What is Carb Cycling? – Making the Most of This Weight Loss Diet

Reviewed by: | Author: Manoja Kalakanti

You have heard about high-carb diets and you have heard about low-carb diets, but have you heard about the carb cycling diet? You must be wondering why everything seems to be about the carbs. That’s because carbs are an essential part of your diet and it makes no sense to leave them out from your diet. Of course, you have to add the right ones to your diet and also have them at the right time. Okay, so how do you eat carbs and not put on weight? Well, carb cycling is really popular among athletes and body-builders. They eat their carbs according to their activity levels. I know this piqued your interest, so let’s find out what carb cycling is and how it works.

carb cycling weight loss diet

What is Carb Cycling? Does Carb Cycling Work?

There isn’t a strict regimented eating plan involved in carb-cycling. Simply put, you combine low-carb days and high-carb days together. When you go seriously low-carb, then you up your good-fats intake and when you go high-carb you lower the fat amount. Protein intake is usually the same for both.

Fitness enthusiasts swear by this formula; on days when you do strength training, you up your carb intake (make it around 200 grams) and switch to a lower fat diet, while protein intake is moderate. When you go heavy on cardio, you lower your carb intake (make it around 100 grams). On days you are resting, minimize your carb intake. I used to do exactly the opposite, I used to have my rest days in the weekends, so you can imagine, non-gymming days combined with binging played havoc with my weight.

Another option for you to try is keeping both protein intake and fat intake consistent throughout and just toy with the carb portions.

Carb Cycling Benefits – Does Carb Cycling Work for Weight Loss

So, let’s get down to the bottom of this eating feature, does carb cycling work for weight loss? There are fitness proponents who claim that this eating pattern does a whole lot of good for your body; namely, it increases muscle mass, helps lessen body fat and gives a great fillip to fitness performance. This is still a new diet on the horizon and not much is known about it.

Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

But, how practical is slashing carbs forever? Is it sustainable at all? Low-carb has its benefits but the only problem is its sustainability factor. Low-carb diet have several side effects such as constipation, bad breath, headaches, light-headedness, and certain fixations. Like when I am on a low-carb diet I have these strong impulses to lift my phone and order something really unhealthy; a cake, a burger, anything. But then I curb my carb-pangs with a black coffee or a fruit. And on the other days, I give in to my cravings and eat something bad, read junk. So, is there a better alternative to a low-carb diet? Enter carb-cycling!

Carb Cycling Diet Plan

A Carb Cycling Diet Plan – Is it Sustainable?

The basic philosophy is limiting the carb intake when your body does not need it. Carbs act as gasoline to your car and provide your body with the energy it needs. So, when you are not working out a lot or aren’t too active, you do not have to overload your body with lots of carbs. When you are not using your carbs for fuel, your body creates a surplus, this leads to weight gain. When traveling, you do not need much fuel when you are moving across town but if you are traveling for long distances, you do need extra fuel. Carbs, when not burned for fuel, create a surplus.

There are people who are on the keto diet or low carb diet, and have less than 30 grams carbs per day. Forget grains, that’s the kind of carbs you get from fruits and veggies. So, it is impossible to sustain this kind of eating for a longer period of time. So, the best way to eat the right carbs is to pair it with the days you are less active.

The best way to eat is to include large portions of whole foods to support your active hours and include more foods when you are more active. Space your carb-eating schedule before your workout sessions. So, oatmeal with a banana before workouts sound like a good idea. But this same breakfast isn’t too great when you are planning to just sit it out at the office and not workout. The best breakfast in such a case will be a veggie omelet; pile on the veggies on the side or an avocado if you can get one. This is a perfect AM meal to sustain you for longer periods of time.

Carb cycling is great for weight loss and helps improve your fitness as well as release sustainable energy throughout. This also improves your fitness and provides you with nutrients for a greater amount of time. So, if you are an athlete and plan to train for the majority of the day, you should load on good carbs. On the other hand, if you have to sit it out for the major part of the day and only manage to squeeze a 20-30-minute workout, it is best to go for less carbs. Carb matching should also be customized according to your age, height, ideal weight, sex, and occupation.

If you have never tried carb cycling before, it is a good strategy to start with; you moderate your carb intake and have it according to your energy requirement. Now for the benefits, when we are looking at the number 1 benefit of carb cycling, it is certainly weight loss. Some of the other benefits are as follows:

Benefits of Carb Cycling – 4 Main Reasons to Start on the Diet

We know exactly why we endorse carb-cycling, the whole concept sounds very practical and doable, you don’t have to punish yourself and deprive yourself by avoiding carbs. Just go about eating carbs, the smart way.

Weight Loss

  1. Weight Loss

This is a calorie restrictive diet and hence will definitely help lose weight. A 2013 study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition paved the way for some promising results. When 33 overweight women went on a carb-cycling-diet for as long as 3 months, they lost more pounds than the other 27 women who simply tried the calorie-restricting diet. Both these groups had the same number of weekly calories, but their method of meeting the calorie requirement was different. The carb-cycling group in particular simply slashed their calories 2 days a week and went back to eating their regular fare for the rest of the days, while the other group just cut down on their calories on a daily basis, say 25%. Well, to each his own, if you think you can maintain this for a longer period of time, then good for you, but it may not be everybody’s piece of cake.

