Can I Carb Cycle as a Vegetarian?

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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!

37 Responses

  1. I live in the Uk so can?t order the shakes that you have. Do you know when these might become available internationally and in the meantime what I should look for in an alternative protein or meal replacement shake?

    1. Hi Lindsey: We don’t have a timetable for when we can ship to the UK, but in the meantime, for a protein shake, in general, look for low fat (less than 3g), low carb (less than 5g) with 20-25g of protein. You can turn that shake into a low carb meal replacement shake (like the ones we offer) by adding a fat (like peanut butter of some other type of nut butter or some other fat). Hope that helps! πŸ™‚

  2. Hi, is semi-skimmed cow’s milk considered a carb or a fat please? When I look at the nutritional break-down it is higher in carbs than fat but does have both. So not sure where it fits in to carb cycling?
    I am currently saving up to be able to get the app or book to help transform my eating habits into lifelong healthyy ones. My my budget goes on buying healthier whole foods so i don’t have access to all the information yet. But i actually manage to loose weight because i have to budget portion sizes too so there is a silver lining to hard financial moments lol
    My apologies if this is already answered elsewhere. Another question I have is regarding GIndex.. During high carb days of the cycling are there carbs with a low GI or does that not matter all that much? And what are the exercise recommendations regarding time of day, low carb day or high carb day?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Natalie: Great question! In our carb cycling program, the carbs and fat and protein in cow’s milk would all count towards your daily carb, fat, and protein numbers. We usually don’t include cow’s milk in our programs since it doesn’t include enough of any one macro to count as a complete macro for a meal. We recommend using unsweetened almond milk instead. As for the GI index, we really don’t focus on this as much (although if you need to focus on it due to medical reasons, then please do!), we focus more on eating whole foods at least 80% of the time. As for exercising, what works for people is different, so do what works best for you as far as aligning your workouts with your low and high carb days. As for time of day, work out when it works best for you! I hope this helps! πŸ™‚

  3. I?ve been using your program for a month now and am pretty much vegan. The only way I can keep carbs low and protein high is with processed protein shakes and tofu. I just can?t eat enough of it and still have room for healthy fruits and veg. This may not be for me. I feel like I have tried everything.

    1. Hi Allison: Are you using our app? We have a lot of vegan meals in the app. It can be tricky to carb cycle while a vegan, but we have a lot of vegans who do our program.

  4. Hi,

    Thank you for this forum!
    1) I’m Vegan and struggling with how to get the right amount of calories/fats and proteins on low carb days. I am wondering if I can use the Garden of Life Organic Fit Bar Sea Salt Caramel bars as one of my meals? There are 200 calories, 7g fat, 13 net carb and 1g sugar.
    Thank you so much!
    -ct

    1. Hi CT: We only count total carbs in our plans, not net carbs, so this bar looks like it would be a great reward/reset day meal since the fat isn’t high enough for a low carb meal. Hope that helps! πŸ™‚

    2. Hi,
      Thank you! OH NO–I’ve been using net carbs. I just started Sunday. Will this hinder my progress?

      Also, I’ve read your book and perused the website and blog, but I still have a couple of questions:
      1) I’m struggling with how to get enough calories for the low & high carb days (1200/1500). If I use the 100-calorie portion metric, it seems like the most I can get on average is 1000 to 1200. I eat leafy green vegetables with every meal, but it seems they are unlimited (i.e. do not count towards calorie limits? For example, on a low carb day, if breakfast is “1 protein + 1 carb + 1 fat + 1 green veg” = 300. The next four meals are “1 protein + 1 fat + veg” = 200. The total for the day then is: 1100. The same is true on high carb days, using the portion /serving metric. As you can see, I am confused.

      2) on low carb days, can one “100-cal portion” of peanut butter be used at each meal as a fat?

