There is a lot of debate about carbs, and how much, or little you should eat when trying to achieve body composition goals. If you’re tracking your macros this might have you confused about what happens if you go over your carb target.
Is it okay to go over carb macros? When you are tracking macros to influence changes in your body composition, it is okay to have occasional variances, like going over on your carbs. If you’re consistently maintaining your calorie targets, progression towards your goals won’t be significantly impacted.
With that said, overeating on carbs long term will limit nutrient intake you’d otherwise receive from other macro groups and can potentially have longer term impacts on your health, appetite, and body composition.
Ultimately though, nutrition is about finding balance and in terms of your carb intake, providing you’re within the appropriate range for your lifestyle and fitness goals, most of the time, you’re going to be fine.
In this article I’ll explain:
- How much carbs is too much carbs over your macros?
- What will happen to your body when you go over your carb macros?
- Should you be concerned if you go over your carb macros? and
- What to do if you go over your carb macros?
Learn more in my complete guide What Happens If I Don’t Hit My Macros.
How Much Carbs Over Your Macros Is Too Much?
Tracking macros provides an opportunity to monitor your food intake across the main nutrient groups your body needs, so if you’re frequently favouring one macro group, like carbs, over the other, you’re likely limiting your body’s access to other important nutrients.
If you find yourself doing this often, you could be eating too many carbs. However, there are a few practical considerations around carb intake to help guide you and identify if you’re consuming too much.
- For the everyday healthy adult, dietary guidelines suggest carb intake make up between 45-65% of your daily caloric intake.
- For those participating in a general fitness program carb intake is recommended at around 45-55% of your daily calories.
- For strength athletes carb intake should sit around 50% and for endurance athletes intake could be up around 65% of total calories.
It’s common for carbs to make up a significant portion of your diet, especially given this is the favoured fuel source of the body and brain. As well, if you’re exercising with resistance training, carbs will assist with energy restoration post workouts and encourage muscle growth.
However, where you frequently eat above the recommended targets, you’re compromising on other nutrients your body needs to support its functions holistically.
For most, carbs already account for the majority of your daily calorie needs, so eating in excess of recommended ranges will quickly put you at a disadvantage. Staying within the carb ranges suited to your level of activity will ensure:
- You are able to consume enough protein to support muscle repair and growth; and
- You are able to consume enough dietary fat to support good functioning of the body’s various systems.
If you’re concerned that you are overconsuming your carbs too often, look at the type of carbs that are making up your intake because it’s unlikely you’re overeating on vegetables and whole grains.
- Are they complex carbs like grains, vegetables and beans? or
- Are they simple carbs like refined sugars, soft drinks, baked treats and candy?
Studies have indicated carb intake rich in simple carbs could lead to increased hunger and potential overeating because these foods don’t keep you full for long and increase your cravings for food. Whereas complex carbs are usually higher in fiber, digest slower and have a better impact on your body’s functions.
If you’re interested in understanding what your carb intake looks like, you can try an app like MacroFactor. It is a great tool for anyone tracking their macros, providing insight into food nutrients and breakdown.
Check out our complete guide on How To Track Your Macros.
What Will Happen To Your Body When You Go Over Your Carb Macros?
Going over your carb target sporadically will have little impact on your overall progression towards performance and body composition goals. ‘
To influence changes in your body requires a consistent change in nutritional habits over time, so if you aren’t chronically over eating carbs on a regular basis, you won’t notice drastic changes in your body.
Having said that though, where your carb intake is consistently in excess of your carb macros you may experience some of the following effects:
- Sugar craving
- Mood imbalance
- Weight gain
For every one gram of carb you consume, you will retain 3 grams of fluid. So excessive consumption of carbs across the day can lead to increased water retention and bloating as a result.
If your carb intake is made up of carbonated drinks or high fiber foods, you may experience significant abdominal gas and associated discomfort.
Where you’re consuming a lot of simple carbs, which typically go hand in hand with high sugar content:
- You’re more likely to crave more sugary foods, possibly leading you overeat; and
- You won’t feel full for very long, leaving you hungry and reaching for more food.
Some studies have suggested that food high in sugar could aggravate acne. So if you’re frequently over on your carbs because of your sweet tooth, you may notice changes in your complexion.
Fatigue is one of the most noticeable short impacts of excessive simple carb intake, because it will provide you with a burst of energy, quickly followed by a crash. Balancing your carb choices with a mix of complex carbs higher in fibre and nutrients will help sustain your energy levels for longer and limit massive sugar highs and lows.
Studies have found that long term over consumption of sugary foods is connected to an increased risk of depression or might exacerbate mood disorder symptoms. In fact, mood disorders were two to three times more likely in those who had excessive consumption of high sugar over a five year period.
Where you are chronically overeating on your carb targets it may mean you are also overeating on your daily caloric needs. If this is occurring regularly, then it is likely to result in weight gain.
What’s the takeaway?
- When you are excessively eating over your carb macros, the main consideration here is around what carb choices you are making.
- It is more likely sugary, refined and processed carbs are causing you to go over your target, as well as having other effects.
- Should you be feeling any of these noted effects, while you don’t need to exclude simple carbs from your diet, try to incorporate more complex carbs and see if you notice an improvement.
Should You Be Concerned If You Go Over Your Carb Macros?
Don’t be concerned if you go over your carb macros. Be practical, not radical in your approach to nutrition.
Macro tracking is a wonderful tool to help provide structure to your nutrition when you are trying to influence changes in your body composition. As well as providing structure, it also gives you flexibility so you can adjust and pivot depending on what you have going on.
