How many times have you heard someone say that carbs cause weight gain? You'd probably be rich by now if you had a dollar for every time that came out of someone's mouth.
But the truth is, carbs do not make you fat. It's everything else that's happening in your body and environment that contribute to weight gain.
In light of that, this article will help you understand the role of protein and carbs in a healthy diet, how you can use them to aid weight loss, and what to look for in a protein and carb supplement.
Benefits Of Carbs And Protein
Cutting out any food cold-turkey can lead to disastrous effects, especially when it's carbs.
But if you enjoy carbs every now and again, why get rid of them?
Both carbohydrates and protein play their own unique roles in body function, and when used appropriately, they can absolutely be part of a healthy diet and help you lose weight.
Here's a breakdown of what protein and carbs contribute:
Many studies over the past 4 to 5 decades have pointed to carbohydrates' role in sustaining and improving physical performance.
And with the rise of research into things like the ketogenic diet and carnivore, carbs have been thrown around as obsolete for athletes, but when it comes to certain forms of exercise, carbs are still king.
If you take part in high-intensity exercise, carbs play a significant role in your performance.
Despite the body's ability to convert dietary protein and fat to glucose for energy to fuel performance, carbohydrates are metabolized more efficiently.
They are the only macronutrient that can be broken down rapidly enough to provide immediate energy during periods of high-intensity exercise when fast-twitch muscle fibers are primarily relied upon 1.
And protein? While views on protein have evolved over the past several decades, most people can agree that a higher than recommended protein intake (0.8 g/kg per day) is required to enhance performance, recovery, and skeletal muscle accretion for the average person 1.
But if you're an athlete or train multiple times per day, these amounts should be further increased to 1.2-2g/kg per day.
Carbohydrates are the quickest energy source of all the macronutrients, and if you're looking for a quick pick-me-up, carbs are your friend. However, what you want to avoid is refined and processed carbs that spike glucose and insulin, only to leave you feeling like you've been run over afterward.
Simple carbohydrates that lack essential nutrients and fiber and rank higher on the glycemic scale tend to elicit rapid spikes followed by rapid drops.
But when you're choosing the right kinds of carbs, they replenish glycogen stores and leave you with a full pool to draw on for immediate energy.
Muscle Growth And Recovery
Protein is the most critical macronutrient involved in maintaining muscle mass and assisting in recovery.
If you don't want to lose weight in the form of muscle, you need to ensure you consume adequate amounts of high-quality protein daily.
But there are a couple of other links between protein and weight loss 2:
- Satiety—Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, meaning it delays gastric emptying and keeps you full for longer
- TEF—Protein has a higher thermic effect than both fat and carbohydrates, meaning your metabolism revs to digest it, and you expend more calories
- Storage—Excess protein is difficult to store as fat, whereas carbohydrates are relatively easily converted into glucose, then glycogen, then fat
- Lean Mass—Amino acids derived from dietary protein are critical to maintaining lean body mass because, realistically, no one wants to lose weight by compromising existing muscle
However, where carbs come into play is in two areas: replenishing glycogen stores to top up the immediate energy pool and spiking insulin to allow amino acids to enter cells and do their repair job.
If you're consuming carbs immediately post-workout, you will want to look towards simpler carbohydrates that supply immediate energy; we'll talk a bit more about this below.
This is one thing that people often miss, especially if you're a woman. But for everyone, carbs are needed to support proper hormonal balance, and when you drop your carbs too low, you start to put your body into stress-mode. And when that happens, here's the result:
- Reduced thyroid hormone output 3
- Increased cortisol output (cortisol = fat storage + weight gain)
- Decreased testosterone
- Impaired mood and cognitive function
- Muscle catabolism
- Suppressed immune function 4
Sounds like pretty much everything you don't want to happen, right? Your thyroid is one of the glands responsible for metabolic function, and your adrenals partly control fat storage.
And if they're not operating properly or are overactive, chances are you can kiss your weight loss goals goodbye.
Because of carbs' impact on blood sugar and insulin, consuming a carb-heavy meal not only leaves you feeling a bit sluggish post-meal, but it will also leave you hungry a couple of hours later.
