What Is Carb Cycling?

If you have been reading the nutrition posts here, you have probably heard carb cycling multiple times before. In the most basic format, carb cycling is a planned change of carbohydrate intake in order to prevent a fat loss plateau and maintain metabolism along with workout performance.

There are different methods of carb cycling. However, the common theme behind them is that protein and fat intake stay relatively constant while carbohydrate intake is manipulated. Carb cycling also typically involves calorie cycling. Since carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, adjusting carbohydrate intake while keeping fat and protein more or less the same can greatly alter calorie intake.

carb cycling

How Carb Cycling Works

There are various different methods of carb cycling. What seems to work well for most people who are moderately active is going back and forth between low and medium carb days during the week and having one high carb day on the weekend. For others, it works better to have three to four low carb days, followed by one to two higher carb days to aid in recovery, and to replenish glycogen. It comes down to figuring out the right number of carbs to be used as fuel without becoming an excessive amount.

Some tweaking will be necessary for most, as some of us are a bit more “carb sensitive” than others. Activity level, training intensity level, age, as well as sex, will determine how much you will need to adjust things. It is highly recommended to keep a nutrition journal when cycling carbs to be able to chart progress and make adjustments during the diet. This takes the guesswork out of dieting, and can also be looked back upon in the future to see how the body responded to certain tactics, and is an invaluable tool.

Even though this method allows for a great deal of flexibility, always use carbs from clean foods, not processed/man-made foods. Sticking to real foods will help you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs and keep your body in check. These are the best sources of clean carbs to use when dieting in general, and when cycling carbs:
• Baked Potatoes
• Yams
• Sweet Potatoes
• Brown/Wild Rice
• Oatmeal
• Sprouted Grain Bread, like Ezekiel bread
• Whole grains, like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth

Carb Cycling Weekly Schedule

Here is a general example of a carb cycling week, where you have 4 low carb days, 2 medium carb days and one high carb day. As you can see, the nutrients’ quantities change from day to day, which creates a great environment for weight loss.

carb cycling

The Science Behind High-Carb Days

Many people refer to high carb days as “refeeds”. Higher carbohydrate intake days can increase thyroid output and control hunger, helping with dieting in the long term. It is normal for most people to increase their overall calories on the high carb day (to boost the carb intake that much higher) but by lowering the fat intake, you allow more room for those carbohydrates without going really crazy with your calorie level. Be prepared for the very likely experience of a slight weight gain when doing the higher carbohydrate day, due to water retention. For every gram of carbohydrate consumed, you’ll store water with it. Too many, too frequent or going overboard with carbs can still result in body fat gains. So don’t use it as an excuse to pig out.

Putting It Together

Carb cycling may help control appetite and fat loss hormones. Their job is to try to make sure we eat enough and have enough body fat. With a lower carbohydrate intake, fiber intake will also be lower. Make sure to consume high-fiber foods and supplements and drink plenty of water to prevent constipation. Carb cycling can maximize glycogen stores and improve workouts during a low calorie period.

Coming Up In Part 2

– What to eat on different days of carb cycling to stay satisfied every day of the week?
– Tips and tricks for making low carb swaps that taste delicious.

by: Alysha Coughler, Body Beautiful Transformation Coach and Registered Dietitian (RD, MHSc)