Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
14 Jan

The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve

GraphYesterday, low-carb blogger Dr. Michael Eades (he of Protein Power) posted a message from his friend and fellow low-carb guru Richard Feinman as sort of a call-to-action in public policy-making for upcoming 2010 USDA guidelines. Dr. Eades and Dr. Feinman have suggested that we ought to quickly find a way to help the USDA arrive at a sensible recommendation for carbohydrate consumption. Feinman asked:

“how can the benefits of carbohydrate restriction that you have experienced personally or in your immediate environment be translated into reasonable recommendations that the USDA could put out?”

In conjunction with my forthcoming book “The Primal Blueprint”, I have been working on an easy-to-understand explanation of how carbohydrates impact the human body and the degree to which we need them (or not) in our diet. I have also developed a chart (not the one above) that is intended to assist those who want to go “Primal” in visualizing the impact of carbs consumed within certain ranges. I was going to hold off on releasing this information until my book is published, but decided to introduce it here in response to Dr. Eades’ post. Since the choice of how many and what types of carbs in one’s diet depends on the context of one’s life (current weight, disease condition, activity levels, etc), I see carb intake as a “curve” ranging from “allowable” to “desirable” to “unhealthy”.

The following descriptions illustrate how carbohydrates impact the human body and the degree to which we need them, or not, in our diet. The ranges represent daily averages and are subject to variables like age, current height and weight and particularly training volume. For example, a heavy, active person can be successful at a higher number than a light, moderately active person. In particular, hard training endurance athletes will experience a greater need for carbs and can adjust their personal curve accordingly. This is a topic I address further in the book (e.g. – experimenting with adding 100g of carbs per hour of training per day), on MarksDailyApple.com and in a future “primal” book dedicated to endurance athletes. Here then is my “Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve.”

300 or more grams/day Danger Zone!

Easy to reach with the “normal” American diet (cereals, pasta, rice, bread, waffles, pancakes, muffins, soft drinks, packaged snacks, sweets, desserts). High risk of excess fat storage, inflammation, increased disease markers including Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes. Sharp reduction of grains and other processed carbs is critical unless you are on the “chronic cardio” treadmill (which has its own major drawbacks).

150-300 grams/day – Steady, Insidious Weight Gain

Continued higher insulin-stimulating effect prevents efficient fat burning and contributes to widespread chronic disease conditions. This range – irresponsibly recommended by the USDA and other diet authorities – can lead to the statistical US average gain of 1.5 pounds of fat per year for forty years.

100-150 grams/dayPrimal Blueprint Maintenance Range

This range based on body weight and activity level. When combined with Primal exercises, allows for genetically optimal fat burning and muscle development. Range derived from Grok’s (ancestors’) example of enjoying abundant vegetables and fruits and avoiding grains and sugars.

50-100 grams/day – Primal Sweet Spot for Effortless Weight Loss

Minimizes insulin production and ramps up fat metabolism. By meeting average daily protein requirements (.7 – 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight formula), eating nutritious vegetables and fruits (easy to stay in 50-100 gram range, even with generous servings), and staying satisfied with delicious high fat foods (meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds), you can lose one to two pounds of body fat per week and then keep it off forever by eating in the maintenance range.

0-50 grams/day – Ketosis and Accelerated Fat Burning

Acceptable for a day or two of Intermittent Fasting towards aggressive weight loss efforts, provided adequate protein, fat and supplements are consumed otherwise. May be ideal for many diabetics. Not necessarily recommended as a long-term practice for otherwise healthy people due to resultant deprivation of high nutrient value vegetables and fruits.

Drop me a line in the comment boards. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes (and You’ll Understand It)

Primal Fitness

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I wish I could switch to this kind of lifestyle but I’m already in phenomenal shape doing strength training and eating my chicken/tuna/pasta/rice/oats/milk every day. I’m a landscaper and am saving up to start my own business and unfortunately spending an extra $50 on food every week isn’t going to help me save money for the equipment I need, on the wage I currently earn. Luckily I’m only 22, so considering the fact I never eat fast food and consume alcohol in moderation gives me a huge generational head start so to speak. Big thanks to you Mark for all the great info.

    TheBizMan wrote on June 9th, 2012
    • I originally thought the diet would be more expensive myself. But I find I actually spend about $50 less during the course of a month than I used to. Maybe you could just start by cutting out grains? That seems to be the biggest change one can make on the way to being primal. :)

      Brooke wrote on June 9th, 2012
    • Every little bit helps! You’re right, you already make a lot of healthy choices. How can you do even better without altering your budget? (I had to consider this also, because many “reduce your grocery bill” advice assumes that there is processed food you can cut out, and I already wasn’t eating any of that)

      You said you like to eat pasta and rice. When you would normally eat one of those starches, start having rice more often and pasta less often until you’ve phased the pasta out.

