How Do You Carb Cycle For Weight Loss?

How Do You Carb Cycle For Weight Loss?

The idea of carb cycling, which is a short-term dieting routine, involves increasing your carb intake during some days and reducing them on other days. Carb cycling is considered a rigorous diet that serious athletes and bodybuilders follow. It helps ensure body fat loss and an increase in more muscle mass for improved long term health and nutrition benefits.

Athletes have used carb cycling to store more carbs as muscle glycogen in their bodies so that they can use them during strenuous exercises, like in a marathon. The nutrition plan is becoming more popular among people wanting to kick-start weight loss and promote their health, although much of the body weight you shed is water.

Carbs And Weight Loss

The body needs carbs in order to function properly, including building muscle. Fat, protein, and carbohydrate intake are how your body gets energy, often measured in calories. Experts recommend that you get 50 to 55 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 15 percent from proteins, and no more than 28 percent from fat.

You can use this calorie calculator while carb cycling to find out what amount of calories you should consume based on your level of activity – sedentary, light activity, active, or very active. This is particularly crucial when on a mission to lose weight.  

While carbs are not your number one enemy, since they are part of a healthy diet and help fuel your brain and body, overeating could lead to reduced fat loss as there is more fat storage and weight gain. But how does carb cycling work? What types of carbs make the cut?

Here, we give you insight into this smart way of eating. We help you learn how many low carb days and high carb days you should have in a week. We answer some of the most important questions you may have regarding carb cycling dietary patterns and carb intake – how many carbs you should eat and when. We also show you how you can carb cycle for weight loss.

What Is Carb Cycling?

Different carb cycling meal plans exist out there. For instance, athletes like bodybuilders, who have a scheduled workout plan they follow each day, tend to introduce a weekly carb cycling outline in their meal plan. Their dietary regimen may include having a high carb day then switching to three low carb days.

In these kinds of dieting plans, the individuals have to track each gram of carb they eat. The exact amount of carbs they consume primarily depends on their muscle mass, body composition, weight, activity, and goals. However, when it comes to the average active woman seeking to lose weight, the ideal way to get on a carb cycling routine is to have it on a day-to-day basis.

How Does It Work?

Eating food containing carbohydrates allows your blood sugar to rise. As a result, the pancreas releases more insulin, a type of hormone, to take glucose into the cells. In the cells, glucose is converted into energy and stored for later use, or it is turned into fat.

When the cells in your body take in blood sugar, the pancreas signals them to release stored glucose, also known as glucagon. It is this back-and-forth action of high carbs and fewer carbs that allows the body to maintain the right amount of sugar.

If you have an excessively high carb intake, the body may produce too much insulin. Therefore, you may start gaining weight and increase your chances of having heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Having short breaks from a high carb intake diet to allow the body to cycle carbohydrates can give it a chance to start burning fat instead of the carbohydrates and muscle tissues.

On the days when you are hitting the gym or training for a marathon, carbohydrates are your body’s best friend. The body burns through the carbohydrates along with fat to get the energy you need instead of using protein. This way, the body allows the protein in your body, which is often the muscle-powering nutrient, to be utilized for the right purpose – build muscle.

However, on those days when you decide to relax without indulging in any form of exercise, an extra carbohydrate intake may encourage the body to store the unused glucose in the fat cells. Therefore, you may experience weight gain if you have an excess carbohydrate intake. Having a low carb day during your rest days allows the body to turn fat into energy rather than consuming sugary and starchy foods.

Can Carb Cycling Aid In Weight Loss?

During those days you are inactive, eating fewer carbohydrates offers essential weight loss benefits. You do not need to get all those extra calories if the body does not use them. Unlike your protein and fat intake, your carbohydrates should vary from one day to the other.

Besides, when you skip over carbs for veggies and protein, it makes it tricky for you to overeat. Most people do not binge on broccoli and turkey, for instance; hence, swapping these with carbs helps with the waistline.

Is Carb Cycling The Same Thing As Keto?

