How many Carbohydrates should I eat? - The Living Well

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How many Carbohydrates should I eat?

Loaf of bread sliced with knife and butter

The great macronutrient debate isn’t new. It feels like most people are on a question to figure out how many carbohydrates they should eat – or all macronutrients for that matter.

It’s something that we’ve been toying with for decades. In the ’80s and ’90s, we flip-flopped between a low-carbohydrate diet known as the Atkins diet and a low-fat diet that emphasized carbs.

And we’ve been flip-flopping ever since.

If you’re questioning what you should be doing, I may have just the answer. And it has less to do with counting macronutrients and understanding how your body uses the macronutrients.

Which becomes the answer to health: The movement of energy throughout the body.

Inside today’s podcast, I put the macronutrient debate to rest. Helping you understand it has never been about the elimination of macronutrients. Teaching you where real change comes from. 

The problem with elimination

Of course, we all love data that can be quantified into numbers and measurements that we can track. You would think that is the simple and easy answer to health. To count exactly what our body needs, providing nothing more and nothing less.

But we’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t work. At least not long term.

That’s because it’s less about what you provide for your body and more about what your body does with it.

The tricky part is, calories do matter, as do macronutrients. And it gets even more complicated when people have real and amazing transformation from eliminating a specific macronutrient.

But long term, this system of elimination has never worked. And the question we must ask ourselves, is it causing more harm than good.

So today, I want to make a case for macronutrients. Why they’re all needed in the diet and determine how much you need. 

Making the promise that you’ll never have to eliminate another group of macronutrients again. 

What are macronutrients

Macronutrients are the three main categories of essential and large nutrient groups the body needs to thrive. All three are necessary for thriving.

Of course, you can always survive without one, but that doesn’t make it right. 

The three main macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Common groups of nutrients that we can easily break foods into.

Each macronutrient is a nutrient. Making it vital for the system. Each group comes with a relatively specific task and function for the body.

Carbohydrates are a leading source of food energy. They provide fuel for the body and the brain, but also our gut bacteria. Carbohydrates also carry other essential micronutrients like minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

Proteins are considered the building blocks of the body. Producing structure for every physical thing you can see and touch inside of your body – whether that is your skin, bone, blood, or muscle. Protein provides essential amino acids used in building. They also provide essentials nutrients in the production of enzymes and hormones.

Making them not only a building block but also a messenger.

Fats have a relatively diverse set of functions inside of the body. The tricky thing we have to be aware of is that dietary fat and body fat are two separate components. While yes, fat can produce body fat, dietary fat is not always the root of adding to that. Any macronutrient has that ability.

But, while being an insulator to the body, fat is also an insulator to our nervous system, allowing messages to run clearly and smoothly. It also aids in the immune response and hormonal system. In fact, it is the starting point of every hormone in the body.

As you can see, each macronutrient is critical to the system. And the idea that we could eliminate one group to shed excess waste seems dangerous when you understand how important each essential macronutrient is.

So if it’s not about eliminating them, then what is the answer?

The answer always boils down to energy.

Energy is the answer to health – but calories are not the most distinguishing factor in energy. While it would be easy to calculate calories, this creates the assumption that eliminating a group of macronutrients can change your body’s external appearance.

Leading us to take what could be good and make it extreme.

The reality is, just because you’ve changed the way you look doesn’t mean it’s good for your body. A lower weight doesn’t always associate with an increase in health.

Health is determined by energy flow, which determines what our body does with what’s provided.

The more energy you have flowing through your system, the less energy you’ll store. The less energy you have, the more likely you are to conserve, store and hoard energy, making you hold onto body fat and, at worse, build it.

The answer isn’t in elimination but in changing how we view energy.

Change happens because of change.

So creating change inside the body creates the external change we have been looking for. But we have to be careful not to mistake this for beating our body into submission. The two are not the same thing.

The best way to support your body is to provide the nourishment it needs – to increase the energy flow while changing where you get that energy. Ironically, the more energy your body has, the less food it needs to fill the gaps.

So the answer to the macronutrient debate is this:

Eat a variety of each macronutrient but putting more emphasis on the quality of macronutrients, how you consume them, and the rotation of macronutrients.

The quality of the macronutrients

The quantity of macronutrients never matters as much as quality. As we know, not all carbohydrates, protein, or fat sources are created equal.

Pay attention to what foods inside each macronutrient make you feel good and give you energy and those that deplete you. Each group has a list of positive energy sources and negative. Meaning, each could be equally as bad if you consume the wrong foods, at the wrong times, and in the wrong way.

Eat more of what fills you with energy and less of what takes your energy.

How you consume macronutrients

How you consume what you eat potentially matters more than what you eat. Whether it’s the timing of the day, how you pair them with other foods, or the mindset and space in which you consume them all make a difference in how your body uses them.

Try eating most of your food earlier in the day and consuming less as nighttime approaches.

The rotation of macronutrients

Our body is continually changing. It may not be big and grand changes, but it changes, and each change requires something different. Even the earth’s seasonal changes cause a shift inside of our body. Paying attention to these changes and understanding the body’s cyclical nature can help provide what your body needs. 

Seasonality is one of the leading areas of change inside of the body. Meaning, your body needs something different in the summer versus the winter. And providing what your body needs can be just the ticket to move from surviving to thriving.

It’s not always the macronutrient we need to be worried about but the cyclical cycle of our body.

Macronutrients matter

But what doesn’t matter is micromanaging them and eliminating any one group of them trying to achieve external results. In the short term, you’re guaranteed to see change, but long-term, it could create deficiencies in nutrients leading to survival.

The short answer to health is always about providing more of what your body needs based on the lifestyle in which we live. Pay attention to your energy flow and do more of what fills you.

Which comes from a mindset of filling over fixing.

How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?

I don’t want to beat around the bush, but I do want to answer what you’ve been wondering. How many carbohydrates do you need depends on many factors.

From your age to your gender and even what is happening in life around you.

Rather than sticking to a consistent number, I like you to think about carbohydrate cycling – without actually counting anything. Basically, you rotate days where you consume a bit more carbohydrates and days where you don’t have as many.

If you want to get specific, how many carbohydrates you need is impossible to answer inside a blog post – and don’t let anyone tell you they can. What you need to remember is how your body is using those based on the tips above.

And speaking specifically about carbohydrates here is another good rule of thumb:

  1. Never eat them alone. Always pair carbohydrates with healthy fats and protein sources, making it more of a meal than a stand-alone food.
  2. Focus on produce options, especially vegetables, over all others.
  3. It’s always good to limit the processed version. We just don’t need crackers, chips, and cereals in our life. Enjoyable, certainly, but the elimination of these foods will not cause a deficiency.

I say vegetables are always fair game – even the starchy ones. And honestly, I don’t limit fruits. But I encourage you to put your attention into the healthy fat and protein sources looking for well-rounded meals made of whole foods.

As Michael Pollan states:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Get to know energy flow and how to optimize it for health here.

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