Thinking of trying carb cycling in your weight loss journey?
Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred source of energy. They are used as energy by your body for every day bodily processes as well as fuelling your workouts. Ingesting carbs also replenishes our glucose and glycogen stores to prevent fatigue.
If you need energy fast, glucose is a great option, which is why many go for a bottle of Lucozade for fast acting carbs. So the problem with carbs is that they are often seen as the criminal of weight gain. If your body is storing them for later use then that must mean you’re getting heavier? To an extent this is correct but we need to look at it in more detail to really understand how carbs work.
Carb cycling is a term you have no doubt come across before, that’s because it’s a pretty popular one in regards to the fitness industry and dieting.
The term is often fraught with confusion and many people tend to over complicate it.
What exactly is carb cycling?
So before we get into the ins and outs of it, it’s pretty important we discuss what it is so you are clear. It describes a dietary approach in which you alternate carb intake on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. It is commonly implemented to lose body fat, maintain physical performance while dieting, or overcome a weight loss plateau. This ‘cycling’ of carbs will allow you to rid your body of stored water and maximise the utilisation of the carbohydrates you use making them less likely to be stored as glycogen.
The good, the bad and the ugly carbs
Carbs are not the evil food type the media would have you believe, the problems come with the mis-timed consumption of carbohydrates. In simplistic terms carbs will get stored as fat if they aren’t used. It’s also important to understand the difference between high GI carbs and low GI carbs so let’s take a look…
High GI carbs – These are quickly digested and give you a spike in blood sugar. They are ideal before and after workouts to give you almost instant energy. Examples include white potatoes, white bread, energy drinks etc.
Low GI carbs – These are slowly digested to give you a more tapered release of energy. They fuel your body over a period of time and don’t give you the quick spike in blood sugar. Examples include sweet potato, multi grains, brown rice etc.
So looking at the 2 types of carbs above, look at what your diet contains. Are you eating too many high GI carbs and not counteracting their effect with enough exercise? This is where you might be going a little wrong. This is in fact where most people hit the weight loss plateau.
How to implement carb cycling
No two methods are the same when it comes to carb cycling and many people try and test different methods to find out what works best. If you have hit a weight loss plateau then carb cycling might be a good idea. If you follow a good exercise regime a simple and easy way of carb cycling is to ensure you time your carbs around your workouts so have them in the meal before and the meal after your workout. On rest days where you aren’t exercising have little to no carbs. It’s also suggested to have higher fats on the zero-no carb days.
A very simplified example of this sort of carb cycling during a day of training and a day of no training would look like this:
Meal 1 – Omelette with spinach
Meal 2– Chicken breast, sweet potato & side salad
Meal 3 – Protein shake with a scoop of oats
Meal 4 – Tuna steak and asparagus
Meal 1 – Omelette with spinach
Meal 2- Chicken breast, broccoli and side salad
Meal 3 – Lean steak with mixed vegetables
Meal 4 – Salmon and asparagus with lots of leafy veg
Get the idea?
Another popular method of carb cycling is the 3:2 approach. This involves you having three low carb days, followed by two higher carb days. The higher carb days will aid in recovery and replenish your body’s glycogen stores.
An example of this method would be:
- Day-1: 150 grams
- Day-2: 100 grams
- Day-3: 50 grams
- Day-4: 125 grams
- Day-5: 200 grams
After so long, you can decide whether you want to raise them a bit, or lower them, based on your results, and your body’s feedback.
When done correctly, carb cycling is a great method for losing weight effectively. Work with your body and your new found understanding of carbs to ensure you are managing your weight effectively.
Read more on How to Fuel Your Body Properly.