Carbs vs Net Carbs: What's The Difference?

Carbs vs Net Carbs: What's The Difference?

Sometimes it might feel like fitness and nutrition talk is like a foreign language...with a sciency-twist. You might be thinking, “What the heck are net carbs, and how do they compare to carbs?”

Or maybe you haven’t even heard of the term “net carbs”?

Wonder what they are?

Don’t worry! We’ll break it all down for you.

But first, let’s quickly cover some important facts about carbs in general so you can get a better understanding of net carbs.

The Importance of Carbs: Simple vs. Complex

Carbohydrates are considered to be the main energy source for your muscles, organs, and brain.

Carbs can further be described as “simple”–think of foods like white bread, cakes, and cookies. These simple carbohydrates can be broken down quickly into glucose for energy; however, the energy from simple carbohydrates isn’t a sustained boost!

Carbs can also be described as “complex”–think of foods like veggies, whole fruits, and whole grains. These complex carbohydrates take longer to break down into glucose and provide a more sustained boost of energy. In fact, complex carbs are a more stable source of energy!

But it doesn’t stop there. Now we’ll get into some net carb action.

What are Net Carbs (aka “Active” or “Impact” or “Digestible”)?

Now that we’ve described simple and complex carbs, to understand the concept of net carbs, we need to also explain the idea behind “effective carbs (or impact carbs)” and “non-impact carbs.”

Impact (Effective) Carbohydrates Explained

Impact carbs (also known as “effective” carbs) directly influence blood sugar levels. Your body breaks down these carbs into glucose, which the body then transports in the bloodstream and uses as fuel. When there is an excess of carbs, your body then stores them as glycogen in the muscles and liver cells for future fuel use.

When you’re trying to lose weight, you want to control blood sugar levels and prevent energy dips.

Non-Impact Carbohydrates Explained

Non-impact carbs is a popular term used to describe low glycemic index carbohydrates, meaning, in theory, they have less of an impact on sugar levels and energy than impact carbs.

Non-impact carbs are:

  1. Fiber: Made up of glucose but passes through the body without being digested.
  2. Sugar Alcohols: Not made up of glucose, therefore, they don’t directly affect blood glucose levels and are only partially digested.

Although fiber is a carbohydrate, your body doesn’t digest it the same way. Your body doesn't break it down into sugar molecules to be used as energy or stored as glycogen. Instead, fiber simply moves through the body, helping regulate blood sugar levels and hunger.

Sugar alcohols are also considered non-impact carbs due to the way your body digests them and because they are not made up of glucose molecules.

Plainly said, non-impact carbs are a low carb lover’s best friend! There’s little to no insulin spike, no energy crash, and the body stores less excess glucose as fat.

Now that we understand that part, we can tell you what the heck net carbs are!

Net Carbs Explained

The idea behind net carbs is to distinguish between the “impact” and “non-impact” carbs so you can see which carbohydrates will be utilized as energy and impact your blood sugar levels and which ones won’t!

Net carbs are the effective carbs absorbed by your body, and you can figure out net carbs by subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carb count.

Let’s run through htis below!

How to Calculate Net Carbs

Knowing the difference between impact carbs and non-impact carbs will help you when calculating net carbs.

To reiterate: Non-impact carbs are fiber and sugar alcohols, and impact carbs are pretty much everything else.

To calculate net carbs, you will need to know three(ish) things:

  1. Amount of Carbohydrates
  2. Amount of Fiber
  3. Amount of Sugar Alcohol:
    • Erythritol
    • Isomalt
    • Maltitol
    • Sorbitol
    • Xylitol

You can find each of these on the nutrition label. Once you know these numbers, you just pop them into this equation:

Total Carbs - Dietary Fiber - Sugar Alcohols = NET CARBS

So let’s run through a quick scenario:

If your nutrition label says it has 11g of total carbs, 5g of dietary fiber, and 2g of sugar alcohol, what would your net carbs equal? If you said 4 net carbs, you are correct! Easy enough, right?

Why Would You Want to Count Net Carbs?

Getting into the habit of paying attention to what type of carbohydrates you are consuming—simple and complex, impact and non-impact–can be a game changer for your results.

You’ll know which carbohydrates will have a greater impact on your blood sugar and energy levels.

You’ll also start to pay more attention to fiber as a result!

Fiber can help:

  • Feed “good” gut bacteria
  • Assist in weight loss
  • Reduce blood sugar spikes
  • Reduce constipation

In other words, fiber intake is extremely important for overall health.

Knowing how to calculate net carbs is just another way to empower you to track and take control of your health!

Carb Cycling & Why We Love It

We wouldn’t be talking about carbs this much if they weren’t SO important to us. Carb cycling is the foundation of all of Chris and Heidi’s nutrition programs.

Carb cycling is the practice of alternating high carb/low fat days with low carb/high fat days, and most plans include a reward meal or a reward day.

Here’s a basic rundown:

  • Eat five meals.
  • Try to eat breakfast within 60 minutes of waking up.
  • You'll be eating every 3 hours.
  • Choose approved foods (based on your high or low carb day).
  • Drink ½ your body weight in ounces of water.
  • Enjoy all the (non-starchy/non-root) veggies you want!

The point of alternating high and low carb days is to stock up your calorie-burning furnace on high carb days so that your furnace burns lots of fat on low carb days.

If you want to lose weight, your body needs protein (build and maintain muscles), carbs (preferred fuel source for your muscles and organs), and healthy fats (unsaturated) fats (to help with energy levels and other bodily functions). Macros, baby!

Carb cycling is a proven process that can help you shed weight and build lean muscle, all while eating the foods you love and empowering you!

Are All Carbs the Same?

We think it’s safe to say that carbs are kind of complex–pun intended! When you start tracking what you’re eating, it becomes clear what tastes the best and what IS the best for your body.

Knowing the difference between the types of carbs you are eating can help prevent confusion when you’re reading the nutrition label on your food products.

So, remember if you are exercising hard and looking for more fuel, don’t forget about your favorite carbs!

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