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:

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  1. Hi Mark and thanks for a good site!

    On the “how many carbs do you need”, I see no real problem in staying at 30-50 carbs even while eating a fair amount of veggies. (Provided you avoid the carb-heavy stuff) Assuming an average of 5g / 100g of carb content, there is no problem squeezing in 500 grammes or so of veggies into your diet without leaving ketosis, a sizeable amount.

    As for fruits, what micronutrients are we really talking here? They are rich in vitamin C, but apart from that their energy/weight composition is about the same as Coke (of course, it’s harder to ingest the same amount of fruit, but still…).

    Fasching wrote on January 19th, 2009
  2. Oh, I should add that sadly our veggies have also been “industrialized”. That’s why I pop a multivitamin/micronutrient pill each day together with the Omega-3 supplements. Sad, but true.

    Fasching wrote on January 19th, 2009
  3. I have been keeping my carbs just under 150 grams per day, and calories at close to 2500 or less per day, since Jan 1st 2009 and I have lost 10lbs in the last 3 weeks, so you can lose weight, especially if you are as overweight as me, (6’5, 499 lbs). As I progress I will adjust it accordingly.

    Steve B wrote on January 25th, 2009
  4. Something that is almost always overlooked in these stories and articles and is also overlooked in the above article, is the issue of the person’s size, for instance a 6’5″ guy wanting to maintain a 220 lb weight can eat more carbs than say someone who is 5’10” and wants to maintain weighing 165.

    Steve B wrote on January 25th, 2009
  5. Steve B, that’s why we give you a range. If you are way bigger or way smaller, you can also go outside that range a bit

    Mark Sisson wrote on January 25th, 2009
  6. Yeah, in a way I felt like I was being told I could not lose weight on 150 carbs or less per day above, but being how obese I am, I can lose this way for a long time. I am 33 yrs old by the way. A co-worker in his late 50s found out he had type 2 diabetes and he went on a plan of 150 carbs per day or less and he went from weighing about 260 to about 180 in about 8 months on his 5’10” inch frame by eating that way. Inspired by his success I am now succeeding at it too. This is the longest I have succeeded on an restricted eating plan in years.

    Steve B wrote on January 25th, 2009
  7. Congratulations on your success so far, Steve. Keep it up!

    jesse wrote on January 26th, 2009
  8. Mark,

    I consume a lot of carbs- averaging 250-300 grams per day, about 150 grams of fat and about 70 grams of protein average day. Weight 68 Kilos at 6 feet.

    Almost all my carbs comes from carrots ( i eat raw carrots about a kilo for lunch at times), bananas, sweet potatoes, oranges, apples. I do have digestion issues if i eat too much wheat or grains. a slice of bread sometimes is ok. my question is..are grains real issue or carbs in general?

    Amit wrote on January 27th, 2009
  9. Amit, Depends. How old are you? Do you exercise a lot? What is your body comp or body fat? Grains are definitely a big part of all this, but excess carbs from other sources are still a potential problem. If not now, then maybe iinto the future. OTOH, you may be a lucky one who lives comfortably on the higher end of the carb curve.

    Mark Sisson wrote on January 27th, 2009
  10. Mark,

    is there a protein curve? or can we basically eat protein ad infinitum (slight exag. there, but provided we eat it with fat, fruits and veggies)

    Roelant wrote on January 29th, 2009
  11. funny that fats are not good for you!

    sameul McGivens wrote on February 19th, 2009
    • Your comment seems rather random. And many fats are not only healthy, but essential.

      Avi wrote on May 23rd, 2011
  12. For the last 2 weeks I have not eaten refined sugar, white flour etc, but my carbs do creep up, the average is 130-180g per day.

    is this OK? I hate attached todays nutrition here: http://i299.photobucket.com/albums/mm301/xanderd/nutrition07-05-09.jpg

    I walk for 1-2 hours per day, sprint once per week and lift heavy weights for 1 hour 3x per week.

