To put it simply, a carb cycling diet is when you change the number of carbohydrates you eat based on the intensity of your workouts for the day. On the days when you’ll be working out more intensely, you ingest more carbohydrates, and when you won’t be, you eat fewer carbohydrates.
But how exactly does the carb cycling diet work and how does it help people lose weight and stay fit? Let’s unravel the mysteries of carb cycling together.
Where Did the Carb-Cycling Diet Come From?
The Carb cycling diet has been around for quite some time among athletes, although its benefits are just being discovered by the weight loss community.
High-performing athletes first started carb cycling to optimize their energy level on training and competition days. To understand why you must first understand how carbohydrates work to give us energy.
What’s the “Cycling” Part of Carb Cycling?
Carbs, when eaten strategically, can improve performance in short, high-intensity exercises.
If we lower our carbohydrate intake on the days when we’re not working out as much, we can train our bodies to reach ketosis, a state where the body starts breaking down fat (fast loss) or simply burn fat as fuel.
If we raise our carbohydrate intake on the days when we work out our hardest, carbs will be much more effective.
Cycling simply means alternating the days we eat carbs and how many we eat on certain days of the week.
What Does Carb Cycling Have to Do With Weight Loss?
Unused glucose from carbs turns into glycogen (stored glucose) in our muscles and liver. If they’re not used up fast enough, they turn into fat (insulin body fat).
The role that carb cycling plays in weight loss is learning when to eat more carbs to help you boost your energy for working out and when to eat less of them to help you burn fat.
On the days when you are not working out or working out less, you want to decrease the amount of carbs you eat so your body will look for energy from stored fat. This is essentially what the keto diet is and many people who are on the keto diet also do carb cycling.
On the days when you’ll hit the gym hard, you want to increase your carbohydrate intake to maximize your workout. This works especially well if you tend to feel drained on your workout days.
How Can I Make Use of The Carb Cycling Diet to Lose Weight?
If you want to try carb cycling to help you maintain weight loss or greater weight loss, you must learn how to do it properly otherwise there can be negative long-term effects of carb cycling.
Being on a carb cycle diet does not mean to count your carbs obsessively for fat loss. It simply means becoming more aware of when you eat carbs and changing the times you eat them.
For example, before carb cycling, you might’ve been eating the same grams of carbs every day regardless of when you work out. And maybe you notice you are not losing body weight, you can give carb cycling a try to see if it makes a difference. Carb Cycling may help improve insulin sensitivity, bodybuilding, weight control, and more!
To create a carb cycling meal plan, you must first create a schedule of when you would like to workout your hardest, lightest, and when you would like to rest. Then, you can slowly align it with the way you eat carbs.
Unless you have a personal trainer that logs all your workouts, this can take some conscious effort on your part. We suggest writing down all your workouts in a notebook for about a week or two to see what feels most natural to you.
How Do I Create A Carb Cycling Schedule?
Once you have a solid idea of your workout schedule, start planning high-carbohydrate and low carbohydrate days. But here’s where it gets tricky- what’s considered high carb and low varies from person to person.
In order to determine what is high and low carb intake to you, you have to take into consideration your weight, age, sex, the intensity of your workouts, and also how many carbs you are currently eating right now.
Below are some guidelines on how to properly develop a carb cycling schedule for you:
Find out How Much Carbs You Need in a Day
For most people who are on carb cycling ketogenic diet, carbohydrates should make about 10-15 percent of their total daily calories.
Figure Out How Much Carbs to Decrease and Increase
Given the information above, decide how much of a decrease or increase you can make to your current diet. If carbs normally make up 50 percent of your diet, try increasing it to 60 percent on your high carb diet days. This is the percentage that most people do on their high carb intake days.
On your low carb days, try lowering your carb intake to 30 or 40 percent to get the keto effect our body needs.
However many carbs you decide to increase or decrease, we highly recommend that you start slow, see how it feels, and then keep going.
Example of A Carb Cycle For One Week Based on Workout Level
Monday: 45 percent carbs (light work out day)
Tuesday: 55 percent carbs (medium workout day)
Wednesday: 60 percent carbs (heavy workout day)
Thursday:60 percent carbs (heavy workout day)
Friday: 45 (light workout day)
Saturday: 40 percent carbs (resting day, aim for ketosis)
Sunday: 40 percent carbs (resting day, aim for ketosis)
Of course, your schedule will look a little different depending on how you work and what is considered high carb days and low carb diet plans for you but the idea is to experiment until you see or feel results.
