Can I Carb Cycle as a Vegetarian?

 

Since the launch of our app, TRANSFORM with Chris and Heidi, we’ve been asked more times than we can count, “Can I carb cycle as a vegetarian?” The answer is YES! 100% YES! 

Now, before we dive into the vegetarian specifics, let’s quickly brush up on what carb cycling is…because knowing this will make it easy to adapt for you leaf-eaters! Simply put, carb cycling is a patterned way of alternating between the high carb/low fat days (to optimize metabolism and muscle development) and low carb/high fat days (to maximize fat loss). Beyond the weight loss benefits, carb cycling also allows a wide variety of meal combinations to create a lifestyle around the foods you truly enjoy.

High carb meals look like this: Protein + Carbohydrate (skip the fat)

Low carb meals look like this: Protein + Fat (skip the carbohydrate)

Leafy green and cruciferous veggies are always unlimited, no matter high or low carb.

Depending on the cycle you choose (or the cycle we choose for you within the app), you will experience patterned “reward days” or “reward meals” each week. Not only do reward meals/days give us the psychological and emotional break we need, reward meals/days also act as a “reset” that our bodies need physically. So along with your healthy foods, you can enjoy foods you love and still achieve your goals!

While each plan has a different mix of high carb and low carb days, each day works basically the same:

  • Eat five meals—spaced between 3-4 hours apart.
  • Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking (always made up of a protein + a carb + a fat).
  • Eat your next 3 meals—either high carb or low carb, depending on your carb cycle—every 3 hours. 
  • Meal #5 is always a low carb meal!
  • Choose from the list of approved foods.
  • Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Example: If you weight 200 lbs, you should aim for 100 ounces each day.

With all of the talk of “carbs this” and “carbs that” we hear about all of the time (like above in this post), it can get a bit confusing, so let’s make it simple. No matter what carb cycle you’re following, your carb can be a grain, a legume, a fruit, or a starchy root veggie.

Speaking of veggies (finally), here are some tips to get all of you vegetarians carb cycling!

Taste the Rainbow:

One thing I love about vegetarian cooking is the beautiful variety of color. Each color is a representation of different vitamins contained within. It’s true that veggies show their nutritional value on their skin.

VEGGIE MACRO TIP: If you’re counting your macros and you’re looking at a low carb day completely bewildered, choose green vegetables. They naturally have less carbs than the colorful veggies, and the darker the veggies like broccoli, spinach, and kale have slightly higher protein and iron count. 

Find YOUR Protein Source:

This is where MANY vegetarians get stuck because the foundation of a vegetarian diet is plant-based foods, which are essentially carbohydrates. So it is important to identify which protein sources you enjoy. Many vegetarians will eat eggs and dairy-based foods like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and a protein powder supplement. Most vegans prefer all plant-based foods like edamame, tofu, tempeh, and seitan. However, it’s important to be vigilant about your soy intake, and we usually recommend no more than 25 g a day. Keep in mind that some of these protein sources can be high in sodium, so make sure you are aware of your total daily sodium intake.  

So are you looking for more vegetarian recipes? We’ve got great news: You can adapt nearly ANY recipe to fit your vegetarian or vegan plan. How? By simply substituting your favorite protein sources for the meat source in any recipe (we’ve found seitan to fit well into many of our recipes). This will give you the variety you’re looking for while still getting all of the nutrition you need to achieve your goals. APP NOTE: With the app, specifically, just leave meat filters on for more options and use this tip. 

And here’s an extra tip: If you’re in a household of vegetarians and meat eaters, you can add shredded chicken, for example, to a vegetarian option, but prep it in a separate bowl, and you’ll be able to keep everyone happy AND healthy!

More great news: We are adding a lot more recipes (both vegetarian and meat-eater) in the next update of our app!! And for all of you macro counters, we’ve added every single recipe to MyFitnessPal (just be sure to search for both the name of the recipe AND the calorie count for that recipe).

Low Carb vs. High Carb Days:

So you’ve read to this point, and you’re still thinking, “What about low carb days?” Have no fear! The high carb days are much more colorful because fruits and veggies are complex carbs, and you inherently have more recipe options to choose from, regardless of what plan you are following.

