Most folks who decide to give the Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenge the old college try do so to correct an underlying health issue. Maybe their cardiologist’s recommended dietary plan hasn’t been improving their lipid numbers as promised, or perhaps they’re sick of fighting a losing battle with diabetes by submitting to a daily pharmaceutical cocktail that appears increasingly ineffective. Gentle (or not so gentle) prodding from coworkers and loved ones with incredible results is another common motivating factor. But, above all, most people get involved with this Primal stuff because they want to lose weight without stressing over calorie counts, fat grams, and endless hours on the treadmill. And in order to do that – in order to lean out effortlessly and maintain that leanness – it’s vitally important that you dial in your carb count.
Now, different people will be able to handle different amounts of carbohydrates differently. Highly active athletes will do a bit better with more carbs, since their energy demands will be higher than sedentary people. Diabetics will do better on fewer carbs, since they’re mostly unable to physiologically manage normal carbohydrate metabolism. But as for your basic, average, everyday man or woman who takes care of kids, goes to work every day, sits in traffic – you know, pretty much everyone with any type of daily responsibility – and finds his or her belly getting a bit larger and looser, honing in on the type and amount of dietary carbohydrates is vital. Those are the folks who need this info most: the average person with a bit of metabolic derangement, possibly even drifting toward diabetic status after years on the standard American (or any other industrialized nation) diet. They’re the most likely to be using the Internet to look for info on nutrition, the most likely to stumble upon Mark’s Daily Apple and the Primal challenge, and the most suitable audience for my PB Carbohydrate Curve.
What’s Wrong with Carbs Anyway?
Carbohydrates aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they have the distinct, unique ability to really ravage a metabolically disturbed individual’s body. If you’re overweight, as most people in the United States are, it’s very likely that your carbohydrate metabolism is dysfunctional. You’re probably insulin resistant and even moderate amounts of carbs will do a real number on you, causing a dangerous hormonal cascade: insulin is released to deal with the influx of glucose, but your cells are resistant to it; your blood sugar spikes and the pancreas secretes even more insulin; all that insulin prevents the release of fat from adipose tissue, so you’re not burning any body fat; eventually, since fat cells are resistant and muscle cells are resistant and probably replete, that glucose has nowhere to go but to the liver for conversion into glycogen; the liver fills up pretty quickly, though, after which additional glucose is converted into fatty acids and packaged into lipoproteins; those lipoproteins are then ushered into adipose tissue for conversion to triglyceride, or nice healthy chunks of body fat. You’re probably somewhat sedentary (many jobs, for example, involve eight hours of sitting each day), meaning your muscle glycogen (glucose-derived energy) stores generally stay full, and more carbs means more glucose which will have no where to go but into fat cells. You’re probably exposed to processed food on a daily basis, most of which is carb-and-sugar-based. So, we have a perfect metabolic storm: people eat too much sugar, grain, and vegetable oil, thus destroying their metabolisms and making any amount of carbohydrate a potential problem; they don’t move around enough, so they’re not burning any of the glucose for muscle energy; and everywhere they turn, cheap, simple, and refined carbs wink suggestively, confident that the time-strapped and stressed individual will succumb.
The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve
0-50 grams per day: Easy, effortless weight loss for any and everyone. Diabetics and the severely obese may find it useful to remain in this zone, while others might employ it now and then to jumpstart weight loss or break a plateau.
50-100 grams per day: Steady, gradual weight loss. This is the sweet spot, in my opinion. You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods and lose weight slowly but surely.
100-150 grams per day: If you just want to maintain, I recommend this level. Hardcore athletes may want to increase them a bit, but your average Primal exerciser and eater will maintain supreme leanness, health, and performance at 100-150 grams per day.
150-300 grams per day: Steady, insidious weight gain. It’ll creep up on you. Just look around next time you’re at a high school reunion – people gain weight at this level without even realizing it.
300+ grams per day: Unless you’re an extreme endurance athlete, 300+ grams of carbs per day will inevitably show on your waistline. Tragically, the average “healthy” American diet reaches this carb count pretty consistently.
Knowing where you stand doesn’t have to be difficult, though, and paying attention to a few simple ideas and tactics will keep you dialed in and aware of your place on the curve.
Though the Primal Blueprint is not about counting calories, macronutrient-counting tools can be utilized to keep track of carbohydrate intake. Eventually, as you get acclimated to the eating style and the way it makes your body feel, you’ll instinctively know what to eat without straying over. But for you beginners, opening a free FitDay account can make a huge difference. I have one myself, as do most of my readers – so head over to FitDay, create an account, and begin tracking your carbs. I recommend doing it for 2-3 days to get a sense of what your eating patterns are like now, and then again once you feel like you’ve made some significant changes.
Your first few days on FitDay will be eye opening. Carbs are seemingly everywhere. You go out to eat and order a garden salad piled high with steak. Good choice, right? You figure you’re being the Primal exemplar – except that balsamic vinaigrette was made with high fructose corn syrup and comes loaded with 20g of sugar per serving. Okay, okay. You learned your lesson: ask for olive oil and vinegar instead. Next, you grab a fruit salad instead of a sandwich for lunch and pat yourself on the back for making the right choice. You get home and enter the whole shebang into FitDay and convulse in horror. Seems that watermelon and pineapple wasn’t so innocent after all. Next time, you’ll be sure to go light on the fruit.
Carbs creep up on you, especially when you’re eating out or relying on processed, packaged food. You’ve got to be vigilant, perhaps almost annoyingly so at first, but it pays off. You learn to cook your own food (control your own dietary destiny), make smart decisions when out (mustard instead of ketchup; oil and vinegar instead of dressing; cottage cheese or tomato slices instead of hash browns), and you develop an eye for hidden carb sources. Once it becomes second nature, it’ll get even easier, and you won’t think twice about carb creep.
Where do you fit on the Carb Curve? Where do you want to be in order to achieve the goals you’ve set? By using FitDay, staying aware of carb creep, understanding where you belong on the Curve, and developing your inner carb avoidance intuition, dialing in on your carb count will be one of the most rewarding aspects of the 30-Day Primal Challenge.
For further reading on insulin resistance, body fat accumulation, and how carbs figure into it, check out these popular previous posts:
How have things gone for you so far on this 30-day challenge? Any difficulties? Early successes? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment board!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.