While carb cycling isn’t precisely keto, there are some similarities. Keto consists of a very low carb diet and moderate protein intake in addition to a high amount of fat. It aims to burn fat for fuel, a process called ketosis. Although you are on a high fat diet, you are able to have considerable fat loss from ketosis.

On the other hand, carb cycling predominantly consists of higher carbs than the traditional keto diet, and it does not incorporate the same high fat intake. Therefore, carb cycling is not the same as ketosis.

Both diets emphasize managing the intake of carbs, so some people tend to do what is known as keto cycling, where they combine the two regimens. A keto cycling plan involves adhering to a keto protocol on most days of the week but having one or two days of higher carb intake. The days of higher carb intake help a person to break ketosis and enjoy the benefits of carbohydrates. For instance, a high carb day helps boost fiber intake, increasing variety in their diet and fuelling athletic performance.

Is Carb Cycling For Everyone?

Technically yes, but only when it is done appropriately. Any restrictive diet requires you to know when you should take a break or abandon it altogether. For example, you may persistently crave foods that you have deemed off-limits. You may also experience guilt and frustration when you allow yourself to eat the off-limits foods.

Again, if your mood or attitude is negatively impacted by limiting foods, you may want to rethink your decision to be on a carb cycling routine. You should seek medical advice before you switch to carb cycling. Another red flag is when you experience physical signs of chronic or unusual fatigue. If you are not enjoying carb cycling or are finding it stressful, it is a good idea to consider another strategy.

Carb cycling may not be the right plan if you have a history of disturbed, unhealthy eating patterns or disordered eating. And because carb cycling involves switching back-and-forth between low carb and high carb days, with even some “no-carb” days, you may find that some people aren’t recommended to be on this diet. Because it is extreme, the diet is not right for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Carb cycling is also not suitable for underweight individuals. If you are managing an eating disorder – previous or current – you may not be the right fit for the diet either.

Also, during those days you cut back on carbohydrates, you may experience what is known as “carb flu.” This condition presents with symptoms such as tiredness, sleep problems, mood issues, constipation, and bloating. However, carb flu doesn’t last long, and you can manage it by drinking water and having electrolytes.

Who Is Carb Cycling Ideal For?

Carb cycling is suitable for strength and endurance athletes and bodybuilders trying to reach performance and physique goals. It is also ideal for those seeking to have a structured weight loss plan capable of breaking up the boredom of a low-calorie or low carb meal plan routine.

Although there is nothing risky about switching up how you consume carbs, the act of measuring things down to the last gram you eat in your meal plan places you in the mindset of restrictiveness. As a result, you may be left craving the foods you miss out on during your high and low carb diet.

That being said, carb cycling without having a set of grams you specifically need to consume seems like it is less effective, particularly for bodybuilders. However, because everybody’s needs are different, having a one-size-fits-all plan may not be the best method to meet your weight loss goals.

Hence, a carb cycling diet routine for a bodybuilder may be different from that of a person seeking to simply lose weight.

How To Carb Cycle For Weight Loss

You may be asking what exactly you need to eat when you are carb cycling. Instead of listing out the bad and good foods, you should have a few days where you are carb cycling in order to allow it to work best for you. You have more low carb days and fewer high carb days throughout the week. Your high carb days or low carb days should resonate with your level of activity. High carb days go with increased workouts. Low carb days go hand-in-hand with low or no exercise.

What Would A High Carb Day Look Like?

During high carb days, you need to ensure about 60 percent of your calories are derived from complex carbs. This would be about 900 calories, assuming that you are eating 1,500 calories each day. Keep in mind that 1 gram of carbs has about 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, while 1 gram of protein has 4 calories. Some carbs tend to be healthier compared to others.

If you have scheduled a high-energy workout such as interval training, a long-distance run, or sprints, it makes sense to have an additional serving or two of fruits, whole grains, or legumes throughout the day. Ideally, you can have about 175-275 grams of carbohydrate intake per day during the time of high intensity training.

