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Low Carb foods are the new big fad and you’re probably starting to notice the appearance of ‘low-carb’ stickers and notifications on food packaging. Similar to the big ‘low-fat’ food trend of the past few years.
Carbs aren’t quite the evil monster the media would have you believe; we use carbohydrates as a fast-acting source of energy and for those involved in regular exercise or sports, they are crucial. The truth of the matter is, it mostly comes down to timing.
There are various low carb diets available, with some diets even excluding carbohydrates entirely.
In the following article, we are going to be looking at carb cycling. What is it and are there any benefits to this type of diet?
What Is Carb Cycling?
In a nutshell, carb cycling is the continuous manipulation of the number of carbs in your diet across a set time period. It’s often used as an alternative to simply going on a ‘low carb’ diet.
While carb cycling you will be alternating your carb intake on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Typically it is used for fat loss but is also used to ensure muscle is not lost while losing fat and to help push past a weight loss plateau.
There will be some people who will alter their carb intake on a daily basis. Others will have longer periods of low, moderate or high carb days based on their own preferences and goals.
While undergoing carb cycling your protein intake will remain the same, however, your fat intake will change according to your carb intake.
For instance, on low-carb days you will be consuming high fats, whereas on high-carb days it will be low fat.
Issues With Low-Carb Diets
Using a low-carb diet for an extended period of time will likely lead to a severe drop in physical energy as well as the feeling of being mentally drained. Not to mention the effect all of this is likely to have on your mood.
The other con to going regularly low-carb is the dual effect on your muscles. Firstly, low energy is likely to hinder your workouts, particularly on the intense workout days. This usually leads to downgraded performance.
Couple this with the fact your muscle tissue is receiving less immediate energy sources and you also run the risk of your body turning to the breakdown of your muscle tissue for energy. Put simply, you’re likely to lose some your gains.
Burn Fat While Keeping Your Gains
So this is where carb cycling comes in. For those who want a new technique for burning body fat but want to hold on to their hard-earned muscle tissue, give carb cycling a try .
There are two common ways to incorporate carb cycling into your lifestyle. One is to build the approach around your training schedule, the other is to simply keep a weekly/daily routine.
Carb Cycling matched up to your workout schedule is a case of changing your daily carb intake dependant on whether or not you’re working out that day and how intensely.
For example, the basic approach here would be to have your lowest carb days when you’re resting, as those days will require less energy.
Then on days you are training such as an arms workout, have a medium carbs day. And inevitably when you have really intense workout days, for example, leg day, have these as your highest carb intake days.
Additional Health Benefits Of Carb Cycling
Examples Of Carb Cycling
|Day of Week||Workout||Carb Level||Carb Intake|
|Monday||Arms Day||Moderate Carbs||150g|
|Wednesday||Rest Day||Low Carbs||75g|
|Thursday||Leg Day (Intense)||High Carbs||250g|
|Friday||Rest Day||Low Carbs||75g|
Carb cycling on a basic schedule works a little differently. The typical approach is a reoccurring structure based on high and low days which you simply follow as a schedule. You amend your training to fit around this process. E.g. three days low and two days high.
|Day||Carb Level||Carb Intake|
You can of course schedule based on the days of the week if you find this easier. Some will find that having an approach by which carbs are lower during the week and higher at the weekend suits them better vs their social lives, allowing dinner with friends to be an easier and less restrictive experience.
Carb Cycling FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions on carb cycling. If you have any of your own then you can leave them below using the comment form provided:
Is Carb Cycling Better Than Keto?
I do not believe that either diet is better than the other. Both diets have their benefits and negatives.
What I would recommend for anyone undergoing a keto diet who needs to increase their carbohydrate intake without falling out of keto is to incorporate carb cycling into their routine.
You can do this by allowing yourself one day a week to eat more high-quality carbs, such as sweet potato, roasted butternut squash and carrots.
Can Carb Cycling Cause Diarrhoea?
One possible issue with eating a diet high in fat, but low in carbs is that diarrhoea is a real possibility.
For some adding more fibre to your diet by eating more vegetables can help. For some, if this side effect continues it may be a better idea to look for a different diet.
Is Carb Cycling Safe?
Yes, if you follow the diet properly then you should not encounter any serious issues.
When To Exercise When Carb Cycling?
You can exercise normally while carb cycling. However, you may want to keep your more intense training sessions for those days when you are eating a high-carb diet.
On your low-carb days, you may want to take it a little easier in the gym.
Can Carb Cycling Cause Headaches?
There have been reports that low-carb diets can cause headaches, so there is a chance that you may suffer this side effect on your low-carb days.
Will Carb Cycling Affect My Sleep?
It has been shown that high-carb diets are better for sleep .
Therefore it is likely that on your low-carb days your sleep patterns may be affected.
Is Carb Cycling Good For Diabetics?
Yes, carb cycling can be good for diabetics as the decrease in your carb intake will mean less insulin released.
This means that more your body will burn through its carb stores and fat for fuel.
Can You Carb Cycle While Intermittent Fasting?
Yes, of course, you can carb cycle while intermittent fasting. Many people use this approach to push themselves out of a weight loss plateau.
How Many Calories When Carb Cycling?
The number of calories consumed while carb cycling will depend on your goals and will vary from person to person based on their maintenance calories.
To figure out how many calories you should be consuming you will need to work out how many calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight. There are calculators online that can help you work this figure out.
Next, you will need to decide if you are looking to lose weight, gain weight or maintain your current weight.
If you wish to lose weight I would recommend reducing the number of calories daily by 200-500. To gain weight you should add 200-500 calories daily, and to maintain your weight you should stick to the number of calories you worked out using the calories.
Whether you are on a low-carb or high-carb day your calories should remain the same. It is only your carb allowance that will change.
Can You Carb Cycle While Pregnant?
Personally I would not recommend any form of low-carb diet while pregnant.
Can You Carb Cycle While Breastfeeding?
Again I would personally avoid low-carb diets while breastfeeding. Once your baby is a little older perhaps you can start then.
Can Vegans Carb Cycle?
Yes, of course, vegans can carb cycle.
Final Word On Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is a great tool for manipulating your carb intake so that your body is forced to start using fat as fuel while ensuring you have higher energy and recovery ability when you need it.
Do keep in mind that carb cycling is still based around having as clean as possible source of carbs. Regardless of how well you plan and stick to your overall carb cycling intake, you should still be looking to get these carbs from cleaner sources. Junk food is still junk food regardless if it is a high carb day or not.
You also can’t neglect your other macros, try to be smart and consistent with your protein and fat intake which should ideally remain consistent throughout your plan so that the only variable is your carbs.