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Have you heard this term, carb cycling?  Wondering what it’s all about?  No, it’s not about eating French bread on a bicycle- It’s actually an eating plan that alternates between high carb days and low carb days.  This eating plan stems from the bodybuilding world, but has been adapted by many as a means to lower their body fat percentage or to finally lose those last stubborn 10 pounds.  In comparison to other diet and meal plans, carb cycling can be very convenient as it doesn’t require any specific foods or villainies others, so you still get to eat foods you love.

What are Low-Carb and High-Carb days?

Simply put, low-carb days are days where you limit your carbohydrate intake to stay below 75 grams of carbs for the day.  The focus on these days would be on fibrous veggies and quality proteins.  On high carb days, your carbohydrate intake would jump from anywhere between 150 grams to 250 grams for the day.  Yes you are increasing your carbs quite a bit, but you still want to incorporate fibrous veggies and quality proteins.  On both low-carb and high-carb days, you are encouraged to eat breatkfast early, focusing on protein and carbs and to eat an additional 4 meals throughout the day.  In many plans, high-carb days are also associated with strength training workout days while low-carbs days are associated with cardio or rest days.

What Kind of Carbs are we Talking About?

This is important to clarify for anyone who thinks a high-carb day means loading up on Twinkies!  Carbs are the preferred energy source for our bodies and they can be wonderfully healthy, but we are talking about real food here- not processed carbs!  Processed carbs are those things with a monstrous shelf life and lots of ingredients that aren’t food, often containing high fructose corn syrup.  Those are not healthy for any diet!  But real food carbs are what you want to focus on for your high-carb days.  That means emphasis on whole grains, legumes and fruits, such as oats, quinoa, lentils, and melons.

Why Is This Food Plan Effective?

Carb Cycling can be effective for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the fact that you are allowed to eat carbs on certain days provides a level of emotional satisfaction that can keep people engaged and motivated to continue.  As most of us know, cravings often come up when we restrict foods and that doesn’t happen on this eating plan.

Second, Carb Cycling also causes calorie cycling (meaning we take in more calories on higher carb days).  This calorie cycling helps us avoid being in a state of constant calorie deprivation.  This is effective by helping regulate our metabolism, so our body doesn’t adapt to the constant deprivation by slowing down and increasing our appetite.

Finally, the carb cycling has its most significant impact on our hormones- insulin, leptin, and even serotonin!  Carb cycling keeps us sensitive to insulin to minimize fat storage and to increase fat burning. Leptin, which is the hormone that regulates hunger, is also impacted by carb cycling.  Just like with insulin, carb cycling keeps us leptin sensitive so we are not overly hungry and our metabolism doesn’t slow down.  And of course serotonin, which everyone knows helps our moods.  Serotonin production is increased by eating carbs (which may explain grouchiness is some of your carb-free friends!).  In addition, when serotonin levels are low, cravings tend to get high.  So, the carb cycling plan can help curb cravings via serotonin.

So, that’s the skinny!  If you are unsure if carb cycling is for you, do some research on your own.  Or try it out and see how you feel.  Your body will always let you know what’s right for you!  🙂

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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