Carb Cycling: Weighing the pros vs the cons of this diet routine

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling is a type of diet which involves consuming carbs in a scheduled manner.  People tend to follow different types of diets which generally do not contain carb intake or very low carb intake.  The actual fact is that carb for our body since it provides the energy required to function such as walking, running, etc.

Carb cycling is a type of diet which is generally followed by athletes who need to change their body fitness levels according to the goal they need to achieve.  It should be noted that carb cycling cannot be tolerated by everyone and caution is advised while doing so.  Another important thing to be noted here is that carb cycling is generally only for short periods of time and cannot be followed for long periods of time.

Carb cyclingCarb cycling is followed for the body to adapt to the change in metabolism and manage the fat in the body appropriately.  Athletes tend to deprive the body of carb intake in some cases for months in order to achieve their target weight.  This type of carb starvation can lead to several health problems and may cause serious side effects such as alteration in thyroid hormones, change in metabolism, etc.

It is always advised to choose a diet which has at least 25% of carb intake in it so that we can gain from the beneficial effects of carb intake. The method of carb cycling is very important since generally diets plan on regular protein and fat intake, but do not concentrate on carb intake.  Due to this there is an abnormality in the way the body functions and may be detrimental.

There are 3 types of diets which are quite popular among people and include:

Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet is a diet where fat is broken down to produce energy instead of carbohydrates. Generally, the diet works by cutting back on carbohydrates and replacing with mostly fat and a moderate amount of protein.  A ketogenic diet helps to lose weight and manage blood sugar levels.

It is designed in a way that a person gets 60% to 80% of energy from burning fat and only a small amount of energy is obtained with the help of carbohydrates.  Keto diet, which limits carbs can be effective for weight-loss, but they are typically not recommended for all people and special care has to be taken with people suffering from diabetes.  Studies have indicated that low-carb diets are useful in managing blood sugar, reducing weight, as well as managing cardiovascular risk.

Paleo Diet

The paleolithic diet is a diet, which consists of non-processed food, which was the diet, followed by early humans. Paleo diets cut out on dairy, refined sugar, and grains. The paleo diet also cuts out processed food plus foods allowed on other low-carb diets, including milk and cheese, and are comparatively easier to follow when more carbs are included.  People following a modified, low-carb paleo diet have experienced reductions in levels of A1C (A1C test is a blood test that reflects our average blood glucose levels), triglycerides (a type of fat found in our blood), and diastolic blood pressure (pressure in blood vessels when the heart rests between beats).  The paleo diet has also the ability to increase the levels of LDL (low-density lipoproteins).

Atkins Diet

It is a diet which works in four stages namely induction (eat high-fat, high-protein, with low-carb vegetables),  balancing (slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables, fine-tuning (add more carbs to the diet until weight loss slows down), and maintenance (eat as many healthy carbs as our body can tolerate without weight gain).   This diet focuses on limiting carbohydrates and consuming vegetables, proteins, and fruits.  It also focuses on fat intake in the form of avocado and coconut oil, as well as butter, and cheese.  The diet includes avoiding sweets and foods like pasta, rice, and processed food.

Health benefits of carb cycling

Manages Muscle Mass

Carbs are very essential for maintaining muscle mass and keeping them in shape.  In order to build their muscle, they undergo rigorous physical exercise, which involves lifting heavy weights and constantly straining the muscle.  During this process, the muscle tends to suffer a breakdown as well as tearing.  The rebuilding process of these muscles would require the help of carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are very essential to rebuild the torn muscles and bring them back to their original shape as well as increase the muscle mass.  Due to this reason, the body needs carb intake on a regular basis to provide adequate energy the body needs as well as repair the muscles and bring them back to shape.

Promotes weight loss

Losing weight is a tedious process and involves a strict diet and regular physical exercise.  Generally, people follow a strict diet which involves minimal fat and carbs.  This diet is followed to reduce the calories we intake so as to decrease the weight.  The problem with this diet is that it may promote weight loss initially, but later we end up gaining the same weight due to the lack of carbohydrates in the body.

