There are many diets out there advocating low carbohydrate intake to lose weight. However, many of you may know that not consuming many carbohydrates can leave you feeling tired, irritable and an inability to make decisions, resulting in cravings and the gym being one of the last places you want to go to. This combination of effects can easily derail you from your diet and leave you feeling demotivated.
If you are looking to decrease your body fat and still have energy to get to the gym to help this happen, this introduction into carbohydrate cycling might encourage you to try and incorporate this approach into your daily diet.
What is carbohydrate cycling?
Carbohydrate cycling is where your carbohydrate intake varies on different days, some days being low carbohydrate days, with others being high.
You may have seen that Joe Wicks AKA The Body Coach incorporates elements of carbohydrate cycling in his Lean in 15 plans, with low carbohydrate recipes provided for days that you don’t go to the gym, and higher carbohydrate recipes for the days that you do go to the gym. This approach enables you to get a good session in at the gym whilst still encouraging weight loss on the days that you don’t train.
How does Carbohydrate Cycling Work?
In a typical week of carbohydrate cycling, there will be days of low, moderate and high carbohydrate consumption.
For low carbohydrate consumption, it has been found that insulin sensitivity is increased, which is associated with lower body fat percentage. Individuals on a low carbohydrate diet have been found to have elevated levels of ketones in their blood, which is associated with greater fat oxidation, also contributing to a lower body fat percentage (Gower & Goss, 2015).
In contrast, on high carbohydrate days, blood hormone leptin levels are increased, which prevents the feeling of hunger and stimulates energy expenditure. These two effects prevent your metabolism from stalling, and gives you a psychological break from low carbohydrate days, preventing you from feeling like you are constantly on a diet (Dirlewanger et al, 2000). High carbohydrate days replenish glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, supporting muscle growth and recovery, rather than allowing carbohydrates to be stored as fat (Ivy, 1998).
The combination of low and high carbohydrate days enables fat loss whilst maintaining an exercise programme and without feeling like you on a restricting diet. It is important however, to keep tabs on how many carbohydrates you consume and the quality, otherwise overconsumption will lead to them being stored as fat.
For a low carbohydrate day you should aim for 0.5g carbohydrate per pound of body weight.
For a high carbohydrate day you should aim for 2-2.5g carbohydrate per pound of body weight.
For a no carbohydrate day you should not consume more than 30g carbohydrate per day.
Good sources of carbohydrates include baked sweet and regular potatoes, rice, oats, butternut squash, beans, couscous, lentils and quinoa, wholegrain breads and cereals.
Whilst it might seem complicated to calculate your varying carbohydrate intake for various days, once you have done this and have a variety of meals that adhere to your numbers, carb cycling should be relatively straight forward and you will soon see body fat loss results without the constant feelings of restriction, allowing you to maintain a healthy approach to eating and training. Why not combine the carbohydrate cycling approach with our Top 5 Meal Prep Hacks to make eating healthier even easier!
- Dirlewanger, M., Di Vetta, V., Guenat, E., Battilana, P., Seematter, G., Schneiter, P., ... & Tappy, L. (2000). Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 24(11), 1413-1418.
- Gower, B. A., & Goss, A. M. (2015). A lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet reduces abdominal and intermuscular fat and increases insulin sensitivity in adults at risk of type 2 diabetes. The Journal of Nutrition, 145(1), 177S-183S.
- Ivy, J. L. (1998). Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19(S 2), S142-S145.