How to Carb Cycle for Weight Loss
Do you feel like you’ve tried every diet under the sun and you still don’t have your dream body? Girl (or boy), you’re not alone. That’s one of the most common things I hear as a coach – but please believe me when I tell you that fad diets are just that: a FAD.
Real, true, sustainable lifestyle changes are those that you make sense for you; ones that make you feel good, but are also manageable long term. If it were up to me, fad diets would be a thing of the past.
If weight loss is your goal, then it really comes down to your calories in vs. calories out ratio. And if changing your body composition is your goal, nutrition needs to be something you focus on as one of the biggest things you can do to help make those physical changes.
It’s true that in order to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume. But if you’re really looking to lose body fat and build muscle, then tracking your macros and trialing through carb cycling may just be the way to go.
How to Carb Cycle For Weight Loss
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What Are Macros?
To understand the basics of carb cycling you first have to have some general knowledge regarding macros.
Macros stands for macronutrients, which make up the foods that we eat. The three types of macros are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each macronutrient has a different role and is utilized differently within our bodies.
How Our Body Uses Carbs
Carbohydrates are our main energy source; when we eat carbs, we are providing energy and fuel for our body. Our body is able to break down the molecules within carbohydrates and convert to energy. To break it down further, there are two main types of carbs: complex carbs (which contain more fiber), and simple carbs. Complex carbs are things like your whole grains and veggies, whereas simple carbs are going to be your processed white sugars/white breads, cakes, candies, cookies, etc.
Examples of carbs include: rice, oats, fruits, potatoes, cereals, beans, whole grains. Simple carbs are things like white breads and sugars, cookies, and baked goods, candy, soda, corn syrup. Complex carbs are foods like beans, grains, sweet potatoes, vegetables.
Myth Buster: carbs tend to get a bad reputation for making us gain weight, but the truth is, they’re just the easiest to overeat. If we had a habit of overeating ANY of the three macronutrients, we would gain weight. It’s important to understand that our bodies need an appropriate ratio of carbs, proteins, and fats to function at optimal levels.
How Our Body Uses Protein
Protein is used as one of the main building blocks within our body. It helps to build muscle, but is also responsible for making sure our digestive system is working the way it should, our organs are running efficiently, and also plays a role in skin care, wound healing, our hair – everything.
Examples of proteins include: eggs, nuts, fish, poultry, beef, cottage cheese, yogurt, whey, or other protein supplements.
If you’re vegetarian, combining incomplete proteins can equal a complete protein. Incomplete proteins include grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Keep in mind if you’re carb cycling and a vegetarian, plant sources of protein are automatically going to have higher amounts of carbs, which will increase those daily targets just a bit.
How Our Body Uses Fat
Fat is essential for multiple functions within the body; supporting cellular structure/function, regulating cellular nutrients, protecting our organs, insulating our bodies, and signaling the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin (which helps us feel full).
If you’ve ever tried the low-fat diet fad you probably found yourself feeling hungry for a good portion of the time. It’s because you weren’t feeding your body with enough essential fat to release cholecystokinin, and instead, you walked around ready to bite someone’s head off.. both metaphorically and literally, because you were starving. (Who knew I had jokes?)
Examples of fats: healthy sources of fat include: avocados, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, etc.), nut butters (without added sugars or oils), coconuts and coconut oil, fatty fish (omega-3s), chia seeds, and whole eggs (which are also a good source of protein).
What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a method of eating where you track your carbs and cycle through various amounts of carbs on a rotating basis. There are tons of different ways you can do this, but the purpose of carb cycling is to trigger your metabolism to start working more efficiently and effectively.
Most of the time, when I’m creating a carb cycling plan for a client, I like to cycle through low, moderate, and high carb days; giving my client three low carb days per week, two moderate, and two high carb days.
Carb cycling is also a strategy that teaches your body how to start digesting and utilizing carbohydrates as fuel instead of storing as fat, which can be especially helpful for those who have done low carb diets in the past and find themselves gaining weight when they start introducing carbs back into their diet.
How Does Carb Cycling Work?
With carb cycling you strategically alter carb intake between low, medium and high days rather than sticking to a set number. By following the cycle you will be able to re-stimulate your metabolism regulating hormones, restore depleted glycogen (your body’s preferred fuel) and have energy to burn for your workouts.
On low carb days your body is forced to burn fat for fuel because your body doesn’t have that normal carbohydrate intake to rely on for energy. On higher carb days your body will be able to utilize carbs again and restock glycogen stores.
Cycling your carbs gives you all the fat burning benefits of a low carb diet (such as keto) while still allowing you to enjoy all the carby-rich foods that we all love. It’s also much more sustainable since you get to enjoy the food you’re eating, and while some people on a low carb diet end up gaining all the weight back as soon as they stop the diet – carb cycling can be done long term. But if you do stop, your body is still accustomed to carbs and won’t pack the weight right back on.
How To Calculate Macros for Carb Cycling
To figure out your macros for carb cycling you first need to determine some baseline numbers, and then ultimately – what your goal is. I’m assuming that your goal would be to lose weight/burn fat, because I wouldn’t recommend carb cycling for someone who is wanting to build muscle. If I’ve assumed correctly, keep reading.
The first number you want to figure out is your BMR. This stands for basal metabolic rate, and basically it’s the amount of calories you burn every day just by being alive. Even if you never stepped out of bed in the morning, your body would still burn calories. BMR can change, and it’s dependent upon our age, height, and current weight.
The next number to figure out is your TDEE, which stands for total daily energy expenditure. This is the amount of calories you burn every day on average once you add activity into the mix (above and beyond your BMR).
There are a lot of long equations that will help you figure out both these numbers but simple math can do the job, too.
How to Calculate Your BMR
Weight (lbs) x 10 = BMR
How to Calculate Your TDEE
BMR x activity factor = TDEE
Activity factors according to NASM for women and men:
|Women’s Activity Levels||Men’s Activity Levels|
|Mostly sedentary: 1.2||1.3|
|Lightly active: 1.5||1.6|
|Moderately active: 1.6||1.7|
|Very active: 1.9||2.1|
So once you have your TDEE and maintenance calories (TDEE equates to about the amount of calories you burn on average every day – so if you ate at that same calorie number you should, in theory, maintain your weight). If your goal is to lose weight, you typically would start by subtracting about 20% from that TDEE value.
Once you have that target calorie goal, you’ll want to figure out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat to eat. Keep in mind that there are:
- 4 calories/g carbs
- 4 calories/g protein
- 9 calories/g fat
- 7 calories/g alcohol
For carb cycling, I would start out somewhere around 20% or less of your daily intake coming from carbs on your low carb days, around 30% on moderate carb day, and somewhere around 40-50% on high carb days.
Clear as mud? You can also sign up for custom macro calculations here.
How Long Should You Carb Cycle?
There is no right or wrong amount of time to carb cycle; I’ve coached clients who have done it for as little as four weeks, and I’ve coached clients who have continuously carb cycled for a year. The trick is to make sure your body is still adapting, and still making progress. If you’re someone who cycles long term, you’re probably going to see recalculations from time to time to make sure that you’re still keeping your body guessing, and fueling yourself appropriately.
The trick is to make sure that you continue to see progress. If you get to a spot where you’ve hit a plateau, it may be a good idea to back off cycling for awhile to keep your body in a state of strategic confusion.
If the whole concept of macros is still a little confusing (don’t beat yourself up, it definitely IS confusing when you first start learning about it), check out my Macros For Beginners eBook to dive in a little deeper. And, if you’re wanting to give carb cycling a try but just not sure how to start – leave your questions below! I’d be happy to help answer if I can!