Carb Cycling: Old Wine in New Bottles

Blog / Saturday, December 1st, 2018

The latest edition of Clean Eating has an interesting article on carb cycling. Carb cycling can be an adjunct to the keto diet, a strategy to increase athletic performance, or a way to break through weight loss plateaus. The technique is actually old – I remember Martin Katahn’s “rotation diet” from the 80s, which has been updated as recently as 2012. The underlying principle is sound: prevent your body from going into starvation mode, by eating “normally” every few days. Normally does not mean pigging out on fast food: rather, it means eating your full daily calorie requirements, about 1800-2000 for women, around 2400 for mostly sedentary men.

If this reminds you of intermittent fasting (IF), you’re right. The 5/2 version of IF, in which you eat 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days, is another way to keep your body in fat-burning mode. IF in general is effective in keeping your body out of starvation mode and in fat-burning mode without making you feel “on a diet.”

For some, carb cycling avoids the sense of deprivation and therefore helps them stick to their regime. For others, the exposure to carbs is difficult, and likely to lead to abandonment of the diet. The key is to choose unrefined carbs and avoid engineered, carbohydrate-heavy foods that trigger uncontrolled eating. Choosing low glycaemic load, high-fiber carbs is critically important. Aim for no more than 200 grams of carbs on your high-carb days.