Can carb cycling help you lose weight?

Bodybuilders, fitness models and pro athletes have been doing it for decades

Carbohydrate (carb) cycling is a diet strategy that’s becoming increasingly popular. Some say it’s an effective way to lose excess weight.

Nutritional experts say not so fast.

When you carb cycle, you alternate days of eating a lot of carbs with other days of eating few or no carbs.

Although trendy, carb cycling isn’t new. For decades, bodybuilders, fitness models and professional athletes have used this method to prepare for competitions or activities. They also follow a rigorous daily exercise regimen and carefully track their carb intake so they can lose fat while gaining muscle.

It may work for elite athletes, but it can be dangerous to “regular” folks.

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“Many put all carbohydrates into the same category, but there are healthy carbohydrates and unhealthy carbohydrates,” said Erin Weidmar, clinical nutritionist for Norton Healthcare. “Unhealthy, processed carbs have given all carbs a bad name. Many key nutrients come from healthy carbohydrate sources like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole and intact grains. So, the key to an effective weight loss strategy is not to avoid carbs, but to avoid processed, unhealthy carbs.”

Processed carbs sneak into our diet through sugar-sweetened beverages, cereals, pastries, snack foods and  more. Focus on replacing them with healthy carb sources — fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Healthy carbs are high in fiber and digest slowly. That makes them more filling, which means they’re a good option for weight control.

“Keep in mind that elite competitors are working toward a specific purpose and an end date, with only temporary use of carb cycling,” Weidmar said.

For everybody else, focus on a long-term healthy living plan that includes a core of healthy carbs and exercise every day. Otherwise, carb cycling really is just spinning your wheels!


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