Carbohydrates are a hot, and controversial, topic.
Do we eat them? Do we not?
It is so common for women to ditch carbs when they are trying to lose weight, putting them in the “bad” category for a period of time.
This is because it is so hard to limit carbs, or even track how much you are eating.
Because carbs are in SO MANY foods. So instead of limiting them, we just draw a strong line of cutting them completely.
But – is there a better way?
Could carb cycling be a way to control carbohydrate intake without totally getting rid of them?
This blog is going to break down what carb cycling is, how to do it, and if it’s for you!
Let’s dive in!
Carb cycling is a diet approach that alternates carb intake on different days of the week, or on a weekly basis, or even on a monthly basis.
This approach is usually practiced by those who want to lose weight, or break through a weight loss plateau.
Research has shown that carb cycling does not have a negative affect on training cycles or performance…but only if you are an average exercises and not an elite athlete.
Carb cycling is the idea of eating carbs when the body (or performance) needs them, and limiting them when they are not necessary.
Now, I am here to tell you that carbs are always necessary. We do not cut out full food groups, right?
But – by loading them and then limiting them we can create some change within the body.
I love science.
Anytime something new comes up or is “popular” I always do my research to find out if there is true science to back it.
So – let’s talk about the science behind carb cycling.
Before we start, I want to say that there are few controlled studies that cover carb cycling.
Now, what is the bodies main source of energy?
Carb cycling is used to load the body with carbs (glycogen) on hard training days, and then limiting them when energy expenditure is lower.
This strategic increase in carbs could possibly improve the weight and appetite regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin.
The idea of the low carb days is to switch the bodies fuel source to fat, helping the body burn fat as fuel and in tern improving the bodies metabolic function.
But again, there isn’t too much research done on the topic.
The hope with carb cycling is that the body will utilize the carbs it does get as fuel only, and not store them as fat if there is an over abundance.
Now that we know what it is, and how it is intended to work, let’s talk about the pros and cons.
There are pros and cons to any dietary approach.
It is up to you to take them in and make a decision that is best for you.
• Maintains muscle mass – muscles need carbs to repair and rebuild, but also to maintain. Carb cycling allows the body enough carbs to keep the muscle tissue, but likely not rebuild more.
• Possible weight loss – carb cycling decreases overall calories, which we know a deficit creates weight loss. So the possibility of weight loss during carb cycling is increased.
• May promote whole foods diet – because carbs are limited, it can lead to an increased consumption of whole foods and a decreased consumption of “empty” carbs. This means more fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and less bread, chips and cookies.
• Health improvements – limiting carbs can control blood sugar, and insulin. This means long term adherence could decrease the risk of diabetes or heart disease.
“There are always going to be pros and cons to diets, or diet approaches. Do your research and come up with the best conclusion and approach for you.”
• Fatigue and dizziness – carbs are fuel, so a lack of those when the body has always used them can cause symptoms.
• Hypoglycemia – this is low blood sugar, which can be caused by a ketogenic state (lack of carbs in the blood stream).
• Weakness – also a symptom of low blood sugar
• Poor sleep quality – many people don’t sleep well when carb cycling because of the lack of sugar in the blood stream.
• Adherence – carb cycling can lead to a poor relationship with food, and therefore adherence for the long term may be hard.
• Weight loss – while this can certainly be a pro if that is the goal you are after, it may be short lived. With the decrease in carbs you will likely lose weight, but when you start adding them back in after the diet, you may gain all (if not more) of your weight back.
• Hormone disruptions – women need carbs for their ovulation and hormonal cycle. We also need carbs for our thyroid to properly function. Carb cycling or lowering carbs could lead to lack of ovulation as well as hypothyroidism.
So, a lot of pros and cons, ones that you are going to have to weed through yourself.
It’s a hot topic, but hopefully these suggestions will help you make a decision.
The only way to know if it is right for you, is by laying out your goals next to the pros and cons.
If it checks the boxes you are looking for, give it a shot.
One thing I will say, this is not a long term approach.
Carbs are needed by the body, especially women, and cutting them for long periods of time can actually have the reverse effect.
I also want to mention that carb cycling is going to mean tracking food.
It is going to me inputting everything you eat into an app so you are hitting your numbers.
This can also lead to a poor relationship with food, as well as an obsession with the numbers.
Sometimes people start only focusing on the numbers and not focusing on the quality or contents of your food.
It is ALWAYS quality over quantity if you are looking for sustainability and long term success.
I hope this blog post was helpful for you.
If you could share it on social media, or send a friend to read it, I would appreciate it!
Let’s help out all those who are looking for education and solutions.