When you combine fast-digesting carbs with protein or just snack on protein alone, it can increase satiety and improve appetite regulation, thus helping you eat less and boost weight loss.
One study published in Nutrition Journal investigated the effects of a high-protein snack compared to a high-fat snack on appetite control, satiety, and subsequent food intake in healthy women.
Researchers found that the high protein snack (14g pro/25g CHO/0g fat) improved appetite control, satiety, and reduced food intake better than the high-fat snack 5.
How To Use Carbs And Protein To Lose Weight
Not sure how to incorporate carbs and protein into your day to maximize weight loss? Follow these principles:
Be Strategic With Your Timing
If you're looking to avoid weight gain from excess energy, you need to be strategic about timing your carb intake. Protein can be consumed at every meal, but to make use of the carbs you're consuming and prevent storage, eat them around your workouts.
Either pre- or post-workout, the carbs will go towards fueling your workout or replenishing depleted glycogen stores and helping muscle recovery rather than being stored as fat if they're not utilized during the day.
If you're opting to time your carbs around strength training, opt for more complex, low-glycemic carbs pre-workout—think sweet potatoes, yams, root vegetables, quinoa, etc.
This will provide you with sustained energy release throughout your training session and prevent insulin spikes that lead to fat storage. Post-workout, higher-glycemic quick-digesting carbs help bolster insulin levels and drive amino acids into muscle cells to do damage-control and growth.
As well, some people do find that complex carbs before bed helps them to sleep if they tend to deal with blood sugar issues mid-night.
When blood sugar fluctuates too much (i.e., it drops when you're sleeping), the body will shoot out cortisol in an attempt to increase blood sugar, and that cortisol output can sometimes cause people to wake up.
So, if you find yourself staring at the ceiling between 1-3 am, try incorporating a slow-digesting carb with some protein pre-sleep.
What's also interesting is that NHANES data in the U.S. shows that short sleepers (<7 h/night) consume a smaller variety of foods, as well as less protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and fat relative to normal sleepers who report 7–8 h of sleep/night 6.
However, note that there is a significant trend toward poor sleep quality with increasing carbohydrate intake before bed. Still, researchers suggest that carb quality is more important than quantity in mediating this association 7.
Other studies have shown that low carbohydrate intake (<50% total calories) was marginally associated with difficulty maintaining sleep 8.
Don't Go Overboard
It's pretty common knowledge that weight-loss boils down to calories in vs. calories out; if you're consuming more calories than you're burning, weight loss is going to be a challenge.
And because carbs are the easiest macronutrients to convert to fat, if you're eating an excessive amount of carbohydrates and not putting them towards fueling activity, they're going to be shuttled into fat cells.
If you struggle with knowing the amount of protein and carbs you're consuming daily, don't be afraid to track your food intake for a few weeks.
A lot of people think they're eating more protein than they are and fewer carbs than they are, so seeing the actual numbers can be a wake-up call. If you can gauge how much you're actually eating, you can take the steps needed to adjust and help you lose weight.
Choose The Appropriate Kind
With respect to any food you're eating, always choose quality over quantity.
For proteins, avoid anything processed and filled with synthetic additives, nitrates, sugar, and weird ingredients; your body doesn't recognize these, and you're likely contributing to weight gain instead of weight loss.
If you consume meat, opt for organic and grass-fed/pastured whenever possible to avoid synthetic hormones and antibiotics.
If you follow a plant-based diet, consider minimally processed proteins like beans and legumes, tempeh (fermented tofu), or a vegan protein powder like Performance Lab Protein.
And with carbs, it's all about choosing the appropriate one at the right time, but always opt for the least processed option available (i.e., whole foods).
Pre-workout look towards starchy vegetables or non-glutinous grains, whereas post-workout think simpler carbs like white rice or white potatoes. A carb supplement intra- or post-workout is also a good option.
But at the end of the day, nutrient-density is always king. If you're trying to lose weight, you want to maximize nutrient intake while still maintaining a caloric deficit, and nutrient-dense foods are the way to do that.
