Do Carbs Make You Gain Weight?

1 April 2023
Andy Tait

Carbs have long been a controversial topic in the world of weight loss and nutrition. 

Some people believe that consuming too many carbs leads to weight gain, while others maintain that carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet. The truth is somewhere in between.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that provide energy to the body, along with proteins and fats. 

They are found in many foods, including bread, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables. While they are an important source of energy, not all carbs are created equal. 

Simple carbs, such as those found in sugar and processed foods, are quickly absorbed by the body and can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. These spikes can trigger insulin release, which can cause the body to store excess calories as fat.

However, complex carbs, such as those found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are slowly absorbed by the body and provide a sustained source of energy

These carbs can help you feel full and satisfied, reducing the need to overeat. In addition, complex carbs are an important source of fiber, which helps regulate digestion and promote a feeling of fullness.

It’s not the carbs themselves that cause weight gain, but rather the amount of carbs and the types of carbs you consume

Consuming too many calories from any macronutrient, including carbs, can lead to weight gain. 

On the other hand, if you eat the right amount of carbs and choose nutrient-dense, complex carbs, you can maintain a healthy weight.

Carbs do not make you gain weight, but the type and amount of carbs you consume can affect your weight

It’s important to focus on eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including complex carbs, to support overall health and maintain a healthy weight.

Some weight loss specialists swear by low-carb or even ketogenic diets. But bodybuilders eat a very carbohydrate-rich diet and look better than most people and they’re super healthy too, as are the vegan community who also eat a lot of carbs.

There’s so much conflicting information around this topic that I want to dispel some myths and help you make the right decision for your diet.

The Origin of Low-Carb Diets

 

 

People believe that Dr. Robert Atkins was the originator of the low-carb diet back in the 1970s with the introduction of his “Atkins Diet”. But we can go back over 100 years before that to find the real culprit, William Banting, a formally obese undertaker who lost a significant amount of weight by cutting out starchy and sugary carbs, along with some dairy.

At this time of low scientific knowledge of nutrition, low-carb diets were prescribed to treat obesity and were the go-to choice for weight loss. It seems to have stayed with us to this day, even when science suggests otherwise.

 

Does Your Body Need Carbs? The Ketosis

It does make some sense to reduce carbohydrates because although they are the body and brain’s preferred fuel source (Glycogen), they are the only one of the three main macronutrients that are not needed by the body.

What do I mean?

Well, the other macronutrients are Proteins and Fats. Your entire body is made up of proteins, every cell within your body, whether it’s a skin or muscle cell, carries amino acid chains (protein). It’s certainly not a good idea to cut this macro out of your diet.

Fat is also needed to keep you insulated and to ensure hormones and enzymes can be transported efficiently throughout the body.

Carbs, although preferred, are technically not needed as your brain can function off of ketones.

 

Does a Low-Carb Diet Make You Lose Weight?

No. The reason people lose weight on a low-carb (or any) diet isn’t because they’ve reduced carbs, but because they have reduced calorie intake consistently.

Whether you like to believe it or not, the equation of calories in vs calories out on a consistent daily basis is what leads to weight loss. Not the manipulation of macronutrients. Although getting your macronutrient ratios right can be beneficial for building muscle and fuelling your training, more on this later.

If you cut out an entire food group, like carbs, you will likely be eating fewer calories as a result. You could even cut out carbs and still gain weight if you eat too many calories.

For your reference, protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per 1g, and fat has 9 calories per 1g.

But don’t you burn more fat on a ketogenic/low-carb diet?

Yes, you do. That’s true, however, you will also be storing more fat too. Just like calorie balance, fat balance is also an equation, fat burned as fuel vs fat stored. Therefore if you burn and eat more fat, you will also store more fat. This is as opposed to burning and storing more glycogen from carbs.

It really comes down to the amount of energy coming into your body vs the amount you burn in a day, on a consistent basis.

 

Why Do I Gain Weight When I Eat Carbs?

 

 

Another reason I see frustration around carbohydrates is the fact that it impacts body weight on a daily basis, what do I mean by that?

When carbs are stored as glycogen within the body they are also stored with 2.6grams of water. Therefore for each gram of glycogen stored your body weight may increase by nearly 4g.

Let’s say you have a higher-than-normal carbohydrate dinner and then wake up the next morning to weigh yourself. There’s a chance that you’re going to be heavier on the scales. This would generally only be the case if you’ve eaten more than you usually would, so this would be very exaggerated if you’re usually on a low-carb diet.

Do Carbs Turn Into Fat?

Another thing to note is that your body is only able to store a certain amount of glycogen, so when stores are full. Your body will convert glycogen to fat and store it in adipose tissue.

