Is Carb-Cycling a Smart Way to Lose Weight?

A nutritionist looks at carb-cycling as a way to shed unwanted pounds.



Photo by: Elenathewise


The concept of carb-cycling has been around for many years. Some folks are now using this technique in order to lose weight. Here’s an inside look at what carb-cycling is and if you should be trying it in order to shed unwanted pounds.

What is Carb-Cycling?

Endurance athletes, like marathoners and triathletes, tend to carb-load before a competition or race.  This is when they gradually increase carbs, while decreasing workouts, several days before their event in order to optimize glycogen stores.

A tweaked version to this is when athletes eat more carbs on days when undergo intense physical workouts in order to optimize energy and minimize fatigue. Days that they are less active, they eat fewer carbs.

Carb cycling is now being used for weight loss. Folks eat more carbs on days they work out, while cutting back or not eating carbs on days when they aren’t very active.  

Is it Healthy?

According to Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Nutrition Consultant in Pittsburgh and Author of Fueling Young Athletes carb-cycling was never meant to be a weight loss plan. “The main safety concern when following any diet restriction is missing key essential nutrients,” explains Mangieri, “While I have not seen any evidence to suggest it is unsafe, there is no evidence to support it is better than another diet for weight loss either.”

Exercise type, intensity and duration play a big role in what and when you should eat. Strength training, for example, burns a much lower percentage of total calories than cardiovascular exercise. High-intensity cardiovascular exercise, such as sprinting, burns a much higher percentage of carbohydrates than fat. Meal timing is absolutely important, but most recreational athletes can reach their body composition goals by eating a healthy, balanced diet throughout the day, without worrying about cycling and trying to match energy expenditure so precisely.

As for carbs, they’re an important part of any weight loss plan, but they’re also easy to overconsume. For example, 1 cup of cooked spaghetti is a reasonable portion for a meal and has about 230 calories. It’s easy, however, to pile on 3 or 4 cups (690 to 920 calories) without realizing it.  Oftentimes folks also forget that carbs not only include starchy foods like bread, rice, and pasta, but sugary foods like baked goods too. “Before you put a limit on nutrient rich carbohydrates, try cutting out lower nutrient foods, such as those with added sugars and fats,” says Mangieri. Oftentimes, that alone is enough to see results.

Bottom Line

Carb-cycling was never meant to be a weight loss plan, and does not replace the good old technique of learning how to balance calories while eating a variety of foods including carbs. 

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