What Would A Low Carb Day Look Like?

When planning to do something low-key, such as jogging for about 30 minutes or having a yoga class, you need to change your carb cycling pattern. It would help if you tried swapping a serving or so of the regular carb intake with healthy fats, leafy veggies, lean protein, whole grain and brown rice.

If, for example, you usually consume a whole wheat turkey sandwich during lunch, you can consider having turkey and spinach salad along with cheese instead. Avoid having a transactional mindset regarding food, meaning that because you ran an extra mile, you have to eat this. If you develop this mindset, you could easily slip towards an unhealthy relationship with food.  

Therefore, you can have higher carbs for a couple of days and switch to a lower carb diet on the next day. This way, it helps the body naturally regulate itself. Ideally, you can have about 100 to 125 grams of carbs on a day of light intensity workout.

Your Carb Cycling Plan For The Week

If you want to try carb cycling for weight loss, you can use this carb meal plan for the week.

On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, you can be on a higher carb amount. These are your high carb days. So you will need to perform high-intensity or long-duration workouts during a high carb day. You can indulge in sprints, lifting, long runs, or interval training to help utilize the carbs.

On a high carb day, you can have 1 cup of oats with milk and some raisins. Additionally, you have fruit, yogurt, and a basic sandwich with some protein. Your afternoon snack food may consist of peanut butter and a banana while dinner comprises 2 cups of pasta with vegetables to ensure more carbs.

Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are your lower carb days for your carb cycling routine. During a low carb day, you can rest or indulge in low-intensity workouts such as light jogging, walking, barre, or yoga. You should feel satisfied after each meal and not starved when on a low carb diet. On a low carb day, you could have something like half a cup of oats, 1 cup of pasta, more leafy greens, and lower carb fruits such as berries.

Ensure you eat healthy fat and lean protein when cycling carbs. If you find that you are not satisfied throughout the day, you can increase your low carb meal portion sizes or maybe consider eating a healthy snack as part of your carbs eating habits. A low carb day requires that you know how many calories you are putting in, as inappropriate cycling may bring trouble on your overall health or body composition.

When indulging in intense workout, you can consume 2 to 2.5 grams of carbs to each pound of body weight. When less active or on low carb days, eating 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight may be enough. On a no-carb day, you can have as little as 30 grams of carbs the whole day.

Carb Cycling Meal Tips

To help you get the best carbs to eat, you can use these tips. Choose high-fiber vegetables and fruits. Additionally, opt for low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, and other dairy products as they are rich in protein. Consider eating a lot of whole grains like whole wheat and stock up on legumes such as lentils, beans, and peas when on low and high carb cycling.

Legumes give you the grams of protein you need in your nutrition. Similarly, limit eating refined grains, highly processed foods, high fat, and added sugars when carb cycling as they aren’t good for your health, nutrition, and body performance.

The Wrap Up

Now that you know how you are able to cycle carbs for weight loss, why not get a start on your carb cycling routine? Remember that you will need to ensure a healthy diet while carb cycling by avoiding those foods that are bad for your health and nutrition.

Choosing your low and high carb diets appropriately can help you get the most of your carb cycling plan. Make sure you track the grams of carbs per day you are eating during low carb days and high carb days. Ensure that you exercise to burn body fat, as dieting alone may not help you lose body weight adequately while carb cycling.

Exercise is also essential for your health, besides aiding in body weight loss. Having frequent training days also helps build muscle. Your carb meal plan needs to also be supported by healthy eating habits, such as having protein intake and a healthy fat diet in order to get the best long term health and nutrition results.

Anthony MSc. Nutrition CPT

Anthony is a certified personal trainer, Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, and Strength and Conditioning coach. Today he works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid sailor, boating enthusiast, hiker, and backpacker His goal is to take the confusion out of weight loss and health and make it simple and easy to understand and follow. Anthony McGarr NASM CPT, CHHP, MSc. Nutrition, Certified Holistic Health Practitioner And Creator Of The Trans4m Diet

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