How to Find Your Ideal Carb Intake
Low-carb, high-fat diets have a number of known benefits for your body and mind. They keep you lean, support your hormones and brain, regulate your blood sugar, stop food cravings, keep you full for hours, and give you license to put bacon on everything. For the vast majority, a low-carb, high-fat diet is miles ahead of a low-calorie, low-fat one.
But within the realm of low-carb, there is no one-size-fits-all. Instead, it’s important you find your body’s sweet spot for carb intake and timing.
Tailoring your nutrition to your unique biology helps you perform even better. This guide will show you how. Let’s break down how to hack your carb intake, step-by-step.
Find the Goldilocks zone of carb intake: not too low, not too high
This is where you get to do some personal experimenting. Most people do best eating somewhere between 30-150 grams of net carbs daily. “Net carbs” on the keto diet means you can subtract fiber and sugar alcohols (like xylitol) out of your daily carb count – they don’t affect your blood sugar or get stored as glycogen.
Here are three different low-carb approaches within the 30-150 gram range:
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
Eat high fat, very low carb (<50g net carbs/day) 6 days a week, then have a carb refeed on day 7 (~150g net carbs).
This is what the Bulletproof Diet is based on. Here’s why :
- Some people (Dave included) have thyroid issues when they do very low carb with no carb refeed.
- For some people, chronic low-carb eating can lead to low mucous production, which disrupts gut bacteria and causes dry eyes.
A cyclical ketogenic diet works very well for a lot of people. On the other hand, re-upping on carbs once a week will keep you out of deep ketosis, which may cause carb cravings (Brain Octane helps with that). Try a weekly carb refeed and see how you feel.
Full Ketogenic Diet
Eat high fat, very low carb (<50g net carbs is a good rule of thumb), every day, with no carb refeed.
It’ll take a couple weeks for you to get into ketosis; you may feel low energy and have trouble sleeping for a few days while your body switches from using sugar to using fat for fuel. After those two weeks, though, you may feel like a million bucks. If you’re going to try keto, stick with it for at least a month.
For some, a full-on ketogenic diet can burn a lot of fat and provide energy for hours on end. Others burn out and get exhausted after a couple months. Watch for exhaustion, stomach issues, and dry eyes – if you get any of these, you may do better with a cyclical ketogenic diet.
If you’re doing full keto, you’ll probably get your daily 50g of carbs eating 5-8 servings of green veggies per day, with little to no extra room for starches like rice or sweet potatoes. Be sure to check food labels, including the carb count for your veggies, until you get a feel for eating keto. A food tracker app can help.
Moderately low-carb diet
Eat high fat with 100-150g of net carbs every day.
Women often do best with this option – lower-carb can sometimes mess with your hormones. 100-150g may work well for you if you’re working out a ton, too – some athletes find they burn out with fewer than 100g of carbs on workout days (although it’s certainly possible to rock your workouts while in ketosis).
How to find which approach works best for you
Try each of the three above options for a month each. You can track your carbs, fat, and protein using a food tracking app. MyFitnessPal and My Macros+ are both convenient. Set goals based on fat and carb intake instead of worrying about calories – eat until you’re full and listen to your body.
Pay attention to how you feel. Are you sharpest with a weekly carb refeed, or do you do better on a full ketogenic diet? Do you burn out when you dip below 100g carbs per day? There’s a lot of variation within low-carb. Find a good balance that works best for your personal biology.
Bonus tip #1: carb timing
Stick to eating carbs at dinner, or even after dinner. Starting your day with carbs will spike your blood glucose in the morning, which sets you up for a yo-yo effect throughout the day. Instead, stick to fat and protein for stable energy throughout the day, with your carbs at night. You can actually make the post-carb energy crash work to your advantage if you time it so you get tired right around bedtime.
Bonus tip #2: carb quality
Of course, carb quality matters. Your body will process whole foods more efficiently than processed grains and sugar. Many grains contain mold and other toxins that will rob you of energy and promote brain fog. Even white potatoes can be tricky. They contain lectins, proteins that can bind to cell membranes and cause inflammation. Our bodies don’t digest lectins, so nearly everyone produces some level of antibodies to them. This means that reactions to lectin-containing foods like grains, legumes, and certain vegetables may vary, but you’re much more likely to have an immune response (aka inflammatory response) if you have an autoimmune disease, leaky gut or another gut issues.
Choose high-quality starches from the Bulletproof Roadmap like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, pumpkin, and butternut squash. One caveat to the “no grains” rule is white rice. Because the lectins have been processed out, white rice tends to work well as a clean source of carbs, even if you’re healing from digestive issues or are sensitive to grains.
What approach works best for you? Share your insights in the comments. And if you found this article helpful, subscribe below for more ways to upgrade your life. Thanks for reading and keep biohacking!
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