How Many Carbs You Need Every Day

You may be eating too few. Use this formula to find out

Bowl of oatmeal with fruits and nuts on top

Creativeye99 / Getty Images

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about half your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. That's quite a lot. But, there's more to the recommendation than that. Some sources of carbohydrates are better for you than others, and the number of carbs a person needs depends greatly on age, weight, height, and activity levels.

Understanding Carbs

The term "carbs" is short for carbohydrates, 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 the USDA 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.

Complex carbs provide better nutrition for your body than simple carbs. Healthy complex carbohydrates include foods such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, peas, beans, and other legumes.

The standard tip is to 'make half of your grains whole.' 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 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 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.

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 percent of calories per day from added sugars.

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 is "ose" or you can also check for "added sugar" on the nutrition facts label.

Was this page helpful?
Article 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.
  1. Koliaki C, Spinos T, Spinou Μ, Brinia ΜE, Mitsopoulou D, Katsilambros N. Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults. Healthcare (Basel). 2018;6(3) doi:10.3390/healthcare6030073

  2. Kanter M. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance: Expert Panel Report. Nutr Today. 2018;53(1):35-39. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000238

  3. Ingels JS, Misra R, Stewart J, Lucke-wold B, Shawley-brzoska S. The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time. J Diabetes Res. 2017;2017:6951495. doi:10.1155/2017/6951495

  4. Pem D, Jeewon R. Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Benefits and Progress of Nutrition Education Interventions- Narrative Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2015;44(10):1309-21.

  5. Dinicolantonio JJ, Berger A. Added sugars drive nutrient and energy deficit in obesity: a new paradigm. Open Heart. 2016;3(2):e000469. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2016-000469

  6. Know Your Limit for Added Sugars. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated April 3, 2019

Additional Reading