Cycling carbs can be one of the most effective ways to burn fat and spark weight loss. Rather than relying on an “all out” approach and cutting carbs entirely, this approach allows you to moderate the number of carbs you eat each day, which is far more realistic and healthier. Combined with a regular exercise routine that includes walking, running or using a treadmill, it can help you to lower your calorie intake, burn fat and shed those excess pounds quicker and easier.

So exactly what is carb cycling and why does it work? It’s simple, really. Though many popular diet plans encourage you to cut carbs out of your diet entirely, this can actually be problematic, as the body needs carbs for fuel. So rather than eliminating them, carb cycling, as the name suggests, involves scheduling your carb intake in a regular cycle, usually three low carb days followed by two high carb days.

It doesn’t seem as if it would make much of a difference to moderate the amount of carbs you consume but you’d be surprised. In fact, this enables you to get the benefit of eating both low carb and high carb, which can be much healthier for you. Lowering your carb intake helps promote weight loss and control insulin sensitivity while the high carb days can help support muscle growth, aid in recovery and boost your energy.

The number of carbs you eat on each day of your cycle can depend on several different variables including your age, gender, activity level and the intensity of your regular workouts. If you are exercising heavily, for instance, you’ll need the extra carbs to help give you the energy to get through your workouts, while less active individuals can probably get away with fewer high carb days. In most cases, 200 grams of carbs a day is a good starting point. From there you can adjust by dropping up to 50 grams each of the first three days, then adding in about 75 grams each of the next two days, and then repeat the whole thing.

It’s really no great mystery how carb cycling can help you to burn fat. The low carb days will allow you to lose fat while increasing insulin sensitivity, which in turn helps with distribution of fat and proper body composition. On the other hand, the high carb days will help you to burn more calories as well as increasing your body’s production of the hormone leptin, which works to keep you from being hungry, meaning you’ll actually eat less. By switching from low to high carb and back again, you’ll avoid the possible pitfall of binge eating as your metabolism will remain evener.

Of course, as with any weight loss approach, even with carb cycling you are likely to reach a plateau, where your ability to burn fat and lose weight stalls. The good thing about cycling is that makes it easier to nudge yourself off of that plateau. You just have to adjust your cycle, possibly even including a couple of zero carb days, until you’re back on track and then go from there. You can also jumpstart your metabolism by having 3 or 4 high carb days in a row or allowing yourself one “cheat” meal.

Naturally, even carb cycling is not foolproof. The effectiveness of this approach is dependent on not only the number of carbs you consume each day but the type of carbs. Carbs from junk food should be avoided at all costs. Instead, focus your attention on carbs from “clean” foods such as potatoes, rice, oatmeal, corn and other starchy vegetables, beans, quinoa and berries. These are the carbs that your body can process the best and that will provide the maximum benefit when eaten in moderation.

Equally important is the timing of your carb consumption on both low and high carb days. Since your body uses carbs as fuel, you should always eat the majority of your carbs early in the day and taper off as the day goes on. You’ll also want to get a good helping of carbs after a workout, to help replenish the energy you burn during exercise. This is true no matter what level of exercise you participate in, whether a full on cardio workout or a lighter session on the treadmill.

Finally, no matter what approach you take to weight loss you need to be in the right frame of mind in order for it to be successful. This includes carb cycling, which won’t work on its own unless you take a positive and realistic approach to it. Don’t allow yourself to “cheat” or waiver, once you establish a cycle stick with it unless you reach a plateau and need to adjust. Burning fat and getting healthy is an ongoing process and when approached correctly, carb cycling can be an effective tool in your weight loss arsenal.

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