      Are you eating plenty of vegetables? If reducing your portions of rice makes you feel less full, maybe incorporate some starchier vegetables and slowly move toward less starchy vegetables until you reach a point where you’re eating better but still satisfied after your meals.

      You say you like milk, and many people are just fine on dairy. Are you sure you’re one of them? Experiment with eliminating it for two weeks and see if you feel better (I didn’t). You can always add it back in.

      Finally, I like oats too! To make them healthier, look up instructions for soaking them to make the nutrients easier to access and get some of the bad stuff out. You can also try cutting your oatmeal with things like chopped nuts, fruit, etc. so it’s not such a carb load.

      Erin wrote on January 16th, 2013
  2. Help!!!!
    I’m a fifty five year old heavy duty mechanic who took a desk job about a year ago. I went from approx. 180lbs to 250lbs, I felt and looked terrible. I’m now down to 220lbs but cant seem to shed anymore weight. I also quit smoking cigs. Well I’ve tried all sorts of diets and exercise, nothing seems to be working. In my search for a good program to help with weight loss I came across this Primal BluePrint and I’m very interested in your products.
    Problem is my wife who has exercised all her life and according to her ate properly as well, says that I don’t need to spend money on any programs.
    After going through the Blog I noticed all of the people a serious runners or weight lifters serious athletes. Is there something that you have available for someone who works 12 hour days 2hrs of travel to and from work. I usually work 21 days in a row as well.

    Curtis wrote on June 14th, 2012
    • Hi. I’m just getting started with this myself, but you can try to find Mark’s book at the library for now & start cutting grains, junkfood, and sugar drinks while adding meat and good fats mentioned on the blog. The free ebooks and articles on here will help too.

      ArtsyLaurie wrote on June 14th, 2012
    • I agree that you don’t need to purchase anything. Mark is very generous in providing this information for free — his books are great resources and a good introduction for people who prefer something like that, they’re definitely not 100% necessary. I didn’t buy one until I’d already been primal for almost a year.

      I’m sure that if you didn’t before you’ve already started working on preparing your meals, especially a bag lunch for work. Healthy food is really quick to make if you want it to be, it takes 5 minutes to fry some meat and vegetables, chop a salad, stir up a “trail mix”, or scramble eggs, and you can freeze many things in portions and microwave them later.

      You have a strenuous work schedule and I don’t really think you have to worry about exercising more right away unless you want to. Just keep doing what you’re doing. There are isometric exercises you can do in the car or at your desk too. Some of them, nobody will even notice — if you tighten your stomach muscles like you’re sucking in your belly, it’s not obvious, but if you hold it for a while and do it a few times it’s definitely a workout! But in general, your diet will play more of a role in determining your health than exercise, and if you become primal you should find that you naturally have more energy for exercise and fun on your days off.

      Erin wrote on January 16th, 2013
    • I agree that you don’t need to purchase anything. Mark is very generous in providing this information for free — his books are great resources and a good introduction for people who prefer something like that, they’re definitely not 100% necessary. I didn’t buy one until I’d already been primal for almost a year.

      I’m sure that if you didn’t before you’ve already started working on preparing your meals, especially a bag lunch for work. Healthy food is really quick to make if you want it to be, it takes 5 minutes to fry some meat and vegetables, chop a salad, stir up a “trail mix”, or scramble eggs, and you can freeze many things in portions and microwave them later.

      You have a strenuous work schedule and I don’t really think you have to worry about exercising more right away unless you want to. Just keep doing what you’re doing. There are isometric exercises you can do in the car or at your desk too. Some of them, nobody will even notice — if you tighten your stomach muscles like you’re sucking in your belly, it’s not obvious, but if you hold it for a while and do it a few times it’s definitely a workout! But in general, your diet will play more of a role in determining your health than exercise, and if you become primal you should find that you naturally have more energy for exercise and fun on your days off. I certainly don’t run or lift weights (except my toddler), and at 5’7″ and 130 lb, with a healthy layer of muscle, I’m happy with my appearance.

      Erin wrote on January 16th, 2013
  3. At about age 45, I started the Atkins Diet with less than 20 grams of carbs/day. I continued this regimen for 4 months and -65 lbs. (285-220) with little variation. No addition exercise other than normal work conditions and there were no apparent health problems due to the diet. After couple of years of trying to “moderate”, I gained back the weight+. I did this again at age 56 (-35 lbs.). I am now 67 and have gained again. I quit.

