Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How many carbs will break ketosis?

Ketogenic macro nutrient graph and ketogenic foods
Your lifestyle and your body will determine the answer.

How many carbs will break ketosis?

20 grams to 50 grams of net carbs will break ketosis. You will break ketosis if you consume over 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, depending on various factors. The exact number depends on your activity level, everything else that you eat and your body's physical make up.


You have certainly heard about the ketogenic diet by now. Most of you have probably read a few of my other articles (and hopefully one or two of my eBooks) about it.

Keto in a nutshell

The entire diet is based around lowering your carbohydrate intake to the point where your body begins to look for alternative sources of energy. This allows you to effectively burn fat and increase your energy (because fat is a much more stable from of energy).

How many carbs is too many?

You may be asking, “How many carbs is too many”? In an effort to help clear the waters I will do my best to give you some general rules of thumb when it comes to carbohydrate intake on the ketogenic diet.

Woman that is worried about how many carbs she could eat on a keto diet
Let's make it simple so you don't have to stress about it.

The difference between total carbs and net carbs

Total carbs refer to all of the carbohydrates in a specific food. Net carbs are the carbohydrates that your body can actually absorb. Subtract fiber from total carbs to get the net carb value. Net carbs = Total carbs - Fiber.

The importance of net carbs and total carbs on a keto diet

Before we even begin to discuss the topic of carbohydrate intake, it is very important that you have a good understanding of how we generally count carbs on the ketogenic diet. The difference between the two will give you greater control over the amounts of food that you can eat.

Surly we’ve all found ourselves standing in the grocery store looking at the nutritional facts on the back of the box.

What are nutritional facts on labels?

This is the area where the manufacturer discloses nutritional information about the product such as calories per serving, protein amount and fat percentages and, of course, carbohydrate amounts per serving.

A nutrition facts label per serving
Image by the FDA

Where to find net carbs and total carbs on a food label

If you look closely, most product labels will list total carbs. The specific carbohydrate sources will be listed underneath total carbs (dietary fiber, total sugar and added sugar). Subtract fiber from total carbs to get net carbs. In the above label, there are 39 grams of net carbs (46 grams of total carbs minus 7 grams of fiber).

Why are net carbs important on keto?

People who practice a low carbohydrate diet like keto are only concerned with net carbs instead of total carbs. Net carbs are the carbohydrates that your body can absorb. To calculate your net carbs, simply subtract out your dietary fibers from the total carbs. This will give you your net carbs.

Should you work on net carbs or total carbs on keto?

There is some debate within the keto community about whether you should count net carbs or total carbs. I have personally found that I am just fine counting net carbs exclusively.

When I talk about carbs in this article, I will be referring to net carbs specifically.

Two ladies touch their hands while they exercise
Learn how to find your carbohydrate limit.

Everybody is different when it comes to carbohydrate metabolism

The question about how many carbs is too many for a specific individual can be a very hard question to answer. This is simply because everyone’s answer will be totally different. Here is a good example:

What works for me does not work for my wife. Our metabolic rates are very different. I carry more lean muscle than my wife. Thus, my body naturally burns more energy at rest than her.

This is even truer during an intense workout. My body has more lean muscle mass to fuel my workouts than hers does. It therefore requires significantly more energy to keep me going during intense activity.

I have found I can personally get away with an average of about 50 grams of carbohydrates per day without affecting my fat adapted state. My wife, on the other hand, would be completely kicked out of ketosis at anything over 20 grams. It all depends on your body and how it reacts to the carbs.

A man and a woman use ropes to exercise
Activity level determines carbohydrate metabolism.

The role of exercise in carbohydrate metabolism during ketosis

Physical activity is as important as individual metabolism when it comes to your individual carbohydrate limit.

If you spend a few hours every day on a mountain bike or on a running trail, you will ultimately be able to get away with more wiggle room in the carbohydrate department than someone who works at a desk all day with little to no physical activity.

Carbohydrates are a fast burning from of energy. If your body is in need of that immediate energy, carbs will be used up and burnt off almost immediately.

The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD)

In my article, Keto for Bodybuilding and Muscle Growth, I begin do discuss the 'Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)'. Top athletes who want to practice a low-carb lifestyle commonly use TKD.

What is the targeted ketogenic diet (or TKD)?

This is an adaptation of the traditional keto diet. It allows for you to 'back-load' carbs with your workouts. During times of intense physical activity, your body will immediately use these carbs rather than hold on to them. You drop out ketosis when carbs are not burnt up.

Physical activity affects your carbohydrate limits on keto

Your allowable, daily carbs will range significantly - depending on your lifestyle. A typical daily carbohydrate level for someone getting little to no exercise throughout the day would be around 20 grams. That could go up to as much as 50 grams for someone who lives an extremely active life.

I would suggest that no matter how active you are, don't go over 50 grams as a general rule. But, again, remember that everyone’s body is different. It is only through a little trial and error that you find exactly where you fall on the spectrum.

Woman that stands strong after an intense exercise session
Physical activity will determine your carb limit.


To really sum things up regarding the question about how many carbs you can have per day, the answer is: It all depends.

You are truly the only one that can answer that question. There are simply too many variables in play to allow me to give you a blanket answer. The generally accepted numbers are roughly 20 grams per day for the average person and up to 50 grams per day for top athletes.

This will give you a good target to shoot for when you initially start out on your low carb journey. Note that this is just a guideline and not gospel. These numbers will more than likely change as you gain experience and, most importantly, learn to listen to your body.

Once you learn to speak your body's language, you'll find that it will tell you exactly what it wants and what it needs. It will become much easier to focus in on your body’s optimal nutritional needs with practice.

If you enjoyed this article please leave me a comment or question below and let me know what you think! I love hearing from you and connecting with you. You guys are the reason that I’m here.

Keto Strong – A Beginners Guide to High Performance Keto

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Check out my eBook!

If you are interested in learning more about keto as an athlete, pick up my brand new book Keto Strong – A Beginners Guide to High Performance Keto. Let me help you to get a jump start on your keto journey!

J.P. Wells

J.P. Wells has spent the last 13 years of his life learning about, and pursuing, a healthy and active lifestyle. After sustaining a life-changing injury during his time serving in the United States Military, he dedicated his time to learning and researching ways to heal and re-build his body to get back to the active lifestyle that he grew up loving.

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JP Wells

On his blog J.P. Wells Fitness, J.P. Wells shares the knowledge and passions that he has come to learn from the fitness industry and fitness culture. He understands that health and fitness is not just a one-time choice. It is a lifestyle. Success with your goals is not made up of large, single decisions. They are determined by a series of small choices that are made well throughout every day.

Check him out on Facebook and Twitter.

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