I had a question from my friend Megan and her sweet fox of a mom, Roxanne. They have recently been experimenting with carb cycling and wanted my take.
For those of you who aren’t quite sure what “carb cycling” is, basically you rotate the amount of carbs you are taking in each day, either in a pattern such as LOW-LOW-HIGH (two low-carb days followed by a high day) or sometimes (LOW-MEDIUM-HIGH). This is a pretty advanced type of ‘diet’ and needs to be executed correctly in order to yield the best results. The reasons that people choose to carb cycle are to lose stubborn fat without losing muscle, or get ready for a certain event that they want to “cut down” for. I have known a lot of people that SWEAR by carb cycling and absolutely love it, but I am all about honesty and my own personal experiences with things, SO HERE GOES….
For years and years, I have struggled with an extremely “warped” view when it comes to food. As I’m sure MANY of you can relate, it is not easy being a woman in this day and age, and there are so many pressures to be skinny, beautiful, perfect, the list goes on and on. I used to live on a philosophy that a “good” day was a day that I barely ate anything and worked out for two hours. It’s pretty crazy, because for years and years I would nearly starve myself and work out for hours on end, yet I never looked the way I wanted to or saw the results that I was hoping for.
A little over a year ago, I met with an awesome trainer that completely changed my life. He explained my body’s needs and told me that over the past few years I had pretty much ruined my metabolism and need to start fueling my body for the amount of physical activities I am demanding from it and the results will happen naturally. He put me on a diet that felt like more food I had ever eaten in my entire life, yet only ended up averaging out to about 1500 calories a day, CRAZY.
The thing that we have to learn is that there is a balance that needs to be found among not only the AMOUNT of food we are taking in, but also the TYPES of food we are consuming, as well. We live in a world where CARBS are deemed BAD, and we are told that by eating less carbs, we will lose weight. The biggest thing that I want to preach right now is that BUILDING MUSCLE REQUIRES CARBS. I have tried to fight this theory, I have tried time and time again to prove it wrong, but science is science and facts are facts.
If you are active, working out, and want to increase your lean muscle mass while decreasing your body fat percentage, YOU NEED CARBS in order to do so. I have gone weeks where I have kept my carb intake under 50 g/d while getting at least 150/g protein, and I ended up looking flat, felt gross, had no energy (carbs=energy), and still managed to be squishy!
I have learned that I have an “all or nothing” mentality, and in order to break that and fuel my body with the nutrients that it needs, I do best while maintaining a baseline of around 150 grams of carbs per day, and 100-130 grams of protein. If I try and carb cycle, I end up skipping my HIGH days and deplete myself of carbs so badly that I end up losing muscle. If you are REALLY dedicated to a diet and are following it very strictly, carb cycling can be a great way to lose fat, but if you are trying to build muscle whatsoever, you are going to need carbs in order to do so.
One downside to carbs and a reason that some people avoid them is because they can make you hold water, which creates a “fuller” look, but can also result in not looking as cut or ‘dried out,’ which freaks people out. Every time I have a higher carb day or eat a lot of carbs before bedtime, I wake up in the morning and I completely convince myself that I have gained a million pounds overnight and that my abs are completely gone. (which is the farthest thing from the truth, but I am a crazy person sometimes so I am used to my irrational thought process)
One thing that needs to be understood about our bodies is that it likes to find an internal balance (scientifically known as “homeostasis”) and while it is constantly working to maintain that balance, any changes to our diet, workout plans, even sleep patterns can affect our balance and take time for our bodies to adjust. I am going to show you 2 pictures that I took of my stomach in order to prove this once and for all.
I decided to start making sure I was getting 150 grams of carbs per day, and although it freaked me out and I felt as though I blew up like a puffer fish and felt bloated and gross, I was going to give myself 2 weeks to see how everything panned out
So here is a picture a few days after I added more carbs into my diet (and about when I started freaking out and vowed that I wouldn’t post these pics but I love you guys so here goes…)
And here is a picture from 10 days after that, while still maintaining 150 grams of carbs per day, once my body had a chance to adjust, flush out some of the extra water, and start using the carbs in order to build muscle:
It’s crazy how differently our bodies can look when we give them a chance to adjust to the changes that we are making and start using food as fuel in order to build muscle and burn fat. It is easy to jump to conclusions and freak out and want to starve ourselves in order to look a certain way. But let me ask you a question, has starving yourself worked in the past? Has starving yourself or depriving your body of the things that it needs ever yielded the results that you want? Most likely not. In fact, a lot of the time the things that we make up in our mind don’t work, but for some reason they are so deeply engrained in our own brains that we continue to do them day in and day out in hopes that one day things will miraculously change and we will start seeing results. We hear of different methods that other people have tried, or even read about SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN facts, yet for some reason we think “that will never work for me,” and we keep doing our method over and over. Think about how silly that sounds! “I have never tried your way, and my way doesn’t work, but I am going to keep doing it anyways.” Sounds absurd, yet most of us have used this logic at one point or another.
So if you hear of a new method or learn of a different perspective to go about things, why not give it a try? What have you got to lose? Above all else, listen to your body. Pay attention to how you feel. Keep a journal, not only to log your food, but to log your moods and feelings and overall experiences as you go. This life is a constant give and take, an everyday trial and error to learn about what works best for our needs and our goals. Maybe carb cycling is perfect for your body type and you can stick to a plan thoroughly, making sure to calculate your carbs and always get a high day, or maybe you are more like me, and you need to follow a more solid day-to-day plan in order to keep your moods and body stable.
Find out what works for you and DO IT! (and then check back in with me and let me know what you think) 🙂
ps. here is a sample “carb cycle” diet that you might want to try. I tried this one for a month and I liked it the best of all of the carb cycling diets I have tried, but I still think that my body needs more carbs on an everyday basis. This link also has a great chart that shows the advantages and disadvantages of carb cycling versus more of a baseline carb maintaining diet.