      Thank you. Sorry for all of the questions
      -CT

    3. Hi CT: No worries! Just count total carbs from here on out. Let’s get you some answers to your questions:

      1. The calorie portion chart is simply a resource, and it was easier to show 100 calorie portions than multiple portion sizes. If you need, for example, 150 cals of a certain food, then multiply what’s on the 100 calorie chart by 1.5, and you’re good to go!

      2. Yes, any form of nuts are considered fats, so enjoy your peanut butter!

      Hope that helps! πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Rupal: Oatmeal is considered a carb, so you’d only eat it as part of a high carb meal. πŸ™‚

  5. I’m curious – why do you suggest a limit of 25g/day of soy? What is this recommendation based on? I believe the myth that soy is bad for humans has been busted over and over by the scientific community. Is there a particular study you’re basing this recommendation on? Thank you!

    1. Hi Lacey: This recommendation is based on research that points out that too much soy can cause an estrogen imbalance. So when you eat more than 25g a day it can start to affect your hormones, and some doctors believe it can increase your risk for certain cancers. As always, we suggest you follow the recommendations of your own healthcare team and your personal preferences. I hope that helps! πŸ™‚

    2. I believe that recommendation is for processed soy which processed of anything should be limited. Edamame is just a bean (soy bean) and it is rich in protein, antioxidants, and fiber. Tofu and Tempeh is fermented soy beans. Fermented foods are super good for you, they improve immune function, as well as digestive and heart health.

  6. Hi
    Thanks for the explanation. I feel if you kind of give out a meal plan along with quantity for vegetarian who doesn’t even eat egg for high carb and low carb days it will be fantastic. I know it’s asking too much from u but I really hope u will consider my request.

    Thanks in advance.
    Sudha

  7. Hi. I’m vegan , ? can I do this diet ? I’m a female 5’2 with 125 pounds . I just want to get rid of this stubborn middle section fat and gain muscle mass.

  8. Hello Powell Team!

    When swapping chicken for cottage cheese in the recipes on the Transformation app, do I use the same amount of ounces of cottage cheese as the recipe calls for of chicken?

    1. Hi Aimee: It’s not a straight across substitution. 1 ounce of low fat cottage cheese = 20 cals .3g fat, .8g carb, and 3.5g protein. 1 ounce of boneless, skinless chicken breast = 31 cals, .4g fat, 0g carb, and 6.5g protein. I hope that helps! πŸ™‚

  9. I had gastric bypass surgery years ago, and have gained back much of the weight. My Dr. keeps advising me to eat 90 -120 grams of protein each day. After I eat my protein, I am full, and have little room for much else, but continue to gain. My metabolism seems to be extremely slow. Any suggestions? Will your ideas in your new book help someone on a diet required by gastric bypass surgery? Thanks.

    1. Hi David: Thank you so much for your comment. I’d suggest that you discuss Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program in their book with your healthcare team and then follow any modifications they recommend. They are the best ones to help you figure this out since they know your health history and can work with you personally. We wish you the best as you work to achieve our goals – you can do this!

    2. Whole food plant based with carb cycling has saved me. I have lost 31 lbs so far. Try it and you will not regret it. My doctor advised me to do this. Definitely get the app it’s worth every penny.

  10. 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

    1. Hi J, Sorry to hear of your loss, its so hard to loose a friend. I’m sure you were a good friend to a good person, it wasn’t your fault he didn’t manage to stick with making progress. Our relationship to food and our bodies is always complex, made up over a long time and not just one influence. Thank you for this comment, its a good reminder to all of us that each ‘statistic’ as you say is a human being with their own story. I hope you’re doing ok now

  11. 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!

    1. 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. πŸ™‚

    2. 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. Try want based protein powders. It’s not as harsh on my stomach. Maybe it will work for you also.

  12. 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

    1. 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!

  13. Hi Powell Team!

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

    Thank you!

    1. 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: https://heidipowell.net/10617. If you’re using our app, all of your macros are figured out for you, which makes things super easy!

    2. I count all the nutritional value in my veggies. Plants make protein naturally. Animals only have protein because they eat the plant. So I would say yes.

    1. 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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