Carb cycling is a diet where people consume more or fewer carbs over alternate days.
Carb cycling may have several benefits, such as helping people lose weight, increasing their athletic performance, and managing symptoms of chronic conditions.
This article will discuss what carb cycling is, how to do it, and some of the diet’s benefits.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs contain one or two sugar molecules, while complex carbs have three or more.
Complex carbs include starches, such as cereals, legumes, and potatoes.
Carb cycling is a dietary plan where people alternate their carb intake daily, weekly, or monthly.
For example, some people may have a high carb and low fat diet some days and consume a diet low in carbs and high in fat on other days.
Carb cycling is a diet that people can modify to suit their needs. However, it may involve more planning than others.
There is some evidence that carb cycling may help with weight loss, health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
A 2013 study suggests that intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction may improve insulin sensitivity and weight.
The participants, whose energy and carbohydrate restriction was intermittent at 2 days per week, were split into two groups. Researchers allowed one group to consume protein and fat as desired but restricted their overall carbohydrates and energy.
The group who were allowed to consume protein and fat as desired saw a similar number of participants experience 5% or greater weight loss.
The study also found that participants continued to have a reduction in insulin resistance, body fat reduction, and a decrease in the hormone leptin at the end of 4 months of following the diet.
This study suggests that there may be benefits to following a carb cycling diet.
Carb cycling aims to help people with their weight and fitness goals by alternating between low and high carb days.
A diet low in carbs can offer a variety of benefits.
Diets high in nutrient-dense carb sources, such as vegetables and fruit, also have their benefits. Consuming meals high in fiber-rich carbs that include vegetables and fruits may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, there is evidence that high carb diets increase insulin sensitivity in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
Eating fiber-rich carbohydrates may also lower cholesterol. This, in turn, may decrease the risk of heart disease.
The theory behind carb cycling is that people benefit from both high and low carb diets by alternating between these diets on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
There is some evidence that low carb diets help with weight loss and may speed up metabolism.
Healthy high carb diets may also be beneficial because they reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and intestinal cancer.
While there are benefits to both nutritious high and low carb diets, there are few scientific research papers available on carb cycling.
Anecdotally, carb cycling may be able to help people lose weight. However, there is currently no scientific research that suggests carb cycling is more or less effective for weight loss than other diets.
If people consume enough calories for their body weight, if they are a moderate weight, or have a slight calorie deficit if they have a high BMI, carb cycling may help them lose weight or maintain a moderate weight.
Research suggests there is no significant difference in weight loss between diets that restrict one form of macronutrient, such as protein or carbs, over another.
A 2018 study suggests diets that allow people to tailor food consumption and the type of food to their individual needs and preferences tend to experience better diet adherence and weight loss.
Carb cycling does not restrict a person’s consumption of types of food as much as some other diets. Some people may find this approach more suitable for their needs and therefore may find this diet helps them with weight loss.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offer a free body weight planner, which may help people plan how many calories they consume in their carb cycling diet.
There is some evidence that low carb diets, such as carb cycling, may be beneficial for muscle gain and sports performance.
A 2017 study suggests that competitive bodybuilders who utilize carbohydrate refeeds, which are periods of times where they consume more carbs, do so because they believe it enhances fat loss.
Participants in the study stated that carbohydrate refeed days increased glycogen stores. They also noticed that these days aided their training performance and helped them mentally recover from their exercise regimes.
However, researchers need to conduct more studies to investigate the safety and effectiveness of carb cycling within the sports fitness community.
There is currently no scientific research on the health benefits of carb cycling.
It is important to consume the correct number of calories for a person’s daily requirements regardless of their diet.
It is also vital to consume enough macronutrients and micronutrients. Without sufficient quantities of these nutrients, an individual puts themselves at risk of developing undernutrition.
There are many variations to carb cycling, with people practicing programs on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
The amount of carbs that individuals eat per day will depend on whether they are consuming a high, moderate, or low carb meal. Examples of daily carbohydrate loads include:
- Very low carbohydrates: Under 10% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs.
- Low carbohydrates: Under 26% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs.
- Moderate carbohydrates: Between 26–44% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs.
- High carbohydrate: 45% or more of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs.
An example of a weekly carb cycling diet, based on a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, is below.
Each gram (g) of carbohydrates contains 4 calories.
People can eat whichever healthy and balanced food they want on a carb cycling diet, as long as they do not exceed the amount of carbs their plan allows.
The following suggested meal plans are for people who require 2,000 calories per day.
High carb plan
- Breakfast: 1 cup of cooked oatmeal served with milk and 1 cup of halved strawberries (51 g)
- Snack: 1 serving of roasted chickpeas (22 g)
- Lunch: 6-inch wholemeal wrap, half a cup of beans, 1 cup of raw peppers, grated cheddar cheese, and a medium apple (61 g)
- Snack: A medium banana and half a cup of skim milk (33.5 g)
- Dinner: 1 cup of brown, long grain rice, 100 g of mixed vegetables, 1 serving of chicken, served with soy sauce (58 g)
Moderate carb meal plan
- Breakfast: 3 large eggs, 2 slices of brown bread, 2 thick slices of tomatoes, 2 slices of bacon, served with butter (30.1 g)
- Snack: 1 large apple (31 g)
- Lunch: 3 ounces of salmon, half a cup of potato, and 3 florets of broccoli (14.8 g)
- Snack: 1 medium banana (27 g)
- Dinner: 1 portion of pasta with pesto sauce (26.2 g)
Low carb meal plan
- Breakfast: 2 slices of bacon and 1 scrambled egg (1.2 g)
- Snack: 1 large hard-boiled egg with 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise (0.7 g)
- Lunch: 1 cup of chopped or diced chicken, 50 g of arugula, 1 cup red peppers, 1 cup of tomatoes, 1 cup onions, with olive oil dressing (20.9 g)
- Dinner: 1 serving of shrimp, 1 cup of arugula salad, 1 serving of couscous, and salad dressing (25.4 g)
While many foods contain carbs, there are some that people should eat more than others. Sources of complex carbs include:
- whole wheat cereals
- whole grain cereals and grains, such as brown rice
- wholemeal bread
- pulses, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- fresh fruit
Carb cycling is a diet where people alternate between high and low carb days, weeks, or months.
This eating program may be beneficial for certain health and fitness goals, such as helping people lose weight, improve sporting performance, and increase insulin sensitivity.