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,