- It’s entirely possible to get shredded and still eat carbs.
- The only way to get shredded is with a calorie deficit.
- Your protein is actually more important than your carbs when trying to get shredded.
“Carbs make you fat,” “Insulin makes you fat,” “Fat makes you fat,” or — my personal favorite — “You dieted for too long, and now your metabolism doesn’t exist!”
The fitness industry is riddled with claims like these, but the truth is, yes, you can lose fat and get shredded while eating carbs. So let me show you how.
What Are Carbs?
If you don’t know what carbs are, you probably haven’t lived a life quite as amazing as I’d have hoped. Carbs could very well be the single most delicious word in the dictionary. But, if you were looking for a more scientific answer, I’ll give you one.
Carbs or carbohydrates can be defined as most things on the planet that get their energy from the sun and store it either as sugars or starches.
These aren’t the only carbs you have access to, though. Carbs also include things that are more refined versions of the options above, such as:
Carbs also form part of the three macronutrients the human body can take in and make up part of the “five total macronutrients”:
- Carbohydrates, such as apples, pasta, and oats
- Proteins, such as beef, fish, and eggs
- Fats, such as olive oil, peanut butter, and egg yolks
- Body fat*
- Body muscle*
* Note: We can’t choose when to consume the last two, but they can provide the body with energy.
Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, as does protein. Fats, on the other hand, contain 9 per gram, while alcohol contains 7. We use a combination of these forms of energy to sustain us in our daily lives.
If you’ve spent any time in the fitness world, you might have even heard the term “keto,” referring to the ketogenic diet. This diet is essentially super low on carbohydrates; therefore, the body has to shift to other forms of energy — ketones (a fancy term for fat).
This begs the question…
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Do You Need To Eat Carbs?
Since carbs form part of the three macronutrients, you might be inclined to think that we have to eat them. Fortunately for my Crohn’s brothers and sisters, you don’t need to eat carbohydrates to survive. In fact, it’s quite literally the only macronutrient you don’t need to eat!
Yes, there’s no denying that in evolution and in most of nature, sugar (carbs) remains the primary source of energy for cells by producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH), and some other compounds.
That said, fat can (and does) get used as energy quite regularly via the hydrolysis of triglycerides and gluconeogenesis in the liver. The good thing about this is that most humans have way more fat stored in their bodies than glycogen.
Taking this all into account… Athletes still prefer carbs.
Getting Shredded With Carbs
Now that we’ve broken down the absolute basics of human physiology and how we can get energy from carbs and fats, we can start getting into the nitty-gritty about muscle gain and fat loss.
To get shredded, you only need a few things:
- You have to be in a calorie deficit, but that deficit cannot come from protein due to its ability to retain muscle mass.
- You actually have to eat a surplus of protein, around 1 – 1.2 grams per pound of body weight.
- You have to train with resistance, and most people will throw in some cardio as well.
- You have to rest and recover between your weight training sessions.
As you can see, the only macronutrient mentioned here is protein. This would mean that if you have to be in a calorie deficit, your deficit can come from carbs, fats, or a combination of the two — though, technically, you can add cardio in there as well.
Let’s take two individuals as an example:
|Low-Fat Dieter||Low-Carb Dieter|
|200g Protein||200g Protein|
|60g Fat||150g Fat|
|415g Carbs||210g Carbs|
|3000 Calories||3000 Calories|
As you can see, both of these individuals are eating the same number of calories and the same amount of protein. They would end up losing similar amounts of weight.
But would one fair better than the other? Perhaps.
Let’s look at some studies:
- A 2017 analysis found that among elite-level athletes, a higher-carb diet is favored over a high-fat diet due to better performance.
- A 2022 analysis found that compared to a lower-fat diet, a low-carb diet produced similar results when it came to fat loss.
- A 2014 study confirms the hypothesis that even though protein does contain calories, it’s unlikely that protein will result in fat gain.
If you’re not smellin’ what I’m sellin’, neither carbs nor insulin makes you fat (although that still doesn’t mean you’ll get ripped if those carbs are junk food)!
This is a myth or scare tactic developed by those looking to benefit from a higher-fat diet. Sometimes, they’re incredibly open about trying to convince people to eat more of a certain product — the most infamous example would be the rise of bacon.
Bacon was never really a big thing before the pork industry noticed dwindling sales compared to white meat, such as chicken breast.
Want even more evidence of people getting shredded eating carbs? Some of the most in-shape athletes on the planet (bodybuilders, fighters, etc.) eat higher-carb diets.
And for good reason…
Are Carbs Better for Cutting?
The question comes to mind when looking at those athletes who are getting very much in shape with these higher-carb diets — why do they follow such a diet? What benefit is there?
Well, there are a few, to be honest:
- Carbs are known to contain a decent amount of micronutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, and fiber. All of these are essential for health, and fiber has been shown to aid in fat loss phases. Not only that, but fibrous foods tend to have more volume, meaning they can keep you fuller for longer.
- Carbs help with energy exactly in the same way as fat would. In fact, some studies seem to suggest that carbs could provide better energy than fats would when doing the heavy lifting.
- Carbs can help with recovery more so than fats do when looking at how carbs can lower your cortisol in an acute pre and post-workout setting (when combined with amino acids).
