If you're familiar with different dieting techniques, you may have heard of carbohydrate cycling. Carb cycling is a strategy for providing your body with needed carbohydrates while maintaining a high-protein, caloric-deficient diet. Carb cycling is popular among bodybuilders and women who compete in figure and fitness competitions, but it can also help the average Jane shed some unwanted chub or overcome a diet plateau. Before making any changes to your diet, remember to talk with your doctor.
First, you must understand that all carbs are not the same. There are nutrient-dense carbs which are low on the glycemic index, and there are nutrient-void, high-glycemic carbs. Of the two, you should stick with the former. Some examples of good carbs include brown rice, whole grains, oatmeal and vegetables. "Bad carbs" are often processed foods with added fats, sugars and sodium, such as candy, potato chips and fruit juice. "Bad carbs" provide an immediate source of energy, flooding your bloodstream with glucose. In response, your insulin levels spike, increasing the likelihood that whatever carbs aren't immediately used will be stored as fat. On the other hand, low-glycemic carbs provide a steady, slow-burning energy source that doesn't cause insulin to spike.
How Carb Cycling Works
To lose weight, you must create a deficit of 3,500 calories for each pound. The problem with calorie deficits is that over time, they can result in a sluggish metabolism. You need carbs to fuel workouts, but you need a deficit to lose weight. Carb cycling provides an effective solution to this diet conundrum. The way it works is pretty straightforward. While there are different ways to cycle carbs, the basic premise involves rotating high-carbohydrate days with low-carbohydrate days to keep your metabolism stimulated, prevent muscle loss and maintain an overall calorie deficit to help you shed fat.
The lowest recommended daily calorie intake for women is about 1,200 calories, which should be about the amount of calories you take in on your low-carb days. On these days, reduce carb intake by 50 to 100 grams. For example, if you eat 200 grams of carbs on a high-carbohydrate day, you could drop to around 100 grams on a low-carb day. Keep your protein and fat intake the same in order to achieve a solid deficit on these days.
On your high-carb days, you are permitted to eat your maximum allowance of healthy carbohydrates. If you're consuming 100 additional grams of carbohydrates, you'll be taking in about 400 more calories on these days. It may seem counterintuitive to raise calorie intake when you're trying to burn fat, but including these higher-carb days will keep your metabolic furnace burning and help you feel energized.
Cycling and Timing
A basic carb cycling plan is high-low-high-low. This is a good place to start if you're new to the technique. If you don't seem to be losing much body fat after the first couple of weeks, you might want to include more low-carb and fewer high-carb days.
The timing of your carb intake is also important, no matter what day it is. Always try to eat most of your carbs early in the day, when you're most active. You don't need to flood your body with energy before you go to bed at night.
Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.