The 101 on Carb Cycling and How To Use It To Achieve Your Goals

If there’s one thing we know by now, it’s that carbs are the root of all evil when it comes to trying to lose weight. Or at least, that’s what many traditional dieters and weight loss programs would like you to think. However, the reality is: you need carbohydrates. They are a vital source of calories and energy that keeps you going throughout the day. In fact, some of your organs never actually adjust to a low-carb diet, according to health experts, which can cause some major disruptions to your overall health and wellness. Now, that’s not to say that you should be packing on all the carbs you can get your teeth on either, especially if you’re hoping to lose weight. You need to find a balance and that’s precisely what carb cycling eating patterns are all about – alternating between high-carb and low-carb days. In this article, you’ll learn exactly what that looks like, the benefits of following a similar plan, and how you can implement carb cycling into your day.

guide to carb cycling

What is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a type of intermittent low-carb diet that involves alternating the amount of carbohydrates you consume each day between high, moderate, and low levels. The amount of carbs you eat on any given day often depends on your exercise regime (how many calories you burn) and long-term goals. For example, you may choose to consume low-carb foods on the days you don’t exercise and enjoy higher carbs on the days you complete a workout. This allows you to induce a fat-burning state on low-carb days and increase metabolism and ensure your body is getting enough energy on days when you perform more intense workouts. 

But that’s just an example. Carb cycling can look different for everyone, as it is based on altering your carb consuming depending on your individual needs and goals each day, week or month.

The Importance of Ensuring You’re Consuming Enough Carbs

While various research has shown that low-carb diets can have many positive impacts on your weight and overall health and wellness, they do come with some downfalls. For example, studies have found that many of the benefits associated with low-carb diets, including increased weight loss, are short-term and aren’t realistic or even plausible for most people on an ongoing basis. This is particularly true for anyone who exercises regularly or intensely, such as bodybuilders, athletes and fitness influencers. Carbohydrates are the primary and preferred source of energy for the body and low carb diets don’t allow you to get enough carbohydrates into your day to fuel your workouts.

Needless to say, you need carbohydrates and committing to a low-carb diet every single day doesn’t always cut in. In addition to not getting the energy you need, many organs aren’t able to adapt to a low-diet eating pattern.  But this is when carb cycling can come in to save the day; offering the best of both high carb and low carb worlds.

Benefits of Carb Cycling

Carb cycling is a technique commonly used by bodybuilders, athletes and exercise enthusiasts. However, it has quickly become more mainstream and many people are using it to enjoy the benefits of a low-carb diet without dealing with the restrictions, flu-like symptoms and low energy that can follow.

Additionally, adding in low-carbohydrate phases in your diet can also improve cholesterol levels, boost metabolic health, and have a positive impact on hormones such as thyroid hormones, testosterone, and leptin. And since your hormones play a key role in metabolism, hunger and performance, it can also help in these areas as well.  As for the high-carbohydrate periods, they can also help reduce inflammation and enhance the way your body uses iron.

However, the three main benefits associated with carb cycling are:

Weight Loss

Like any diet, the main factor contributing to weight loss is being able to create a calorie deficit, which is when you consume fewer calories than your body burns over. Alternating between low carb and high carb days can help with this, as you are able to develop a plan that allows you to align your carb consumption with how many calories you’ll burn. As a result, it can promote weight loss.

Additionally, having those high-carb days in your schedule can give you the fuel you need to get those good, heart-pumping, body sweating exercises in that will also help with weight loss and shaping and toning your body.

Stronger Muscles

Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen, which serves as a quick source of energy for the muscles (amongst other things, such as your liver). During low-carb days, glycogen storage is limited as you use it up to complete your normal, everyday tasks. On high-carb days, you’ll be consuming more carbs, thus replenishing your muscle glycogen, which can enhance performance, muscle growth and recovery.

Improved Blood Sugar

Insulin is another major factor impacted by carb cycling. Consuming a diet that is high in carbohydrates can result in frequent spikes in your blood sugar levels. As such, adding in low-carb days and consuming carbohydrates strategically based around your workout routine can enhance insulin sensitivity.

How to Carb Cycle?

Carb cycling can take some time to fine-tune and make adjustments to find the perfect eating pattern that works for you and your exercise schedule. There are also many different versions of carb cycling that you can take advantage of such as daily alternations or longer periods of high and low carb intake.

However, the general rule is that you want to consume fewer carbs on the days you don’t work out and more carbs on the days you’ll be exercising. You may also choose to add medium carb days into your schedule if you have days where you do some light exercise.

The only rule you have to remember is this: the number of carbs you consume each day should depend on activity level, muscle mass, and carbohydrate tolerance.

To get you started, here are some extra tips on implementing carb cycling into your day:

Prioritize Healthy Carbs

It’s recommended to limit your consumption of simple sugars and refined carbs commonly found in desserts, processed snacks, and baked goods, and focus on eating more nutritious carb sources that offer an abundance of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Some healthier carb choices are:

  • Legumes: These slow-digesting carbohydrates are rich in fiber and minerals Whole grains: These include unmodified grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa that provide numerous health benefits
  • Tubers: Potatoes and sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense and a great source of healthy carbs
  • Vegetables: Eating a variety of vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals is a great ensure a well- balanced diet and nutrient intake
  • Whole fruits: Fruits like berries, are high in antioxidants and low in glycemic count, are excellent sources of healthy carbs

Eat More Leafy Greens on Low Carb Days

Consider adding more leafy green vegetables into your diet on your low-carb days. These nutrient-dense foods are low in calories and can add volume to your meals without significantly increasing the calorie count. By filling up your plate with a variety of colorful vegetables, you can also ensure a healthy meal rich in all of the vitamins and minerals you’re looking for.

Be Smart With Your Fats

For low-carb days, enjoy whole-food sources of fats from items such as coconut oil, avocado, eggs, cold-water fish, grass-fed butter, and nuts. You may also want to get in the habit of measuring your fats, as they can quickly add up and lead to consuming too many calories without seeming like it.

Up Fats When You Decrease Carbs

To ensure that your body has sufficient energy for your daily activities and workouts, it’s important to fuel up with either carbohydrates or fats. So on those low carb days, be sure to increase your consumption of healthy fats.

Don’t Forget The Fiber on Low Carb Days

Aim for high-fiber carb sources on low-carb days to ensure you get enough fiber in your diet (a common concern for people following a low carb diet). Fiber promotes satiety, helps regulate cholesterol levels, and supports a healthy microbiome, so there are plenty of benefits that follow.

Focus on Quality

It’s important to focus on eating high quality items when it comes to high-carb days (no indulging in pizza and french fries!). Instead, opt for healthier options like whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain bread/pasta.

Carb cycling has been recognized as a valuable strategy for improving diet, physical performance, and overall health and wellness. So, instead of committing to a low carb diet or a high carb diet, alternate between the two and enjoy the best of both worlds.

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