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Fancy carb cycling?

Carb lovers rejoice! You can bid adieu to your unsuccessful struggles of giving up carbs completely. Now you can have your carbs and lose weight too. How you might ask? The answer is ‘carb cycling.’ We asked fitness experts for their views on this concept.

What is it?

Carb cycling, simply put, includes having more carbohydrates on days when one exercises, and fewer on days of rest. On the days when one eats less carbs, one would then eat more fat (good fats) and vice versa, says Jonny Rees, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance Fitness, London. He says, “When you take in carbs, your pancreas releases insulin — which is a storage hormone that encourages extra calories to be put down as fat. But if you’ve created demand for carbs, they’ll be stored in the muscles. If you’re not exercising, they’ll be stored in the body as fat.”

Consuming too much carbs can lead to fat being stored around the middle. Therefore, alternating days of high carb and low carb enables individuals to get all the benefits from carbohydrates and eliminating the unflattering effects, since working out means it won’t be stored as abdominal fat. Rees explains, “To burn body fat you want insulin to be low (low carb), if you want to gain muscle you want insulin to be high (high carb). Therefore, doing a mixture of both allows the body to remain lean without losing muscle mass.” He’s not in favour of completely cutting out carbs from one’s diet, stressing that “It’s not good to remove a major food group all the time.”

Rees says that calculating how much carbs one should eat depends on his/her weight and physical activity. Generally, after working out, individuals could eat around 30 gms of carbs. Whereas, on the non-exercise days, individuals should stick to those carbs present in vegetables. And since fruits contain a lot of sugar it’s better to stick to berries. Also, on these low-carb days, it’s important to eat more ‘good’ fats, such as oily fish, nuts and avocados, he advises.

At Rees’ gym, individuals are generally put on a very low carb diet for 10 days to two weeks, and then he introduces them to carb cycling, an eating plan he says people can sustain long-term. The method is as effective for both men and women, although the results may be more obvious in men who naturally have more muscle mass, he says.

Expert speak

So what do our experts think of carb cycling? Shalini Bhargava, Director, JG’S Fitness Centre, says, “Yes, it works for weight loss provided that the carb quantity is optimally calculated, depending upon an individual’s exercise plan — calories burnt through out the day. The total weekly calorie intake must remain the same for overall weight loss.” Another good aspect of carb cycling she says is that it will also offset the negative effects of a very low calorie diet — which is followed by most people aiming to lose weight — namely, decreased metabolic rates, drop in exercise performance, increased hunger and cravings, mood swings and maybe mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Would they recommend it?

“Eliminating carbs totally can have a host of negative effects like a drop in performance, lower metabolic rate, difficulty in concentration, so an easier way out is carb cycling. Carb cycling is something that should be done by everybody as it gives the body some rest from the routine eating. Plus, you keep a track of what you are eating,” opines fitness expert Althea Shah, giving it a thumbs up.

Bhargava doesn’t believe in a very low carb diet as at the end of the day, for her, health and fitness is not just weight loss or body images, but the power to get through the day’s activities with full energy, enthusiasm and a positive mind, which are not possible without carbs, as carbs are our source of energy. However, she would like to add that “one cannot go over board with it too. So optimum quantities in moderation is the key coupled with good carb choices.”

Easy to adopt?

The Indian diet is carb-centric, so will it be easy for us to adopt carb cycling, and how should one go about it? Bharagava says it is easy, but requires one to understand good and bad carbs, Low GI index and High GI index. Glycemic Index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Also, one should calculate how many calories one requires in a day, and then try to get 60 to 70 per cent of these from good carbs on a heavy exercise day. Alternately, on a light exercise day, the percentage drops to 30 to 40 per cent.

Shah says, “In carb cycling, your week is divided among three types of days: no carb days, low-carb days and high-carb days. These can be used for recovery, and to replenish glycogen so generally most people find this approach easier to follow. This diet is easy to adapt as it gives you a variety of combinations to work with and will work on the Indian diet as it alternates with carbs on some days and no carbs on some days so even if you have a craving, you can refrain for some days and indulge on other days.”

And so, on no-carb days: Have high-fibre vegetables, with lean protein. On low-carb days: Have one or two servings of brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, starchy veggies or fruit with lean protein. On high-carb days: Have two to three servings of brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, starchy veggies or fruit with lean protein and a serving or two of healthy fats, she advises.

Carbs are bad when...

Eaten at the wrong time thus, storing it as fat. The best time is to eat the majority in the morning tapering off as the day progresses. Never eat carbs late at night, as these can convert to fat due to inactivity.

Eating wrong carbs or junk foods — oily and sugary foods — should be avoided as these have excess of carbs and fat.

Eating in excess: Eating more than the body needs or uses for energy gets converted to fat so eat just what the body requires.

— Althea Shah, fitness expert

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