Can Carbs Get Stored as Fat if You're in a Deficit?

Just having a bit of a debate with some folks and trying to ascertain the best carbs to eat when dieting as I figure that GI/GL might be a factor as well as maybe the timing of when to eat carbs (I think Poliquin talks about having carbs mostly around your workout but could be wrong).

So their stance is that it doesn’t matter what kinds of carbs you have as long as you’re in a calorie deficit. One guy even saying that macros don’t even matter as long as you’re in a deficit.

Is there any biochemistry to suggest that unless you’re presently utilizing energy you’ll store a certain % as fat? even a small %? and I would imagine that one could probably say yes to a large amount of sugar but no to a complex slow digesting carb?


A calorie deficit reduces harms of things like high omega-6s and high fructose/alcohol intake because the compounds get burned up. The liver can only process a certain amount of fructose and alcohol in a short period of time though and so it is definitely possible that the liver turns fructose and alcohol (and probably galactose) into triglycerides on a calorie deficit if a high intake is concentrated into a short period. The triglycerides can build up in the liver and circulate in the bloodstream and increase insulin resistance which means that HIGH fructose and alcohol levels have a profoundly different effect than glucose/starch. The kind of carbs can matter. On the other hand, at moderate levels, fructose and even alcohol may result in lower blood sugar levels. I would say though that high fructose/alcohol/omega-6s in a calorie surplus are “the” real problem for a lot of people. The fructose and alcohol (and possibly milk sugar) lead to a buildup of fat deposits in the liver and circulating triglycerides which negatively affect hormones, and high omega-6s build up in cell membranes and adipose and then get released when you try to lose weight, causing a surge in inflammation when you decide to lose the fat. This is a reason why Omega-3s can help during fat loss, and also a reason why people may fail to maintain a calorie deficit, and may have a GREATER risk of medical issues like stroke or heart attack when they are in a calorie deficit trying to lose weight.


Well, this is the kind of thorough response I expect from the T-nation forums.

I’d never considered that fat which is used is less harmful.

When you say alcohol though, do you mean plain old booze, or can that mean sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol?

And seeing as you brought up Omega-6 oils, something I have often wondered about is… how do different fats get matabolized? so like, Protein can be broken down to amino acids and, in the presence of too few carbs/glycogen, turned into energy. From what I’ve learned. Carbs can get used if they’re immediately needed or stored as either fat or glycogen. Without trying to get into the ins and outs of those two examples, as I’ve likely missed a few things, how do fats get treated? can they get stored as glycogen too? I wonder what happens to them in high numbers, especially in keto diets, where does all the excess ‘live’?

Let’s assume your daily expenditure is 3000. If you eat a 2000 calorie meal and it’s your only meal of the day you’ll likely store some fat from it. But then over the next 24 hours you’ll burn that back off, plus some.

So yes, you could gain fat while in an overall daily deficit.

On a keto diet, muscle cells tend to load up with fatty acids instead of with glycogen. In fact, muscle cells will contain a balance of fatty acids and glycogen that reflects the relative amounts of carbs and fats that you eat. On a low carb diet, muscles quickly shut down making enzymes to form glycogen and to burn glucose and make more enzymes to burn fatty acids.

Fatty acids don’t turn into glucose.

I will have to look at the sugar alcohols, but ethanol and fructose are very harmful in the bloodstream and so the liver quickly pulls them in. It will try to make fructose into glycogen and actually fructose refills liver glycogen faster than glucose because it is all shuttled straight to the liver, but the liver can not make a very large amount of fructose into glycogen, and its too harmful to release into the bloodstream (fructose causes 10x as much glyclolytic damage to blood vessels as glucose) so the liver turns fructose and alcohol into triglyceride droplets in the liver which causes fatty liver disease.

My understanding is that cells prefer to use saturated fatty acids for fuel. Saturated fatty acids can be burned without creating free radicals. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (the largest by far in the diet being Omega-6 linoleic acid) tend to produce oxygen containing pieces that can “burn” blood vessel linings. Linoleic is also pro-inflammatory.

All cell membranes are made from fatty acids and cholesterol an cell membranes will contain a proportion that reflects the intake of different fatty acids. So will fatty acids in triglycerides and adipose cell storage.

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Sorry, late response. This is good info.

I’m actually trying to research conditions where fat is either not burned or not efficiently burned during a deficit scenario and the factors that govern it. It’s my understanding/hypothesis (bit of experience plus some science and a bit of an educated guess) that some people with a history of under-eating may have created a scenario where their non-exercise thermogenesis downregulates instead of burning calories from fat.