    I am thinking that since the carbs come from lentils which i consider a ‘healthy’ food that this is ok…although wonder how absolute the ‘100g per day of carbs’ rule is.

    any thoughts?

    alex wrote on May 7th, 2009
  13. ps. I want to gain at least 3kg of muscle and find it very difficult to gain weight in the past – easily lose it if my calories drop below 2500kcal/day

    alex wrote on May 7th, 2009
  14. Alex, you are on the right plan. If you want to build muscle, your body has to “need” the extra muscle. The only way that happens is for you to work out more intensely (not more time) so signals arer sent to your genes to add strength and size to muscle. Your calories are probably OK now, even a little high. I would cut back on the lentils a bit. I don’t know your body fat, but I wouold suggest that to gain muscle from here, you might want to reduce your walking a bit for a few weeks and see what happens. Ultimately, you may find that the body you have now is the ideal one for the amount of work you do…unless you increase the load on it.

    Mark Sisson wrote on May 7th, 2009
  15. Mark,
    I have lost 15 lbs since about mid-Feb going from 167 lbs to 152 lbs by doing fairly high intensity cardio, circuit weights 2-3xs weekly with some yoga and pilates thrown in. My plans are to lose another 10 lbs the same way. Since about mid-April, I have kept my carbs to 100-150g per day and try hard to eat 1200 -1500 calories a day. The trouble I’m having is getting enough protein because I am lactose an soy intolerant and I just can’t tolerate meat 3xs daily. I tend to compensate with nuts (good?), peanut butter and boiled eggs. I think this might be leading to high levels of selenium on my fitday chart. Can you recommend a few non-meat sources of protein excluding dairy and soy?

    Thanks a bunch,
    Tracy

    Tracy wrote on May 7th, 2009
  16. Tracy, good work so far. All I can add for non-meat protein is chicken and fish (of course) and then find a good protein powder and have a soothie once a day. You should be fine getting 100-120 grams protein total each day.

    Mark Sisson wrote on May 7th, 2009
  17. Mark,

    I appreciate the time you take to reply us :)

    I am currently around 18% body fat – according to a cheap electronic device. I am 185cm tall and weight 72.5 kg. I aim to reduce body fat a few points and also to bring my overall body weight up to at least 75kg.

    It’s interesting that you say my calories are maybe slightly too high – on fitday it says I burn about 3100 per day just through my metabolism, walking and lifting 3x per week.

    Regarding intensity – I always used to work chest/triceps, back/biceps and legs/shoulders with 3×10 reps. Now I have changed my plan since 2 weeks ago:

    I now do the whole body and use a 5 second up / 5 second down cadence for much higher time under tension, and I usually do 5 sets of 5. This means I do about 20% less weight than before, 5 less reps in total, but double the total time under tension. If you have any thoughts on how effective this is at stimulatng muscle mass gain I’d love to know :)

    alex wrote on May 8th, 2009
  18. i found a product called ‘Just carbs’ (http://tinyurl.com/ppn2ba).

    It lists ‘Insulin Spike’ under product information!!!

    alex wrote on May 8th, 2009
  19. I have been losing weight after reading (my age 50)the “Protien Powder” I started in Nov-08 and now in May have lost 55 lb (280-225) I keep between 0-30 grams of carbs a day and i work two jobs 16 hour days. I take a host of supplements and protien powder drinks along with meat protien and low carb wraps (3-grams-per wrap) and have salad at least once a day. I work out on average 3 days two- three hour workouts. I feel great and dont miss the carbs. i will congtinue this way for at least 30 more lbs (loss) and will bring up carb intake to 50-carbs to loose additional 15-25 lb to bring my weight down to a healthy 175 LB. My question is i read in a nutriontion book for dummies that a healthy carb intake level is 130 carbs for brain and heart function and anthing lower will be harmful. Can i maintain a helthy lifestyle at 175 lbs on 100 carbs a day with an increasae of power- lifting? Thanks i enjoyed your blog and the added responces were very informative.

    Harry Rionero wrote on May 10th, 2009
    • You lost weight after reading “protein powder”?

