Carb cycling is a diet approach that involves planned increased and decreased carb intake on particular days. It is mainly useful for bodybuilders and athletes. But with so many dieters on low-carb diets, carb cycling has now invaded the mainstream diet industry. It may help kick start fat burn in active individuals who have hit a plateau with weight loss.
This comparatively new strategy has minimum evidence to sustain its effects or optimal procedures. And a low-carb diet may have harmful effects on your health. So, should you consider carb cycling? Read on to know everything you need to know about carb cycling and if it is right for you.
What Is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a high-level dietary strategy to change your carb intake on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, depending on your body’s requirements and fitness goals. Some athletes, ketogenic diet followers, and highly active individuals and bodybuilders, go for carb cycling to lose weight and get energy and perform better on the day of competition.
On cardio days, you will be on a moderate-carb diet, on strength training days you will be on a high-carb diet, and on days of rest, you will be on a low-carb diet.
Factors That Affect Carb Cycling
- Body Fat – Once athletes lose the body fat and reach their target body fat percentage, they go on high carb days. This is specifically before a competition because carbs are the main and readily available source of energy. And stocking up on carbs can help enhance performance. If you are a dieter, once you have lost at least 6 pounds of fat, you can go on a 2-day high-carb diet.
- Cardio/Strength Training And Rest – You should go on high-carb and low-fat on the difficult days of your workout. The body requires those carbohydrates the most on these days. Having them before you do the workout will help fuel you in the gym so you can work harder and push more weight, and then having the influx of carbohydrates after the workout session will help saturate the muscles with carbohydrate storage and aid with recovery.
- Your Goals – You may desire to either lose weight or gain muscle. Carb cycling can be used in both cases. You have to be on a low-carb diet during the fat loss phase and then add back good carbs to your diet during the muscle gain phase.
- Competitions And Events – Many athletes and bodybuilders load up on carbs before a big match, performance or photo shoot as they require maximum energy at the time, which is provided by carbs.
- Protein Intake – Irrespective of high or low-carb days, your protein intake will be the same.
Fat Intake – You should be on a high-fat diet on low-carb days so that your body uses fat as a source of fuel. Be on a low-fat diet on high-carb days so that your body uses carbs as a readily available source of fuel.
- Refeeds – Refeeds work if you are on a low-carb diet for an extended period. You can fill up on carbs for a day or several days before going back to your low-carb diet.
- Training Type – Depending on the type of training, you can do carb cycling. If the duration and severity of training increase, you will be on a high-carb diet.
What Is The Science Behind Carb Cycling?
The science behind carb cycling is easy – change the number of carbs you consume to lose weight without losing out on the nutrients from good carb sources (fruits, veggies, and whole grains). Carb cycling has been shown to help some people lose weight.
Carefully prepared and strategized carb cycling can help you burn fat efficiently without making you feel weak. Also, by filling up on carbs during high-intensity training days, you will be able to maximize your performance and decrease muscle loss. Hence, you can use it to lose weight efficiently without losing muscle mass.
However, there is not much analysis done on the long-term effects of carb cycling, so you should do it for shorter periods.
Carb Cycling Diet Rules
Rule #1 – The number of carbs you eat on low-carb days and high-carb days will depend on your body composition, activity levels, goals, and carbohydrate tolerance level.
Ruel #2 – Do a carb cycling refeed that best suits your lifestyle.
Rule #3 – It takes a lot of analyzing and fine-tuning before you fully understand whether you should cycle your carb intake based on day, week(s) or month(s).
Rule #4 – Follow the How To Do Carb Cycling section to get the most out of it.
How To Do Carb Cycling
You can do carb cycling in multiple ways. All you have to assure is that you keep changing your macronutrients to get the best results. Here’s an example carb cycling week routine:
|Days||Carbs||Fats||Exercise Type||Carbs to Consume|
The numbers and exercise type for each day might vary depending on your goals and fitness levels. Here’s how your carb cycling should look if you do it for more than a week.
|Low-Carb||High-Carb||Carbs to Consume|
|Day 1 – Day 7||Day 8, 9, 10||30 – 200g|
|Week 1 – Week 3||Week 4||30 – 400g|
Remember, the number of carbs you consume will depend on whether you are in the low-carb or high-carb phase, carbohydrate tolerance levels, and activity level. An athlete would need more carbs compared to a non-athlete even on low-carb days.
Tip: Speak to your dietitian to help calculate the minimum and maximum amount of carbs you should consume on low-carb and high-carbs days.
