T Nation

Getting Lean While Having Carbs


okay i feel like this is a stupid question but i have to ask. Can you get lean while consuming carbs?


that's a very broad and tough question to answer. There are many variables....each person handles carbs differently, some very well, and others badly. When you ingest your carbs also matters, before, during, or after a workout being the most optimal times. The quality of the carbohydrates also makes a huge difference.




nikoV I'm going to SORT of agree with you. This will be addressed in my statement:

To the OP, you can get lean while eating carbohydrates. In fact..the more I think about that question...the more it perplexes me as to why it is even a question. Carbohydrates must be the most misunderstood macronutrient..and rightly so, due to the vast amount of misinformation that has been spread in regards to the topic. In another topic (intermittent fasting topic)..how fat is stored was addressed in great detail. Here is a basic summation, and you can read more about this on Lyle McDonald's site:

Summary...Carbohydrates are rarely converted and stored as fat..It simply does not happen very often (if at all) on a normal carbohydrate intake. The process by which this happens is called DNL, and it happens when glycogen stores are entirely full to maximum. This is in the vicinity of 700-900g of carbs over the course of probably a few days straight. Obviously, this does not apply to general reality of our diets. So now that's out of the way: Carbohydrates are fucking rarely converted and stored as fat. They CAN and DO contribute to fat gain when calories are in SURPLUS...but again, usually not through DNL. Instead..when you eat carbs, they are preferred fuel source and go to the front of the line so to speak, effectively halting the release and use of fatty acids for fuel. Therefore..when you eat carbs, you burn carbs and you stop burning fat. In an overall caloric deficit, this will not matter..because the energy balance equation is the most important factor in regards to weight gain or weight loss. In a caloric surplus..eating carbohydrates can contribute to fat gain because it will blunt burning of fats for fuel..Therefore, dietary fat intake will be directly stored as your body burns the carbs IN A SURPLUS.

Protein does basically the same thing, but it is even harder for your body to actually convert protein into fat and store it as such..exponentially harder than it is for carbs (And we have already established that is pretty fucking difficult). When you eat protein, you also effectively blunt the burning of carbs and fatty acids as fuel. In fact..anytime you are in the FED state..you have effectively shut down using your own fatty acid stores for fuel. But, as stated before..in a deficit..this will balance out into weightloss because you are still using more energy than you are consuming. In surplus..again..protein itself will not be converted and stored as fat..its a multiple step process..but it will blunt the use of fatty acids, thereby all dietary fat intake will basically be stored as such.

Fat can be directly stored as fat with the most ease..there is no conversion really. But, you must be in a caloric surplus. In deficit, you will not store fat.

So practical application: You are trying to lose fat..you have assumed 20% below maint. calories for your intake and therefore in a caloric deficit. We always assume a proper protein intake..this is typically around 1.25g to 1.5g/LB of bodyweight. So, protein IS accounted for first and foremost. Assuming you STAY in your caloric deficit, the shuffling of the energy macros (i.e. carbs and fats) will mean relatively little. We can talk about insulin sensitivity, genetics, nutrient partitioning abilities all day...and open up a huge can of worms (Which still need to come down to calories in vs out at the end of the day) OR..I can just say to you, if you are relatively carb tolerant and operate well on moderate amounts of carbohydrates, then EAT them..as long as you are in your deficit, your protein is accounted for..if you want to eat carbs..do so..but make sure it balances with your fat intake in that you are not going over your calorie budget.

Until you are at approx. 10-11% trying to get into legitimate single digit levels..worrying about carbs isn't of that much importance.

Furthermore..in a caloric deficit, I do not believe the source of carbs matter ALL That much either. OF course, I am and anyone in their right mind is going to recommend whole food starch sources for carbs like: rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, ezekiel bread, pasta too..etc. But, if you want to eat sugary cereal, drink a soda..etc..it won't matter as long as you STAY in your caloric deficit and stay in what you budgeted in grams for carbs. Seriously. I suggest the whole food sources out of satiety and for the health benefits over eating fruit loops for carbs..but it won't break your fatloss if you incooperate those as carb sources.


@ Facko: no problem dude, this guy is fortunate that you were willing to give such a thorough response. I learned some things also.


