How many carbs should I eat a day for Atkins?

The Atkins diet is a popular low-carb eating plan that helps people lose weight while still enjoying delicious foods. This diet works by restricting carbohydrates and encouraging high-protein foods and healthy fats. Determining the right amount of daily carbs to eat on Atkins is key to achieving your weight loss goals.

When starting the Atkins diet, it’s important to understand the different phases and how the number of net carbs you can eat changes over time. The four phases of Atkins are:

  • Induction
  • Balancing
  • Fine-Tuning
  • Maintenance

During the induction phase, carb intake is restricted to less than 20 net grams per day. The balancing phase slowly increases net carbs to 25-50 grams per day. In the fine-tuning phase, you determine your ideal carb intake for maintaining weight loss. The maintenance phase is meant to keep your new healthy eating pattern lifelong.

What are Net Carbs?

On Atkins, you count net carbs rather than total carbs. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber grams from total carb grams. Fiber does not significantly impact blood sugar levels, so it does not need to be restricted on low-carb diets like Atkins.

For example, if a food has 15 grams of total carbs and 5 grams of fiber, the net carb count would be 10 grams (15 – 5 = 10). It’s important to pay attention to net carbs rather than total carbs when tracking your daily intake.

Atkins Induction Phase Guidelines

The Atkins induction phase, also called Atkins 20, is the most restrictive phase of the diet. This phase aims to quickly get your body into ketosis, which is a metabolic state where you burn fat for fuel instead of carbs. During induction, net carbs are limited to less than 20 grams per day.

Here are some tips for staying under 20 net carbs daily during the induction phase:

  • Eliminate sugar, grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, and most fruits from your diet.
  • Focus your meals around protein sources like meat, fish, eggs, and cheese.
  • Eat plenty of low-carb vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus.
  • Use olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds for healthy fats.
  • Limit dairy products to 4-6 ounces of heavy cream and hard cheeses per day.
  • Avoid packaged and processed foods that may contain hidden sugars or starches.
  • Be careful with condiments, sauces, and dressings, as they often contain sugar.

Even after induction, you should continue minimizing sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables. But you can gradually increase your carb intake and add in more nuts, seeds, dairy, and fruit.

Atkins Balancing Phase Guidelines

The Atkins balancing phase starts once you are steadily losing weight and feeling comfortable sticking to under 20 net carbs daily. This phase slowly increases your carb intake to between 25-50 net grams per day.

Here are some tips for the balancing phase:

  • Continue to weigh and track your food intake and carb counts.
  • Increase net carbs by 5 grams per week by slowly adding back healthy carbs.
  • Good carb sources to add are nuts, seeds, more dairy, and berries.
  • Once carb intake reaches 50 net grams without weight gain, you’ve found your balance.
  • If you gain weight, cut back 5-10 grams of carbs until weight loss resumes.
  • Balance carb intake between days. For example, eat 30 grams on some days and 50 grams on more active days.

Listen to your body during the balancing phase. Increase carbs slowly enough to maintain ketosis and continue shedding pounds.

Atkins Fine-Tuning Phase

After successfully moving through balancing, you are ready for the fine-tuning phase. This phase is meant to establish your ideal daily carb intake for maintaining your weight loss long-term.

Follow these tips for finding your carb sweet spot:

  • Continue weighing food and tracking carb intake.
  • Experiment to find your personal carb tolerance level for weight maintenance.
  • Try increasing daily carbs by 10 net grams each week until weight loss stalls.
  • Once you reach the point where you are no longer losing, decrease carbs by 5-10 grams.
  • Aim to find the highest carb intake you can eat without regaining weight.
  • Accept slower weight loss at this stage to preserve metabolism.

Be patient and strategic in your fine-tuning phase to determine your ideal daily carb target. This number can range widely based on your individual needs. Many people find they can eat 50-90 net grams of carbs per day in maintenance.

Atkins Maintenance Phase Carb Counting

The maintenance phase of Atkins focuses on sustaining your new dietary pattern and weight. During this phase, continue eating the number of net carbs daily that you found keeps your weight stable.

Here are some tips for successful maintenance:

  • Weigh yourself weekly and adjust carbs if needed to maintain weight.
  • Continue counting net carbs to reinforce good habits.
  • Further customize your diet to suit your preferences.
  • Include exercise you enjoy to support your goals.
  • If you regain weight, cut back on carbs again.
  • Consider doing an induction reset if you get too far off track.

The key is to be consistent tracking and adjusting your carb intake throughout maintenance. Lifelong healthy eating habits lead to lasting success on Atkins.

Ideal Net Carbs by Phase

Phase Net Carbs Per Day
Induction Less than 20 grams
Balancing 25-50 grams
Fine-Tuning Find personal carb tolerance
Maintenance Carb count that sustains weight loss

As shown in the table, net carb intake varies throughout the different phases of Atkins. Induction starts very low at under 20 grams. Balancing gradually increases to 25-50 grams. Fine-tuning helps determine your personal carb sweet spot for weight maintenance, which may range from 50-90 grams or more.

Sample Low-Carb Day on Atkins

Here is an example of what a day may look like when restricting carbs to 50 net grams on Atkins:


  • 2 eggs fried in olive oil
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 cup coffee with 2 tbsp heavy cream

Net Carbs: 6g


  • Chicken salad made with 2 cups chopped chicken, 1/4 cup olive oil mayo, lettuce, 1 oz cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper
  • 1 small apple
  • Water to drink

Net Carbs: 16g


  • 6oz salmon, grilled
  • Buttery cauliflower mash made with 1 head cauliflower and 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup sautéed spinach
  • Water with lemon

Net Carbs: 13g


  • 1/4 cup mixed nuts
  • 1 stick mozzarella string cheese

Net Carbs: 8g

Daily Totals:

  • Calories: 1,650
  • Net Carbs: 50g
  • Protein: 100g
  • Fat: 115g

As you can see, this sample menu provides a healthy mix of proteins, natural fats, and non-starchy vegetables along with selected fruits, nuts, dairy and condiments to keep net carbs around 50 grams for the day. This approach allows for satisfying low-carb meals while still promoting weight loss.

