Lately, my clothes have been fitting a little tighter and because I’m too cheap to go buy a whole new wardrobe, I decided to clean up my eating habits to drop a few pounds. Because I’m a creature of habit, I pulled out my copy of Extreme Fat Smash Diet, my go-to diet for whipping myself back into shape when I’ve strayed into bad eating habits. When I mentioned my latest undertaking to my BFF, she started telling me about this carb cycling eating plan she is following. I don’t remember exactly what she said because all I heard was “….I’m eating all the time…..lost 3 pounds in the past 5 days…..not dragging during my workouts….”.
I’m a skeptic by nature so I did what I normally did and started researching to find out all I could about this “diet.” It turns out, it’s more of a sound nutritional principle (though you can find lots of “carb cycling diets”). I know you’re busy so I’m not going to send you off to read a bunch of books or hunt down articles. Instead, I’m going to boil down the key points so you can understand the principle and why it’s important and then I’m going to give you some simple guidelines so you can easily improve your health by using it.
What is Carb Cycling?
Quite simply, carb cycling is alternating high carbohydrate and low carbohydrate days. A lot of diets (e.g. Atkins, South Beach, Paleo) define carbs as the enemy to health and a slim physique. I don’t think any of us believe the path to wellness is paved with donuts and potato chips, but certainly not ALL carbs are bad. Plus, if you’ve followed any strict low- or no-carb diets, you know how much of a toll those diets take on your energy level. I tried Atkins once and though I lost 10 pounds on it, I was EXHAUSTED and absolutely dreaded the gym because I had no energy. The fact is, your body needs carbs for energy. But if you have too many carbs, they end up getting stored as fat and, over the long-term, can create insulin resistance so there are good reasons for limiting your carb intake.
Carb cycling is a way for you to consume valuable carbs to fuel your workouts, facilitate muscle development AND promote fat loss. It keeps your metabolism revving so that you are a fat-burning, muscle making machine all day every day. Not only that, you’ll provide vital nutrients to your muscles, promote a healthy insulin response within your body, and you’ll feel great and full of energy. With carb cycling, you eat healthy, high-quality carbs every other day, while limiting carbs on the days in between.
Guidelines For Carb Cycling
The general concept of carb cycling is pretty simple — alternate high carb days with low carb days. Beyond that, there are a few other things you should take into account when you carb cycle.
- Try to time your strength workouts on high carb days since the carbs are necessary for muscle growth and repair
- Don’t go TOO high on high carb days (no more than one serving at each meal plus one snack)
- Choose healthy, high-quality carbs (e.g. quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potato, whole wheat bread)
- On low carb days substitute greens (e.g. spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli) for your starch
- Don’t eat fruits on low carb days or limit them as much as possible
- Eat OFTEN! Ideally you should aim to eat every 3 hours to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep your metabolism kicking
Sample Carb Cycling Menu
High Carb Day
Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries plus scrambled eggs OR Greek yogurt with granola plus glass of juice
Morning Snack: Smoothie OR Protein shake
Lunch: Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread OR Chicken salad whole-wheat tortilla wrap
Afternoon Snack: Banana with peanut butter OR Piece of fruit and handful of nuts
Dinner: Grilled chicken and veggies with baked sweet potato OR Broiled tilapia and asparagus with brown rice
Low Carb Day
Morning Snack: Protein shake
Lunch: Chef salad
Afternoon Snack: Carrots with Greek yogurt ranch dip
Dinner: Sirloin steak kabobs with salad
That’s it! If you make the right food choices, you really can eat all day long, stay full, have lots of energy, AND achieve or maintain a healthy weight and a tone body. You DON’T have to give up carbs forever.