How is carb cycling different from every other weight loss method? Can you expect to lose more weight by carb cycling? What are the benefits to carb cycling?
These are just a few of the questions you might have when it comes to the idea of carb cycling for weight loss. First, let’s clear something up. Carb cycling probably isn’t going to help you lose anymore weight than any other diet. There are probably 1,000 different diets out there, and nearly every single one of them would give you results if you would just be consistent and stick to them.
But therein lies the problem – your ability to stick to the diet. The majority of diets out there either severely limit your food choices, or make you so miserable on them, that you already have the odds stacked against you before you even get started.
So to answer all those questions:
- Carb cycling is different because it doesn’t restrict any macronutrient. It can be incorporated into a lifestyle change because the diet has no expiration date.
- You shouldn’t expect to lose more weight vs other eating protocols. However, carb cycling gives you a greater chance of holding onto your muscle while losing body fat.
- The benefit of cycling your carbs over other diets is that it has both physiological and psychological benefits. Not only does it keep the fat loss moving, but it satisfies the mind – probably the most important part of any diet.
Why It Works
To understand why carb cycling works, we first need to understand why diets fail. Let’s look at some of those reasons and see why carb cycling is effective at bypassing those potential failures.
- Not Eating Enough – Most diets create a calorie deficit and then keep it there for the duration of the diet. Carb cycling is different because there are low calorie days thrown in with the occasional high calorie day. This helps to “reset” your body’s metabolism and keep the starvation mechanisms at bay.
- You’re Dieting Instead of Changing Your Lifestyle – All those 4, 8, and 12 weeks diets have one thing in common – they all end, leaving you just as lost as when you started. Carb cycling solves this problem because it can be formulated into a lifestyle change instead of just a diet.
- Lack of Nutrients – By eating foods from all 3 primary macronutrients, you give yourself the best chance of getting in all the essential vitamins and minerals necessary to maximize fat loss and muscle building.
- Diet Foods Taste Bad – The association between dieting and bad tasting food has a lot to do with the restriction of many foods – namely carbohydrates. Not only does carb cycling not exclude carbohydrate intake, but it encourages high carbohydrate days. Who doesn’t love carbs? You can still eat great tasting foods when you diet.
- Slow Weight Loss – It’s going to be imperative that you stay off the scale when you carb cycle, and use these alternative methods to measure your progress. The reason it’s even more important is because cycling your carbohydrates causes large swings in weight. Because of the large fluctuation in carbohydrate intake throughout the week, and the accompanying water that attaches to each glucose molecule to create glycogen, your weight can swing several pounds in either direction. However, if you have your calorie intake right, you should be consistently losing weight over a period of time.
- Can’t Control Cravings – Have you ever tried a no-carb diet? Just about everyone has given it a shot by now. Some people have had luck on them, but I personally find it very hard to control food cravings. By having a higher calorie, high carbohydrate day every few days, it helps to restore many of the appetite suppressing and satiety inducing hormones.
Carb Cycling Meal Plan
Alright, alright, so you understand the concept of carb cycling, but how do you actually do it? The idea is very simple – you cycle your carbohydrate intake so that you have low, medium, and high carbohydrate days. There are many ways to do this, and I recommend that you tailor the pattern to your lifestyle. Some examples are:
- low, low, medium, low, high – repeat
- low, medium, low, high – repeat
- low, high, low, high, low – repeat
I think you get the point. You cycle your carbohydrate and calorie intake by simply having low, medium, and high days. So which pattern is the best? I like to follow a couple of basic principles.
- Use medium and high days on weight training days, and low days on cardio or rest days. This helps replenish glycogen stores when insulin sensitivity is high, and limits carbohydrate intake when physical activity is low.
- Have a high carbohydrate day on the weekend when it is socially convenient to do so. This way you don’t have to feel like such a social outcast when you’re trying to be healthy around all your “see food diet” friends.
You might be wondering what your typical day and meals are going to look like. I like to keep my protein intake constant whether it’s a low, medium, or high carbohydrate day, and raise my fat intake on low carb days, while decreasing it on high carb ones. The basic guidelines to follow are:
- Eat between .8- 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight.
- Your low carb days should have 50/50 calories coming from protein and fat. You don’t necessarily need to have no carbohydrates on this day, you just need to keep them low – under 50 grams.
- Your medium carb days will have 100-200 grams of carbohydrates.
- Your high carb days will have 400-600 grams of carbohydrates. By doing this, you automatically increase your calories up and above maintenance levels and reset many of your body’s hunger and metabolism hormones. Keep fat low on this day, as your insulin levels are going to be high. Since insulin is a storage hormone, you don’t want to add fat into that environment.
Understand that you will need to experiment with the amount of high-carb days you can have. Some people can only get away with one per week and need to stick to low and medium carbohydrate days the rest of the week. Monitor your fat loss closely and adjust as needed. There is no one size fits all approach to carbohydrate cycling. Carb cycling is more a way of eating than a diet, but once you have it dialed in, the fat loss potential can be amazing.