And then if so, how to improve diet/exercise to ensure that doesn’t happen, and what kinds of foods are less likely to store as fat. It’s a controversial subject because it triggers a lot of people who are adamant that the body has a one-in-one-out mechanism and has absolutely no contingency for regulating calorie-burning efficiency to preserve energy in times of near starvation. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Any thoughts on this?

I believe the short answer is yes. When you repeatedly spike insulin throughout the day, e.g. eating 5-6 small carb-rich meals, you are blunting lipolysis. Of course, consistent under-eating will still result in weight loss (not fat loss, per se). That’s why many authors, like Poliquin, believed in strategically ingesting carbs, i.e. to blunt cortisol post-exercise/at night. Makes perfect sense.

But my point is that carbs don’t just blunt lypolysis, but the liver turns fructose into triglycerides as a major mechanism of avoiding fructo-toxicity in the blood. Fructose+alcohol above about 4% of daily maintenance calories start to raise triglycerides in the blood and in liver deposits. That’s about 25 grams of fructose a day. The amount probably rises with activity and glycogen depletion. There is empirical data that the body can use fructose to restore about 1/3 of glycogen depleted during exercise without producing triglyceride.

High triglycerides are probably the signature of metabolic disorder because they force the body to produce more insulin all the time.

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Your best bet is to study scientific research and what the papers say. Opinions doesn’t matter, everyone has one, and hold by it. I’ve been eating clean more then a decade with occasional cheat meals thats how I’ve put meat on my frame. I’ve began applying various cut principles on myself around 3yrs ago, with clean foods. Got super lean, made a lot of mistakes, lost a lot of muscle, made it all back. Now after years of different approaches, I’m dieting down basically eating what I want but always consuming my req protein amount per day. So i have 2 meals per day from simple sugars, pre and post workout, mind you im on the cut, and eating bread french toasts in the morning, then two proper meals, and guess what, im staying in a lot better condition, feeling a lot better, fuller, getting harder and leaner every day. I’m probably around 8-10% bf atm. So my thinking from experience and from what ive studied off scientific research etc etc is NO, you won’t gain fat being in caloric deficit, if you have your shit figured out with everyone on point. Nutrition, training, recovery, cardio etc. From 5 meals i can eat 2-3 what i want and still get away without making harm to my form, if that makes sense. People fear what they dont understand, and since Ive dropped slamming rice like a mad man pretty much my digestion starting fixing, no more bloat etc, fast burning carbs work good and you’ll get benefits from them. Also you can eat whenever you want and how you want that won’t affect your shape , and thats all from reading science reports and trying on myself. Unless you’re prepping for a show, then you need to try and experiement yourself, but in general, make sure to get your proteins in and time your carbs as you want. I like to have them pre bed, wake up leaner, or split through the day, as I get hungry. Depends on personal preference, and not opinion. Just my 2 cents here, hope make some sense from my experience;)


p.s. if you want some stats/photo of myself, macro outline etc, just let me know, ill be happy to share and elaborate further.

Sounds interesting, so you focus primarily on the protein and the rest, within reason, doesn’t matter?

I need to find out more about simple sugars and how they work. So my (presumably outdated understanding) is that simple sugars spike insulin, probably overload the liver and so store as fat, and the idea is that you then shouldn’t have them before bed because you’re taking in energy and not doing anything with it.

So can you give examples of the kinds of simple sugars? and why my assumption/understanding is incomplete. I do gather that taking in simple sugars as peri workout is a good thing, that kinda makes sense. But the pre bedtime thing keeps coming up and is very confusing as to how it makes you lean overnight. It’s like the opposite of what makes sense (although I’m more than willing to change my mind).

Also one other niggle, you said you dropped rice, was that brown or white? because I’d imagine white is a fair simple carb and therefore good by your books? Obviously the other take-home is to try for one’s self and see what works. But I’m interested in what generally works for people.

I’m mainly interested in how to make all this work for oldER women (over 35s) as I have a few in my life who get depressed over their weight and want to be able to help them effectively. Body image can fuck people’s lives up so it’s a big deal. It’s common for that demographic to drastically under-eat to lose fat as quickly as possible, but they always plateau, even on a big deficit. So I’ve also been studying adaptive thermogenesis whereby if the body isn’t getting enough calories, it’ll just match its energy output to match the input, rather than, well, die essentially. Makes sense.

