Bodybuilders have known for decades that carb cycling can help them quickly reduce fat stores while maintaining and even building their desired muscle mass. Although the methods used by weight lifting athletes may be a bit extreme, the concept of carb cycling can be modified by any dieter to increase the amount of fat loss during a weight loss program.
How Carb Cycling Works
Glucose is created by the body from the food we eat and is its main, preferred source of fuel. But when there is too much glucose at one time from a high-carbohydrate meal, the body stores excess glucose as fat. Because of this, most low-carb diets aim to keep blood glucose levels low and steady and are based on eating foods low on the glycemic index. The body uses more fat as fuel when glucose is not available.
According to the fat loss book The Fat Burning Diet by Jay Robb, however, too many low-carb days in a row (more than three) completely deplete the body of glucose and muscle mass begins to suffer. Cycling in occasional carbohydrates during certain meals or on certain days can help the body continue to burn fat for fuel yet retain its lean muscle mass, effectively feeding the muscle while starving the fat.
How to Include Carbohydrates in a Low-Carb Diet
While it would be every dieter’s dream to include some cake or ice cream in their diet on a regular basis, carbohydrates introduced into a low-carb diet need to be highly nutritious and fairly low on the glycemic index. This means that white flour and white sugar products are still not included in the diet. Carbohydrates to incorporate include brown rice, whole grains, low-sugar fruit like berries, more vegetables, low-fat dairy, and nuts and seeds.
The key to burning more fat is to only include more carbohydrates on alternate days or every third day (e.g. one or two days in a row low-carb, then one day high-carb). On all other days, foods should be kept completely low-carb to ensure that glucose levels stay within fat-burning zones and don’t remain elevated enough to reach excess levels. Low-carb days include less carbs, but more fat. High-carb days include more carbs, but less fat.
A few meal ideas include whole oats with skim milk and berries for breakfast, brown rice added to green beans and a grilled chicken breast for lunch, and a sweet potato in addition to a large salad and steak for dinner.
Other Benefits of Including Carbs in Some Meals
Including some of the items most low-carb diets eliminate like cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and more fruit can be beneficial not only because of their nutritional value, but also to lessen any feelings of deprivation often faced with these diets. In essence, following carbohydrate cycling principles can give a dieter the benefits of both a low-carb, high-fat diet and a low-fat, high-carb diet while encouraging fat loss.
The Fat Burning Diet by Jay Robb
Lose Weight on a Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet
Six Diet Tips to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
The Big Breakfast Diet: A Moderate Low-Carb Diet