Have you heard of the term carb cycling, but you don’t really know what it is or how to do it? Hey guys, it’s Ruth, and I’ve been working as a personal trainer/lifestyle coach for the last 18 years. During that time, I’ve seen a lot of diets come and go: South Beach, Atkins, Keto, Weight Watchers, the Zone Diet, Cabbage Soup just to name a few. Many of these diets work to a degree, but the problem I have with them is that they aren’t sustainable. Eliminating food groups or eating very few calories leaves one feeling deprived, and frankly, that isn’t something that you can do for the rest of your life. My goal is to help my clients eat healthy forever which is why I promote the carb cycling lifestyle. The carb cycling diet has been popular among bodybuilders, fitness models, personal trainers and certain types of athletes for decades. Carb cycling, eating more carbs only on certain days of the week, is believed to be beneficial as one of the best diet plans to lose weight and gain muscle because it stimulates certain digestive and metabolic functions.
With so many diets on the market, finding one that tastes good, doesn’t leave you feeling “hangry’, and gives you lasting results can be a challenge.
What if I told you there was a better way to clean eating? What if you could eat carbs, enjoy a cheat meal and feel satisfied every day? What if you could eat really good food and still lose weight. Would you try it?
I started experimenting with carb cycling in an effort to help my premenopausal clients lose weight. Many women experience some weight gain as their hormones fluctuate. I knew that carb cycling could help, I started structuring my meal plan in a way that would alter the amount of carbs they were consuming on different days of the week. My clients get plenty of carbs, just on certain days of the week. The results have been amazing!!!! My clients are eating lots of food and losing unwanted fat, seeing their abs for the first time, and don’t feel like they are on a diet. Personally, I carb cycle and have my clients carb cycle because it is easy to follow and can totally help people reach their body goals without feeling deprived. I have found this approach to be one of the easiest ways to help my clients reach their goals because it’s sustainable. Quite simply, If you can’t stick to something, it’s not going to work for you.
So, what is carb cycling anyway?
Carb cycling is a healthy lifestyle that involves eating more carbohydrates on certain days of the week but doing the opposite on the other days. In other words, carb cycling means you eat adequate amounts of carbs (ideally those that are unprocessed and nutrient-dense) about every other day or every few days depending on your specific goals. By alternating between high and low carb days, you can give your body the energy/fuel it needs to be active and then dip into fat stores when the carb stores are depleted.
This cycle keeps your body guessing and allows for increased muscle growth and fat loss.
How to Carb Cycle:
- The difference in your carb intake throughout the week means you alternate lower-carb days with higher-carb days. Eating more carbs and calories gives you a metabolic boost, while doing the opposite can slow your metabolic rate down. However, when carb cycling, you will have days where you cut your carbs and so your calorie consumption is usually less. This is one of the tricks that allows for weight loss.
- Many people also like to incorporate specific meal timing into their carb cycling diet plans. Some choose to eat more frequently (four to six times per day) because it helps them stick with their plans and might offer some metabolic advantages. Others like to incorporate aspects of intermittent fasting for quicker results, such as only eating two meals and a snack daily (skipping breakfast entirely). I love to incorporate both because it is simple and sustainable.
Ok, let’s take a look at what these days look like.
High carb days create an insulin response that delivers nutrients into your muscle cells, which causes them to grow, all the while replenishing glycogen stores that fuel your muscles. This will typically deliver happy hormones and positive feelings throughout your body as well. On high carb days, you can enjoy fruit, good for you carbs like potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, sprouted grains, spelt, oats and legumes. On high carb days, you will eat very little fat and plenty of protein. For workouts, you can do weight lifting, large muscle groups or endurance workouts.
Low carb days increase fat loss by tricking your body into burning fat instead of the sugar from the carbs it would normally be eating. This will also make your body more receptive to insulin, improving your body’s muscle-building response. When you hear the term “low carb”, do you automatically think of the starving feeling in your stomach?!? This should not be the case if done properly. Your low carb days are typically fueled from the carbs that are still in your system from the day before. On your low carb days, your main focus is fats and proteins for fuel. These items combined with a large amount of vegetables will keep you energized until your next high carb day. I eat plenty of leafy greens, grass fed beef, chicken, fish, seeds, nuts, coconut oil, avocado, and eggs on low carb days. For workouts, I love to do a pilates or yoga routine, small muscle groups like arms and abs, a short HIIT workout, or rest.
With so many nutrient dense carbs available, you should not have any cravings for the bad stuff. Just to be clear though, here are carbs that should be avoided at all costs:
Anything with white flour, sugar, candy, cake, cookies, crackers, most bread
Although there’s room for customization, here’s an example of a typical carb cycling diet meal plan:
- Monday: higher-carb day (weights, tabata or endurance type workouts)
- Tuesday: lower-carb day (HIIT, pilates, yoga, arms or abs)
- Wednesday: lower-carb day Rest
- Thursday: high-carb day (weights)
- Friday: lower-carb day (pilates/yoga)
- Saturday: higher-carb day/optional reward day where you enjoy a favorite meal “off plan” (endurance workout)
- Sunday: lower-carb day (walk, rest, arms, or abs)
Benefits of Carb Cycling
The primary benefit of a carb cycling diet is it intensifies and often speeds up weight loss while still preserving and even building lean muscle mass. When it comes to improving body composition, this is the gold standard because it keeps your metabolism running efficiently and allows you to maintain your weight more easily long term. There are so many benefits, but here are 5 of my favorite reasons to carb cycle.