Due to this type of diet, there are also abnormal hormonal changes which may lead to a change in metabolism.  Carb cycling helps the process of weight loss and reduces the weight regain process.  Due to this reason, carb cycling is important for weight loss.

Promotes eating healthy food

During the carb cycling diet, we are allowed to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates such as fruits, potatoes, beans, etc.  During this diet, it is also very important to eat healthy vegetables which are also rich in fiber such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, etc.  These fiber-rich vegetables and fruits are rich in nutrients and antioxidants.

Eating such healthy food promotes a feeling of satiety and prevents the cravings to eat more. Antioxidants on the other hand help to reduce the free radicals and improve the immune system which is able to fight off harmful pathogens. Due to these reasons, carb cycling is helpful in eating healthy food.

Manages hormonal imbalance as well as blood sugar

Restricting carbohydrates in our diet has a direct impact in lowering the sugar levels and insulin needs.  Studies have shown that a low-carb diet is a natural diabetes treatment, which also lowers the risk of diabetes complications including obesity and heart disease. (looks contradictory to the fact that it is not suitable for diabetes patients)   A low-carb diet also helps in regulating dyslipidemia and metabolic syndrome as well as control of blood pressure.  A carb cycling process helps regulate insulin levels and reduces insulin resistance.  Due to these reasons, carb cycling is helpful in managing the hormonal imbalance as well as blood sugar levels.

Disadvantages of a low-carb diet

Frequent urination:  Burning up the extra glycogen in the liver and muscles and breaking down glycogen can release a lot of water.  Since the carb intake and glycogen stores are low, kidneys will excrete this excess water.  The excess urination will result in excess elimination of sodium from the body.

Fatigue and Dizziness:  Since the kidneys excrete a large amount of urine during low carb intake, it can lead to the elimination of important minerals such as salt, potassium, and magnesium.  Lower levels of minerals can lead to tiredness, lightheadedness or dizziness, muscle cramps, and headaches.  Some people may also experience itchy skin

Hypoglycemia:  This condition usually occurs when the body is induced to a ketogenic diet.

Headaches:  People may also experience a headache when adapting to a ketogenic diet, which induces a process called ketosis.  People may also feel lightheaded and can experience flu-like symptoms.

Constipation:  Due to frequent urination leading to loss of salt and minerals such as magnesium can lead constipation, but this can be minimized with fluid intake and high fiber content vegetables.

Sugar cravings:  Since people following a low-carb diet try to avoid sugar or sugary food intake, it can lead to people craving for sugar sooner or later.  People who can wait it out can experience minimized effect and usually subside with time.

Diarrhea: People may also experience diarrhea just because of the change in diet.

Tremors and Weakness:  Shakiness and weakness are usually related to a medical condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  It could result from low mineral levels.

Muscle cramps:  Loss of minerals especially magnesium during frequent urination can lead to a side effect called as muscle cramps.

Sleep disturbances:  Few people can also experience sleep disturbance when on a ketogenic diet, which is due to low amounts of insulin and serotonin.

Kidney stones:  One of the biggest side effects of the ketogenic diet is kidney stones.  Inadequate hydration and high consumption of calcium can lead to kidney stones.  It is also noted that the uric acid level is usually high in people consuming a ketogenic diet.

Low thyroid hormone levels:  During a ketogenic diet, the body becomes sensitive to T3 hormone because of induced hunger and can lead to low T3 thyroid hormone levels.

Heart palpitations:  Heart palpitations are also called a racing heart.  People may experience heart palpitation during hypotension (low blood pressure), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and loss of nutrients, which are all side effects of a low-carb diet.

Hair loss:  Rapid hair loss can be experienced by people usually with any diet change and is not related to any particular diet.

Best methods to follow during carb cycling

List of carb cycling methods are discussed below:

  • Choose a minimal change in diet and do not rush in at the beginning.
  • Incorporate physical exercise to promote muscle build-up.
  • Maintain a calorie intake of around 1500 calories a day.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages and sugary drinks which can add up to extra calories.
  • Add healthy supplements to the diet such as omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Get regular sleep and rest your body adequately.



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