How Many Carbs You Need Every Day

Whole Grain Cereal

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

According to current dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 45–65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. However, if you have diabetes, you may want to consume <50% of your calories from carbohydrates and be more careful about your total intake and even intake at meals in order to prevent high blood sugar levels or the more dangerous low blood sugars.

If you're a cardio athlete who exercises 3-4 hours per day, then you need to consume more carbohydrates. The percentage of calories from carbohydrates to meet your athletic needs may be closer to 70% or more. Some sources of carbohydrates are better for you than others, and the number of carbs a person needs depends greatly on factors like age, weight, height, and activity level.

Understanding Carbs

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found in foods that provide your body with energy. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat provide your dietary calories.

Carbs are mostly found in plants where they provide energy and structure. Sugars, starches, and fibers fall into this category. And although animals need and consume carbohydrates, you won't find any carbs in meat, fish, or poultry. But you will find carbs in milk and dairy products because they contain lactose, which is also a type of sugar.

Calculating Your Goal

Your carbohydrate need can be based on your caloric intake. If you know how many calories you need each day, you can figure out how many grams of carbs you need:

  1. Start by determining your daily calorie need and divide that number in half. That's how many calories should come from carbohydrates.
  2. Each gram of carbohydrate has four calories. Divide the number you got from the first step by four.
  3. The final number is equal to the number of carbohydrates in grams you need each day.

For example, a person who eats approximately 2,000 calories per day should take in about 250 grams of carbohydrates (2,000 divided by 2 = 1,000 and 1,000 divided by 4 = 250).

Determining Your Intake

Eliminating an entire macronutrient such as carbohydrates can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Carbohydrates are rich in B vitamins, iron, and fiber, to name a few. It can also result in excess intake of other less healthy nutrients such as saturated fat found in fatty meats.

You may also be getting too few carbs relative to your activity levels, leaving you depleted of energy and not able to keep up with your fitness goals. Follow these simple steps to track your intake:

Read Food Labels

You can find the carbohydrate grams on the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. You'll find calorie information there, but be sure to double-check the serving size and number of servings per package.

Calculate the Number of Grams of Carbs

Use "FoodData Central," the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, to calculate carbohydrate amounts for fresh foods. It's a large database that's regularly updated.

Keep a Food Diary

Keep a food diary to track your information. You can use a journal or a free online food tracker and calorie counter. Also consider keeping track of your mood, sleep patterns, and activity levels. Down the road, you may be able to make some associations between food choices and their effect on your daily mood and activity levels.

The Healthiest Carbs

Carbohydrates include complex carbohydrates, like starches, and simple sugars such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and honey.

Healthy complex carbohydrates include foods such as starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Compared to refined grains like white bread and pasta, which are simple carbohydrates, whole grains are far more nutrient-dense. However, simple carbs like fruit and dairy are nutritious and are considered part of a healthy, balanced diet.

The standard tip is to "make half of your grains whole." The USDA recommends that half of your grain intake should come from whole grains. Examples of whole grains include 100% whole grain bread, whole grain oats, quinoa, farro, brown rice, and popcorn. If you are eating six servings of grains a day, aim to make at least half of those servings whole grain foods.

Refined grains such as white rice, pasta, and bagels contain less fiber than whole grains and should be consumed less often. You'll also want to include fruits and vegetables in your carbohydrate intake. The only time you may be eating more refined grains during your fitness journey is before and after heavy workouts. Before workouts to prevent indigestion and after workouts because your stomach may be too sensitive to a high fiber intake.

As far as plant-based options go, choose 100% whole grains and fruits and vegetables for most of your carbohydrates. As long as you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, you'll add a substantial amount of fiber to your diet.

Of course, you need protein and fat as well, just not as much. Balance your carbohydrate choices with protein sources, such as lean red meat, poultry, eggs, or fish, and some healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, or nuts and seeds. Besides the nutrition benefits these can bring, protein combined with high-fiber carbs helps promote satiety to keep you feeling full between meals.

Watch Out for Sugars

Aim to eat sugary foods less often. Foods made with added sugars like table sugar, honey, corn syrup or maple syrup often lack vitamins, minerals, and filling fiber. They can leave you feeling lethargic and hungry for more sugar a short time after eating. There are also hidden sugars in sauces and even sometimes soups.

Excess calorie intake from sugary foods has been associated with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. For this reason, the USDA recommends that Americans consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. Other expert groups recommend a lower limit; for instance, the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests no more than 6% of daily calories.

Limit sugary snacks, pastries, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, candy, and cookies. Be mindful of heavily processed foods such as packaged snacks and boxed meals that often contain added sugars. You can find added sugars by reading the ingredient list. Look for words that end in "ose" or you can also check for "added sugar" on the nutrition facts label.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.