 Strong Muscles

  1. Refeeding Strong Muscles

Body-builders or people trying to go on a muscle-growing gain-mode cannot do without their high-carb days as they have to reefed or refuel muscle glycogen. This boosts performance and stops the muscle breakdown.

Fat Burning

  1. Improved Fat Burning

There is no doubt that low-carb days helps switch the body over to a fat-burning state. This helps boost the metabolism and improves your body’s prowess to use fat as a fuel in the longer term.

 Blood Sugar

  1. Better Blood Sugar Response

If your insulin sensitivity is acting up, then carb cycling may help you as it impacts your insulin sensitivity in a big way. So, try and have your carbs around your workouts. This way you can reap the benefits of carb cycling.

Cons of Carb Cycling

Like all good things, the carb cycling diet plan has its fair share of problems. Is it fit for you? Or is it reserved for endurance athletes only? The problem arises when you can’t decide how much carbohydrates to consume on high-carb days, low-carb days and moderate-carb days. It is not easy to track your carb, protein and fat intake every single time. So, on some days, you have 2½ to 5 servings of carbs, while on other days, read high-carb days you can have 10 to 20 servings. It takes a huge amount of time; and frankly who wants to think about counting your carbs, fats, and proteins all day? On, the other hand, if you aren’t able to track it properly, you fall off track.

low-carb foods

And there is a whole new relationship between you and the food. There will be a constant craving gnawing at you making it harder for you to stop binging. On low-carb days you will be craving for foods, and on high-carb days you won’t know where to stop. Also, when it comes to fitness and diet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, every individual is different and every individual’s appetite is different. But this type of eating plan does not consider that. On days you have a large appetite and you eat little, this plan does not work.

Lastly, your poor digestive system sometimes bears the brunt. Variation is a good thing, but not when you do it too often, especially when it comes to your diet.

But having said that, it has its pros and this is a diet that also takes care of your hormones. High-carb refeeds sometimes have a good impact on hormones during a diet, that includes your testosterone, thyroid hormones, and leptin. And as we know, hormones have a big role to play in hunger and metabolism, apart from exercise performance.

So, is carb-cycling a viable option for you? What are the best carb sources available for you? We all know when we get the green signal to eat as much as we can on high-carb days, we simply do not know where to stop. And there are those foods, which are an absolute no-no. When you are refeeding, eat the ones which are good for your health. Take a look at the list here.

Healthy Carbohydrate Food Sources

Healthy Carbohydrate Food Sources

Whenever we think of carbohydrates, we think of starchy foods such as potatoes and grains. But fruits and veggies contain carbohydrates too and might we add, the good kinds. It makes sense to add those foods that are packed with nutrients and a whole lot of fiber. Don’t make your high-carb days an excuse to binge on junk food. Choose the right carbohydrate sources on your ‘feeding days.’

  1. Whole Grains: Whole grains are very healthy and have innumerable health benefits. Chief sources of the same are brown rice, oats, millets.
  2. Vegetables: Vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals, the trick to get the best out of them is making a rainbow platter out of them, the more the merrier.
  3. Fruits: Fruits have a rich nutritional profile. Choose fruits such as berries which have a high number of anti-oxidants and do not burden your overall glycemic load.
  4. Legumes: These slow digesting carbohydrates are fiber and mineral-rich. Prepare them the right way to get the best of the nutrients.
  5. Tubers: Potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, are the perfect food options for your high-carb days.

Carb – Cycling Protocols to Choose From

There are many different carb cycling protocols, so you can alternate between at least two of three types of days:

High-carb days

On all the High-carb days you can typically go for 2 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. These are usually fit for your highest calorie days.

Low-carb days

On all the low-carb days go for about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. The low-carb days are your second-highest calorie days.

No-carb days

On all the no-carb days go for less than 30 grams of carbohydrate. These are your lowest calorie days. Here, you have meals that are high fat, moderate protein and very low on carbs.

Carb cycling rather than being a diet is more like a tool to optimize your diet, physical performance and health. There is no direct research or investigations on this diet, so long-term effects of the diet are still not known.

Instead of going for the two extremes of the eating radar, high-carb diets or extreme low-carb diets, it makes sense to settle for something that does not jeopardize your physiological or psychological health in the long run. Also, whenever you are following a particular diet, carb cycling diet, in this case, make sure you have adequate amounts of protein and maintain a calorie deficit. Experiment with carb sources and settle for the one which fits into your dietary scheme of things.

Eliminating carbs completely can have a plethora of negative effects on your body and health, such as a drop in metabolic rate, drop in the performance levels, experiencing concentration lapses, so carb cycling is the easier way out. Carb cycling works best when you are used to a certain diet and you want to shock your system. Also when you reach a weight-loss plateau, carb cycling helps to take a break from the regular eating pattern. So, eat carbs and still lose body fat! Carb cycling helps you reach your weight loss goals and is a fast and effective dietary plan.

Disclaimer: Before starting any diet plan, consult a nutritionist to customize the right diet plan for you, according to your health requirements.

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