How to Eat Your Carbs (in Moderation) With Carb Cycling: What You Need to Know

Eat Your Carbs (in Moderation) With Carb Cycling: What You Need to Know
iStock/Ivanko_Brnjakovic

From low carbs to no carbs, carbohydrates have been a hot topic in the eating world for a long time.

If you’ve been confused as to how to best utilize carbs to make it work for your body, then you might want to try carb cycling.

“Carb cycling is simply an intentional variation of carbohydrate intake. So if you intentionally eat lower carb on some days, and higher carb on others, you are carb cycling,” explains Lynda Lippin, a New York-based certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor. “Carbs are our body’s quickest energy food, so we do need some, but excess carbs get stored as, you guessed it, fat.”

If a meal plan that includes carbs — like, yes, pasta — is something you want to get behind, then here’s everything you need to know about carb cycling.

Why Do It?

Basically, because we are living in a world that is hooked on carbs, and we don’t know how to make them work for us both efficiently and effectively, especially if we are trying to lose weight.

“While a fifty percent of a ‘normal’ human diet should come from carbohydrates, we as a society tend to eat way more carbohydrates, and less fats and protein,” says Lippin. “Plus, we now eat a lot more very processed, sugary, and low-fiber carbohydrates. The body stores excess carbohydrates as glycogen and fat. When our bodies need energy, and have no food coming, they break down fat and glycogen to fuel the work. Carb cycling mimics this natural cycle and helps encourage the body to break down its fat stores.”

Like many others, you might have opted for a low to no carb diet before. While Lippin admits that a significantly restrictive, low-carb diet will bring results for a short period, it’s not healthy for the long-term.

“Long term restriction of carbohydrates and calories can lower our metabolic rate and negatively impact hormone levels,” she says, adding that such a diet puts stress on the liver and kidneys. “This is a big reason women find themselves at a weight loss plateau. Over time it will cause the client’s metabolic rate to decrease. Once that happens, clients will see their weight loss stop and will need to restrict calories even further to lose more, thus lowering their metabolic rate once again. Not only is this a terribly unhealthy way to live, it is also incredibly frustrating.”

So How Does it Work?

We need carbs for to fuel our workouts and to build muscle and strength, but we also don’t want to overload our body with them because they’ll our spike insulin levels, causing our bodies to store them as fat.

So how do we accomplish both? Enter carb cycling.

“Carb cycling allows for low carb days, where you deplete your body’s glycogen stores. In my program, you have two low carb days combined with cardio workouts. When you work out, you’ll have very little sugar in your bloodstream, which causes the body to rely on energy stores in the form of glycogen and fat,” explains Lippin. “On high carb days, your body gets the food it needs to rebuild its energy stores. However, because the body first uses glycogen then fat for energy, it will begin to replace its glycogen stores before it stores fat. So, even though you’re consuming carbs, your body isn’t storing excess carbs as fat because it’s busy building glycogen back up.”

If are already eating low carb and are feeling tired, Lippin suggests trying to add in more carbs a few days per week. If you eat too many carbs and need to cut back, then try eating under 50g of net carbs per day (net carbs = carbs – minus grams of fiber). If 50g seems too hard, then Lippins suggests aiming for under 100g.

When it comes to choosing the right carbs for your body, the more whole and unprocessed they are, the better. Think rice, potatoes, and whole grains rather than processed foods like crackers, cookies, and anything that comes packaged.

Any Drawbacks?

While Lippin insists carb cycling is a “great fat burning, weight loss strategy” some might find counting carbs overwhelming and complicated. Also, being fixated on your carbs, especially during those high carb days, has the potential for promoting an unhealthy relationship with food. If you have a history of disordered eating, then carb cycling probably isn’t the right choice for you.

The Takeaway

If you’re curious, experiment with carb cycling and see how it works for you and your body. Each body is different. What might work for others might not work for you, and vice versa. If you’re a beginner who’s looking to lose weight, your best bet might just be sticking to an overall calorie deficit each day.

But a few pieces of bread now and then isn’t a bad idea. Hey, even Oprah does it.

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Brianne Hogan

Writer

Writer, personal trainer, healthy eating coach, vegetarian, Oprah devotee, overall wellness freak. Brianne's byline has been featured on HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Thrillist, among others. Check out her online training programs at: briannehoganfitness.com