So this post comes in perfect timing since my post on Kim K’s Diet and Exercise aka The Keto Diet. Since then I have educated myself on low carbohydrate diets and have found in my opinion, the holy grail of getting your body right and tight. Similar to The Keto Diet, Carb Cycling also uses the concept of “when the body is without carbohydrates, it must dip into fat stores for energy”. The reason carb cycling is the better nutrition plan is because the body is smart. By this I mean, if you remain without carbs for a long period of time, your body will adjust and you will plateau. The basic concept of carb cycling is to manipulate where the body gets energy from. So instead of remaining without carbs, so the body uses fat to burn for energy, you stagger the days you consume them, so your body remains confused and keeps burning during those low carb days. This isn’t meant to be a long term eating situation so look to carb cycle for 1-2 months at a time. Carb cycling is meant for fat loss so if you are looking to get sexy af (who isn’t), this is the program you need to check out.
For my very first carb cycle, I was only cycling for 6 weeks. Being it was my first time, I was a bit more relaxed with my diet because I was (still am) just learning. I am not a body builder and I am not looking for any sort of crazy transformation; I just truly love slow but serious results that last so that’s why I do love carb cycling. It wasn’t hard for me and gave me ideal results for my vacation. During this time, I was working out almost every day, but I would say overall, I did not put an insane amount of extra effort in, compared to the exercise I was doing before. I consistently workout 4-5 days a week and probably the 2 to 3 weeks prior to my vacation, I was working out every day. It has been 3 weeks since I stopped carb cycling (I stopped while I was on vacation) and tragically, I have been eating whatever I want and have been drinking more than usual. Now I would say I started at 113-115 pounds, weighed in at 108-110 pounds towards the end of my cycle, and now weigh 112-113 pounds since returning. As I prepare to cycle for a second time for my birthday, I wanted to record everything I did previously and what I plan on doing this time around. My carb cycling is extremely easy to follow because I made the medium/high days towards the weekend. Keep in mind you can alter your cycle based on your schedule (for example date night or someone’s birthday party).
Higher carbohydrate intake can increase your thyroid output and control hunger. Manipulating carbohydrate intake can also take advantage of your insulin levels. Insulin regulates amino acid and glucose into entry into the muscle cells. If insulin is seldom elevated, you will not reap its anabolic benefits. If you plan to elevate insulin levels at the appropriate time with a scheduled higher carbohydrate intake, you can maximize insulin’s effects on your anabolic rates. So pretty much, people who continuously eat a diet of high carbohydrates but do not exercise enough to use the energy and burn it off, so they get fat (because left over energy is stored as fat). People who eat a consistent low carb diet, will not be getting the proper energy to keep their body burning so it will make losing weight much harder and will leave them fatigued and at risk of plateauing. When you control your carbohydrates, you are tricking the body and reaping the benefits of both ways of eating. Carb cycling gives you enough carbohydrates to keep the system functioning properly but not eating too many keeps you from storing the remaining sugars as fats because the body will use that stored energy later in the week during your low carbohydrate days. The reason why an overall low carb diet isn’t ideal is because there is nothing for the body to run off of, so the body learns how to survive in that state (hence the risk of plateauing). If you want the more serious version of carb cycling please feel free to run with the idea and find something better online…I don’t count calories and I feel like I can do a pretty solid job working around the concept, instead of following things to a T.
I follow the easiest example I have found from my research online to plan my days out.
Day 1: Low/No Carb Day
Day 2: Low Carb Day
Day 3: Moderate Carb Day
Day 4: Low Carb Day
Day 5: Low/Moderate Carb Day
Day 6: Low/Moderate Carb Day
Day 7: High Carb Day
Now first when I say “Low/No Carb Day”, I don’t actually mean no carbohydrates consumed. Vegetables are complex carbs and due to them being high in fiber, you truly should never limit that intake. I myself shoot for no simple carbohydrates on these days. Sticking to salads and meals with protein and veggies and limiting any simple carb like rice or pasta. Occasionally on these days I would have some sushi but I try to make that my only exception. Here is what a day would maybe look like for me (I do not carb cycle correctly and do a half-assed version but it works for me and is still relatively healthy) and what is typically recommended.
Low/No Carb Day
- Small portion of starchy veggies and/or whole grains only after workout (I will inform you on appropriate foods shortly).
- No fruit (high in sugar even though fruit is good for you).
- Lean proteins, green/fibrous veggies and healthy fats.
Melissa’s Day:I do not eat breakfast because I feel like it slows me down, so I am sort of intermittent fasting when I start my days (which you can revisit what that is in my Keto Diet post). I will do a large salad for lunch (with no protein because that’s how I roll); typically, my salad will include kale, romaine, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, etc. Some lemon juice, pepper, a little cheese sometimes and a citrus vinaigrette (where I get my sugars from). Dinner will be some sort of seafood (probably scallops) with tons of cooked veggies or like I said previously, sushi typically from The Warren (I get The Spicy Senorita: yellowtail fish, jalapeno, cilantro and siracha). As a snack I will have corn on the cob with pink Himalayan salt. My take on corn is sometimes when I get home late from work, that has to be my best option so I feel satisfied without messing things up and eating pasta. I think because the body doesn’t digest corn well, I feel like it isn’t going to ruin things for me.
