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The Pros and Cons of Carb Cycling: Is It Worth a Try or Not?

Are you thinking about a diet that includes a reduction in carbohydrates but keto too restrictive for you? Carb cycling might be a great alternative for you! Carb cycling is exactly how it sounds: It is an approach where you alternate between low carbohydrate days combined with some high carbohydrate intake days. 

Why does carb cycling work?

The thought process is that when you limit carbs, your body relies on fat as the primary fuel source, which can be helpful for weight management. If you are strategic about when you eat carbs (more intense workout days) your body is more efficiently powered and you will realize better results.   

So, what are the pros and cons of this diet?

What Is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a dietary approach in which you change your carb intake depending on

your monthly, weekly, or daily goals. This keto diet alternative allows for carb load days so for some people, it is easier to follow while still gaining many of the benefits that a keto diet offers. When following a carb cycling diet, you consume more carbs on high intense work out days and fewer carbs on rest days. 

According to nutritionists, 

  1. This diet should only be used in short duration phases. 

  2. In order to be successful, carb cycling requires strict adherence. 

  3. The goal of carb cycling is that it forces your body to utilize fat as fuel instead of the carbohydrate glycogen (stored form of glucose).

The Pros and Cons of Carb Cycling

What are the health benefits of carb cycling?

  • Weight loss - given carb deprivation, if adhered to properly, rapid weight loss is possible.

  • Low carb phases may help suppress your appetite, making it easier to lose weight.

  • High carb phases supply essential nutrients to your body, helping to refuel muscle.

  • During low carb phases, your body uses body fat as fuel during exercise, leading to fat burning. (makes a big difference on the menopause middle) 

  • High carb days boost energy for workouts.

  • Promotes psychological well-being because it feels less restrictive and is easier to sustain. This allows for success and continued adherence.

  • Hormone regulation: Carb cycling helps regulate hormones in your body. Low carb days help mitigate blood sugar lows and highs, while high carb days help regulate insulin levels. This adds to muscle preservation and boosts testosterone, thyroid hormones, and leptin levels.

The Cons associated with Carb Cycling:

  • Carb cycling may not be the best diet choice for individuals with eating disorders. 

  • This approach requires high adherence and strict planning, which may be difficult to achieve.

  • You might experience potential headaches, lightheadedness or even flu-like symptoms  during the low carb. 

  • Frequent urination: When you reduce your carb intake, your body will burn the extra glycogen in your muscles and liver. This breaking down of glycogen releases a lot of water inside your body. The kidneys will excrete this water because your carb intake and glycogen stores become low, leading to excess urination – which in turn causes excess elimination of sodium from your body.

Carb Cycling Can Be A Good Option for You!

Carbs are extremely important for building and preserving your muscle and maintaining your metabolism, particularly with more intense exercise.  If you are carb cycling, think about keeping your carb count as low as 50 carbs on your low impact exercise days and as high as 200 carbs on high impact workout days. According to research, this approach can help you make the most of your exercise sessions because post-workout carbs are used along with protein to build muscle and help your body recover. 

Carb choices DO matter:

High-fiber carbs are a rich source of nutrients. You also want to consider healthier options such as quinoa, farro and whole grains rather than deep fried choices or sugary options. 

As always, speak with your doctor to ensure any diet options are appropriate for you.  If you are looking to reduce carbs but keto is too restrictive for you, consider carb cycling. 

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