Calculate Your Recommended Carbohydrate Intake
Carbohydrates provide powerful fuel for the body and brain. Use this calculator to find out how many carbs you need to eat in a day to gain muscle, lose fat, or maintain your weight.
Carbohydrate Intake Calculator
WHAT DO CARBOHYDRATES DO?
There are three macronutrients, or macros, that make up your food: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source. They fuel your workouts, and provide ample energy to be used throughout the day for movement and brain function.
Carbs perform many other functions in the body as well. For example, they boost the hunger-suppressing hormone leptin, which is the idea behind carb refeeding" during a low-carb diet.
Carbohydrates also help you sleep, which itself controls your levels of hunger and the catabolic stress hormone cortisol.[2,3] In case you needed one more reason to embrace carbs, know that many high-carb, unprocessed foods—think fruits, starchy vegetables, and tubers like sweet potatoes—are also chock-full of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
BUT I THOUGHT CARBS WERE BAD FOR YOU!
If carbs are so beneficial, why do people eat low-carb diets? Carbohydrates get a bad rap because when eaten in excess, they may add adipose tissue, aka fat. You’ll notice that the calculator recommends lower carb levels for fat loss and higher for muscle gains. But if incorporated into a diet in the right levels and at the right times, carbs can provide all of the benefits with none of the cost.
Some of the best times to eat carbs are before, during, and after workouts, so they can supply you with energy and replenish the glycogen you expend during long training sessions.
Another great time to carb up? Dinnertime. Many people think you shouldn’t eat carbs at night if you want to stay lean, but this is a myth. Not only will carbs after dark not hurt you, but eating most of your carbohydrates in the evening can actually help you lose fat and optimize your hormone profile.
GOOD CARBS AND BAD CARBS
For the most part, it’s best to opt for complex carbs from whole foods to fuel your day. These “good carbs” break down more slowly and provide sustained energy instead of spikes and crashes. Great sources of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, fruit, and starchy veggies like peas and carrots, which all have plenty of fiber to slow down their digestion. These foods also have more of their micronutrients intact compared to processed foods.
But there’s a time and a place for simple carbs, too. “Bad carbs,” like certain types of candy, aren’t always bad. These simple carbs enter the bloodstream almost immediately because they don’t have to be broken down by digestion. This is what sends you on a blood-sugar rollercoaster when you eat them at the movies. But when you eat them right after exercise, the instant availability can be a good thing because it helps restore your muscle glycogen more quickly and start your recovery sooner. In other words, the sugar goes straight to your muscles to help you heal up from your last workout and prime you for your next one.
The calculator on this page provides recommendations for a moderate-carbohydrate diet, with slightly lower carb levels for fat loss and higher levels for muscle gains. Low carb and ketogenic diets, in which you eat fewer carbs than calculated here, are also popular among people with specific fitness and weight-loss goals.
If you’re new to tracking your macros, start with the calculator’s recommendations to get a good starting baseline. If you’re transitioning from a standard American diet of near-daily burgers and burritos, this might already be lower than you’re used to. Then, if you decide you want to try a lower-carb approach, you can experiment with reducing your carb levels.
- Dirlewanger, M., Di Vetta, V., Guenat, E., Battilana, P., Seematter, G., Schneiter, P., ... & Tappy, L. (2000). Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 24(11), 1413.
- Afaghi, A., O'connor, H., & Chow, C. M. (2007). High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(2), 426-430.
- Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine, 9(0 1), S23–S28.
- Sofer, S., Eliraz, A., Kaplan, S., Voet, H., Fink, G., Kima, T., & Madar, Z. (2011). Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity, 19(10), 2006-2014.
- Ivy, J. L. (1998). Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19(S 2), S142-S145.