Foods to Eat on a Low-Carb Atkins Day

These are excellent low-carb foods to enjoy daily on Atkins:

  • Proteins: Eggs, poultry, red meat, pork, fish, shellfish, cheese
  • Fats: Oils like olive oil and avocado oil, butter, nuts, seeds, avocado
  • Non-Starchy Vegetables: Leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, etc.
  • Selected Fruits: Berries are lowest in carbs
  • Dairy: Heavy cream, hard cheeses, plain Greek yogurt
  • Nuts and Seeds: In moderation for phases beyond induction
  • Beverages: Water, unsweetened coffee and tea, low-carb sports drinks

Focusing your meals around these delicious whole food options will help you stay under your targeted daily net carb limit on Atkins.

Foods to Avoid on Low-Carb Atkins Days

These foods should be minimized or avoided altogether when limiting carbs on Atkins:

  • Grains: Bread, pasta, rice, cereals, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, corn, peas
  • Beans and legumes
  • Sugar-laden foods: Soda, candy, desserts, etc.
  • Processed snack foods
  • Most high-sugar fruits: Bananas, apples, grapes, mango, etc.
  • Packaged foods with hidden sugars

Cutting out these high-carb foods will help slash your daily net carb totals into the recommended range for Atkins. Be sure to also check labels on packaged foods like condiments, sauces and dressings for hidden sugars.

Typical Mistakes When Counting Net Carbs

It’s easy to make mistakes when tracking net carbs on Atkins. Here are some of the most common errors:

  • Not reading labels and counting total carbs rather than net carbs
  • Forgetting to subtract fiber when calculating net carbs
  • Not measuring portion sizes accurately
  • Counting servings eaten rather than grams of carbs
  • Not counting carbs from beverages, condiments, cooking oils and garnishes
  • Estimating numbers rather than measuring and tracking diligently
  • Not tracking carb counts from restaurant meals

Be vigilant in measuring and tracking the grams of net carbs from everything you eat and drink each day. Even small hidden sources can add up quickly. Use an app like MyFitnessPal or CarbManager to help with accuracy.

Tips for Counting Net Carbs Correctly

Follow these tips for accurately tracking your net carbs on Atkins:

  • Read nutrition labels carefully and look at the carb and fiber grams specifically.
  • Weigh foods on a kitchen scale rather than estimating servings.
  • Use measuring cups and spoons for foods like nuts, oils, dressings etc.
  • Log each food item as you eat it into your carb counting app.
  • Scan barcodes on packaged foods for automatic nutrition info.
  • Look up restaurant nutrition info online if eating out.
  • Meal prep and plan ahead to simplify tracking.
  • Account for marinades, dips, cream in coffee, etc.

Accurately calculating net carbs takes diligence but it’s essential for staying in ketosis and losing weight on Atkins. Make carb counting a daily habit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some high protein, low carb snacks I can eat on Atkins?

Some great high protein, low-carb snack ideas include:

  • Cheese slices or cheese crisps
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts or pecans
  • Seeds like pumpkin or sunflower
  • Celery sticks with nut butter
  • Cottage cheese with avocado
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Turkey roll-ups with cheese
  • Chia seed pudding made with coconut milk
  • Tuna salad wrapped in lettuce
  • Cucumber slices with goat cheese

Can I have alcohol on the Atkins diet?

Alcohol is not off-limits on Atkins but should be consumed in moderation. Dry red and white wines are lowest in carbs at about 3-4 grams per glass. Light beers and liquors mixed with zero carb mixers like soda water are also good options. Avoid beer, sweet wines, and sugary mixed drinks. Keep alcohol intake occasional, stick to 1-2 servings max, and account for the carbs in your daily totals.

What artificial sweeteners can I use on Atkins?

Good sugar-free sweetener options for Atkins include:

  • Stevia
  • Erythritol
  • Monk fruit
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low)

Avoid maltitol and polyols like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol as they may still impact blood sugar. Check product labels as some processed foods with artificial sweeteners can contain hidden carbs.

Can I have fruit on Atkins induction?

Fruit is very limited during Atkins induction when net carbs are kept below 20g daily. Berries are the best low-carb fruit option. You can have small portions of raspberries, blackberries or strawberries, around 1/2 cup max per day. Avoid all other fruits until later phases when you increase carb intake.

Is exercise allowed on Atkins?

Yes, exercise is encouraged while following Atkins. Any activity you enjoy like walking, swimming, weights, yoga or cycling can help accelerate weight loss and improve health. Just listen to your body, stay hydrated and replace electrolytes lost through sweat. Light activity is recommended during the induction phase while adapting to low carbs.


Determining optimal carb intake is essential for success on the Atkins diet. During induction, net carbs are limited to 20 grams per day. The balancing phase increases carbs to 25-50 grams as you find your tolerance. Fine-tuning uncovers the amount of carbs you can eat while maintaining your weight loss. This number tends to fall between 50-90 net grams but varies individually.

Accurately counting net carbs by reading labels, weighing food, measuring servings and logging each meal keeps intake within your targeted range. This laser focus helps promote ketosis and fat burning while reducing blood sugar spikes. Mastering carb counting leads to satisfying low-carb meals and sustainable weight management on Atkins.

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