It seems like everyone is on a low-carb diet, but as popular as it is, low-carb is a fairly ambiguous term, especially if you've never tracked your macronutrients. What does low-carb even mean, and how can you tell if it's working for you? Those are the questions we posed to Stephanie Anklan, a registered dietitian at the CHI Saint Joseph Health Center for Weight Loss in Lexington, KY.
Like most diets, low-carb is not one-size-fits-all. You're going to have to do a little experimentation to determine what works best for you. For example, if you currently eat about 200 grams of net carbs per day - that's your total carb count minus fiber - you may try decreasing that number to 100 grams to see how you feel. (Most professionals consider "low-carb" to be anywhere between 50 and 100 grams of net carbs per day.) "If you feel fatigued and tired throughout the day or can't get through your workout, you may need to make some adjustments," Stephanie told POPSUGAR.
For example, "you may need to time your carb intake around your workouts, or you may need more carbs altogether," she said. "You have to be incredibly self-aware to properly determine your level."
Luckily, there are some simple tools that can be really helpful during this process of evaluating your carb intake. "Definitely take advantage of the free apps out there to help you track your meals and macronutrients. You can use MyFitnessPal or an app specifically designed for going low-carb," Stephanie said. "If you don't like being glued to your phone all day, good old-fashioned pen and paper will work just fine." Don't stop at tracking your meals and macro goals, though. "You need to also note how you slept, any physical activities you participated in, and how you felt throughout the day," she added. If you were extra fatigued or hungry all day, you may not be eating enough.
Stephanie pointed out that it is equally important to be savvy about where your carbs are coming from. "Everyone should be aware of where they are getting their nutrients because all carbs are not created equal. You want to get the majority of your nutrients from whole foods, not heavily processed or refined foods," she explained. If you're going low-carb, this means lots of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocado.
Before you dive in, know that going low-carb isn't for everyone - endurance athletes and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding both require extra energy from carbs, Stephanie explained. Otherwise, if you feel good eating fewer carbs, then it can't hurt to tweak your numbers, try some new low-carb recipes, and see where you feel best.