Everything you put in the mouth will spike insulin, take whey isolate for example.
Bottom line is sugar won’t hurt you IF you are in caloric deficit. At the end of the day every carb will be broken into small pieces and your body has no idea from what carb source it came from. The vitamins and minerals thats another thing, but here we are talking calories in < calories out. If you are in a caloric surplus you can eat whatever you want and you won’t lose weight, doesn’t matter if the food is labeled “good” or “bad” which is also a misconception on its own. People and industry love to demonize stuff. Look at history at obese rate, it was lowest back in the day, started going up and they blamed fats, it got double and they started to blame carbs, now its nearly 4x and they blame sugar. It just doesn’t work that way. People fear what they don’t understand. Just try and you will see. I used to eat 5-7 “clean” meals per day on the cutting protocol and i did ok. Now i eat 2-3 meals whatever i want depending on my carb requirements with protein each meal ofc and im doing fine as well, even better then before, fast burning carbs keep me fuller, i lean out better and they are great on digestion, no bloat, quick and smooth, plus fucking tasty. Yesterday I had 430g carbs, 200g came from fast burning carbs like bagels and granola. Was flat and depleted yesterday. Today woke up leaner, fuller and rock solid;) Today will have 2 meals with breakfast cereals 100g/each pre and post workout combined with whey isolate and low fat and before bed will have a huge meal with 100+ carbs of awesome granola and also a bowl of oats with some whey iso and healthy fats. Sleep like a baby and wake up leaner and tighter again. Its not rocket science, so my best advice would be for you to try and see everything on yourself.

For anyone to get leaner and fix their eating habits id advise to work on their caloric maintenance level to see where its at, then compose a smart eating plan with some simple sugars thrown in here and there, because it helps to follow the regime and is sustainable that way, then derive caloric deficit and start working from there. Results will come I guaranty, but gotta be patient and disciplined. Tracking calories and what we put in our mouths is a full time job, and usually ppl undertrack by 20-30%, or in another words overeat by 20-30% from what they tell us:) No diet is superior to one another, the one is best is the one that is sustainable and will hold the true test of time;)

Just my 2 cents mate, hope it clears some fog.

Yes white rice is fast burning carb and mostly it has close to none nutrients, even bread is better and easier on digestion. Never liked brown rice. Right now I’m having probably few meals with rice per week, where i had like 4/day minimum for a decade lmao

The reason why white rice is quickly absorbed is because it contains very few inflammatory plant compounds that slow down digestion and absorption by distressing or inflaming intestinal cells. What gives other carbs like high gluten wheat pasta, beans, oats etc. a much slower rate of absorption is that they are HARDER on digestion. People have different tolerances to the proteins, lectins and lignins in them but there are a lot more and they can result in intestinal distress, gut permeability, sinus inflammation, other allergic symptoms and are correlated to autoimmune disease.

White rice is pretty much pure glucose polymers. High gluten wheat has been shown to raise insulin secretion for 8+ hours because of its slow rate of absorption while white rice raises insulin for only 2-3 hours. Granted, white rice raises blood sugar higher at a peak because its so fast, but high glycemic carbs actually require MORE insulin over a long period of time. Glycemic index and insulin requirements are not the same thing, and for the most part, on a gram per gram basis are opposite (lower GI carbs take more insulin because they stimulate glucagon by sitting around in he intestines for 4-8 hours and then the body has to release more insulin to counter the glucagon).

So it depends on how you use them and whether you have sensitivities to wheat, oats, beans. I think that most people are at least mildly sensitive to them.

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  1. Protein, carbs and fat ALL raise daily insulin secretion though fat does it by competing with glucose to get into cells and to get used up for energy. If you cut your carbs in half and replace the balance with fat your daily insulin needs will end up virtually the same within a week as your body downregulates glucose burning. In fact, unless you over secrete insulin pathologically, carbs RAISE insulin sensitivity and fat lowers insulin sensitivity (how much insulin you need to manage a certain amount of carbs). This is because a higher carb diet turns muscles more to glucose burning and glycogen storing while a lower carb diet makes muscles store more fatty acids and make less glucose burning enzymes.

This is all based on “maintenance” calories. If someone really wants to spike their blood sugar, have them eat a high fat low carb diet for a week and THEN have 100 grams of white rice. A week of low carbs (at maintenance calories) massively shuts down the body’s ability to use glucose. This is all from empirical research.

