What is carb cycling and how does it work?
In the most simple format, carb cycling is a planned alteration of your carbohydrate intake to maximise their utility. Because carbohydrates serve our bodies as fuel, eating large amounts of carbohydrates on days when you are not physically active doesn’t really make much sense. So the main philosophy behind carb cycling is to limit the intake of carbohydrates when the body simply doesn’t need them as much.
Does carb cycling help with weight loss?
Whilst research on the diet is fairly limited, proponents of carb cycling claim that it helps to decrease body fat. If you don’t have enough glucose (energy) from carbs to burn, your body will start burning fat. This is called ketosis. During this process, your body makes ketones for a fuel source.
While there isn’t one standard protocol, if you are trying to lose weight then a simple way to cycle carbohydrates is to follow what I call the 3-1-2-1 rule. This is when you have three low carb days (during these days you should aim to consume less carbohydrates), followed by a high carb day (this is when you consume higher amount of carbs, usually combined with physical exercise), two low carb days and then another high carb day.
The low-carb days will help you burn fat, whilst the high-carb days will serve to replenish your energy levels.
How to calculate your recommended carbohydrate intake
There is no set amount for how many grams of carbohydrates you’re allowed on higher or lower carb days because your recommended carb intake will depend on your physical activity.
That said, the example shown below is a good starting point and can be used as a guide, but remember – your carb intake should ultimately be tailored to you and your needs.
Low carb days
To calculate the amount of carbohydrates needed on a low carb day multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 0.3 (women) and by 0.5 (men).
High carb days
To calculate the amount of carbohydrates needed on a high carb day multiply your body weight (in pounds) by 1.2 (women) and by 1.4 (men).
A female weighing 132 pounds (60kg) should aim to consume
39.6g of carbohydrates per day on low carb days and
158.4g of carbohydrates per day on high carb days.
132 (body weight in pounds) x 0.3 = 39.6
132 (body weight in pounds) x 1.2 = 158.4
Is it feasible to follow carb cycling as a vegan?
The short answer is yes, vegans can carb cycle but because the vegan diet tends to be heavy in carbohydrates from fruit, grains and starchy vegetables it takes a little planning. But don’t worry, cutting back on carbs as a vegan is not as complicated as it may seem. Many vegetables, such as tomatoes, onions, broccoli, peppers, courgettes and cauliflower are low in carbs. Vegan protein sources such as tofu and tempeh are high in protein and fat but low in carbs which also makes them suitable on a low-carb diet.
What to eat when carb cycling as a vegan
Typically your fat intake increases on low-carb days and decreases on high-carb days. Your protein intake should remain consistent.
If you are trying to lose weight, you should aim to keep your protein and fat intake fairly consistent between low carb and high carb days, modifying only your carbohydrates. If you follow this method, your low-carb days are also low-calorie days. This puts the body in a caloric deficit on low carb days to promote weight loss.
Low carb foods for vegans:
- Tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and nut butters
- Low carb vegetables (see table below)
|Vegetable||Serving size||Grams of carbs|
|Alfalfa sprouts||1 cup||0.7|
|Romaine lettuce||1 cup||1.6|
|Bok choy||1 cup||3|
|Bell peppers||1/2 cup||3.5|
|Green beans||1/2 cup||4.9|
What foods to avoid on low carbohydrate days:
- Sweeter fruits such as bananas, grapes, apples, pineapples, kiwis, mangos
- starchy vegetables such as potatoes
- Rice, bread, cereal
- Sugary snacks such as chocolate and cookies
Vegan low carb meal ideas
|Soya yoghurt (1 cup) with blueberries (1/4 cup)||Cucumber sticks (100g)||Pan-fried tofu (140g)||Mixed nuts & seeds (25g)|
|Hummus (50g)||Stir-fried mixed vegetables (1 cup spinach, 75g mangetout, 100g courgette)||Almond butter (30g)|
|Olives (30g)||Mushrooms (1/2 cup)||Avocado (half)|
|Total carbs: 33.1g|