So, you’ve heard about diets that restrict carbs (oh hey, keto) but what about cycling them? Yep, it’s a thing, and it’s having a major moment. Here’s your beginner’s guide to carb cycling.
So, what is it? Carb cycling is an eating regime in which you alternate carbohydrate intake over time. The exact time frame (daily, weekly or monthly) and amount varies depending on the person, but an example might be eating a high amount of carbs (i.e., 200 grams) one day and a low amount (i.e., 50 grams) the next.
Does that mean I can eat as much pizza and fries as I want this weekend? Not exactly. Even on “high-carb” days, you should be eating the nutrient-dense, good-for-you stuff like sweet potatoes, oats and whole grain bread. (Sorry.)
Got it. And why are people doing this? Carb cycling is a popular technique with bodybuilders and professional athletes, largely due to research that suggests carb loading can improve performance. For us mere mortals, however, few studies have been done on the topic despite its recent surge in popularity as a weight loss tool.
How does it work? Although there has been limited research into the topic, the basic theory behind carb cycling goes something like this: When you’re doing high levels of activity (say, a super-intense spin class), then you should eat more carbs (typically about 60 percent of your total calorie intake) to fuel your body and repair muscle. But when you’re engaging in low to moderate activity (like chilling on your couch and catching up on Queer Eye), you eat less. By eating fewer carbs on a rest day, your body will burn fat for energy instead of glucose (which is also the idea behind the ketogenic diet), while “high carb” days make the diet more sustainable in the long run.
So, should I try it? “Carb cycling may be easier to stick to over the long term than a low-carb diet,” writes registered dietitian Christy Brissette in The Washington Post. “It also may help people move beyond weight loss or training plateaus. Further, modest reductions in carbohydrate-rich foods, especially those high in refined carbohydrates, may help promote fat loss for some people,” she adds. And while there’s nothing particularly harmful about shaking up your carb intake, Brissette ultimately concludes that there just isn’t enough research out there for her to recommend it. Instead, she suggests eating a moderate amount of carbs, incorporating a variety of nutritious foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, seeds, and nuts) into your diet and being consistent with your healthy choices. (Guess we’ll be making these overnight oats for breakfast every day this week then.)