Again this is only a problem if you’re consistently eating a surplus of calories in comparison to the amount you burn.

Is this increase in weight a bad thing?

No, here’s where you have to understand the difference between weight gain/loss vs fat gain/loss. There are always going to be changes in scale weight on a daily basis that are out of your control, an increase in glycogen stores and hydration is not a bad thing at all, it’s unlikely that the scale increase has anything to do with body fat.

It can actually be a very good thing if you’re someone who trains on a regular basis.

My recommendation is to try and be consistent with your diet, track your body weight daily, and then compare week-to-week averages to get a true picture of your progress.

But what if that high-carb dinner takes you out of ketosis?

Screw ketosis. Unless you’re someone who suffers from epilepsy where there’s an actual benefit to your life from doing this diet (apparently, I’m not a medical expert), there’s no reason to be in ketosis to lose weight because we already know it comes down to a calorie deficit on a consistent basis.

 

Do Carbs Turn Into Sugar?

Ok, so as you can tell I’m giving you the green light to incorporate carbs into your diet. However, before you go to town in carb heaven we have to discuss blood sugar management.

First, let’s discuss insulin

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted into the body when blood sugar is high, this helps to bring blood sugar back down to a healthy level. As it takes the sugar out of the blood, it has to then either transport it to be used as energy straight away, or stored within the body in muscle tissue, the liver, or adipose (fat) tissue.

I want to reiterate that this isn’t a bad thing, insulin is doing its job of keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range. The fact that your body is in storage mode is neither here nor there as we know that weight loss comes down to calorie balance on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and not just 1 meal.

But you don’t want to always have elevated blood sugar as that can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes. This is where you need to think about the quality of your diet.

I know I’ve been bangin’ on about calories for weight/fat loss, but we can’t ignore the quality of your food sources. Not only do you risk being insulin resistant, but if you’re trying to lose weight, it makes sense to eat good quality whole food sources that have slow-releasing energy.

 

 

So eating mostly whole grains instead of sweets is not only going to provide your body with a stable release of energy (no highs and crashes), but it’s also going to keep you satiated and feeling fuller for longer and keep your blood sugar in a healthy range.

 

What is Glycemic Index?

You may have heard of the Glycemic index before, well that is a measurement of how quickly certain foods release sugar into the bloodstream.

Now what you need to understand about this is that this measurement only takes into account when those foods are eaten in certain amounts on their own, with no other food.

Eating carbs with other foods will slow down digestion and energy release, especially ones that have healthy fats and fibre.

So in all honesty, I recommend that you don’t get too caught up trying to look into the Glycemic Index of foods, I suggest that you just aim to eat meals and snacks that are a healthy balance of all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat).

And try to eat whole foods for the most part.

 

Carbohydrates for Training

 

 

 

I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t briefly touch on the importance of carbohydrates when it comes to training performance, recovery, and building muscle.

As I discussed previously, your body’s preferred fuel source comes from carbohydrates. It’s stored within muscle tissue to be used for mad gains!

When your body is doing high-intensity training like lifting weights, it will draw from these stores to provide your body with immediate energy. This means that your performance will benefit from having eaten carbohydrates.

This can be great especially when you’re trying to lose weight. When working with my online coaching clients, I try to take some emphasis off of the scales and put more on the training.

This gives you something else to focus on improving, and ensuring you have adequate carbs will help provide your body with energy, and then help you recover from session to session.

 

To Wrap It Up: Do Carbs Make you Gain Weight and Fat?

Do carbs make you gain weight and fat?

No, not inherently. Not unless eating more of them puts you in a calorie surplus on a consistent basis.

Carbs have a bad reputation thanks to William Banting, Dr. Atkins, and the fact that they cause immediate impacts on scale weight which can be confused for fat gain/loss.

When it comes to losing weight, whether you track them or not, it comes down to calorie balance, the number of calories your body uses as energy in comparison to how much you eat.

As long as you’re eating fewer calories than your body uses as fuel then you will lose weight. So you can eat a macronutrient ratio that is based mostly on your preference and still make tremendous progress.

If you like low-carb or even keto style of dieting, that’s fine, go for it. But understand that any fat loss you achieve is not due to manipulation of carbohydrates, but because you’re eating in a calorie deficit.

If the approach is not sustainable, then I’m afraid the results will be too. So if you like carbs, you can certainly eat them as part of a balanced diet and still make progress towards your weight loss goals.

If you’re interested in understanding how many calories you need in order to lose weight and want to ensure you’re getting a good balance of all 3 macronutrients, then please Download my Free Calories and Macro Calculator below.

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