If you go to Google and type in the word “carbs,” one of the first suggested searches you’ll likely see is “carb cycling,” the topic of today’s column. It’s an extremely popular concept, and has been for quite some time, in particular as a weight-loss strategy.
First, let’s make sure we understand what carbs are. Carbs, otherwise known as carbohydrates, are one of three types of macro-nutrients that we take in from food — the other two are proteins and fats. Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy, and they come in the forms of sugar, fiber and starch. Potatoes, bread and corn are examples of high-carb foods. Meats, such as chicken and beef, are examples of low-carb foods.
Carb cycling, also known as Cyclic Ketogenic Dieting, is the manipulation of the carb intake in one’s diet for the purpose of keeping the body in a fat-burning state, known as ketosis. It’s really a variation of low-carb dieting, in that most days the person dieting consumes very low amounts of carbs (about 50 grams or less). Periodically the person does what’s called a “re-feed,” where he drastically ramps up the amount of carbohydrates consumed during the day (about 300 grams or more).
Typically, re-feed days are scheduled around times the person is more active, while the low-carb days tend to be rest days. If you’ve ever tried low-carb dieting, you probably already understand why. When you lower your carbs so drastically, you feel quite drained, at least initially, since carbs are our primary source of energy. Trust me, you’re not going to feel like exercising on a low-carb day.
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Now, in a nutshell, we’ve just described what carb cycling is. The next question is, is carb cycling worth your time and effort? While every person must decide for himself, my suggestion is that it depends on what you’re trying to do. But generally, no, carb cycling isn’t necessary.
Being one who works in the health and fitness field, I believe carb cycling is best suited for bodybuilders or fitness competitors. For the purpose of displaying their musculature during competition, these athletes are required to reduce their body fat levels to very low percentages, about 4 percent to 10 percent, where the average person is probably between 14 percent and 25 percent. The meticulous counting of carbs involved in carb cycling is a perfect strategy to help these athletes cut down their body-fat percentage.
For the average person seeking to lose fat, yes, carb cycling will help you lose fat, but your goal goes beyond just that. You want to change your lifestyle and to become healthier. You also want to enjoy your life, and in my opinion, carrying around a calculator and counting your carbs for the rest of your life does not make eating more enjoyable.
So, instead of focusing on counting carbs all of the time, a better and more sustainable approach is to first make sure that you are eating healthy carb-based foods. Second, to reduce the amount of carb-based foods you eat while simultaneously replacing them with non-starchy vegetables. We’ll talk more about how to do this in the next column.
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Peach County resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE certified personal trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.