Why Carb Cycling Is The Clever Way To Improve Your Health
Why Carb Cycling Is The Clever Way To Improve Your Health

Why Carb Cycling Is The Clever Way To Improve Your Health

While some of us thrive on a low-carb diet, it can bring on unwanted symptoms including cravings, mood swings and low energy. The solution, according to the experts, is carb cycling. A nutritionist-approved approach which involves switching up your carbs on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, it can lead to better blood sugar control, muscle maintenance, weight loss and more balanced hormones. Here's how to reap the benefits…
By Tor West
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Image: MELANIE DEFAZIO/STOCKSY UNITED

It's About Keeping The Body Guessing

“Carb cycling is a dietary method that involves varying the amount of carbs you eat on different days of the week, or during specific periods. If you’re very active, it can enhance your performance without the need for strict carb restriction, and if you’re looking to lose weight, it can kickstart your metabolism. Think of it as the 5:2 of carbs. On a high carb day, you’ll have more energy, which can help boost performance during a workout. On a low carb day, you can help your body tap into stored fat for energy, which supports fat loss. Carb cycling can also help your body with metabolic flexibility, enabling it to more effectively switch between using carbs and fats for fuel, which can be hugely beneficial for long-term health.” – Joan Abebe, holistic health & nutritional coach 

Blood Sugar Plays A Part

“Carb cycling primarily focuses on carbs because they have more of a direct impact on metabolism, as well as energy levels and hormones, in comparison to protein and fats. Carbs significantly influence our blood sugar levels. When we eat carbs, the body breaks them down into glucose, which then enters the bloodstream. In response to this rise in blood sugar, the pancreas releases insulin to move glucose into cells for energy storage. So, moderating your carb intake can help control blood sugar levels.” – Joan 

It'll Boost Energy Levels

“A balanced carb intake, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, will provide the body with a consistent supply of energy, reducing energy slumps and supporting cognitive function. In this regard, it could be worth a try if you’ve previously struggled with low-carb diets in the past, especially if you found they left you feeling fatigued and run down. Moreover, when your blood sugar levels are balanced, you’ll feel satiated and less prone to cravings, which we know also plays a part in energy levels.” – Brea Lofton, registered dietitian & nutritionist at Lumen 

On a lower carb day, the body is forced to RELY ON FAT FOR ENERGY, supercharging fat burning.

It Can Help With Stubborn Weight Loss

“Unlike low-carb diets, which can cause mood swings and energy lulls, carb cycling is thought to fire up energy and metabolism, and reduce body fat. It can also make your body function more efficiently when you are physically active. Many people find lowering their carb intake is one way of controlling their diet, and carb cycling allows you to reap the benefits without having to cut out carbs completely. On your low-carb days, your body goes into fat-burning mode, and when you switch to a high-carb day, you supercharge the body to create a muscle-building paradise, helping you gain lean muscle and hold onto hard-earned mass. This is all thanks to turbocharged protein production and less protein breakdown. It can be an effective way to deal with a weight-loss plateau.” – Liberty Mills, integrative nutrition coach 

Listening To Your Body Is Important

“Carb cycling is a flexible approach, and what works best for one person may not work for another. Determine whether you want to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain your current body composition – all three will influence your cycling strategy. Then, calculate your baseline daily calorie needs (look for an online calculator) to help you estimate your total daily calorie expenditure, which will give you an idea of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. On active days, increase your carb intake to fuel exercise. On rest days, reduce carb intake. Pay attention to your hunger and energy levels. If you feel sluggish or excessively hungry on low-carb days, you may need to adjust your carb intake. At the same time, if you notice decreased performance on low-carb days, consider adjusting your plan.” – Brea 

Don’t Be Afraid To Eat More Carbs

“Carbs aren’t the enemy. In fact, they’re the body’s primary source of energy, and we all need different amounts. If you’re constantly hangry on low-carb days or can’t focus, or if you’re constantly sore and experiencing muscle soreness, you’ll want to consider increasing your carb intake. Stress and sleep factor into it, too. If you’re very stressed or sleeping badly, you may need to tweak your plan for increased energy.” – Joan 

It May Take Time To Find Your Balance

“There are different ways to approach carb cycling and, ultimately, the best approach depends on your goals and activity levels. The classic method is to have high-carb days to work around exercise, and lower-carb days on rest days, or when you have a lower intensity workout planned. You can also include moderate carb days – a day that falls between the two. If fat loss is your goal, opt for more low-carb days to encourage your body to use stored fat for energy. If you’re looking to gain muscle or are very active, incorporate more higher-carb days to aid performance and recovery. If you want to become more metabolically flexible – the benefits of which include better weight maintenance, more consistent blood sugar, and improved sleep – ensure a consistent approach to carb cycling, using a regular mix of high, low and moderate carb days. Appreciate it may take time for you to find your balance. Pay attention to how your body responds and what your energy levels are like: what are your workouts looking like and how are you feeling overall? If you’re not making progress, you may need to adjust your ratios.” – Joan 

Carb cycling encourages your body to become more METABOLLICALLY FLEXIBLE, which can be HUGELY BENEFICIAL FOR LONG-TERM HEALTH.

Timing Matters

“To reap the benefits of carb cycling, you need to be strategic about the timing of your carbs. Aim to have a carb-rich meal or snack one to two hours before a workout to provide immediate energy; after your workout, have a meal or snack that’s rich in protein and healthy fats to repair muscle and keep you full. While carbs may get a bad rap, they can help with muscle growth. On a high-carb day, the carbs will replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores, helping to preserve lean muscle mass while aiding fat loss. On rest days, focus on healthy fats and protein. If you’re incorporating moderate carb days, evenly distribute your carbs throughout the day. The quality of your carbs matters, too. Always opt for nutrient-dense sources, like oats, quinoa, brown rice, lentils, beans, fruits and vegetables.” – Joan 

Supplements Can Support Carb Cycling

“An electrolyte supplement can help on higher-carb days when you’re sweating intensely, while a creatine supplement can enhance high-intensity exercise performance – I recommend Thorne Creatine. On a high-carb day, it also pays to think about your energy levels – a supplement like Wild Nutrition Energy may help boost energy and focus, and help you get the most out of your workout. Also include a multivitamin to fill any nutritional gaps that may happen on a plan like this when restricting certain food groups. An omega 3 oil can also reduce inflammation caused by intense training.” – Joan 

It’s Not Suitable For Everyone

“Like any dietary plan, it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks. Carb cycling can be complicated to follow, especially if you’re new to tracking macros. You need to be extremely focused on planning and tracking your meals to ensure you’re meeting your goals. There’s also the inconsistency of it. The nature of varying your carbs can lead to fluctuations in energy levels and performance, so it may not be the best idea if you’re training for a specific event, like a 10k of half marathon. There’s also the potential for disordered eating – strictly counting carbs can lead to an unhealthy obsession, which can cause disordered eating habits. Moreover, there’s potential for nutrient imbalance. If you’re focusing solely on carbs, you may forget the importance of other nutrients. The bottom line? If you find it complicated and struggle with strict rules, it’s not sustainable for you. But done properly, carb cycling can be an effective way to make the body more efficient.” – Joan 

For more from the experts, visit JoanAbebe.com, Lumen.me & IntegrativeLiberty.co.uk

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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