Also, carbs are not entirely broken down into identical single sugar molecules. Starches get broken down into pure glucose molecules, but sugar (sucrose) breaks down half into glucose and half into fructose and fructose is managed totally differently by the body than glucose-though the liver TRIES to turn fructose into glucose and glycogen as fast as possible. Milk sugar is similar, breaking down into glucose and galactose. Fructose and galactose are not used for fuel by muscles. They either get turned into glucose by an enzyme in the intestinal cells, or in the liver, or they get turned into triglycerides.

You can definitely eat a 500 calorie deficit for 16 week, but eating high amounts of sucrose and end up with more fat around the liver while losing adipose. Then returning to maintenance calories will result in a rebound fat gain because the liver has become less insulin sensitive.

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Thanks for the precise information mate, very much appreciated.

So basically what I understand from your post/posts(ive read some already as you seem to know your paper) we can get away with less harm eating more glucose then fructose while in the calorie deficit? If I may put the question this way:)

If anyone could explain or elaborate on why eating simple carbs before bed aids in getting lean that would be appreciated. I’ve heard of people saying to eat simple carbs at night, which sounds odd but enough people have mentioned it to take notice.

No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that fructose has some benefits such as less blood sugar rise than glucose, and also fructose tends to refill liver glycogen faster because it all goes to the liver, but there is a “sweet spot”, and going above that amount starts to cause liver fat to build up. The amount depends on activity since activity burns up liver glycogen and makes more room for fructose to be turned into glycogen.

Based on all of the research I have seen, including some rat studies and some studies with endurance athletes using a mix of glucose and fructose after training, it looks like fructose may be beneficial for a sedentary person up to 25 grams a day (in place of an equal amount of glucose) plus 25-75 grams a day for training depending on volume and intensity. So if you trained an hour at a moderate pace you could probably have 25+25 grams a day, about as much fructose as 5 bananas which is still quite a bit. The main problem is when people start drinking sugary drinks. Also combining it with alcohol since they follow the same pathway and one beer or drink has about 16-18 grams of alcohol in it.

The worst thing is bulking on sugar and high omega-6 oils because it leads to an accumulation of liver fat and inflammatory fatty acids in fat cells and cell membranes that can harm your health when you try to lose the fat.


Awesome info brother, much much appreciated. I’ve noted all down and will have another question regarding this soon if you don’t mind. Now I’ve read a lot of your posts since yesterday regarding inflammation of carbs and tonight happened an interesting but not pleasant thing. Yesterday before bed, I had to do a little +70g of carb refeed plus my normal meal, so I had a bowl of granola that i like, with another bowl of 70g rolled oats with 20g natural peanut butter added and whey protein isolate scoop mixed in as well as 200g of strawberries. So after I consumed this meal, went to bed in about 30-60mins, and fucking couldnt sleep. Started running to WC like crazy every 10mins I guess so, never happened to me before. And got a stiffed nose, just like you write from the inflamation, was a damn bitch. Never happened to me before and Ive been heavy involved in fitness, bodybuilding and nutrition for 14 years. Used to have oats every day and in large countities but also had stiffed nose for many years, so this made me wonder big time. But since ive put peanut butter inside and also had another bowl of granola besides its really hard to tell which was the case…What do you think about all this mate? I know you are very good at this, and im all about science, research, as I’m a quant by profession. I’m ready to experiment today again to try and see which is actually causing trouble. So thinking of a smart way how to deduct and do it the most efficient way.

Best regards,

If you eat a lot of slow carbs before bed you will have insulin in your system when your body should be producing growth hormone (about 10:00 pm to 2:00 am). Insulin blocks growth hormone which is essential for long term health. If you really need to gain weight it is probably ok to eat before bed for a stretch, but not all the time, at least not a large meal. Catabolism at night is more the result of low glycogen than low blood sugar so the best thing before bed is to have glycogen stores full, but lot to be digesting and processing a meal with a lot of carbs. I think the best option is to have faster carbs like potato or white rice with lean protein but to go on a quick walk about 10-20 minutes after you eat but before bed. This makes your insulin circulate better so you don’t need to over secrete it, and it keeps your peak blood sugar down and gets the glucose into your muscles and liver. A little fruit before bed is good too because it will make sure that liver glycogen is full. That’s my opinion. By the way, I experienced the same thing as you. When I cut out oats, wheat and beans, if I added them back in I would notice the allergic-like reactions much more but I think that it was because when I ate them regularly I just got used to living with sinus inflammation etc. and it was “normal”. When I cut them out and stopped having inflammation all the time I noticed it more when I added it back.