      Avi wrote on May 23rd, 2011
  20. Harry, congrats on your great progress. There is no nutritional requirement for carbs in the human diet. The body makes up to 200 grams a day from the protein and fat you consume. So, yes, you can maintain a totally healthy lifestyle and even increase powerlifting on 100 grams carbs/day. There’s no reason to do two-to- three-hour workouts, though.

    Mark Sisson wrote on May 15th, 2009
  21. Hi mark

    what’s your view on a south beach type diet? Is the induction phase a good kick off?

    M wrote on May 16th, 2009
    • South beach has it’s good points. Induction phase is best. I think they allow way too many carbs, grains, etc later on.

      Mark Sisson wrote on May 16th, 2009
      • The South Beach Diet would be good if they didn’t have so many artificial, strange foods in the plan.

        Low fat foods, fake eggs. why not just eat real food?

        The one really good thing about it is the recipes from South Beach Florida. The seviche is particularly good and illustrates the point that food that is healthy can be extremely delicious and satisfying which I think is the key to success with any diet plan.

        Louise wrote on May 28th, 2009
        • I lost weight in the Induction phase of SBD, but as soon as I re-introduced whole grains, all the “healthy” ones – brown rice, whole wheat, barley etc. – I started gaining weight, so I’m back to Phase 1 + fruits + a small amount of grains. I would ultimately like to go fully Primal.

          Mamatha wrote on June 7th, 2009
  22. Hi Mark. First of all .. What a fantastic site you have. I’ve cut my carbs right back from way over 300g a day to between 50-120g a day for three weeks now. My weight started at 292 pounds and now just after three weeks i am down to 267, a loss of 25 pounds !! The first two weeks the weight just fell of due probably to water loss. This last week i have not lost much at all, just a few ounces. Will this be a slow process to lose weight Mark ?

    Paul wrote on May 16th, 2009
    • Paul, great work so far. Off to a good start. Understand that after the initial shock to your body, most people can settle into a comfortable 1-2 pounds per week of FAT lost indefinitely – or until you hit a desirable body composition. For you, staying well under 100 grams total carbs per day will be key for a while. Walk as much as you can and do a few weight sessions each week. The concept of “slow process” mean nothing if you can change your body composition for the rest of your life in a way that is basically painless and requires little in the way of sacrifice (other than eliminating sugars). Keep us posted!!

      Mark Sisson wrote on May 16th, 2009
  23. I don’t think Mark ever answered the question regarding “net” carbs, but I’ve taken a look at his fitday and the way he writes about it, and he’s *including* fiber in the total number.

    Which, of course, makes it a LOT harder to hit that 100 mark. I can easily hit 150g total with about 100 net by eating normal healthy primal-like foods, but to get the total number below 100 I actually have to make decisions like, “tomatoes or cucumbers?” or “eggs or avocado?”. OR, I must strike out the little “add-ups” like a Viactiv calcium chew or that “2 bites of sandwich” that I would normally, being a foodie with friends who let me taste… despite the fact that those are very enjoyable on a day to day basis.

    Sorry, long comment to deliver a short answer.

    abqandrea wrote on June 1st, 2009
  24. I take in 50-100 g per day and I have found through experimenting that is where I need to stay! It’s funny how some people are so different with their cab allowances. I blow up if I take in more than 120 for too long.

    women's exercise wrote on June 2nd, 2009
  25. Sorry for my ignorance and my bad english, Then, if i eat 100gr of carbs or less i will not win weight NO MATTER how many calories i eat? Just curious, Thanks

    hector wrote on June 3rd, 2009
    • Hey Hector, I think it depends on the person – for me if I keep it around 50g or so I can eat a heroic amount of calories and not pack on the pounds. Some people are less sensitive and can go up to 150g or so. I like having the wiggle-room with the carbs just in case I end up under-estimating…

      The great thing is – with all the fat and protein you get that ‘satisfied’ feeling much quicker than with carb-y nutritionally-empty foods. So even on days where I think I’m eating massive calories, its nothing like what “massive calories” would look like for a high-carb “conventional” meal.

