What is Carb Cycling? [Your Complete Guide]
Studies show that a low-carb diet is best for losing and maintaining weight.
While it’s up for debate as to whether or not you should exclude carbs from your diet all together, one thing is for certain: a low-carb diet works great for any body type.
This has led to the advent of carb cycling. Great, but what is carb cycling?
Basically, it’s when you alternate your carb intake to optimize the efficiency of how your body can process them.
Still confused? Keep reading. We’ll go into more detail of what exactly is carb cycling and how to do it safely.
What is Carb Cycling: The Science Behind Cycling
In order to optimize their intake of carbohydrates, some people choose to “cycle” their carbs. While this might sound self-explanatory, many people still wonder, “what is a carb cycling diet?”
It refers to the act of alternating your carb intake on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis depending on your goals.
The goal of this is to consume carbs at a time when they provide you with the most nutritional value and benefit. It also means excluding carbs from your diet when they don’t provide you with any nutritional value.
This comes on the heels of years of news that say that a high carb, low-fat diet contributes to lower energy and overall lethargy.
While this doesn’t mean that you have to stay away from foods that contain carbohydrates altogether, it does mean that you have to be smart about which foods you eat.
There are lots of fruits and high-carb vegetables that are actually good for you! But, you have to eat them at the right time if you’re carb cycling.
The science behind this shows that when you follow a low-carb diet, your body switches over to a fat-based energy system. This means that it consumes fat instead of the carbs that have been turned into sugar.
Health experts believe that this can improve metabolic flexibility over time, which help you burn fat at faster rates even when you’re not carb cycling.
On high-carb days, you’re able to replace muscle glycogen and manipulate your body’s production of insulin. Basically put, you’re hacking your own body into burning fat and building muscle exactly the way you want it to.
How to Plan a Carb Cycle
Depending on your physical and overall health goals, you can program your high and low-carb days differently.
Some popular physical goals include the desire to add on more muscle or reduce body fat or the need to have more energy on intense training days.
If you’re looking to lean out, then you might reduce your high-carb days. Once you’ve reached the body fat percentage that you’re looking for, you can add carbs back into your diet slowly to build muscle.
If you’re a professional athlete or you work out intensely throughout the week, you can program high-carb days on intense training days and then reduce your carb intake on rest days.
This is because you’ll need more carbs to fuel your intense workouts. The more intense the training, the more carbs you need.
However, you’ll want to take a look at a list of good carbs so that you know you’re consuming foods and carbs that help fuel your workout instead of leaving you feeling sluggish and tired.
Some good carbs include whole fruits (apples, bananas, celery), any kind of vegetable, seeds, legumes (lentils, kidney beans, etc.), and nuts.
Consuming high quantities of these kinds of whole carbs on your training days can help you make the most of your carb cycling.
As well, you can schedule a “refeed” if you plan on dieting for a prolonged period of time. Refeeds are when you consume a higher quantity of carbs in order to prevent your body from going into starvation mode.
Fitness experts actually recommend scheduling refeed days as part of a weight-loss plan, especially if you’re combining carb cycling with intense workouts to lose fat.
This will normalize your leptin levels in a way that regulates your metabolism and helps you avoid getting intense cravings as you diet.
Is Carb Cycling Good for Weight Loss?
While many athletes and fitness professionals use carb cycling as a way to optimize their strength and vitality, we get lots of questions about how to use carb cycling if you’re trying to lose weight.
The simple answer is that, yes, carb cycling works for weight loss! Studies show that a low-carb diet is more effective than just a low-fat diet.
This is a myth that’s been perpetuating the weight loss industry for years! People reached for zero sugar, low-fat, diet versions of everything instead of focusing on the carbs.
However, a zero-carb diet might not be right for you, depending on your body composition and other metrics such as your glucose levels and metabolism.
Before engaging in a zero-carb diet, it’s worth speaking with your doctor or a nutritionist about your weight loss goals and nutritional needs.
Instead, it helps to engage in carb cycling, which allows you to optimize your carb intake when it makes the most sense.
You’ll still be able to consume carbs on certain days, but over time you’ll learn which carbs are best for you and your body.
Overall, what’s most important when it comes to weight loss is achieving a calorie deficit.
So, if you’re going to be carb cycling in order to lose weight, you’ll still need to focus on consuming fewer calories than you burn.
If you’re consuming carbs in the right way and allowing for refeeding days, then you’ll notice that you have the energy for intense workouts and that you don’t have intense cravings for bad foods.
Getting Started on a Keto Diet
To simply answer the question of what is carb cycling without mentioning a keto diet seems a bit odd.
A keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that forces your body to burn fat in all the right ways.
Carb cycling is easy if you’re following a keto diet, and it makes achieving your fitness goals a lot easier.
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