Dr. Chelsea Axe Shares Her Personal Experience and Success With Carb Cycling

The 60-Day Metabolic Reset coach breaks down the science behind carb cycling, the positive impact it can have on your overall fitness and her personal success with this way of eating.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Level up your fitness and nutrition and go from good to great with our comprehensive get-fit program, The 60-Day Metabolic Reset, exclusively on Outside LEARN. The fitness and nutrition are perfectly paired so you can optimize your fat-loss potential while building muscle and maintaining enough energy to crush the workouts. The workouts can be done at home with very little equipment, and they’re scalable for anyone at any fitness level.

Like many of you, experimenting with different diets over the years is something I’ve been a part of. Whether I desired to trim up a little bit or simply wanted to try a new diet for fun, I can definitely relate to the feeling that yo-yo dieting can produce.

To be honest, I’ve tried everything from keto to Paleo and macro counting to Whole30. With each diet I tried, I certainly experienced results, but in the end, I always ended up having a hard time maintaining the progress made. In fact, some of the diets actually ignited some pretty unhealthy thoughts and actions toward food.

I didn’t develop an eating disorder so to speak, but my enjoyment of food was gone, and eating was more of a stressful event rather than a joyful one. Eating dessert meant lots of cardio, and special events like dinner with friends or traveling caused internal stress because I had less control over what I was eating. I’m sure some of you can relate.

Fast-forward to when I discovered carb cycling and experimenting with different diets became a thing of the past! Although it sounded complicated to me, once I gave it a try, I realized just how simple it really was. Looking for something that would trim me up a bit but still allowed food freedom with sound structure, I felt like I hit the jackpot with this way of eating (and you might, too!).

Carb Cycling Explained

In short, carb cycling is a low-carbohydrate diet with intermittent periods of high- or moderate-carb consumption. So basically, on certain days, you omit carbs or eat low-carb, followed by days of consuming carbs. Simple enough, huh? The interesting thing about carb cycling is its ability to burn fat while allowing you to still enjoy all food groups throughout the week. Let’s dig into the science of this a bit.

Related: Fight Inflammation With Food

The Fat-Burning Effect

On lower carb days, your blood sugar levels decrease. In response, your body releases the hormone glucagon, which tells the body to start using previously-stored carbs for energy. The average individual burns through their carb stores in two to four days, depending on activity levels and other factors. When those stores run low, your liver begins to make ketones, which then start breaking down body fat to use for fuel — hence, the fat-burning begins!

Fear Not the Carbs

Carbs have their time and place and actually work for you — not against you — when consumed at proper times. On higher carb days, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin, which helps bring down blood sugar levels that have risen from the carbs consumed. This can lead to three main things: increased metabolic energy, body-fat synthesis or glycogen synthesis. If the body is not looking to replenish its energy stores or for fuel to burn, it will take the broken-down carbs and either store them for future use or convert them to body fat. However, if the body is active and needs fuel, the carbs may be used immediately for energy production.

On high-carb days in carb cycling, we attempt to match the body’s need for glucose. The body is able to use those carbs immediately to fuel your workouts and help aid in muscle recovery. When you go back to lower carb consumption, your body is able to use up the stores you just replenished and dip into stored fat as energy.

Related: Intro to Carb Cycling

A Closer Look at This Program

There are four different phases or blocks of this program, and each lasts two weeks. That means, for two weeks, you will maintain the same pattern of eating in relation to high- and low-carb days. Then once that block ends, the patterned ratio of high- to low-carb days will change. This is done to optimize your performance on training days that incorporate both weights and compound movements. It will help to preserve muscle mass and allow for better recovery.

Because your fitness program will change every two weeks, your high-/low-carb day ratios will change with it. Again, these changes are occurring to better complement the fitness portion of this program. You will have more energy to complete your workouts while optimizing your weight loss. So each high-carb day is scheduled for a day when your workout will be more intense and contain compound movements and/or weightlifting.

This will give your body the fuel it needs to maintain and build muscle and power through your workouts at optimal performance before you switch back into low-carb. On the low-carb days, your body has enough energy to perform the workouts at a high level and use any stored carbs (glucose/glycogen) as fuel before dipping into your own fat stores as energy.

If this seems like a lot to take in, remember, I will be walking you through this process, so you have nothing to worry about. Let’s do this!


Trending on Clean Eating

Show Your Liver Some Love: A Clean Eating Webinar

Join Clean Eating dietitians Tiffani Bachus and Erin Macdonald for an exclusive webinar all about liver health and wellness.