Carb Cycling Diet Plan
|Meals||What to Eat|
|Breakfast||Sautéed mushrooms on whole grain toast (or 2 boiled eggs on whole grain toast) + 4 cherry tomatoes + ¼ cup blanched spinach + 1 cup freshly pressed fruit juice|
|Lunch||3 oz grilled salmon with baked kidney beans + 4 blacked broccoli florets|
|Snack||3 oz grilled salmon with baked kidney beans + 4 blacked broccoli florets|
|Dinner||2 oz grilled chicken (or 1 cup kidney bean chili) + ½ cup ricotta cheese + ½ cup blanched veggies|
|Meals||What to Eat|
|Breakfast||Acai berry smoothie bowl|
|Lunch||1 cup tuna salad with lettuce, tomato, olive oil, herbs, and seasoning|
|Snack||1 banana + 5 almonds + 1 cup black coffee|
|Dinner||Chicken and mayo salad|
|Meals||What to Eat|
|Breakfast||Mushroom whole grain toast (or 2 boiled eggs on whole grain toast) + 4 cherry tomatoes + ¼ cup blanched spinach + 1 cup freshly pressed fruit juice|
|Lunch||Grilled tofu (or fish) with brown rice + 1 cup mixed veggies|
|Snack||Whey protein smoothie with banana and berries|
|Dinner||Grilled tofu (or grilled chicken) with cauliflower rice + 1 cup mixed veggies|
Carb Cycling For Weight Loss And Muscle Gain
Carb cycling may help you lose weight. Carb cycling is an efficient way to lose weight. It helps you avoid foods with empty calories from added sugar (pastries, soda, desserts, sweetened coffee drinks) and bad carbs (simple carbs that get easily digested and absorbed, making you feel hungry often), thereby holding you from overeating.
Your body also turns to the fat burning mode, reducing the risk of losing muscle mass, which can lead to slowing down of metabolic rate. Moreover, some scientific analysis has also shown that carb cycling can help increase insulin sensitivity.
Carb cycling is also excellent for building muscle as it protects the muscles from breakdown during high-intensity training and strength training sessions. It is important to consume high carbs on a training day. Most of your fuel comes from glucose and not muscle protein (proteins get converted to glucose through gluconeogenesis). On low-carb days, your body uses fat to do all the bodily functions.
Recommended Carbs For Carb Cycling
- Whole grains
- Wheat pasta
- Whole wheat or multigrain bread
- Ezekiel bread
- Sweet potato
- Brown rice, red rice, and black rice
Foods To Eat And Avoid During Carb Cycling
Foods To Eat
- Veggies – Collard greens, radish greens, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, spinach, kale, radish, tomato, cucumber, green bell pepper, eggplant, rhubarb, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, chives, spring onions, onion, celery, fennel, and purple cabbage.
- Fruits – Apple, avocado, banana, muskmelon, watermelon, kiwi, pear, mango, lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, java plum, strawberries, blueberries, acai berry.
- Protein – Chicken breast, wild caught fish, mushroom, eggs, lentils, beans, sprouts, soy, tofu, ground turkey, and ground beef.
- Dairy – Milk, ricotta cheese, buttermilk, and cottage cheese.
- Fats And Oils – Olive oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, sunflower butter, and ghee.
- Nuts and Seeds – Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and melon seeds.
- Herbs And Spices – Rosemary, thyme, cilantro, dill, oregano, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, garlic, cumin, carom seeds, star anise, nigella seeds, black and white pepper, saffron, nutmeg, mace, coriander powder, turmeric, chili powder.
- Beverages – Water, bulletproof coffee, lime water, detox water, freshly pressed fruit/vegetable juice.
Foods To Avoid
- White bread
- White pasta
- White potato
- Refined sugar and flour
- Deep fried foods
- Batter fried foods
- Potato wafers
- Ice cream
- Animal fat, butter, margarine, and vegetable oil
Carb Cycling Benefits
- May aid weight loss.
- May lower cholesterol levels.
- May improve exercise performance.
- May provide strength and stamina for endurance training.
- May alleviate insulin resistance.
- Positively affects the thyroid hormone, leptin, and testosterone.
Carb Cycling Tips
- Pick the right carb cycling for you depending on your carb tolerance level, activity level, and goals.
- Determine your daily protein intake.
- Determine your higher and lower carb and fat intake threshold.
- Schedule your refeeding.
- Use it for a short duration.
Is Carb Cycling For You?
Carb cycling is mainly advised for athletes, bodybuilders, and highly active individuals. However, with so many individuals following the popular low-carb, high-fat (HCHF) diets (for example, Ketogenic diet), it has become important to go on carb refeed phases so that your body gets the complete nutrition that it requires to function properly.
Being on a low-carb diet for an extended period can slow down metabolism, make you vitamin and mineral deficient, and affect your workout sessions. Carb cycling can help you in more than just one way. But make sure you do it with a proper understanding of your lifestyle and how tolerant your body is to carbs.
Carb cycling is an excellent way to lose weight, protect your body from plateauing, and increasing fitness. However, talk to your trainer and dietitian if you are new to this idea. Make sure you follow it for a short time, and you will see exceptional results.