What Kind of Carbs Should You Be Eating?
While all carbs will provide you energy, there are better sources of carbs for carb cycling.
On low-carb days, try to eat carbs that are rich in fiber because fiber is necessary to help us feel satiated, regulate bowel movement, lower cholesterol, among many other things. Low carbohydrate foods that are high in fiber include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Do your best to avoid refined grains which are high in sugar. Remember, these should be eaten on the days you work out less or don’t work out at all.
On high-carb days, whole grains should be your best friend. Have oatmeal for breakfast, whole grain sandwiches for lunch, and whole grain pasta for dinner. These should be eaten on your most intense training days.
Don’t forget that when you are carb cycling you still need to make sure you are getting essential vitamins and minerals from other food groups as well. Carb cycling is only about carbs but it doesn’t mean ignoring everything else.
Carb-Cycling Meal Plan
A carb cycling plan can vary widely and should be tailored to your individual needs and goals. It is important to work with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to develop a carb-cycling meal plan that is appropriate for you and meets your specific nutritional needs.
A sample carb-cycling meal plan might look like this:
Monday (high-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries and nuts
- Lunch: Grilled chicken with quinoa and steamed vegetables
- Dinner: Spaghetti with marinara sauce and a side salad
Tuesday (low-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with avocado and spinach
- Lunch: Grilled salmon with roasted vegetables
- Dinner: Grilled chicken with broccoli and a side of green beans
Wednesday (high-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Banana with almond butter and a sprinkle of chia seeds
- Lunch: Whole wheat pita stuffed with hummus and vegetables
- Dinner: Grilled vegetables with quinoa and steamed vegetables
Thursday (low-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Turkey sausage with scrambled eggs and spinach
- Lunch: Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables
- Dinner: Grilled shrimp with roasted broccoli and a side of asparagus
Friday (high-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and a sprinkle of nuts
- Lunch: Brown rice with black beans and grilled vegetables
- Dinner: Baked sweet potato topped with chili and shredded cheese
Saturday (low-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Egg and avocado wrap with spinach and tomato
- Lunch: Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables
- Dinner: Grilled steak with a side of steamed broccoli
Sunday (high-carbohydrate day):
- Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a sliced banana
- Lunch: Grilled chicken with quinoa and steamed vegetables
- Dinner: Baked potato topped with chili and shredded cheese
It is important to note that this is just a sample meal plan and weekly carb cycling diet should be tailored to your individual needs and goals. It is also important to ensure that you are getting a balance of nutrients from a variety of sources, including proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a carb cycling diet?
A carb cycling diet is an eating plan that involves alternating between days of high carbohydrate intake and low carbohydrate intake. The goal is to manipulate the body’s carbohydrate intake in order to promote weight loss, improve athletic performance, or achieve other health benefits.
How does a carb cycling diet work?
On days with high carbohydrate intake, or “high carbohydrate” days, you would eat more starchy foods and grains, such as bread, pasta, and rice. On days with low carbohydrate intake, or “low carbohydrate” days, you would eat fewer of these foods and focus more on protein and healthy fats, such as meats, nuts, and avocado. By alternating between high and low-carb days, you can manipulate your body’s carbohydrate intake in order to achieve your desired goals.
What are the benefits of a carb cycling diet?
Some potential benefits of a carb cycling diet include weight loss, improved athletic performance, and better blood sugar control. However, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of carb cycling and determine the optimal approach for different individuals.
Is a carb cycling diet right for me?
A carb cycling diet may be a good option for some people, but it’s not for everyone. It’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before starting this diet, as they can help you determine if it’s safe and appropriate for you, and provide guidance on how to properly implement it.
How do I get started?
It’s a good idea to start by planning out your meals and snacks for the week. Consider which days you will have high carbohydrate days and which days you will have low carbohydrate days, and make sure you have a variety of protein, healthy fats, and low-carb vegetables on hand to enjoy on your low carb days. It’s also important to pay attention to portion sizes and track your intake to ensure you’re meeting your personal carb goals.
Try Out Carb Cycling Diet For Yourself
The carbs cycling is a dietary approach and works to help you lose weight. It’s only one of the benefits of carb cycling and there’s more, but carb cycling can also takes time and effort. It requires you to keep track of when you workout and what you eat and when. In the beginning, it might take some time for you to plan your meals according to your workouts but the more you do it, the more natural it’ll feel.
If figuring out to carbohydrate cycle is too confusing for you, we highly recommend getting help from a registered dietician or professional nutritionist to help you figure it out.