Even now, years after the Atkins craze, low carb diets remain contentious, with passionate arguments on both sides. Proponents claim that cutting carbs is the fastest and easiest way to lose fat, while detractors insist that the diets result in lethargy and much of the initial weight lost is gained back. Low carb diets are never going away because, for most people, they tend to work. That and people like to eat bacon on a diet. But what if there was a way to not only mitigate the drawbacks of low carb eating, but keep the unstoppable fat loss at the beginning of the diet from tapering off, preventing or breaking through plateaus? There is, and it’s called carb cycling. But how does carb cycling work?
The carb cycling diet plan is a clever, but sensible twist on the basic low carb diet. A very low carb diet tends to be restrictive and lacking in variety. While the absolute simplicity can make it foolproof (“Just don’t eat any bread!”), eating the same baked chicken breasts every day can decrease “compliance,” which is a fancy word for actually sticking to your plan when no one is around to police you. After a period of successful low carb eating, many people will finally “break” and binge on bread sticks and pasta. Carb cycling anticipates the body’s natural desire for carbohydrates after a period of restriction. Simply put, you eat follow a low carb diet for a few days, then eat high or moderate carbs for one day. Rinse and repeat until you meet your goals.
The specific amount of days “on” and “off” can vary by programs or trainers, but a commonly accepted ratio is three low carbohydrate days followed by one high carb day. Depending on how your body responds, this can be modified to three low carb days followed by two high carb days or even an even ratio of three days “on” low carb and three days “off.” The benefits of carb cycling are still apparent at these lower ratios, although they may be reduced. The individual definition of low, high, or even medium can vary as well; the key component is a cycling between lower and higher amounts of carbs to prevent the trainee from getting bored and the body from entering “starvation mode“.
Carb cycling is often cited as an advanced diet technique, but anyone who understands the basics of nutrition can use carb cycling for weight loss. Still, carb cycling is not recommended as anyone’s first diet or even their first low carb diet for a few reasons. Low carb diets are popular because they tend to show rapid, noticeable results. Most of this weight lost tends to be easily regained water weight, but it is extremely encouraging. Even a veteran athlete or trainee who has lost weight before is excited to see numbers change on the scale or feel clothes fit differently. If not followed perfectly, carb cycling may not lead to quickly measurable results. Another key component of carb cycling is, carefully measuring calories, progress, and making adjustments based on those measurements. The beginner might not be able to understand why carb cycling isn’t working for them or how to get back on track with simple adjustments. On the other hand, advanced trainees can use carb cycling to break plateaus or lose that last bit of fat with great success.
Getting started with carb cycling for fat loss is simple. Every serious diet requires calculating your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) and determining how many calories you should consume to lose weight. Perpetually shirtless Youtube personality Scooby has a simple form on his website that lets you skip all the math and get exact caloric requirements for low and high carb days as well as a six meal a day carb cycling meal plan.
Carb Cycling for Women Sample Meal Plan
(In exchange for being expected to give up their spot on a lifeboat, men can eat a little more.)
Low Carb Days
Meal 1: 2/3 cup oatmeal, 2 scoops Whey protein powder, 1/2 large grapefruit
Meal 2: 2/3 cup oatmeal, 4 scrambled egg whites
Meal 3: One 4oz chicken breast, 6oz green beans
Meal 4: 4oz rainbow trout, 10 spears of asparagus, 1/2 tbsp flaxseed oil
Meal 5: One chicken breast, 1 cup spinach, 1/2 tbsp flaxseed oil
High Carb Day(s)
Meal 1: 1.5 cups shredded wheat cereal, 1.5 cups skim milk, 1/2 cup strawberries
Meal 2: 2/3 cup oatmeal, 4 scrambled egg whites, 1 scrambled whole egg, 1/2 large grapefruit
Meal 3: One chicken breast, 3/4 cup brown rice, 6oz green beans
Meal 4: 4oz salmon, 1 cup broccoli, 4oz yams
Meal 5: One chicken breast, large mixed green salad with light Italian dressing