Thanks a lot man..and btw..thanks for the PM suggestion before..it has worked for me!


no problem at all. It's not often that I have the chance to contribute to these discussions, so I jump at the chance when I can.


awesome breakdown and explanation facko.


facko- I completely disagree. Carbs aren't converted to fat easily? heard of insulin? I think most people try to dumb things down too much (cal in vs. cal out). when you understand how the body works, instead of citing someone else, you can read through crap. The guy has good info on the site, but I'm not going to read through every article.

Insulin is a very powerful hormone. Saying that it's effects don't matter is like saying that steroids dont make a difference. You throw insulin sensitivity under the bus, because you don't know anything about it?

You can and WILL gain fat if youre glycogen stores are low, dump a ton of carbs in your system and the fat storage gets started, very quickly. It doesn't take very much to fill up your glycogen stores. Also, can you post what you read on that site? all I see is the mention of 700-900 calories, not g carbs, big difference. Also, your summary is kinda vague. 700-900g crabs in a few days straight? can you just explain it in g/day?


after having been refered to Lyle McDonals site by facko i read a few articles and i have to say it was pretty enlighting.

OP - listen to what he has to say. Or even better, go to the site yourself and read a few of the articles, you'll feel a lot smarter at the end it, i guarentee that!

With that said, i do still beleive that as aonother poster said, insulin plays a big part.

Basically, its hugely anabolic, in other words when its floating about your body in high amounts, your primed to grow, but unforetunaly not only your muscles, it counts for fat too.

Personally i take the approach of eating carbs strategically.

First thing in the morning, when insulin sensitivity is naturally at its highest, before training and after training to fill up or replenish glycogen stores. I usually aim for about 40g clean starchy carbs (not shitty sugar) before training and 60-80 post, again CLEAN!

Thats my approach, others will disagree and i'm sure some will agree. What you take from it is up to you.


I knew this would get into a pissing match..and someone would inevitably say BUT WHAT ABOUT INSULIN!!! Look man: If you are in a legitimate calorie deficit...again..a legitimate caloric deficit..insulin will not make or break you. Some people who have great nutrient partitioning ability and have great insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle (basically genetically gifted people)will be able to lose fat with more calories assuming same bodyweight as the less genetically gifted person. They may also utilize carbs better than the less genetically gifted person etc. But the less genetically gifted person is still going to lose weight/fat if they are eating 20% below their true maint. intake.

Contradiction: I will give your hormones some credit in fucking things up..when you cut cals for too long or too hard..your body will fight you. We have all heard leptin being thrown around as of late..well it's true, it drops. Test drops..cortisol increases..etc. Does this mean that thermodynamics doesn't hold? NO. It means that your body is now operating at much lower output in an attempt to conserve body mass. This is where refeeds come into play, and that topic in and of itself is hotly debated as to what foods to eat..and for how long etc.

In terms of insulin..since you have a hard on for this hormone. You are spiking insulin when you eat protein too man. In fact..most anytime you are in a fed state, insulin is being released. BCAAs spike insulin.

IF you want to go further..dietary fat has similar effects in terms of storage (not through insulin) but via other less understood mechanisms of action. Therefore..it's not as if eating lots of fats is somehow inherently better than eating carbs.

Lastly..when you drop carbohydrates very low...and you up your protein intake (and fat intake I'm assuming) to say 2g/lb of bodyweight..guess what happens. A) You spike insulin anyway when you eat protein..and B) With the presence of less carbs..I promise you dietary protein intake will be converted and used as carbs..yes..this happens. In fact, it happens easier than protein would ever be converted and stored as fat..easier than carbs can be converted and stored as fat.

Again..the reason why people gain fat when they eat a lot of carbs is almost always because carbs simply blunt the release and use of fatty acid stores..and any dietary fat you take in goes basically straight to storage in the presence of carbs. De nova lipogenesis doesn't happen all the time nor very easily.

There is science and there is broscience..you can choose which to follow.

Don't take this information and think oh okay..well then that means I can drop dietary fat intake down to near nothing and eat as much carbs and protein as I want (within reason) in surplus. No..when you start dropping fats below like 20g a day, weird shit happens. DNL is actually ramped up by your body as a survival attempt and at this point carbs will be much more easily converted and stored as fats.

I'm looking at the profile pic right now of the OP..and I'm sorry man, worry about insulin release and carbs BEFORE worrying first and foremost about being in deficit is retarded. He's nowhere near a bodyfat % level where insulin is going to make or break him in terms of fatloss/weightloss. When his abs are fully shown and he's obviously bordering on that 10-11% range..and he's trying to get even leaner (single digit)...then you can start talking about energy macro manipulation and insulin manipulation.


