You may equate carbs to the bogeyman -- take one bite of bread or mouthful of pasta and you'll gain 3 inches round your waist, but this isn't the case. Carbs play an important role in your body and avoiding them completely could lead to nutrient deficiencies. By manipulating your intake between high and low days however, you can have your (rice) cake and eat it while still losing fat. One way you can do this is by switching to a carb-cycling diet.
The Role of Carbs
Carbs are your body's main source of energy, yet low-carb diets are regularly recommended to women as a way of losing weight. Cutting back on carbs automatically lowers your calorie intake, particularly if you rely heavily on foods like bread, potatoes and candy. When you eat fewer carbs and boost your protein intake, your metabolism kicks into overdrive and kick-starts the fat-burning process, according to trainer Rachel Cosgrove. Low-carb diets also lower your levels of insulin -- the hormone that can prevent fat burning, according to MayoClinic.com. Unfortunately, going low-carb all the time could be a mistake. Prolonged periods of low-carb dieting leave you weak and lacking in energy, so balance your intake.
Your low-carb days are the catalyst for weight-loss success. The easiest way to manage your low-carb days is to avoid any foods high in starch or sugar. These include bread, potatoes, rice, any junk food, pastries and even higher-sugar fruits, such as pineapple and raisins. Instead, focus on protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, lean beef, low-sugar yogurt and eggs. You'll still need some carbs, so add in beans and legumes for fiber and fill up on green veggies. A sample day could include an omelet with low-fat cheese, mushrooms and tomato for breakfast, a grilled salmon salad with pinto beans and a bowl of strawberries for lunch, cottage cheese with peanut butter for a midafternoon snack and a lean steak with green beans, asparagus and kale for dinner.
Have a higher-carb day once every three to four days, advises nutritionist Ryan Andrews. Avoid binging on carbs -- be sensible and add small servings of carbs to foods that you would eat on your low-carb days. Add 1/2 cup of oats to your breakfast, swap your lunchtime salad for a sandwich or add a small handful of cooked pasta to the salad. Throw in a banana or a whole-grain bagel midafternoon and cut back on a few of your evening veggies in favor of a small baked or sweet potato.
It isn't just about the carbs. Carb cycling certainly has its advantages, but calories still count. Many low-carbers make the mistake of filling up on extra fat. While a little extra fat can give you energy on a low-carb day, going to town on nuts, oils and cheese is a surefire way to overshoot your calorie intake. To work out how many calories you need, use the following formula:
655 + (4.35 x your weight in pounds) + (4.7 x your height in inches) - (4.7 x your age in years)
This gives you the number of calories you burn each day while resting, but you need to factor activity levels into that too. Multiply your result by an activity factor. If you're generally sedentary, multiply by 1.4; if you're lightly active, multiply by 1.5; if you're moderately active, multiply 1.6; and if you're very active, multiply by 1.9. This is your maintenance calorie intake, and to lose weight, you need around 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than this each day. Track your calorie intake on your low- and high-carb days to ensure that you're you are consuming roughly the right number of calories. Adjust your intake if progress stalls.
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