    Bob wrote on June 16th, 2012
  4. I’m new to this site, and am slightly confused – I understand that ‘carbs’ includes things like fruits and vegetables, but how do you measure them? I just ate a 100g apple – surely that doesn’t mean if I then eat a few carrots with dinner I’ll be in the ‘insidious weight gain’ zone? Where can I find details about how to actually measure the carb grammage in foods?

    Chisa wrote on June 24th, 2012
    • Use the website fitday.com

      Chase wrote on July 21st, 2012
  5. I am currently on a low carb diet, usually 30-70g a day. But I workout! This past week, I’ve been doing Insanity, some strength training and running, while maintaining my low carb diet. I am consuming plenty of protein and fat, but I’m wondering if I should up my carb intake? I’m just scared of how this will affect my weight loss efforts. Help please! Thanks!

    Brenda wrote on June 26th, 2012
    • Brenda, if you’ve worked past the point of “carb flu,” where your body is getting used to having fewer carbs and makes you crave them, feeling like you need a little more probably means you need a little more. Listen to your body! But you should choose carbs that are easier on your body, like sweet potatoes or fruits (especially bananas), rather than grains or pure starches. There’s research that says that carb cycling, where you eat more carbs on days you work out and fewer on days you don’t, is not harmful. Add in a little bit at a time, like 10 or 20g, and see how you feel and how it affects your weight loss.

      Erin wrote on January 16th, 2013
  6. I have Type 2 diabetes so I keep my carbs as low as poss, certainly below 50g carbs per day and it works fo me.

    Artichoke wrote on July 1st, 2012
  7. Im just starting out. Im 5’4.5″ and about 154 pounds. My health is fine besides my weight, docs consider me ‘normal’ though I have extra weight I want gone (about 25 pounds). I completely understand the grain-free and low carb point, but what I don’t get is the macro ratios for fat and protein, or where my calories should be at. Should my fat% be higher then my protein or vise-versa? And should I count calories or just eat till im satisfied? I use myfitnesspal and it says I should be eating 1200 calories prior to working out. I do Insanity and walk some and lift 1-2x a week. My goal isn’t to form muscle yet but to lose the fat.

    GH wrote on July 14th, 2012
    • In general, your fat % will be higher than your protein %. Someone your size with your goals will probably feel best somewhere in the ballpark of 75-100g of protein a day. The strategy I recommend is to focus on getting the right amounts of carbs and protein, eat until you are satisfied, and let whatever % of fat work itself into your diet as naturally happens. If you notice that you’re not losing the weight/fat you want to, then you might start tracking calories more closely and adjusting them until you start getting the results you want.

      Erin wrote on January 16th, 2013
  8. I am finding that low carb / high fat works better for me than anything ever has. It is a long story with me, but I’ve been doing all the wrong things (because it was advocated back in the day) low fat / high carb. I got bulimic, insulin resistant/PCOS ridden and even though I am “only” about 30 pounds overweight, it is almost impossible for me to lose any weight. I’ve gotten to understand more about the reasons for that which is why I have ended up (finally!!!) with low carb/high fat. I feel infinitely better! HOWEVER I have tried cutting my carbs down to 20 – 30 grams and there is NO way I can go that low. I am sweating, getting heart palpations, hard to breathe, shaking, feeling like I will black out. I have almost died from electrolyte imbalances due to the bulimia in the past so I have been very aware to drink enough and get extra sodium/potassium (kept track), but whenever I feel weak and like I will pass out, I cannot go on. I find myself having to raise blood sugar levels with some lowglycemic fruit or honey and it gets better within 10 – 15 minutes. Today I tried again and still 25 g is just too low for me to handle. And working out would never be possible feeling like that, which is not really smart. I seem to be able to handle 75 – 100 grams of carbs per day (only veggies/some fruit) getting everything else from a few nuts, some heavy cream, butter, fat cheese, good meats/fish and coconut oil. My question to all of you is….if I feel this way, do I still need to force myself below 20 grams? If that is the only way I have to give it up, and I can’t because going back to grains is not even something I long for. I love the nice stable energy from fats and I’m content with veggies and fruit for carbs. But if I can only hope to lose weight going below those 20 grams of carbs, I don’t see myself ever getting to a normal weight :-( I simple cannot feel that bad, no energy for exercise constantly debating whether to go to the ER (yeah I feel that bad) and not sleeping at night because of stress from low blood sugar issues. Please please respond!