To keep the low carb days exciting and consistent, you can use your low carb days to increase your healthy fats by adding in foods like avocados, nuts, and dark chocolate. Maybe I speak for myself, but this gives ME something to look forward to—YUM! For example, on low carb days, include a veggie pizza made with a cauliflower crust (or you can order some online if you’re in a rush). The crust itself is low carb, but it does have a bit of a higher fat content. In other words: Treat yourself to pizza on those low carb days (who would have thought?).

If you’re having a bit of a sweet tooth, making protein balls with peanut butter on your meal prep days is another way to satiate while still staying low carb but increasing healthy fats. The way you think about your low carb days increases your chances of finding success. 

Rest assured that you can be a vegetarian AND carb cycle. We’ll continue to make the app as vegetarian friendly as possible…and in the meantime keep your questions coming! 

What are your favorite vegetarian recipes? We’d love to hear about them!

Happy Carb Cycling,

Heidi

Related reading:

The Power of Protein
Pumpkin Protein Pancakes with Pumpkin Seed Granola
TRANSFORM App FAQs + Tips to Start Your Transformation
One-Minute Brownie
Corn and Black Bean Salsa
Protein Waffles!


10 Comments

  1. J. - April 25, 2017

    One of my best friends died this weekend because of his weight. I don’t know why I am turning to you but I have to talk about it. We were each other’s accountability partners at work and when I left that job, he stopped his progress. What did I miss? You inspire so many and from all over the world yet I couldn’t help him when I still lived in the same city. He had to use a cpap to help at night and I guess his heart just gave out. He was the most amazing person. Only thought of others and was the super hero to his niece and nephews. Why couldn’t he transform? Why couldn’t he be a success story? Now he is a statistic. I failed him.

    I’m sorry. This doesn’t belong here but I didn’t know where else to vent. You all do so much good for so many. Thank you for doing what you do. You help so others don’t feel like I do or his family. Thank you

  2. Amanda - April 21, 2017

    Do you have any suggestions for protein powder substitutes? Not just for smoothies and shakes, but for your recipes for overnight oatmeal, etc. I tend to not respond well to protein powders, but want to make sure I’m still adding the proper amounts of proteins to my recipes!

    Thank you!

    • Team Powell - April 22, 2017

      Hi Amanda: That’s a tough question – we really don’t have any subs for protein powder. If you’re using the app, you can sub recipes that don’t use protein powder for those that do. 🙂

    • Mac - May 9, 2017

      Try .. Genuine Health’s fermented vegan proteins+. ZERO bloat like other protein powders, plant based. I used to get gut wrenching stomach aches from protein powders, this one is HIGHLY rated.
      And comes in singles to try out without the commitment of a jug.

  3. Monica - April 20, 2017

    Hi There!
    Wondering if you have a list somewhere of what veggie/fruit is considered high carb vs low carb just to take the guessing out of the equation!
    Thanks so much!
    I am really looking forward to trying this out!
    – Monica

    • Team Powell - April 20, 2017

      Hi Monica: All fruits and starchy/root veggies are considered carbs in carb cycling so you’d only eat a portion as the carb part of a high carb meal or breakfast (depending on which cycle you’re following). All other veggies can be eaten with any meal – both low and high carb!

  4. Aimee Kahle - April 19, 2017

    Hi Powell Team!

    Do beans count as a protein and a carb? Also, what do you consider a serving size?

    Thank you!

    • Team Powell - April 20, 2017

      Hi Aimee: Beans count as carbs in carb cycling, and there’s a handy “Create Your Own Meals” chart at the bottom of this post that can help you figure out how to put your meals together in carb cycling: http://heidipowell.net/10617. If you’re using our app, all of your macros are figured out for you, which makes things super easy!

  5. Randi - April 19, 2017

    What about carb cycling and Paleo???

    • Team Powell - April 20, 2017

      Hi Randi: Great question! Both plans stress whole foods (lean meats, fish, fruits and veggies, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats). Carb cycling, however, also allows grains, legumes, dairy, potatoes, some salt, and some refined oils (Canola oil, for example). Hope that helps!

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