Moderate Carb Day
- Small portion of starchy veggies and/or whole grains during breakfast and after workout.
- Small amount (or 1 piece) of fruit.
- Lean proteins, green/fibrous veggies and healthy fats.
Melissa’s Day:On my moderate days I typically would include a green juice (which is high in sugar) or some carbohydrate at some point (probably dinner). Carbs like quinoa, are what I am shooting for. I will potentially even do tacos depending on my schedule and make my shells my carb for the day. Other than those slight changes, I still ate similar to a low carb day.
High Carb Day
- Small portion of starchy veggies and/or whole grains with every meal.
- 2-3 pieces of fruit.
- Lean proteins, green/fibrous veggies and healthy fats.
Melissa’s Day: On my high days, this is where I fall right off of normal carb cycling and do my own thing. I would make this day my day to eat pasta or pizza (I am not condoning or recommending this) but if those are staples in your life (like they are in mine), this might be the best solution to your dieting needs. I won’t blow it completely but I will typically try to save this day for Sunday because I usually drink on this day and eat something awesome with my friends who love to cook. Make sure you work out on this day! That is a crucial aspect of getting to eat something you love on a high carb day, you have to make sure you get your exercise in on that day and especially the day after. If you are going to eat simple carbs on this day…don’t over-do it and make sure you are still eating tons of vegetables.
What I Cut from My Diet While Carb Cycling
- Diet Coke: This was hard for me (especially if I was hungover) but cutting it completely also played a part in leaning out.
- Sweets and Desserts: While you are doing this, it is best to just cut sweets overall so your body isn’t craving sugar. If I was on my period and craving chocolate, I would have a little piece of Sarris chocolate to satisfy my craving. It is important to listen to your body but be realistic…this shouldn’t be an every night thing.
- Alcohol:Just stick to once a week and you’ll be good. It is unrealistic to completely cut it out and if you aren’t training for something specific, you can be a bit more laxed with things like this.
- Simple Carbs: Just don’t even bother trying to work them in (unless it’s on your high carb day). Your body craves simple carbs because they are sugar and the body becomes addicted to sugar. If you try to work it in, it will be harder for you. The only time I am eating a simple carb on a low/moderate carb day is if I am eating sushi (because of the rice).
- Anything Processed: If it isn’t fresh, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. So if you like to snack, get over it and survive without. You probably aren’t hungry, you’re bored.
Let’s now break down what vegetables are starchy, so you can make a good decision when figuring out what to eat on your low/moderate carb days. These veggies/legumes are not as nutrient dense and contain less water than most veggies.
- Beans (Adzuki, black, fava, garbanzo, horse, kidney, lima, mung, navy, pinto, red, refried, soy, white)
- Butternut squash
- Carrots when cooked (when carrots are softened by heat, they become starchy)
- Corn (sucks, but I am still sticking to my corn snack)
- Peanuts/Peanut butter (peanuts are legumes)
- Peas (black-eyed, chick, green, split green, split yellow)
- Potato/Sweet Potatoes (any kind or color)
- Squash (acorn, butternut, winter)
Now that we’ve established starchy vegetables, let’s go over the less starchy ones to make your decision when figuring out what to eat, so much easier. These veggies are high in water and fiber and are overall much better for you to eat due to all of the nutrients they provide.
- Artichoke/Artichoke hearts
- Arugula (my favorite leafy green!)
- Baby bok choy
- Baby corn
- Bamboo shoots
- Beans (green, Italian, wax, yard-long)
- Bok Choy
- Cabbage (all)
- Cactus leaf
- Carrots (raw)
- Collard greens
- Dark leafy greens
- Dill Pickles (fresh)
- Fennel (I love this scallop and fennel dinner)
- Green onions
- Hearts of palm
- Herbs (thyme, parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary, dill, sage, mint, lemongrass, wasabi)
- Iceberg lettuce (but it is all water so don’t even waste your time)
- Lettuce (all)
- Mushrooms (all)
- Mustard greens
- Peas (snow and snap)
- Peppers (bell, hot, jalapeno)
- Radishes (including daikon, horse, watermelon)
- Seaweed (all)
- Squash (crookneck, cushaw, spaghetti, summer, yellow)
- Sprouts (alfalfa, bean, brussels)
- Swiss chard
- Turnips/Turnip greens
- Water chestnuts
If you want good sources of protein please check out my post on the keto diet!
Most people think of carbohydrates being bread and pasta. This is true but the reason vegetables are also carbs, is due to carbohydrates being made up of starch, fiber and sugar. Sugar is a simple carb, and whether bread and pasta are sweet or not, they are ultimately the same as eating a candy bar (due to how it breaks down in the body and is used for energy).
Simple Carbs (that you should absolutely NOT eat while carb cycling)
- Baked treats
- Packaged Snacks and Processed Foods
- Fruit Juice Concentrate
- Breakfast Cereal
- Pasta and Bread
Complex Carbs (to eat on your moderate/high carb days)
- Whole Grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat, buckwheat)
Now with all of the tools I have given you, carb cycling is pretty basic!