When people are trying to lose weight, carbs seem to be the main thing they think about it. Everyone is told to cut out carbs to lose weight. Another type of strategy you might have heard of is carb cycling. This is where you rotate between eating high carb and low carb. The question is, can carb cycling help lose weight?
I have already written previously about low carb diets and whether or not they work. So this blog post will focus on carb cycling.
In its simplest terms, carb cycling is when you eat more carbs one day, and less carbs the next. Here are some popular ways of doing carb cycling.
Eat more carbs on workout days and less carbs on rest days (or less intense workout days).
If you’re doing a hard training session, eat more carbs on this day. If no exercise is planned (or it’s a light workout), eat less carbs.
By eating more carbs on days you exercise, you provide your body with the precious energy it needs. Your body won’t need as many carbs on days you’re not working out, so you eat less of them.
I look at this as more of a smarter way of eating carbs, by timing them correctly.
Eat low carb for 2-3 days, and then have a high carb day. Sometimes this is also known as a refeed day, and it can also be a higher calorie day too.
When you’re trying to lose weight, you typically eat less calories and less carbs. By having a higher calorie and carb day, it is thought that it prevents your body from plateauing, and can boost your metabolism.
The key to carb cycling is to find a method that works for you. There is no perfect diet or exercise because we are all different.
If you’re not sure how much to eat on high carb days, I would aim for around maintenance level or around 200 calories above maintenance. And I would try to eat around 50-60% carbs. If you need help with calculations, check out this blog post on how to calculate your daily calorie intake.
Make your higher carb days on your HARDEST workout days. This usually means legs days or HIIT or really intense interval cardio. These are the days that your body needs carbs the most. It will help with your exercise performance and will also help with recovery.
On high carb days, focus on healthy carb sources such as potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, fruit, etc. Don’t use it as an excuse to eat chocolate cake and ice cream. When people say “I worked out hard today so I can eat dessert” – this isn’t necessarily true. If you eat a 600 calorie dessert and you burned 600 calories in your workout, you almost ruin all of your hard work and you are disadvantaging yourself.
And finally, on high carb days, make sure to reduce your fat intake. If you leave your fat intake the same, and just increase your carbs, you might end up eating really high calorie. Fats are the highest in calories, so by reducing them a bit, you leave more room to fill up on carbs!
There are many benefits of carb cycling. Here are a few :)
Eating a low carb diet over the long term can have some negative side effects, such as hunger, cravings, decreased metabolic rate and reduced performance level.
By having high carb days, you can offset some of these side effects. And it will make your “diet” more enjoyable, and easier to stick to long term!
High carb days raise your leptin levels. Leptin is the hormone that tells you when you are full. Having high leptin levels means you can go into your low carb days feeling less hungry.
Binge eating is usually caused by having a really restrictive diet, low calorie, low carb diet. By having a couple of days where you can eat more and increase your carbs, you won’t feel so deprived, and you’ll be less likely to binge.
There are a few different ways that carb cycling can increase your metabolism.
First of all, long-term, low carbohydrate diets can decrease your thyroid hormone levels (the T3 hormone). A sluggish thyroid leads to a reduced metabolism and trouble burning calories / losing weight. Having a couple of higher calorie days will help with T3 production, and improve your metabolism and calorie burning capacity.
Eating low calorie diets causes a decrease in your metabolism. So by increasing calories (and hence carbs) on some days, it will help increase your metabolism. And this can also prevent your body from plateauing too!
Eating a low carb diet for a long period of time can reduce your insulin sensitivity. This means that your body will produce more insulin when responding to high blood sugar, which then leads to fat storage.
By adding high carb days, you vary your body’s insulin release. This means your body will respond better to high blood sugar, you’ll improve your health, and hopefully store less fat!
Here are a few things to think about before your try carb cycling.
For carb cycling to work, you will need to know exactly how many calories and carbs you are eating every single day. The calculations aren’t too difficult, but tracking your food intake can be very time consuming and may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. If you know that calorie counting isn’t for you, perhaps carb cycling isn’t the best strategy for you either.
Your body retains 4g of water for every 1g of carb you eat. So on high carb days you can expect some water retention. It may not be noticeable for some, but if you struggle with weight fluctuations and are already conscious of water retention, you might not enjoy carb cycling.
Carb cycling can definitely help with weight loss. Carb cycling can also have many health benefits, both on the inside and outside! But it does require dedication. Hopefully after reading this you will be able to gauge whether or not this is a good diet strategy for you. If not, you can always give it a try!
I would love to hear from anyone who has done carb cycling and how you found it :) xx