by ICANS Editorial Team
When it comes to reducing body fat or lowering insulin levels quickly, low-carb diets are the way to go. Unfortunately, many people don’t tolerate a lack of carbs very well, often quitting altogether or veering off their eating plan, which produces poor results.
One alternative is carb cycling. In simple terms, carb cycling is when you rely more on fat and protein for certain periods, saving carbs for the most opportune times. For example, you could have meals predominantly of protein and fat for both breakfast and lunch to set your blood sugar up for the day. Save higher carb foods for dinner time when the insulin spike that they provide will help lower cortisol so that you can get a restful night’s sleep.
Another example of carb cycling is if you were to eat a higher total carb intake on hard workout days but lower carb on off or rest days. On rest days, carb needs are reduced, whereas on training days, carbs promote athletic performance because they allow for faster ATP energy production during high-intensity activities, while making workouts “feel” easier.
Timing carb intake around training is also important. You have probably heard the mainstream recommendation to have simple carbs pre-workout for energy. The reality is that unless you’re trying to gain weight or doing long-distance endurance training lasting more than an hour, you won’t need carbs before or during your workout. For people who are in the process of fixing blood sugar issues, taking 1 tablespoon of honey pre-training can help stabilize glucose levels and stimulate the brain for a better-quality workout.
For people with a lot of body fat to lose or who suffer from blood sugar and insulin issues, longer low-carb cycles may be warranted with occasional higher carb days to provide mental relief. When starting a very-low carb fat loss program, it’s recommended that you eat less than 50 grams of carbs a day for the first 14 days. This will allow metabolic adaptations to occur, such as a reduction in insulin and an increase in fat burning. On day 15, a higher carb intake is permitted (around 150 grams of carbs). Then, you should return to the low-carb diet, cycling in a high-carb day every 5 to 7 days.
Here are a few tips for getting the most out of carb cycling:
- Start the day with a high-protein, high-fat meal to set your blood sugar up for the day.
- Save higher carb foods for post-workout and/or dinner.
- Choose healthy, whole carbs (fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, grains) over processed carbs (bread, sweets, chips).
- If you are having trouble adapting to a lower carb diet, increase your fat intake to help stimulate the body to burn fat instead of relying on glucose.
- When on lower carb cycles, focus on what you can have instead of on what you can’t have: avocado, olives, grapefruit, papaya, limes, and apricots are all low-carb fruits that can go a long way to overcoming a carb craving.
The take away is that if you’re serious about your performance and your body composition, you need to take a periodized approach to your nutrition. Called chrononutrition, planning when and how you will eat to optimize the metabolic response is going to pay off in terms of better body composition, healthier blood sugar, less preoccupation with food, and fewer cravings.