The Real Difference Between Eating Low-Carb And Carb Cycling

If the idea of sticking to a low-carb diet seems too hard to handle, carb cycling might be the better option for you: While you will eat low-carb half of the time, you'll intersperse days of higher carbohydrate eating throughout the week. Depending on your schedule and your goals, you might only eat low carb half of the time, and in other cases, you may eat low carb most days of the week, with just one or two designated as higher carbohydrate days (via Eat This, Not That!). 

One of the most popular ways to cycle carbohydrate intake is to eat more carbohydrates on days that you're exercising intensely or for longer durations, since your body will use the carbohydrates to refill your muscle glycogen stores as you deplete them during your workout (via Healthline). And since those hard workouts will likely make you feel hungrier anyway, choosing to add back in carbohydrates around training is fairly intuitive.

This is likely the easiest approach to follow if you're interested in trying carb cycling: On days you work out, add more carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, and grains. On rest days or easy days, prioritize vegetables and skip most other sources of carbohydrate. A carb cycling schedule could also include moderate carbohydrate intake days as well as high and low, and those days should focus more on high-quality, whole food carbohydrates like fruits and root vegetables versus pasta or baked goods.

What are the down sides to carb cycling?

Carb cycling is a bit more advanced than a traditional low-carb diet, since it involves more planning and paying attention to daily intake. A low-carb diet becomes intuitive over time, and you develop go-to meals and recipes that work within the framework of the diet. A carb cycling approach may be too complicated or open-ended and it can be easy to end up overindulging on high-carb days. 

Because carb cycling is complicated, it's often only recommended for those who already have a good grasp of basic healthy nutrition and are close to their goal weight (via Precision Nutrition). Typically, carb cycling would be used as a short-term way to reach a body composition goal, though continuing to tailor carbohydrate consumption to your daily needs, taking into account your activity levels and workout schedule, is always a good idea. And regardless of your carbohydrate intake, make sure that you're still eating appropriate amounts of protein and fat every day to keep your body in balance.