What Is Carb Cycling (And Should You Try It?)
CARBS! …did that scare you? Diet trends tend to come and go, and we’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about terrible, no-good carbs.
The fear makes sense—the bulk of our daily caloric intake comes from carbs, and we know you need to watch your calories to lose weight. Not to mention that a lot of the “fun” carbs – cookies, white bread, sugary drinks – can make it harder to stick to your healthy eating goals.
A number of popular diets talk about restricting carbs (you can read more about Keto vs. Paleo diets for an example) or even eliminating them, but not all carbs are created equal. The right kind of carbs, like brown rice, fruit, or oats, fuel your body through your workouts and your day.
That brings us to carb cycling. It originates from the world of athletes and bodybuilders – ever heard of an athlete “carb loading” before a big game? They’re hoping their body will use the extra carbs as effective fuel. A few studies also suggest the additional carb intake can help refuel muscle glycogen, which may improve performance and aid in recovery. More recently, carb cycling has been used by people wanting to lose weight, gain muscle or end weight loss plateaus.
Carb cycling is a dietary approach where you vary your carb intake on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. On days when someone on a carb cycling diet plans to train more intensely, they would consume more carbs. For example, someone on a carb cycling diet might have three low-carb days, two moderate-carb days and two high-carb days spread out through their week. Some sources say protein and fat intake should remain about the same on these days, while others say fat intake should increase on low-carb days.
Carb cycling can be easier for dieters than going “cold turkey” on carbs, so some think of it as an easier approach to low carb dieting. Carb cycling is a relatively new dietary approach, but studies have shown that strategizing high-carb periods may improve the function of leptin and ghrelin, hormones that regular weight and appetite. Not to mention there are plenty of weight-loss stories that attribute their success to carb cycling.
But carb cycling doesn’t work for everyone. It requires careful dietary planning and is intended to be used for a short duration. Some find that the “ups and downs” of carb cycling can make them feel irritable, or they experience a lack of energy on low-carb days. It’s also important to mention that if you have diabetes, heart disease or any type of metabolic syndrome, a low-carb diet could be dangerous for you.
While there are a variety of “carb cycling calculators” available on the web, the amount of carbohydrates you need each day can vary greatly, so it’s best to consult a medical professional to learn what’s right for you. If you’re considering a dietary change like carb cycling, talk to your doctor or a registered dietician.