Carb Cycling, a.k.a the fat loss technique where you schedule your carbohydrate intake each week...
It’s gaining a lot of buzz in the healthy eating world. Wondering if it’s right for you, not sure how to change your eating plan, or most importantly, just curious to know how spaghetti is still on the menu? Nutritional Consultant Jill Coleman explains all…
So how does Carb Cycling actually work?
‘Carb cycling is a nutritional approach that requires you to cycle your carbohydrate intake day to day,’ Jill explains. ‘The idea is that your body never gets used to having a set amount of carbs every day, and thus stays responsive. The discrepancy between the amounts of carbohydrate you eat each day will help you to stay sensitive to insulin and gain muscle (minimising fat gain), while also having times where glycogen (stored carbs) is low allowing the body to burn off its fat stores. You’ll also alter your exercise accordingly, to burn the most energy on a high carb day. A big part of the approach lies in the satisfaction factor of higher carb days. The idea is that you feel more compliant on lower carb days because you know a higher carb day is right around the corner.’
What could a week’s worth of Carb Cycling meal plans look like?
‘In carb cycling, your week is divided among three types of days: no carb days, low-carb days and high-carb days.’
No carb days: ‘On no carb days these, you eat high-fibre vegetables such as leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms freely, along with lean protein and a serving or two of good fats. Refrain from starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, cereals and oats. These include starchier veggies such as beans, zucchini, squash, and pumpkin. Total carb intake should be less than 25 grams per day – all from fibrous veggies.’
Low carb days: ‘Here, the goal is to stay below 75 grams of carbohydrates. Once again, fibrous veggies can be eaten freely, but add in two to three servings of starch from clean sources such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, starchy veggies and fruit. “Clean” carbs are hypoallergenic ones — free of gluten, soy and dairy. For best results, having starchy carbs post-workout on these days is recommended.’
High carb days: ‘The total amount of carbs will vary based on your size and activity level. Women will consume between 150 and 200 grams while men can get away with up to 300 grams. Don’t forget to continue to eat plenty of lean protein and a serving or two of healthy fats. A high-carb day is not an excuse to binge eat; it’s a systematic way to reset muscle-building and fat-burning hormones. Most of your carbs should come from clean sources. But if you are going to enjoy a cheat meal, it is advantageous to have it on a high-carb day.’
What about pasta?
‘Yes, of course you can eat any food you want to any time (as a side note, I think the idea of putting foods on an off-limits list only makes us want them more and eventually eat them more). The key to having any carbs that are straight-up starch, i.e very little micronutrition and very little fibre, is in eating them strategically. The best time to eat these types of carbs, which include bread, pasta, granola and cereal, is immediately post-workout when insulin sensitivity is the highest. Your body can usually use them best then, as opposed to conversion into fat and stored.’
What does a carb cycle program like this actually do inside the body?
‘Using these three daily eating protocols, it’s possible to alter the body’s hormonal environment to maximise fat loss and muscle gain throughout the week.
A sample week of carb cycling looks like this:
Day 1: No carb
Day 2: Low carb
Day 3: High carb
Day 4: No carb
Day 5: No carb
Day 6: Low carb
Day 7: High carb
Since carb cycling employs high carb days, it’s psychologically satisfying, curbing cravings and making it easier to adhere to the program. But when we do two or more higher carb days in a row, fat storage momentum can build. That’s why no-carb days follow high-carb days – it minimizes the potential for fat storage and keeps your body insulin-sensitive.’
What results can people expect?
‘I have had the best results with those women who are already less than 20% body fat, so very athletic, mostly because their metabolisms are already responsive, so noticing visible changes is easier. With women who have a body fat percentage above 20% or who have 15+ pounds to lose, the magic is in the nutritional relief and satisfaction factor. Those who usually have a harder time sticking to a nutrition plan use the built-in relief of higher carb days to tough out the lower carb ones. For those just getting started on their healthy lifestyle journey, having built-in cheats and sweets can also help overall consistency, which of course is the most key for long-term success.’
Are there any downsides we should be aware of?
‘The biggest warning I have is a high-level one and that is: beware of *needing* to be on ANY meal plan all the time. The best thing you can do for your long-term success is learn your own body inside and out and know what foods nourish it, and which foods do it wrong. Whenever we become completely reliant on what I call a Magic Meal Plan, we tend to perpetuate the all-or-nothing way of eating, which can become a trap. Instead, stay flexible, understand your body and listen to it’s biofeedback like hunger, energy and cravings, and remember that in order for you to find a forever-solution for your nutrition, you have to actually like how you eat! So if you end up dreading those low-carb days and feel miserable, chances are you won’t be able to do it long-term. Stay aware, stay mindful and find ways to *feel* satisfied every single day. More than anything, that will help your overall consistency.’
Love this? Here’s 5 great alternative recipes for your favourite carb dishes. Courgette spaghetti, anyone?