Have you ever tried to lose weight with a low-carb or ketogenic diet, only to plateau or gain weight after? As frustrating as this is, it is quite common because the body is programmed to adapt to changes in calories and fuel sources. In all honesty, your body is trained to maintain weight, not to lose.
When switching to a low-carb diet, your metabolic flexibility to burn fat is low, initially you may experience symptoms of; low energy, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, increased hunger and carb cravings. After a few weeks, weight loss starts as the body starts to obtain fuel from stores of fat. However, over time, in a low- carb state the thyroid starts to gear down, putting the brakes on your metabolism, you gain weight while throwing your body into “hibernation mode”, ultimately leading to more weight gain and fatigue.
So how can we keep our metabolism primed and guessing?
The answer may be in something referred to as carbohydrate cycling or carb-cycling for short.
The idea is to have low-carb days, consisting of protein, vegetables and more fat, alternating with high-carb days which include protein, grains or starches, vegetables and less fat. The classic carb cycling schedule alternates between high- and low- carb days, six days a week leaving the seventh day as a flex day.
As you start to set goals about diet and exercise this new year we want you to consider carb-cycling as a manageable and unique solution.
Benefits of Carb-cycling
● increase insulin sensitivity
● increase fat burning
● improve cholesterol
● enhance metabolism
● benefit thyroid hormones
● keep testosterone levels up and enhances exercise performance
● improve leptin response, which regulates hunger
● improves energy by replenishing
● glycogen stores
If you are looking to lose weight you may have 5 low- carb days, interspersed with 2 high- carb days.
Or alternatively, if you are looking for more maintenance, you may increase your carbs on the flex day as well.
However, for most people to see benefits, ensure that you do not have high- carb days back-to-back, this is important.
Be prepared to closely monitor your progress in the beginning and adjust your schedule to see what works best for you.
One of the reasons we like this style of eating so much is that it allows for you to plan for a high carb occasion, say you have dinner plans (hopefully one day soon!) and you would like to partake in all the goodies and even a glass of wine; with carb-cycling you can easily incorporate this type of meal and then continue right back on track the next day with a low-carb day and the metabolic effects are such that you don’t end up spending the next week trying to lose the 3lbs that somehow found their way onto your waist. This is a great gradual and maintainable eating style, have a look at the sample meal plans to see how exactly this could work for you.
Low-Carb Day sample meal plan
● 2 scrambled or hardboiled eggs
● 1/2 bell pepper
Morning snack (10am)
● protein shake
● 3 to 4 oz. grilled salmon
● 1 cup steamed green beans
Afternoon snack (4 pm)
● 10 almonds or walnuts
● 3 to 4 oz. steak
● 2 cups steamed broccoli or cauliflower with butter
High-Carb Day sample meal plan
● 1/2 cup oatmeal
● walnuts and berries
Morning snack (10am)
● 2 Tbsp nut butter (almond, sunflower)
● 1/2 turkey sandwich, with lettuce on whole grain bread or sprouted bread.
Afternoon snack (4 pm)
● 1 cup bean salad with parsley
● 1 cup quinoa
● 3 to 4 oz. grilled chicken breast
● 1 cup rice pasta
● 1 cup steamed spinach
Low- carb days
May include a variety of proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, beef, eggs or tofu paired with non- starchy vegetables (mainly green vegetables), olive oil, butter with a snack of fruit and nut butters or vegetables with hummus. Be sure to eat enough at each meal so that you are not hungry. Reducing carbs on these days keeps your insulin low enough so that you can burn fat without losing muscle! You are also depleting your glycogen stores (the storage of glucose in your muscles and liver) and using the beta oxidation (fat burning) metabolic pathway.
On your high-carb days, consume your calories from complex carbohydrates, such as; oatmeal, quinoa, millet, spelt, rye, beans, legumes and fruits, while maintaining your protein and non-starchy vegetable intake, but be sure to reduce your fats. Eating healthy carbs on these days keeps your metabolism revved up by reminding it to burn glucose for fuel and to replete your glycogen stores, which is important for maintaining energy and keeping muscles fueled.
For both low-and high-carb days, keep your meals 3 to 4 hours apart, meal timing is important. Strategies such as intermittent fasting (see March 2020 newsletter) may still be applied, and if you’re following a specific diet like low-fodmap or you have food sensitivities, these can help guide your food choices when you set up your meal plans. Also, ensure that your food portions (see March 2020 newsletter) are right for your body, you may need to eat every 3 hours at first to not feel hungry, smaller more frequent meals are better than overeating in one meal.
Be sure to always stay hydrated and maintain movement in your day. Some people also find it helpful to do more exercise on a high-carb day and less on a low-carb day. For example, heavy weight lifting is better on a high carb day, whereas yoga or walking are a better fit for a low carb day.
Overall, the net effect is that you’re strategically restricting calories and then revving your metabolism allowing you to lose weight while being able to maintain it for a longer period of time without feeling deprived! If you feel like you would like more information on this type of eating, please reach out to us.
Dr. Rebecca Sagan, ND and Dr. Hajnalka Pinter, ND