Believe it, ladies; you really can eat carbs and still lose weight, burn fat, and stay in shape. Over the past decade, carbs have gotten a seriously bad rep. The food group was shunned from diets as bread baskets were banned from dinner tables and plates of pasta were pushed away in favor of low-carb, “diet-friendly” options. The thing is, however, that we need carbs for our bodies and brains to function at their best. This is especially the case if you exercise regularly as they not only provide energy to keep you going at the gym but also replenish depleted levels of glycogen and “feed” muscles while they are repairing themselves.
Of course, that’s not to say stuffing your face with pizza and donuts every day is a good idea. Incorporating beneficial, unprocessed carbs such as sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, and whole grains into your diet, however, can do your body a world of good, especially when you carb cycle. “Carb cycling is a dietary approach in which you alternate carb intake on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. It’s commonly used to lose fat, maintain physical performance whilst dieting, or overcome a weight-loss plateau,” explains Ryan Atherton, owner and founder of celebrity hotspot ICAN Personal Training.
“Some people adjust their carb intake day to day, while others may do longer periods of low-, moderate-, and high-carb diets. It aims to time carbohydrate intake so as to maximize its benefits and exclude carbs when they’re not needed.” In a nutshell, it’s all about having “high-carb days” when your body needs to use them (when you’re working out intensely) and “low-carb days” when it doesn’t, thereby helping you burn fat, lose weight, and work out more efficiently.
Read on for Atherton’s in-depth explanation of carb cycling, from its benefits to its downsides.
The Benefits of Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is great for everyone, whether you’re looking to gain muscle or lose weight. It helps optimize nutrient intake to maximize performance and burn fat. It tries to match the body’s need for calories or glucose. It provides carbohydrates around the workout or on days with intense training, and these high-carb days also refuel muscle glycogen, which improves performance and reduces muscle breakdown. Strategic high-carb periods can also improve the function of weight- and appetite-regulating hormones. In contrast, low-carb days switch the body over to a predominantly fat-based energy system, which can improve metabolic flexibility and the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel in the long term, as well as regulate insulin levels. This approach really maximizes the benefits that carbohydrates provide.
How to Carb Cycle
There are many variations to carb cycling, including daily alterations or longer periods of high- and low-carb cycles. Even more so than a regular diet, carb cycling can take a lot of adjustment and fine-tuning along the way. Experiment with the amount of high-carb days per week as well as the amount of carbs per day. Find the best approach for your lifestyle, exercise routine, and goals.
The Downsides to Carb Cycling
Although carb cycling can help you achieve amazing results in terms of packing on lean muscle while losing fat, it also could have some potential downsides. If you cut your carbs to very low on your low days, you can cause your body to become sensitive to carbohydrates, which basically tells your body to go crazy and hold on to everything you put in it! If your body tends to hold a lot of water weight, carb cycling can increase this, especially after high-carb days. It will normally even itself out throughout the week, and trial and error will help determine whether or not this lifestyle is right for you. The benefits of carb cycling definitely outweigh the negatives, but the best part is that it’s completely up to you to decide how to eat and fuel your body.