Facko -

Could one deduce from what you said that fat gain during bulking could be slowed by keeping dietary fat gain very low while carbs are high?


In terms of energy cost, it is more difficult for the body to turn carbohydrates into fat than fat into fat, and I do think the issue of glycemic index and insulin is overblown. Insulin is one of many hormones that help regulate food metabolism. Having said that, carbohydrates are often over eaten and abused and need to be reduced for almost every dieter. That doesn't mean they need to be eliminated though.

You can get lean while having carbs in several different ways. Carb cycling, for instance, includes high carb days. Simple calorie restriction with balanced CPF also allows you to have a certain amount of carbs. This doesn't mean that you can go hog wild and dump tons of carbs into your system, as you said, but it does mean that you can could have upwards of 200 carbs every day while losing weight.

Ketogenic and low carb diets are tools in our arsenal of fat loss that shouldn't be used exclusively IMO because of their many drawbacks. They are, however, useful in certain situations.


Oh geez, here we go.

1) What about insulin? Carbohydrates must undergo a process called de novo lipogensis in order to be stored as fat. As Facko mentioned, the primary mechanism by which carbohydrates contribute to adipose tissue accumulation is via inhibition of fat burning, meaning that the body utilizes them preferentially before it uses fatty acids.

2) No one is saying insulin doesn't matter. You just don't know what you're talking about or why it would. Here's some physiology-sounding words so you can think you understand this post: INSULIN SENSITIVITY, TESTOSTERONE, ergo, vis a vis, HYPERTROPHY, MELANOMA.

3) If glycogen stores are low and you dumb carbs into your system, you're going to store...wait for it...GLYCOGEN. As a matter of fact, in situations where glycogen stores are depleted, consumption of carbohydrate doesn't inhibit fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) as those carbs are preferentially moved into glycogen storage vs. energy production.

4) 700-900g is the maximum skeletal muscle glycogen capacity for the average person. Glycogen must be fully repleted and remain so for several days in order for de novo lipogenesis to occur to any significant degree.

Less posting, more learning. Start with wikipedia, even that would put you light years ahead of where you are now.


This is my belief.. But, I don't really think it's optimal from a health standpoint to keep fat very low all of the time..there are just too many benefits to having some good fats in your diet.

Also..don't forget that the body is smart..and everything we are doing is a means of outsmarting the body so to speak. We want to lose fat even though it's easier and preferred for your body to hold on to fat..we want to gain muscle even though your body would prefer to have less due to the metabolic expense. This is the long way of me saying..don't think you can just eat close to NO fat and be able to eat boatloads of carbs all day long every day and viola problem solved..nope, like I said..the body is smart. On average, once you bring fats down below the 20g a day mark for any significant length of time, de nova lipogensis (the process described above in which carbs are ACTUALLY converted and stored as fat) is ramped up big time. This is a survival technique by your body. So personally..If I know that I'm going to eat carbs in the 350g+ range in a day, I will have fats lower than normal..probably 25-45g range..closer to the 25 or 30s. But, I never drop below around 25gs to be honest for the reasons mentioned above. Typically I keep carbs at around 250g on training days and fats tend to fall in the 55-65g range...which I don't personally consider low.

Also..it's worth mentioning that pretty much any food you really like is a mixed bag. It's not as enjoyable as one would think to just eat a shitload of plain rice or plain pasta with plain meat...I'd be willing to bet that just about any carb/protein meal you really like has a decent amount of fats involved too. Tomato sauce typically has a fair amount of olive oil..atleast how I make it. Think pizza, too... etc. So, I'm typically more satisfied keeping carbs in the 250g range and having atleast around 55gs of fat to work with to making more satiating flavorful food.


TBH i wasn't thinking eating no fat and just stuff my face with carbs all day, I feel better overall when I have a moderate amount of fat in my diet.

Rather I was thinking something along the lines of CT's carb cycling. Personally I consider 55g to be pretty low because I'd estimate I'd be usually coming out at 80-100g with all the PB, olive oil and red meat.


Yea..you are probably much bigger than me as well and require more calories overall.

I believe with CT's carb cycling, fats never change..even on high days.