It feels as though there is no escaping carbohydrates when it comes to talking about healthy eating. The latest carbohydrate-focused diet to take center stage combines very low carbohydrate days along with days packed with carb-containing foods. Known as "carb cycling," the premise of this eating plan comes from the world of bodybuilders and professional athletes looking to quickly increase muscle mass—though that hasn't stopped the average person looking for a weight-loss solution to jump on the bandwagon as of late. But does this eating plan really "optimize" carbs to boost weight loss?
What is Carb Cycling?While carb cycling involves alternating between high carbohydrate intake days and low carbohydrate intake days at its core, there are many versions of the plan. Some people adjust their carb intake day-to-day, usually based on their exercise and competition schedule, while others do longer cycling periods by week or month. Some plans use the high-low carb routine for six straight days with a reward or cheat day on the seventh.
| Very Low-Carb Day |
Light Activity Day
(up to 25% of calories)
2 ½ - 5
50 - 95
3 ½ - 6 ½
| High-Carb Day |
Vigorous Activity Day
(45-65% of calories)
170 - 245
11 ½ – 16 ½
200 - 295
13 ½ - 19 ½
For some who struggle with eating plans that cut out whole food groups, the carb-cycling plan can be liberating and easier to maintain than other very restricting or very low-carbohydrate eating plans. Others find the cycling approach to be too complicated and time-consuming.
While a carb-cycling plan is safe for most people, do not start using a carb-cycling plan before checking with your primary care provider or registered dietitian. This is especially important if you have a medical history of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, hypoglycemia, disordered eating or binge eating. Do not use this type of eating plan if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Avoid carb-cycling plans that require or force the purchase of added supplements, shakes or beverages.
The bottom line is this: Diets that cut calories usually results in weight loss and so will carb cycling. If you find that controlling carb intake is an area of struggle in your weight-loss plan, carb cycling may offer the increased flexibility you desire, but with added structure and accountability you need to make a real change. If you decide to take a ride on this rollercoaster, be sure to reach for quality carbs on both your feast and famine days.
Have you tried carb cycling? What have you found to be most challenging or most rewarding thing about the eating plan?
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