It’s important to eat all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) in the appropriate amount.
And that might be why carb cycling is a favorite for people who want to lose weight and/or build muscle. With carb cycling, you can change your body without missing out on your favorite food group. Does that seem too good to be true? Here’s how carb cycling works.
What is carb cycling?
Carb cycling is a dietary method where you vary your carb intake on a daily or weekly schedule.
For people who carb cycle on a daily basis, they eat a high amount of carbs on certain days and cut back on carbs on the other days.
On high-carb days, people need to limit their fat intake. But on lower carb days, they can enjoy higher amounts of fat. The amount of protein you consume should stay consistent for both high- and low-carb days.
Why do people cycle their carbs like this? For one thing, it can help them lose weight and build muscle mass.
But another reason why people take up carb cycling is that it’s a more sustainable lifestyle than restrictive diets. After all, it’s hard to cut out one entire macronutrient – especially carbohydrates – over a long period of time.
But with carb cycling, you don’t have to. It’s not so much about cutting out one food group. Instead, it’s about adjusting what you already eat.
How does carb cycling work?
So, what’s the science of carb cycling? And why carbs?
Carbohydrates are a top source of fuel. Your body breaks carbs down into glucose and this is a primary source of energy for your body, even for its most basic physiological functions.
But if we eat too many carbohydrates, we can consume more energy than we expend, and this leads to weight gain.
With carb cycling, you’re able to achieve a happy medium, where you give your body the energy it needs, without giving it more than it knows what to do with.
Do you ever cut out carbs completely?
There are many different types of carb cycling diets, and the right one for you will depend on your goals.
If you want to lose weight, there are specific carb cycling schedules to follow. If you want to build muscle and boost physical performance, you’ll want to a different carb cycling approach.
But in general, you get to eat carbs every day, just in varying amounts and from different sources.
An example of a weekly carb cycle diet is when you have three high-carb days, two medium-carb days and two low-carb days. But again, this will vary depending on the individual, their body weight, activity level, and their fitness goals.
Best carbohydrates to eat when carb cycling
Not all carbohydrates are the same, and some are better for you than others. With carb cycling, it’s important to eat whole food sources of carbs on both your high-and low-carb days.
So, the number of carbs you eat will vary, and the quality should also be top notch.
Here are the best carbohydrates to fuel you and your body by carb cycling:
- Vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, squash, and beets. These are high in glucose, but they’re also complex carbohydrates. Therefore, the sugars will release slowly in your body, preventing blood sugar spikes.
- Vegetables, in general, are a good source of carbohydrates, even if some of them aren’t high in carbohydrates. So, for low- and medium-carb days, you can enjoy cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower and leafy greens to your heart’s content.
- Whole grains – not processed grains – provide a good source of complex carbohydrates. This means they provide your body with glucose, but they get broken down more slowly than processed grains. And this provides your body with a slow and steady source of fuel. Quinoa, steel cut oats, and brown rice are all good places to start.
- Legumes, like chickpeas, lentils, and black beans provide you with a steady source of energy, along with fiber to help keep you full and satisfied.
- Whole fruits are allowed when carb cycling, but the type of fruit you eat will vary depending on whether it’s a high-carb or low-carb day. For example, on high-carb days, it’s okay to eat fruit high in sugar, like bananas, figs, and dried fruits. But on the lower-carb days, you want to avoid this sugary produce and instead, eat fruits that have lower-sugar content, like apples, peaches, and berries, which are also loaded with antioxidants and fiber.
When should you have high-carb days and low-carb days?
Generally speaking, you want to have high-carb days when you’re expending the most energy.
Therefore, if you have three intense fitness days each week, you’ll want to make these days your high-carb days. Eating the most carbs on these days will help muscles repair and rebuild after your workout.
On days when you’re energy output is much lower – for example, when you do a restorative yoga practice or go for an easy jog – you’ll want to stick to lower amounts of carbs.
Since each individual is different, along with their dietary needs and fitness goals, it’s important to work with a fitness expert to develop a carb cycling diet that works for you and your body’s unique needs.
Does carb cycling really help you lose weight?
It might seem too good to be true that you can eat carbs and lose weight. But weight loss can happen with carb cycling. It just depends on the quality and quantity of the carbs you eat, along with the intensity of your workouts.
The bottom line is that when you consume more energy than you use up, you can still gain weight, whether you’re carb cycling or not.
But this is also why carb cycling can be so effective.
With this lifestyle, you get to tailor your diet to your own unique energy needs. So, on days when you’re less active, you consume fewer carbs (or energy).
Conversely, on days when you’re doing more intense workouts, you not only eat carbs, but you eat them to your advantage.
Does carb cycling sound like a diet approach you’d like to try?