What Is Carb Cycling?
Simply put, carb cycling is an eating pattern that staggers the amount of carbs you eat on a daily basis.
The advanced nutrition strategy manipulates caloric intake by restricting carbohydrates on some days and reintroducing them on others, with some carb protocols dipping as low as 30 to 50 grams per day and reaching upwards to 400 grams on high days.
Bodybuilders, fitness models, and athletes alike commonly look to carb cycling, as they suggest they reap the benefits of sustaining a healthy metabolism, overcoming a weight loss plateau, cultivating a healthy body composition, and optimizing physical performance and muscle gains.
Well, it mostly comes down to one of the most basic functions of carbohydrate:
Carbs provide fuel to the body.
That being said, there is sufficient evidence backing adequate carb intake can improve performance in both prolonged, low-intensity and short, high-intensity exercises.
“So then why cycle carbs?” you may wonder…
Cyclers tend to match their higher carbohydrate and workout days, as carbs help fuel their bodies to meet exercise demands, along with promoting muscle growth in conjuction with adequate protein. On rest days when the body is not as active, and not requiring as much fuel, carbohydrate is scaled back to keep calories in check.
But it is important to note the carb source is likewise, if not more important, than the cycle itself. Rather than consuming products rich in refined sugars and flours (think snacks, sweet treats, and soft drinks), consume carbs from wholesome, nutrient-dense sources, including whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies.
Also take advantage of pre- and post-workout meals to fuel exercises and release insulin, a hormone that fundamentally signals cells to send available energy to muscle, fat, and other forms of body tissue.
Cycling through the Pros and Cons
- Controls Carbs and Calories
Since carbs make a large portion of daily calories, particularly from sugar drinks and snacks loaded with refined sugars and flours, controlling their intake can help facilitate a healthy weight or simply improve overall health.
- Encourages Wholesome Foods
Rather than promoting supplements or other weight loss aids, the diet encourages the consumption of wholesome foods rich in fiber, phytochemicals, and other nutrients the body benefits from.
- Maximizes the Body’s Natural Demands for Fuel
Consuming more carbs on exercise days can fuel and excel your workouts, along with supporting muscle growth. Think about it: Sitting on the couch does not take near as much energy as racking up the weights…
- Takes Time and Effort
Especially if new to macro counting, counting out the grams of carb for your day may be taking up time and requiring lots of effort on your end. Ask yourself if tracking all food intake in a mobile app or journal is really worth your time.
- Promotes an Unhealthy Relationship with Food
Although counting carbs gives you a tangible, numerical way to measure food intake, becoming so preoccupied with tracking them can be mentally destructive, reduce the enjoyment of food, and promote an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Reduces Spontaneity in Life
So you planned out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to be the low-carb days and on Friday morning, you were invited out with coworkers to a last minute happy hour. What do you do? Sit it out or avoid eating some delicious food? These are situations you might encounter.
Is Carb Cycling Right for You?
While carb cycling has mostly shown to be safe for its followers, it may not be right for everyone. And especially if gearing carb cycling for weight loss, nutrition experts suggest there are other methods to lose weight that are much more sustainable and less demanding.
Ultimately, you should always consult with a primary care provider before jumping into any sort of diet to ensure the upmost safety. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian can also help guide you to a sustainable, long-term weight loss plan.