Ever hear of eating carbs to lose weight? If you carb cycle the right way, it’s a powerful fat-loss tool!
Some people swear by a low-carb diet to lose weight, while others eat moderate amounts of carbs and say it works just as well. So which do you choose? Fortunately, there’s a way you can choose both (and potentially burn even more fat).
This method is called carb cycling. Read on to strategize the best way to use it to boost metabolism.
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What Is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling involves switching between high-carb days, low-carb days, and moderate-carb days throughout the week to encourage fat loss and muscle growth. The theory is that cycling your carbs helps you lose weight while avoiding the low mood associated with more restrictive low-carb diets.
But does it really work? Let’s dive into the benefits of carb cycling below, and how it can equal big results when it comes to fat loss.
Why Carb Cycling Is Great for Fat Loss
Increases Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is the hormone responsible for turning the carbs you eat into energy. When you eat a carb-rich meal, insulin picks up the glucose (sugar) molecules from your bloodstream and ushers them into your cells to be burned as fuel. This keeps your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day.
However, this system can become overworked from the constant intake of too many carbs. Think of it this way: every time you eat a carb-rich meal (but most especially processed carbs and junk food), your body has to release a ton of insulin to keep your blood sugar in check. Over time, your cells essentially “burn out” and become less sensitive to the effects of insulin.
When this happens, excess glucose remains in your bloodstream, since it needs insulin to be able to be used by your cells. Your body now has to get rid of this excess glucose since it’s not being burned off, so what does it do? It stores it as fat.
Luckily, giving your system a break from carbs several times a week can encourage your cells to become more insulin-sensitive once again, which can help your body use carbs more efficiently and store less as fat. (1)
Including a few low-carb days into your week also gives your body a chance to “dip into” its fat stores. This occurs when your body uses up all of the glucose in your bloodstream for energy, but still requires more to power you through your day. When it doesn’t have immediate access to any, it begins to burn fat for fuel.
Boosts Your Metabolism
The idea of forcing your body to burn its fat reserves by constantly restricting carbs is, of course, extremely tempting. The problem with doing this for the long term is that another hormone intricately linked to fat-burning – leptin – becomes disrupted.
Leptin controls your hunger and satiety signals, as well as your metabolic rate. Leptin levels can become too low when you go on a low-carb diet for a long period of time. This ultimately tells your body that it should conserve energy, so it begins to slow down your metabolism. However, when you eat carbs again, leptin is spiked, which in turn raises your metabolism so that you keep burning fat. (2)
When you carb cycle, you keep your leptin sensitive by not overstimulating it with too many carbs on your low-carb days, while also not slowing down your metabolism by restricting carbs for too long. It’s a win-win.
Helps Preserve Muscle Mass (Which Helps Burn More Fat)
The act of working your muscles during exercise causes them to break down so that they can grow back stronger. Unfortunately, if your calories or carbs are kept too low when you’re training, you can prevent your muscles from growing. This is because muscles require fuel, mainly in the form of glycogen from carbohydrates, in order to grow. (3)
When your muscles have this fuel and you begin to develop more lean tissue, you’ll naturally burn more calories throughout the day. (4) This is why the high-carb days in your carb cycle will overlap with more intense training days – so that your muscles have the nutrients they need to develop.
How to Carb Cycle for Fat Loss
Carb cycling is a fairly straightforward process. Essentially, you want to focus on having your higher-carb foods on hard workout days, and your lower-carb foods on rest days or light workout days.
On high-carb days, focus on eating starchy veggies at every meal. Your intake can range from 150 to 250 grams. Focus on filling each of your meals with a serving or two of starchy roots and tubers like sweet potatoes, carrots, plantains, and fruits, rounded out with proteins and greens.
High-carb days should also be your most intense workout days. Think resistance training, high-intensity interval training, or sprint workouts.
On moderate-carb days, include a starchy vegetable with your breakfast and keep the rest of the day low-carb. Do a moderate hike or go for a light jog.
On low-carb days, try not to exceed 50 to 75 grams, sticking mostly to higher-fat foods like avocado, green veggies, and a protein at each meal. Eat protein at every meal (grass-fed meats and fish) and lots of non-starchy veggies.
Example: Try a large green salad topped with avocado, walnuts, sunflower seeds, olive oil dressing, and a large wild salmon fillet, followed by a square of 80 percent dark chocolate.
Low-carb and moderate-carb day workouts should be lighter workouts: easy hikes, yoga, or any other low-intensity activity.
On your no-carb day, stick to 30 grams of carbs or less. Focus on leafy greens and other low-carb foods on the list below.
Your no-carb day should be your rest-and-recover day.
Low and High-Carb Food Examples
High-carb foods include starchy roots and fruits like sweet potato, taro root, carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, plantains, parsnips, chestnuts, pineapple, and winter squash.
Low-carb foods include all leafy greens like kale and spinach, avocado, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, olive and coconut oils, nuts, seeds, meats, and fish.
Sample Carb Cycling Week
- Day One: Low-Carb Day
- Day Two: High-Carb Day
- Day Three: Low-Carb Day
- Day Four: Moderate-Carb Day
- Day Five: High-Carb Day
- Day Six: Moderate-Carb Day
- Day Seven: No-Carb Day (Rest Day)
As you can see, cycling your carbs is relatively simple once you know exactly what to eat on rest and workout days. Now there’s only one thing left to do: get to browsing our recipe pages for meal ideas!