      Ryan Robitaille wrote on June 12th, 2009
  26. I am a nutritionist – and I love this carbohydrate curve – it is spot on in my experience. I am an RN who discovered the zone diet some 12 years ago, did some uni papers a couple of years ago to get to degree level in human nutrition, discovered they still push the whole grains a lot – though the carb / protein ratios are being explored in some of the papers. I’m still not convinced about grains. I’ve gone way more paleo, virtually no carbs now since starting crossfit 2 months ago. I can say definitively that the very best diet for me now is primal with a ratio of 1:1 carbs and protein and some good fats, (not too much though). I am 110 lbs and 5′ 2″ almost 50, I have arund 80 – 100 gms of both carbs and protein a day. I supplement with a range similar to Marks multi, plus omega 3, vitamin D and probiotics.
    I’m never felt better. As a result of these cahnges, right now I am at pretty much ideal weight, but still want to see my abs (working on it!) All the things I suffered prior to diet, exercise and supplements have gone – cravings, PMS, severe menstrual pain, low energy, excess weight, reactive hypoglycemia, pre- menopausal symptoms, constipation. Also gone swollen knees (auto-immune, vit D and omega 3 helped here). ALL gone.

    I for one will help spread the word through my work.

    Julianne wrote on June 24th, 2009
    • That’s great Julianne. I had severe chronic fatigue and buy eating lots of healthy fats and limiting carbs I too have seen a great improvement in my health.

      If I eat a few too many chips or something it starts going downhill pretty quick. I am getting certified as a nutritional counselor so I can share this vital information more effectively.
      We are here as a testimonial that this way of eating really works!

      Louise L wrote on June 24th, 2009
  27. One question I have is on fiber. If I eat 30-40 grams of fiber a day (which is where I have been the last few days) do I subtract that from the carbs that I have eaten. For example, I ate 175 grams of carbs yesterday. Do I subtract the 34 grams of fiber and apply it to my chart above? So am I really in the 141 gram range, or on the 175 gram range?

    Richard Hasting wrote on June 25th, 2009
  28. Primal Blueprint looks at gross carbs, so you are at 175. 30-40 grams of fiber a day is a lot of fiber.

    Mark Sisson wrote on June 25th, 2009
  29. I need to stay below 40 because I’m T2 diabetic and my BG is still int he 120s even with metformin 500 XR twice daily!
    I think I need to cut them even lower until I lose my fat at least. I need to lose 150 lbs still.

    Linda wrote on July 5th, 2009
  30. If you say all carbs get turned into sugar whats makes the carbs from berries and fruit any different than grains, if two people get 1500 calories from primal and one gets 500 from grains the other 500 from berries do you think their will be an body composition changes? I don’t.
    Mark I doubt you will answer this or even consent to the posts existence.

    Bob M wrote on July 6th, 2009
    • Bob, if I responded to every comment here, I would never have time to work (to pay for this “free” site). Most of the time my knowledgeable readers do very well answering questions in the comment section without my input. Also, in most cases, we’ve covered the topic ad infinitum over the past three years and 3,000,000 words. This post is just a snapshot. That’s why I wrote the book.

      All carbs do turn to “sugar” as you put it. But…the 500 calories from grains will also contain gluten, phytates, lectins and other antinutrients in addition to the glucose load. You can get 500 calories of pasta, bread or cereal in a fairly small amount of food. Conversely, 500 calories of berries is a significant bulk of food (it would take over six cups of blueberries)…and even if you did eat it all, you’d get antioxidants, polyphenols and other beneficial phytonutrients along with some low-glycemic fructose. It’s not always just about the carbs.

      Mark Sisson wrote on July 6th, 2009
  31. Great site here! Anyone care to take a stab at how many “net” carbs I should eat daily? I’m female, 5’5 1/2, 231 pounds, 38 yrs old, just joined a gym where I’m walking 1 hour, 3-4 times a week building up to 5-6 times a week. I’m on Benicar for high blood pressure. Doc said I can get off the med if I loose 40-50 lbs. I’ve done Sugar Busters in the past and lost 18 pounds in 6 weeks so I know my body responds well to lower & better carbs. I hope it’s okay to ask this here. If not, sorry in advance.

    Irene wrote on July 12th, 2009

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