I recently wrote a post on the 3 Biggest Weight Loss Game Changers and I got a TONNNNN of amazing questions about Game Charger #3 – Carb cycling.
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t a believer in carb cycling until I went back to school for holistic nutrition.
Truth is – many of the studies I was familiar with as a Personal Trainer just didn’t really show any real justification for cycling carbs.
But when I went back to school for Nutritional Therapy and started to understand hormones, energy and blood sugar. Everything clicked. Now carb cycling is one of the primary tools I use with many of my clients – and truth be told the results that myself and my clients have experienced have more to do with feeling more ENERGY during the day falling asleep well at night.
Have you ever heard the term adrenal fatigue before? The term is controversial and bound to stir up debate between anyone in or interested in the world of holistic health. People seem to be at war with the name – but there is no denying that HPA-Axis Dysfunction is a thing – and for the purpose of this explanation – I consider them one in the same.
Anyways, I digress – here’s the deal.
We have glands that sit on our kidneys known as our adrenal glands. Their job is to crank out hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline. Overtime, when overly burdened with stress, the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demands and as a result decrease the production of these hormones. This is the philosophy behind “adrenal fatigue”.
Can I be honest here? I have yet to meet one client who wasn’t dealing with this to some extent. The truth is, as a culture we are overstressed and not getting enough quality sleep. That’s a fact.
Adrenal fatigue can then go on to cause other health issues among people – because when the body is stressed it will make compromises. What those compromises are are going to depend on your genetic predispositions. In my case, I lost my menstrual cycle. For others, it can mean auto-immune conditions, other hormonal imbalances, GI issues etc.
So now your probably wondering – how can carb cycling actually HELP adrenal fatigue and why does it even matter?
Throughout the day our blood sugar spikes and falls depending on what we ate, our level of stress and a host of other factors. But one of the things that can send us on a blood sugar rollercoaster is carbohydrates. You see, when we eat carbs (especially on their own) they cause a spike in blood sugar and then a drop.
Now there is nothing WRONG with this – but if you are someone who suspects she is dealing with adrenal issues – another big stress to the body can be big swings in blood sugar throughout the day.
In this scenario – I am not saying that you would go to your doctor and take a blood glucose test and see if it falls in/out of range. The changes I am talking about happen within a day – within minutes or hours – it’s more of a pattern that is occurring instead of a snapshot in time that blood work might reveal. It’s those constant peaks and dips that are adding another source of stress on the body.
It’s also probably worth noting some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue so I’ll throw these in here:
**These are just a few.
Carb cycling – essentially means that you are eating carbs at a certain time during the day (or certain days of the week) and other times you are not eating carbs. For the purpose of this article I am referring to carbs as starches, fruit and grains (i.e. Yes – non starchy veggies are carbs but that is not the kind of carb I am talking about).
I generally have my clients cycle their carbs around their workouts and in the evening. By doing this, we help balance out blood sugar so that the body does not experience those peaks and dips in blood sugar throughout the day – once we remove this stressor – the body has more energy to recalibrate on it’s own.
Additionally – by doing this, we can actually start to help the body become metabolically flexible. You see – our bodies are meant to run off of different fuel sources – glucose and fat.
When we cycle carbs and enjoy them at certain times – we can help our bodies make that switch to be able to become metabolically flexible.
When the body starts using fat as a fuel source, you will notice that you have MORE energy throughout the day and do not get “hangry” and feel like you crave sweets or caffeine all the time!
If you are SURE that you are in a safe calorie deficit and you are SURE that you are consistently in a calorie deficit it’s time to dig deeper. There could be some adrenal/hormonal issue at play here and we have to get a little more specific. It is possible that you might be experiencing adrenal fatigue which is making it hard for you to lose weight. If you feel fatigued, are experiencing stubborn weight loss and are about ready to give up hope – don’t !! Carb cycling (& making sure you are getting good quality fats) can be the silver bullet that you are looking for.
To carb cycle in a daily rhythm, I recommend prioritizing fats/veggies and protein during the day and keep starchy carbs/fruits around workouts and in the evening. As mentioned, there are a lot of theories about this – but I can tell you that in NTP school we were taught that eating in this way is less stressful to the body (eating carbs and sitting around can cause spikes and dips that can contribute to energy issues and ultimately weight loss issues). Here’s the thing – I have yet to find a research study to support this but what I CAN tell you is the anecdotally – this is a game changer for MANY of my clients.
Here is an example meal plan of what carb cycling could look like:
And be sure to check out my video on carb cycling here in my free Move Fuel Nourish Group!!!! (Join us!!!)
A big mistake that many people make when they carb cycle is that they don’t eat enough healthy fat and just stick to chicken and veggies – do not do this as you will feel pretty ick! Additionally do not be tempted to go very low calorie (IMO no one should ever really be eating 1200 calories per day). This will exacerbate an adrenal problem!
Cycling carbs does not have to mean LOW carb – in fact, going TOO low carb could also make an adrenal issue worse. To get help with your specific situation – feel free to reach out to me so that I can guide you!
In the first few days of doing this you may experience “carb detox” or carb flu – check out this article by dietdoctor.com which explains how to help support your body in the transition.