- Helps Build and Preserve Lean Muscle Mass
Strength training and other forms of resistance exercise actually break down muscle tissue, only to make it grow back stronger. The process of rebuilding and repairing muscle tissue takes a lot of energy, and once again your body requires some of its primary fuel source (carbs) to do this. This is known as the post-workout anabolic window. Carbs help restore your energy and provide muscles with glucose for rebuilding or glycogen to be stored for future energy.
If you don’t consume enough calories and carbohydrates following resistance training, it’s likely you’ll starve your muscles of the fuel they need to grow back bigger and stronger. For this reason, many people who are focused on building muscle choose to have higher carb days after tough workouts.
Simply restricting calories and working out more can take a toll on your metabolism — leaving you weaker, fatigued and unable to consume as many calories without gaining weight. Alternating days of higher vs. lower carb intake, especially when timed around workouts, is beneficial for cutting your body fat percentage down while still not sacrificing your muscle mass. And that precious muscle is what keeps you burning calories at a healthy rate even into older age.
- Encourages Weight Loss (or Maintenance of a Healthy Weight)
When you enter into a “carb deficit,” meaning you take in less carbs than your body needs, you encourage weight loss because your body begins to burn stored fat for fuel.
Cutting carbs very low, and following plans like the ketogenic diet or Atkins, works for many people to improve certain health conditions and help them reach a healthy weight. However, for others, it’s difficult to sustain and actually can slow down the metabolism when followed long term due to hormonal changes. Carb cycling is one way to prevent weight regain and reduced motivation — plus it’s effective both the short term (giving you quick results and energy) and long term.
- Encourages You to Eat More Plant Based Foods
Carbohydrates are the primary type of macronutrient found in most plant foods, although exactly how many carbs a plant food has depends on the specific type. Whole foods that are higher in carbs, such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, beets and other root veggies, beans/legumes, and fruit, are often encouraged on higher carb days. Some of the healthiest foods in the world — such as leafy green veggies, cruciferous veggies, artichokes, asparagus, spinach, herbs and spices, for example — are actually pretty low in carbohydrates and therefore suitable for both high-carb and low-carb days.
A bonus of eating these foods is that they contain plenty of dietary fiber and antioxidants. Fiber keeps you regular and helps you reach satiety, while antioxidants fight free radical damage and slow the effects of aging. A healthy carb cycle diet plan does more than boost protein intake and vary carbs — it also teaches you how to incorporate essential nutrient dense foods into your meals in ways you actually enjoy.
- Helps You Stick with Healthy Eating Long Term
While it’s possible to lose weight following other diet plans that restrict overall calories, many find that carb cycling works faster and involves fewer feelings of deprivation. I actually love low carb days because i’m eating things like avocados, nuts, seeds, and coconut oil which keep me feeling satisfied all day long. Likewise, because things like grains, fruit and legumes are included at least one to three times per week while carb cycling (sometimes also along with a “cheat meal”), there’s more flexibility with a carb cycling diet compared to other diets, which helps people stick with it. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a lifestyle plan that allows me some flexibility.
- Helps Reduce Hormonal Fluctuations and Blood Sugar Swings
One of the best ways to reduce hormonal fluctuations or dips in energy levels is to keep your blood sugar stable. Carb Cycling helps with both because you are getting plenty of protein at each meal (and healthy fat on low carb days) Similarly, many studies have shown that a low-carb diet is a natural diabetes treatment and effective tool for patients with type 2 diabetes. This is because it can reduce overeating, especially of empty calories and junk foods.
The Carb Cycling Meal Plan
So, now that you have learned all the benefits of Carb Cycling, you may be more inclined to try this approach for a healthy lifestyle. If you want a plan that doesn’t feel like you are on a diet, that gets you results quickly, that tells you what to eat and when to eat it, I’ve got you covered. My 4 week Carb Cycling Plan for Fall spells it out for you. You’ll get:
✅4 full weeks of delicious fall-inspired meals
✅Step by Step Instructions on how to prepare them
✅ Tips on how to meal prep at the beginning of the week
✅ Healthy swaps that taste absolutely amazing
✅More confidence in the kitchen
Oh, and guess what, Right now, you can get the plan for 25% off for Black Friday!! (til the end of November) So, what are you waiting for? You have 1 body!! I’m thinking you should Love it with fat burning recipes like butternut squash chili, almond brownies, cauliflower crust pot pies, tilapia bowls, gingerbread pancakes, pumpkin poppers just to name a few. Are you ready to turn your body into a fat burning machine??
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