'm back to a 3 day at least a week workout I just want to stay away from any large quantities sugary foods/beverages.

  5. My comment above is bullshit. I've since learned low carb is the way to go and everything is self rationalising bullshit for why you are to weak to cut the crabs back.

    - Breeze


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