Do carbs make you fat?

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That carbohydrates make you fat is perhaps one of the most persistent diet myths. What’s the deal?

You don’t just get fat. You become fat if you consume a surplus of calories for a longer period of time. That surplus of energy from food is stored as body fat and from a certain percentage of fat we speak of being fat. The fact that one person becomes fat more easily than another has to do with genetic factors and age.

FRIEND OR ENEMY?

Carbohydrates are not unhealthy, bad or dangerous. They are an important source of energy for the body. They contribute to health in many ways and for us strength athletes they are the most important source of energy for training. In intensive forms of physical activity, carbohydrates provide energy much more efficiently than fats do. In short, carbohydrates are anything but your enemy.

The idea that carbohydrates are fatteners is probably mainly due to the popularity of low-carb weight loss programs like Robert Atkins’s several decades ago. And yes, if you cut a lot of carbohydrates in your diet, you will undoubtedly lose weight. But that’s not because of the carbohydrates, but because you eat fewer calories.

After all, voluminous research and lots of other studies show that, for fat loss, it makes no difference whether you go low-carb or low-fat. Fats don’t make you fat, neither do carbs, as long as you keep your calories at or below maintenance level. So it makes no sense that cutting out bread from your diet burns more fat than cutting out cheese, assuming they have the same number of calories. You do burn slightly more calories when you eat protein-rich products, because proteins in our body offer the highest thermal effect.

As summarized by bodybuilding coach Sean Nalewanyj:

What truly matters for losing fat while maintaining muscle (or possibly gaining depending on the conditions) is that you create a calorie deficit while consuming sufficient protein.⁣⁣

In other words, fat loss is mainly about energy balance — calories in, calories out — and sufficient protein.

CARBOHYDRATES OR FATS IN THE CUT?

But what about carbohydrates and fats? As a bodybuilder, should you go high-carb/low-fat or high-fat/low-carb into the cut, with a view to muscle maintenance?

Scientists are not yet in agreement about which approach — high or low carb — is better for muscle growth or maintenance. Coach Mike Israetel mentions the importance of carbohydrates for muscle growth and maintenance, but his colleague Menno Henselmans contributed to a voluminous meta-analysis that shows that the amount of carbohydrates and fats does not matter much for strength training performance.

The preference of most coaches, including us, is nevertheless a relatively high intake of carbohydrates in the cut (in the bulk it doesn’t matter that much). This by not eating more fat than necessary. We feel that this improves our training performance in the cut, especially when we consume those carbohydrates around the training. In the cut, therefore, you consume a maximum of 0.5 to 1 fat gram per kilogram of body weight.

How many carbohydrates should you eat? That’s a simple calculation. In the cut you eat 20-25% below your maintenance level and for proteins you need 1.8-2.7 grams per kilogram of body weight daily (usually 1.8 g/kg/d is sufficient). You do not need to eat more than 0.5-1 g/kg/d of fats in the cut. What remains are carbohydrates.

WHICH CARBOHYDRATES?

In the cut you should mainly eat unprocessed food with a high degree of saturation, regardless of whether it contains a lot of carbohydrates or not.

From a health perspective, vegetables, fruits and whole grains (such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat pasta) are the best sources of carbohydrates (so-called complex carbohydrates). They are also very filling and high in fiber, making them ideal for during the cut.

CONCLUSION

You don’t get fat from carbohydrates, nor from fat. You gain fat mass if you consume more calories for a longer period of time than you expend, regardless of whether they come from carbohydrates, fat or protein. It’s a matter of calories in, calories out.

Carbohydrates are important for muscle growth, which is why we are in favor of eating relatively many carbohydrates in the cut. This while maintaining sufficient proteins (1.8-2.7 g/kg/d) and fats (0.5-1 g/kg/d).

Last updated on July 22, 2022.

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