You want your nutrition to support your physical and mental health, and agonizing over rigid targets won’t set you up for success in the long term. Perfection isn’t reality but balance and consistency, most of the time, is.
So while other people are throwing in the towel because they had a day off program, you should be the person that regroups, and goes back to your usual habits and macro targets the next meal or the next day.
If you’re finding yourself worried about going over your carb macros, remember:
- In the scheme of things one day here or there isn’t going to matter
- Nutrition is both art and science, there are no definitive targets
- Focus on trends over time, things tend to even out
Going over carbs for one day doesn’t matter
Your body adapts to changes over time. To build muscle, to lose fat, these goals are not achieved in one day. Similarly, they are not derailed in one day either.
Going over your carbs for one day won’t matter in the long run. What matters more is your ability to pick up where you left off the next day, and go back to eating in line with your goals and usual habits.
- In fact, we recommend eating more carbs on leg day to help fuel your workouts.
There are no definitive targets
As the name suggests, dietary guidelines are a guide. They provide you with recommended ranges for your macronutrient intake. It’s likely that even when you find yourself over on your target, you’re probably within an appropriate range.
Trends over time dictate progress
Looking at your carb intake from a week to week basis instead of as daily targets, shows if you’re trending towards your goals or not.
By looking at your average carb intake over the course of week, you’ll be able to make an informed assessment of whether your nutritional choices are aligned with your goals, for example, is your weight trending in the right direction. If so, you carry on and if not, you review and make adjustments.
Making changes daily would create inconsistency and irregularity, because you aren’t able to see how your body responds to nutrition changes over time.
In addition, looking at weekly averages will provide you with valuable perspective. If you have a day where you have overeaten your carbs, while it may seem excessive at the time, looking at your week in its entirety will show its impact to be quite small.
- Related Article: 15 Cheap Carbs for Bulking (That Are Still Good For You)
What To Do If You Go Over Your Carb Goal?
The best course of action when you go over your carb goal, is to revert back to your usual nutritional and carb targets the next day.
In the scheme of things fussing and stressing about going over your carb targets won’t set you up for success long term, because:
- Daily variances can happen, that is why dietary guidelines are ranges not hard and fast targets; and
- You’ll develop an unhealthy relationship with food, when it is there to support you in achieving your goals.
Focus on balance and consistency, most of the time. And when things go awry? It is just back to usual programming the next day.
Though, for those working towards a goal with a time constraint, there are a couple of questions which often pop around whether specific actions should be taken if you go over your carb goal.
- Whether you should reduce other daily macros targets; and
- Whether you should reduce your carb intake the following day.
Should You Reduce Your Other Daily Macros If You Go Over Your Carb Goal?
As a general rule, whatever energy your body doesn’t need, will be stored as fat. So where your goal is a reduction in fat or weight loss, then your daily caloric intake matters the most. You need to remain in a caloric deficit consistently to lose body fat.
So if you’re able to reduce other daily macro targets to stay within your overall daily caloric needs, then this is an option for you to utilize.
Conversely though, where you are bulking, there is less of a need for you to do this.
Should You Reduce Your Carb Intake The Next Day If You Go Over Your Daily Limit Today?
There is no need for you to reduce your carb intake the next day if you go over your daily carb macros.
The best approach remains reverting back to your usual carb and other macro targets the next day. Your macronutrient protocols are guides, not hard and fast rules. Instead of thinking that one day of effort will dictate your results, remember that it is actually your effort over time.
If you have one session in the gym that was a little lackluster compared to your other sessions, does that mean you’ll need to do the session again the next day but better? Of course not, you would just do whatever your usual session was and would put in your best effort. That repeated approach is what gets you stronger over time. The same is true of your nutrition.
For carb targets, or any macro target, long term success comes from balance, consistency and flexibility.
- Think in terms of your average intake over time. Your body takes time to respond to changes, so what you are doing most of the time will determine your result. Slight deviations in your diet here and there we’ll be negligible because if you’re consuming your carbs around your target most of the time, it will level out.
- Give yourself a tolerance range. When tracking your carbs and other macros, give yourself a 5 to 10g buffer of over or under your target. This range will keep you aligned to goals and promote continued progress over time while providing you with a degree of flexibility.
Other Macro Tracking Questions
- Is It Okay To Go Over Your Protein Macros?
- What Happens If You Go Over Your Fat Macros (Is This Bad?)
- I Burned More Calories Than I Ate & Still Gained Weight (Why)
- How To Count Calories Without Labels (4 Ways)
- Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories? (What’s Best)
- Do Macros Matter for Weight Loss? (Yes, Here’s Why)
- How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed (5 Tips)
The Bottom Line
Consistent imperfection rather than consistent perfection is more likely to drive progression towards your goals.
Balance is key. Be mindful of the type of carbs you are consuming, because you’re more likely to stay within appropriate ranges if your carb choices include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans because these will help keep you full and moderate your cravings.
If you are having trouble finding the right balance, reach out to us at FeastGood and we’ll be able to help you.
About The Author
Steph Catalucci | Nutrition Coach
@macronutritionau | macro-nutrition.com.au
Steph Catalucci is an online nutrition coach from Australia, working with clients all over the world. Her passion for nutrition was born through wanting to treat her body better, for health and performance. She is a strong advocate for understanding nutrition to develop informed nutritional habits that go beyond just food. Steph leverages a decade of her own nutritional experience to help people make sense of the noise and carve a path forward with their nutrition, supporting clients with whatever body composition goal they have. When not coaching or writing, you’ll find her training for her next powerlifting competition.