    Amelie wrote on July 16th, 2012
  9. I usually hover around the 50 to 100 carb range. I lift weights 2 times a week (heavy) and run, spin, row, and swim. I also stay close to the 1g of protein per body pound each day. Every so often I will change it up by reducing carbs for a couple weeks below 50 gram. On the other hand I will raise them up a bit past 100 when I am going to race. I have never felt any lack of energy. The other important thing is to make sure you get good rest. Enjoy your site and thanks for the excellent work Mark!

    Jeff wrote on July 31st, 2012
  10. I have a question: Been trying to be strict w/primal for the last few months. Carbs never over 40-50 grams a day. Light activity. Figure I’m about 30-40 lb’s overweight. I year past menopause. Never had this much trouble losing. Usually goes about 1-2 pounds a week. Even with IF, NO LOSS is occurring. If I go over 40g’s of carbs per day, slow gain starts to happen. So discouraging. WHAT IS GOING ON?

    ShaSha wrote on August 1st, 2012
  11. Sorry if this has already been answered but are these recommendation total or net carbs ?

    Heather.g wrote on August 12th, 2012
  12. 300 or more grams/day – Danger Zone!

    nonsense im 165lbs and can it 500-700 grams a day and my blood work is great…and im not fat..

    ken wrote on August 26th, 2012
  13. Hi, you said that in the 50-100 grams of carb range, that this range is easy to stay in. Even with generous portions of fruits and vegetables??? I mean like, one apple will already bring you up to 30 grams? Even with non-starchy vegetables; it doesn’t take much strands/pieces to already rack you up over 50 grams…

    Bernie wrote on August 27th, 2012
  14. I find it really difficult to get under the 100 mark when I am eating a lot of fruit. I have had to drastically change my snacks from fruits to nuts and just be a lot mindful of what I eat to get under this curve for weight loss, but something seems to be working as my pants are practically falling off of me and I can notch my belt to the last hole!

    Lauren wrote on August 29th, 2012
  15. If you are eating 150-200g of carbs on weight training days should fat significantly decrease those days and by how much?

    Lorraine wrote on August 30th, 2012
  16. I weigh 224 lbs. I’m 6.4In. My wife is 137 and is 5.3in. How is it that we would both fit the same carb category? If we both had 60 carbs a day, would that not be me doing far fewer than she given our different sizes?

    Gary Mullennix wrote on September 2nd, 2012
  17. Isn’t this a bit over simplistic? I mean, a hypothetical 100kg adult male consumes a greater amount of calories than does a hypothetical 50kg adult female, so 100g of carbs would make up a much smaller percentage of his daily intake than it would for the her. But this guide seems to imply that 100g is the upper limit of the primal sweet spot for both.
    Is there a better way, such as percentage of dietary intake?

    Michael wrote on September 8th, 2012
  18. As a woman with PCOS, I find I can go up to 150 and still lose. After 150, no loss. I am on metformin though, that probably has something to do with it.

    Alicia wrote on October 16th, 2012
  19. Hello,

    Please tell me because i am quite new to this type of died .I want to keep eating max 50 g of carbs for 5-7 days .But what meals should I eat at noon and dinner .Thx a lot

    MIhai wrote on October 29th, 2012
    • 50 g of carbs is really only for ketogenic weight loss. I would caution you not to do that for too long. You can eat up to 100 g per day and still lose weight if you’re doing Primal exercise.

      In terms of what to eat, the only way to accurately calculate your carbs is to weight all your portions and use a food calculator to figure out carbs. I like sparkpeople.com, it’s free. Once you do it for two weeks or so regularly, you’ll be able to estimate pretty easily.

      Abby J. wrote on October 29th, 2012
  20. When in the 50-100 carb range, as long you stay in that range does it matter if you use the majority in one part of the day vs another? Ex. Eat 60 carbs in the morning then 20 and 20 at lunch and dinner? Thanks. I read something somewhere that your cells become “full” at a certain point and don’t need the fuel and will defer the extra energy and it will turn to fat?

    Jason wrote on October 30th, 2012
  21. Ive started to diet again to drop 20 lbs so i can fit in my size 30 jeans, im currently in the 50-100 carb intake range, i work out and have been loosing 2LBS a day aiming to get back down to 150. any tips or advice would be appreciated.

    David wrote on October 31st, 2012
  22. I have a question. My doctor put me on a low-carb diet, but didn’t tell me how low. I’m not eating bread, rice, potatoes, pasta,etc. I’m eating more meat, veggies, and a bit of diary, but my carbs are still about 155 a day. Is that a healthy amount? I have hypothyroidism.

    Lacey wrote on November 28th, 2012

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