Carb Cycling review
Disclaimer - if you aren't interested in diet or nutrition, you may want to skip this post. :)
I'm leaving for the US tomorrow, kicking off a 6 week traveling spree around the world. My bags are packed, and I'm all prepared for my work presentations, but what has been keeping me up at night is this - in a few days, I will have to be in a swimsuit in front of my co-workers and a few important customers.
Duh duh duh....
Oh yes, swimsuit season is upon us again. I've never been a big fan of swimming - lakes in MN often have strange creepy crawlies and too much time in pools leaves my hair tinged green. So I usually avoided swimsuit-wearing, preferring to stay in the boat and let others do the tubing, water-skiing, etc. But this time, due to the corporate activities we have planned, it is unavoidable, and it's left me a bit stressed out.
Even if I'm satisfied with where my weight is at, I'm pretty sure like most of you ladies out there, I wish my legs were a little leaner. I've been doing squats, lunges and leg-lifts to my heart's content, but it hasn't changed a damn thing. The other odd thing is that for the past few weeks, I've also had really intense cravings for processed sugar, specifically for gummy bears and cereal. It was getting to be a bit extreme, to where C would find me in the kitchen eating cereal straight out of the box. Granted it was Special K, but still. I really wanted to try to lose some fat before my trip and get my carb cravings under control, so I decided to try something that body-builders have been doing for years now pre-competition : carb cycling.
The basic idea of carb cycling that you eat 5 meals a day and vary your carb intake in order to control insulin levels and to force your body to burn more fat on certain days (but not long enough to go into ketosis like you do with Atkins). As you all know, I'm not really a fan of any fad diet really since I don't think they are sustainable for the long term, but I decided to give it a try out of curiosity, especially since I knew it would only be for 7 days.
After doing some research, I decided to go with 3 low-carb days, 1 high-carb day, 2 low-carb days and 1 high carb day (knowing this would be my flight day). Then came the question of what to eat? I was shooting for around 1200 kcal on the low-carb days and 1400-1500 kcals on the high carb days. I've never seen it, but apparently the trainer on the Extreme Weight Loss Makeover show also has his participants follow this diet, and he's come out with a few books on Amazon explaining how to do it. As I said, since I wasn't planning on doing it long-term, I didn't want to spend 24€ on it, so I cobbled together a week's menu from carb cycling diet plans I found online.
Here's what a typical low-carb day was like for me:
Breakfast: 2 breakfast sausage egg muffins + mix together and heat: 1 TBSP nut butter, 1/3c unsweetened almond milk, 1/3c oatmeal with a sprinkle of cinnamon, 1/2c water (beverage: 1 c of tea w/1 tbsp almond milk)
AM Snack: 2 Ham rolls made with 2 slices deli ham + 2 laughing cow wedges + 1/4c diced cucumbers (plus a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt and pepper).
Lunch: 4oz chicken with 1tsp mustard and a sprinkle of parmesan and then pan-fried, 2c spinach, 1/3c pepper, 1 tbsp red onion, 6 radishes, 1 tsp balsamic vinaigrette
PM Snack: Blend together 1 scoop of low-carb chocolate protein powder + ice cubes + cinnamon
Dinner: 150g cod filet with 1 med zucchini noodles + 1/4c skinny alfredo sauce
Water - drink at least 12 glasses of water throughout the day
And a high carb day:
Breakfast: 2 breakfast sausage egg muffins + 1/2c avocado (plus tea w/1 tbsp almond milk)
AM Snack: Mix together - 1 yogurt, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1/2 banana
Lunch: 1/2c hummus with unlimited cucumbers and celery
PM Snack: 1 small apple cut up and heated with 1/3c oatmeal, 1/2c water and a sprinkle of cinnamon
Dinner: 4 oz chicken, 5 oz sweet potato hash (4 oz sweet potato diced and cooked with 1tsp red onion, 1 tsp garlic, and 1 c wilted spinach)
Water - drink at least 12 glasses of water throughout the day
So what's the verdict?
I was most nervous about getting headaches and/or feeling tired on the low-carb days, but I am happy to say that didn't happen at all. I was also nervous about feeling light-headed during the high-intensity cardio workouts, but it was also not an issue, and the massive carb cravings I'd been having basically disappeared. I didn't really notice any changes in my energy levels either. One of the most surprising things to me though was how full I felt all week long, despite consuming roughly the same amount of calories I normally do. There was likely more bulk with all of the veggies, and of course protein takes longer to digest than carbs - and I'm sure the 5 meals a day helped too.
C was actually really nervous about me trying this diet, likely because he knows how I get when I'm "hangry", but he ended up raving about all of our meals. He told me he would happily eat like this every day (FYI - he added some kind of grain to every meal since he doesn't need to lose weight/fat).
Practically speaking, I lost 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) and 2% body fat. So that's actually quite a bit for one week (maybe a lot of it was water weight??), but either way, I definitely feel a bit better about having to show up to work in my swimsuit. :)
However, despite all of that, it's not like an experience I will repeat because 1) it required tons of prep work for all of the meals, which isn't very practical for most weeks, 2) it would be almost impossible for me to eat like this while traveling for work, 3) having to drink tons of water meant I woke up pretty much every night to pee and then couldn't fall back asleep for ages and 4) all of that protein (protein powder, chicken, sausage, tuna, salmon and cod) was pretty pricey. We don't normally eat that much meat, and thus ended up spending twice as much as we normally spend on food for the week.
I will however likely incorporate some of the snack and salad ideas I came across into our regular diet since they were super tasty and filling, and I need to eat more protein anyways. Et voila - likely more than you ever wanted to know about carb cycling.