- They’re simply just easier to use, seeing as they’re way cheaper than fats and stay fresh for longer. Plus, most don’t require refrigeration. Simple things do add up…
So, does that mean you don’t need fats? Of course not!
We do need fats for a few reasons, such as maintaining hormonal health, keeping skin and hair quality good, and helping with cellular functions. We’re simply saying that it’d seem as if athletes perform better with a higher-carbohydrate diet.
Can You Build Muscle By Eating Carbs Only?
The next logical question folks usually ask once I finish my little “Carbs are the GOAT!” rant is, “Why do we even need fats and protein? Since carbs are so great, why don’t we just eat them to grow muscle tissue? “
No, you cannot build muscle by only eating carbs. It is physically impossible.
When we look at the process of building muscle or muscle protein synthesis, it requires amino acids. Amino acids are only found in protein — end of discussion. For instance, the amount of amino acids in sugar is … nothing.
That said, there is some protein in most carb sources. Even pasta has 13 – 17g of protein per 100g serving. So, you could build muscle by eating carb sources, just not pure carbs (such as sugar or maltodextrin).
The best way to get ripped or build muscle is to eat a balanced diet.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat a Day to Shred?
And now, the main questions you’ve all been waiting for.
- How many carbs should I eat to gain?
- How many carbs should I eat to lose?
- How many carbs should I eat to have my dad come back?
The truth of the matter is it really depends on how your whole diet looks! See, carbs are a factor of the whole equation, and looking at each part of this equation independently is the key to determining how many carbs you need to eat to gain muscle or lose fat.
The equation in question refers to your daily caloric expenditure. You can calculate your calorie needs or expenditure here. The short version is that you either need to be in a calorie surplus to gain or a calorie deficit to lose.
If you remember correctly, we also determined that some fat and protein are necessary and not really debatable. You need that regardless of your goals.
With that being said, you can calculate your carbohydrates based on the following table:
|I Want To Gain Muscle||I Want To Lose Fat|
|Protein||1 gram per pound of body weight||1 – 1.2 grams per pound of body weight|
|Fats||At least 0.3 grams per pound of body weight||At least 0.3 grams per pound of body weight|
|Calories||200 – 300 above calorie maintenance||200 – 300 below calorie maintenance|
|Change in body weight||Aim to gain 0. 5 – 1.0% of total body weight per week||Aim to lose 0. 5 – 1.0% of total body weight per week|
|Equation||Carbs = Total calories – (Protein [grams] x 4) – (Fats [grams] x 9) / 4||Carbs = Total calories – (Protein [grams] x 4) – (Fats [grams] x 9) / 4|
* Note: Carbs and protein both have 4 calories per gram, while fats have 9 calories per gram.
If your fat loss or muscle gain stops, simply remove or add an additional 200 – 300 calories to force the body to continue adapting. And right about now, the keto, intermittent fasting, and vegans should all be entering the chat claiming their methods are best. Right…
The Best Diet for Fat Loss
To answer the question just raised — no, neither keto, intermittent fasting, nor the vegan diet has ever been proven to be more effective for fat loss than just a regular calorie deficit.
The body simply needs to be put in a situation where it needs to “find” energy somewhere else, and the only way of doing that is by giving it less food.
The best diet for fat loss is therefore one you can sustainably follow for long periods of time without losing muscle mass. And losing muscle mass is the biggest thing we want to avoid when following any fat-loss diet plan.
To achieve this (and to get shredded), you can follow these “rules”:
- Eat a diet like the one in the table above, meaning you’ll get enough protein and fats to ensure muscle growth and bodily functions.
- Train with resistance. This doesn’t mean you have to be in the gym repping 500 lbs! It simply means you have to do something to challenge the muscle and coax the body into thinking, “Hey… I should keep that around.”
- Recover! Something a lot of people (including myself … R.I.P. sleep schedule) fail to do is recover between sessions. In fact, some exercise scientists estimate that simply sleeping fewer than 5 hours per night could cause fat gain in the abdomen. Failure to recover/sleep can also lead to injury since, you know, you’re yawning while squatting.
And then a personal favorite: have a routine. Now, this isn’t essential, and there are plenty of people who do fine without a routine.
However, for the majority of people, a routine is essential to create the best environment for recovery and muscle gain, especially if your goal is to stay ripped year-round (which we wouldn’t exactly recommend).
So, Can You Eat Carbs and Still Get Shredded?
Of course, you can! Despite what social media or influencers might have you believe, carbs will not do you any harm — unless you’re diabetic, in which case, see a doctor, please.
For the rest of y’all, you can eat carbs aplenty. In fact, most athletes prefer to eat diets higher in carbs, and the reasons why have been explained thoroughly in this article.
However, let me summarize them for you real quick:
- Carbs provide a ton of energy, and the body seems to prefer carbs when doing high-intensity activities (like weight training).
- Carbs are cheap, easy to store and digest really well (meaning eating a lot is easy).
- Carbs contain a bunch of vitamins and minerals, including fiber.
Yes, carbs are great. But please remember that the two factors that’ll determine your weight loss the most will be your total calorie intake and your protein intake.
If you’re on your first journey of building muscle or losing fat, make sure you nail those factors first before worrying about fat intake vs. carb intake, supplements, or anything else someone online is trying to sell you.
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