Confused about carbs and how they fit into carb cycling? Believe me, you’re not alone! Many of my most frequently asked questions are about carbs. And yes, with all the talk of “carbs this” and “carbs that” in the media, it can get a bit confusing. It gets even more complicated when you think you need to keep track of grams of carbs per meal and per day and the “good” vs. the “bad.”
It’s time to rethink how you think about carbs, agreed?!
First, the basics: carbs—and the roles they play in your diet—are actually pretty simple. If it comes from a plant, it’s a carb, and carbs are the preferred fuel source for your muscles and organs. Breads, beans, potatoes, table sugar, fruits, and vegetables are all carbs.
There are two categories of carbs: simple and complex. The simple, not-so-healthy ones are found in foods such as cakes, cookies, some commercially made breads, and many processed foods. Fruits are also considered simple carbs because of the type of sugar they contain, but they’re a healthy choice because they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, antioxidants, and some fiber. Your body breaks down simple, not-so-healthy carbs very quickly, which spikes your blood sugar levels and stimulates the release of insulin, resulting in a craving for more simple carbs. And that is soooo not good!
Complex, healthy carbs – like those found in legumes, root vegetables, whole-grains, cereals, breads and pastas – are typically high in fiber, which slows food digestion and the release of sugars. This keeps your blood sugar and energy levels steady (and longer lasting), so your calorie-burning furnace stays hot and burns more calories! And that is awesome! ☺
So how do carbs fit into our carb cycling program? It’s actually pretty simple. No matter what carb cycle you choose, every breakfast of every day is a high-carb meal, which means you’ll eat a portion each of protein, carbs, and hopefully vegetables. Every breakfast, every day. Your carb can be a grain, a legume, a starchy or root veggie, or a fruit.
On low-carb days, your remaining four meals (spaced every three hours) consist of a portion each of protein, fat, and veggies (think fibrous green veggies, not the starchy, root kind), and on high-carb days, your remaining four meals (spaced every three hours) are made up of a portion each of protein and complex carbs (grains, legumes, starchy or root veggies, or fruits). And if you’re still hungry, you can always throw in a portion of veggies (again, the fibrous greens). Remember: with carb cycling, you can have a portion of fibrous green veggies with every single meal (starchy, root veggies, like potatoes, will fall into the carb category)! Pretty simple, right?
Here’s what it looks like, including some handy portion size helps:
Here’s the most important take-away about carbs: with carbs and carb cycling, it’s not about a magic number of grams of carbs to eat every day. It’s about spreading your carb intake throughout your high-carb days—using portion sizes instead of gram counts—so your body gets the greatest benefits from those healthy carbs you eat. And wouldn’t you much rather measure portions sizes than count grams? I know I would!