Carb Cycling: what is it and is it for me?
When it comes to achieving fat loss, there are many ways to achieve this as there is no one size fits all approach. Finding an approach which you can stick to, and one that suits your needs and lifestyle is key. One dieting approach which has been more commonly talked about among the fitness community is carb cycling. So what is it and is it right for you?
We caught up with Nutritionists @sophieeloisefit and @kristenstavridis to explain this dieting approach and take us though the pros and cons and asked fitness model @roxywinstanley to share her experience with carb cycling.
What is carb cycling?
To put it in simple terms, "carb cycling" is a form of dieting where we change our carbohydrate intake throughout the period of a week. Some days you'll have days where you have a higher carb intake which is usually on days you train and on other days you will have a lower carb intake which is usually on rest days. On high carb days, most of your daily food intake will come from carbohydrates as opposed to protein and fats. On low and medium carb days, you will reduce your carb intake and increase your protein and fat intake.
It can be an effective dieting approach but results will be dependent on the individual and can vary depending on how sensitive you are to carbohydrates, how well you handle them and whether it suits your needs and lifestyle.
As an example, a typical week of carb cycling could look something like this:
- Monday, Tuesday - Low Carb Days.
- Wednesday - High Carb Day
- Thursday - Medium Carb Day.
- Friday - Low Carb Day
- Saturday - High Carb day
So what are the benefits? - @sophieeloisefit
Carb cycling does have many different benefits to it, here are the ones we thought would be of interest to you.
- When we are losing weight, some of the weight loss can come from losing muscle which ideally, is what we want to retain. Carb cycling has shown to be efficient at retaining muscle, whilst also burning fat.
Can we elaborate a bit more?
- It also can be effective at raising your metabolism during a cut and optimizing fat loss as our metabolism lowers to meet our new and lower calorie intake.
How does this benefit you?
- It's more flexible and can be easier to stick to for a longer period of time compared with a diet consisting of the same daily calorie allowance
Higher carb days allows for more food which means that your diet can be more varied. Mentally it can help with the thought that it doesn't matter that you can't have something one day, because tomorrow you can. In this way it is much easier so you never feel deprived or go bored.
And the Negatives? - @kristenstavridis
Although carb cycling can be extremely effective for those looking to attain a very low body fat percentage, it is not a technique that is recommended for the majority of the population. Carbohydrate cycling may lead to some downfalls in health if not regulated by a professional, or if it is sustained over a long period of time. The main downsides are that:
- Carb cycling may affect your energy levels and performance.
On your low carbohydrate days, you energy levels may take a serious hit especially if you are carb adapted. Carbohydrates are the main source of preferred fuel for our bodies and on days where these are restricted, we may see it impacting on our performance in the gym and lead to sluggish energy levels throughout the day.
- Carb cycling may affect your mood negatively.
The process of restrictive calorie and/or carbohydrate intake can have a serious effect on our mental health and mood. Brain fog and irritability are common side effects of low carbohydrate intake on the days where these are decreased or even absent. Carbohydrate intake has also been shown to increase serotonin levels, so when they are absent you may feel moody or grouchy.
It may overcomplicate a diet plan or lifestyle.
A healthy eating or weight loss plan should be as simple as possible. For the majority of people who are not competing at an elite level of bodybuilding or as a physique athlete, carb cycling may confuse individuals and make weight loss seem a lot more difficult than it needs to be. In order to lose weight, simply get the fundamentals of attaining a calorie deficit right first, and then move on to more complicated nutrition strategies if needs be.
- Low carb days may impact on your digestion and fibre intake.
On days where you are limiting your carbohydrate intake or abolishing it completely, your fibre intake may take a serious hit. Limiting your amount of wholegrains, fruits and important fibrous foods can lead to constipation and even serious digestive issues. If you are carb cycling, ensure to take a supplement or eat enough fibre on your higher carb days to prevent this. Aim to get 30g fibre per day.
My experience with carb cycling - @roxywinstanley
Since I started competing in bikini competitions around 5 years ago, carb cycling is something that I implement into my daily life. Whether my focus is to maintain or to lose body fat, I'm always following a carb cycle to help me. Now I will never have 'no carb days', but I do have days where I will eat high carbs, known more commonly as a 'cheat days'.
To illustrate the different between my high and low carb days here's what my weekly diet looks like, but this is not to say this amount
- 4 low carb days a week - around 100g
- 2 medium carb days a week - around 250g
- 1 cheat meal on high carb day a week - around 500g
I think its important to note here that carb cycling has not restricted my social life or left me feeling deprived, as I can work my cycle around my plans and workouts. For example, if I know I am going out with friends I will plan that in as my high carb day and eat less carbs for the rest of the week. Planning is important otherwise you wont have the right amount of energy for your workouts. For me I tend to lift heavier weights when training my lower body so I know I'll need to ensure I have a medium to high carb day and a higher carb pre-workout meal.
My higher carb days are usually higher in calories, with my lower days being less in calories. This helps create that calorie deficit that is needed for weight loss. The higher and lower carb days also help keep me on the ‘diet wagon’. Without having a goal insight – getting on stage, a holiday etc, it is easy for some people to lose sight of why they are dieting and find it harder to stop reaching for the toast and Nutella. However having lower and higher days, allows me to have treats throughout the week and helps keep on track.
At the end of the day, follow a diet that works for you and one that you can stick to. Our bodies are very individual. A diet that works well for one person, may not work for another person. You might find that you need to experiment with various methods in order to find one that suits you. Carb cycling is just one approach and there are many different approaches when it comes to losing weight and achieving fat loss. We encourage you to carry out your own research on top of this before deciding to see if this approach is right for you.