Best Supplements To Use
Want to take the hassle out of finding a good protein and carb supplement? Look no further. We've obviously done the research for you, and you won't find anything better than these.
Performance Lab Protein
Performance Lab Protein is one of the cleanest and most effective plant-based protein powders on the market.
It is 100% vegan-friendly and a great alternative to traditional whey-based products that can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Featuring Oryzatein® certified organic brown rice protein made with natural enzymes and low heat, it's the only rice protein shown to build muscle as effectively as whey, with leucine that absorbs 30% faster.
It's also one of the few brown rice proteins patented for athletic performance. Backed by third-party research, it's proven to effectively build muscle, increase power, enhance strength, improve endurance, support exercise recovery, and curb hunger.
All of this is produced with natural flavors and sweeteners to supply you with the cleanest, best-tasting plant-based protein powder you can find.
Here's a summary of why you need it in your stack:
- Enhances muscle strength, power, endurance, and overall athletic performance
- Promotes healthy muscle recovery and robust muscle growth
- Helps support natural appetite control and weight management
- Supplies muscle-building leucine that absorbs 30% faster than leucine from whey
- Naturally flavored and sweetened with no synthetics
Performance Lab Carb
Performance Lab Carb is the world's fastest-acting and longest-lasting muscle fuel. KarboLyn® technology is key to its muscle-fueling power.
It's bioengineered to absorb faster and last longer than any other carbohydrate supplement on the market.
And with the addition of Himalayan Pink Salt and Organic Coconut Sugar, KarboLyn® is driven into muscles faster and more efficiently, helping to supercharge your athletic performance and bolster a faster recovery.
Unlike other carb sources that use artificial sweeteners, Performance Lab Carb is flavored and sweetened using completely natural ingredients to supply you with the cleanest, best-tasting sports carbohydrate drink.
If you're looking for a clean and effective carb, here's why Performance Lab Carb is it:
- Fast-acting, long-lasting fuel for 2+ hours of stim-free muscle energy
- Powers muscle across strength, endurance, growth, and recovery
- Enhances absorption of water and other sports nutrients
- Carb energy without typical crashing, bloating, or gastric distress during exercise
- Optimized with natural carb transporters sodium, glucose, and fructose
The reality is that most of us need some carbs in our diet to function and perform at our best, and protein is non-negotiable.
The whole notion around low-carb is better for fat loss because high carbs lead to increased insulin production, which leads to fat storage, but eating low carb keeps insulin low, meaning you should just drop weight like that!
The tricky thing is that most people starting on low-carb will see an immediate drop in weight and they think it works like magic, but truthfully, it's just glycogen and water. So short-term low-carb diets work, but the weight loss is hard to sustain.
As such, the low-carb myth is not entirely true. If you're looking to sustain weight loss, including carbs in your diet with sufficient protein at every meal will be the way to go.
- M Kanter. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutr Today. 2018;53(1):35-39.
- D Paddon-Jones, E Westman, RD Mattes, RR Wolfe, A Astrup, M Westerterp-Plantenga. Protein, weight management, and satiety. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(5):1558S-1561S.
- PH Bisschop, HP Sauerwein, E Endert, JA Romijn. Isocaloric carbohydrate deprivation induces protein catabolism despite a low T3-syndrome in healthy men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2001;54(1):75-80.
- DC Nieman. Influence of carbohydrate on the immune response to intensive, prolonged exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev. 1998;4:64-76.
- LC Ortinau, HA Hoertel, SM Douglas, HJ Leidy. Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutr J. 2014;13:97. Published 2014 Sep 29.
- M.A. Grandner, N Jackson, JR Gerstner, KL Knutson. Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample. Appetite. 2013;64:71-80.
- MP St-Onge, A Mikic, CE Pietrolungo. Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(5):938-949. Published 2016 Sep 15.
- E Tanaka, H Yatsuya, M Uemura, et al. Associations of protein, fat, and carbohydrate intakes with insomnia symptoms among middle-aged Japanese workers. J Epidemiol. 2013;23(2):132-138.