Sports nutrition has seen multiple trends over the years, but very few have stuck around and produced great results for most people. Carb cycling is one such trend. When it comes to fat loss, at first, people were terrified of eating too much fat, and then they started demonizing carbohydrates. And in a way, fear of eating too many carbs in a day makes sense.
Carbohydrates account for a large portion of your daily calories. Consuming too many bad carbs (sugary drinks, white bread, cookies) can be detrimental if you're trying to lose weight or, honestly, get healthier. Those carbs are empty carbs, devoid of the protein and fibre required to keep you full.
But again, this doesn't mean that you need to completely avoid carbs in your diet. They are certainly not your enemy. There are good carbs out there like oats and brown rice, which gives your body the fuel you need to get through your workouts and your day in general.
This is where a strategy called 'Carb Cycling' comes in handy. Let us dig deeper to understand what Carb Cycling really is.
What is Carb Cycling?
This diet strategy requires you to alternate your carbs from high carb days to low carb days. It is the act of adjusting your carb intake from one day to the next based on your daily activity levels and fitness requirements.
The trick is to eat more carbs when you are more active through the day and fewer carbs when you're at rest. Cycling your carbs helps you break through any weight loss plateau and helps you stick with your diet for the long run.
Benefits of Carb Cycling
Theoretically, it can do quite a few things. But before we discuss that, it's important to know there's very little human research done on carb cycling. The benefits are listed based on anecdotal reports about how carb cycling works, along with a few hypotheses based on biochemistry.
Okay, enough with the disclaimers. Here's what carb cycling might do for you.
Carb Cycling Can Prevent a Decline in Your Metabolic Rate
When you eat less to lose fat, your body responds in various ways, as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) drops, and you expend less energy when you work out. Your daily activity level outside of workouts tends to decrease naturally (you move around less without realizing it). This is where your metabolic rate starts to decline, and you further need to restrict your diet to cope with it. But the carb cycling approach can help you to prevent the declination in your metabolic rate. Mixing high carb days and low carb days jumpstarts your metabolism and keeps it from declining.
Regulates Your Fat Loss Hormones
When you are trying to lose fat, leptin is the hormone that should be the primary concern for you. Leptin plays a considerable role in controlling your hunger and metabolic adaptation. The more body fat you have, the more leptin is in your blood. Your brain utilizes leptin levels to make decisions about hunger, calorie intake, nutrient absorption, and energy use. So, when you reduce calorie intake, your leptin levels also drop along with it. This sends a signal to your brain that you need to eat to prevent starvation. The carb cycling approach helps raise the leptin levels on high carbs when you eat more calories through carbs. Hypothetically, this should trick your brain into thinking that you're well-fed, causing a temporary decrease in hunger and appetite by maintaining the leptin levels in your blood. And because of this little high-carb, high-calorie break, it gets easier for you to stick to a lower calorie intake on low-carb days.
Carbs depletion can make you feel cranky, but it does not always imply fatigue. The Carb cycling approach boosts energy levels and prevents fatigue because you do not keep your body depleted of carbs for a long time as other low-calorie low carbs diet approach do.
Lean Muscle Mass Growth
The Carb cycling approach can be beneficial for both the fat loss and muscle building process. The difference is the total number of calories you are consuming in a day. If you eat in a slight surplus while following the carb cycling approach, you can build good lean muscle mass over time.
How To Do Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling will require a bit more planning than a traditional diet approach. This is because you will need to weigh and track your daily carbs and calorie intake consistently. Using a food app like MyFitnessPal or HealthifyMe might be a great help in tracking your daily intake.
Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind while approaching Carb cycling routine: -
You can cycle your carbs daily or even on a weekly basis. Let us take an example here of a man weighing 80kgs wanting to follow a carb cycling approach.
Daily carb cycling approach
- Monday - <160g carbs
- Tuesday - around 320g carbs
- Wednesday - <160g carbs
- Thursday - around 320g carbs
And so on,
Weekly carb cycling approach
- Week 1 - <160g carbs
- Week 2 - around 320g carbs
- Week 3 - <160g carbs
- Week 4 - around 320g carbs
And so on,
So, on a high carb day, you can eat as much as 4x carbs (in grams) of your body weight (in kgs) and on low carb days, you need to limit your carbs intake to 2x grams of your body weight in kgs.
Your protein intake will be consistent around 2x (grams) bodyweight in kgs daily if you want to maintain or grow your muscle mass. The only manipulation that takes place is between your carbs and fat intake. On low carbs day, you need to up your fat intake and vice versa.
On low carb days, you can cut down your calories further and on high carb days, you can increase your calories by the same amount.
The Bottom Line
Carb Cycling is an approach you should try when your body has stopped responding to your existing diet and training and you feel stuck in the middle of nowhere. This will give a much-needed boost to your metabolism and always keep your body guessing by manipulating your body's primary source of fuel - Carbohydrates.
st. Pierre, M. B. S. (2021, April 9). Carb cycling: Is this advanced fat loss strategy right for YOU? (Take the quiz.). Precision Nutrition. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-carb-cycling
Kresta, J. Y., Byrd, M., Oliver, J. M., Canon, C., Mardock, M., Simbo, S., Jung, Y., Koozehchian, M., Khanna, D., Lockard, B., Dalton, R., Kim, H. K., Rasmussen, C., & Kreider, R. B. (2010). Effects of diet cycling on weight loss, fat loss and resting energy expenditure in women. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(S1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-s1-p21