Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Carb Cycling 101

Have you heard of carb cycling? I've come across it several times, but honestly never paid much attention to it. I don't think all carbs are bad. (More on that later.) Thanks to diets like Atkins, the public has got the mindset that carbs are evil and to avoid them at all costs. I'll admit when I saw the topic of "carb cycling" I immediately bunched it with the "carbs are bad" diets and completely discredited it. My bad... :) After a lot of research, I've broken it down for you. 

What is a diet?

We have the misconception that a "diet" is this special thing that we do to lose weight - you're either on a diet or you're not. Guess what?!. We are ALL on a diet, whether you know it or not. Humor me and erase that mindset. The word "diet," according to Merriam Webster, is:
a :  food and drink regularly provided or consumed
b :  habitual nourishment
c :  the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason
d :  a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight 

That means even if you eat twinkies and nachos, and drink soda regularly then that is a part of your diet. 

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling is a diet that involves varying your carb intake through the week. You alternate your carb intake, so some days will be a "high carb" day and others a "low carb" day. I have seen some that had high, low, and no carb days. I think a "no carb" day would be very difficult. We need some bit of carbs to function, so you would crash early on. Also, most foods have carbs in them, so it also would be quite restrictive.

Who should do it?

This plan is popular among body builders, but I've seen that many others do it as well. While I'm not a professional at all, I don't see why it would be a problem for a healthy adult. 

Bodybuilders have done this for quite a while. This fat burning plan helps prep them for competition, so they have as little fat visible as possible. Others do it to avoid or break a plateau. Plateaus happen to all of us! Our bodies are smart little machines.

How does it work?

Remember how I just said how smart our bodies are? If you've hit a plateau, then you know exactly what I'm talking about! Well, carb cycling is a way to outsmart your body and your metabolism. Typically when someone is trying to lose weight, they first thing they do is restrict calories. It works well for a while and then your weight loss halts. People say, "ah, it's not working anymore." Well, yes and no. Your body learned to expect the new fuel intake and adjusted your metabolism accordingly. If your body didn't do this, then it could risk starvation as you whittled away.

Carbs are a big part of the metabolic process related to fat burning and muscle building. Carb cycling works to deplete glycogen reserves (in the muscles) and refill them. 
  • High carb days are your refill points. Since carbs are energy, these are your high energy (and high activity) days. As your muscles refill with glycogen these days, they also are fueled with other nutrients. In turn, your fueling your body for muscle growth. (Mind you, carbs don't build muscles. That's why you'll need the protein intake.)
  • Low carb days are your depletion points. During these days, your body will dip in to the glycogen stored in your muscles from your high carb days and use that. Once that is depleted, then it will start to burn fat for energy.
  • Free days are added once a week to keep your body working and guessing, and to allow yourself some leniency. You can't go overboard these days, but allow yourself a "normal" day intake-wise. You can certainly treat yourself, too. 

Calories... carbs... protein - AHH I'm confused!

We need carbs to have energy to perform our daily tasks and fuel our workouts. Our bodies even use energy to merely survive. Yes, that means when you are being a couch potato or sleeping - your body is still burning calories. Albeit, not as many calories as you would if you were active and certainly you're not building muscle. But, you get the drift! Food is fuel.

How many calories do I need? I follow Jamie Eason's rule of thumb for calorie intake. Take your ideal weight and multiply it by 10. Add 200-500 calories to get your goal calorie range. Stick with the lower range for lighter exercise days or rest days, and the higher range for more intense days. For example if your goal weight was 125, then your formula would look like this:
125 (ideal weight) x 10 = 1,250 (baseline calories)
1,250 (baseline calories) + 200 (lower range) = 1,450 calories
1,250 (baseline calories) + 500 (higher range) = 1,750 calories

How many carbs do I need? This has varied quite a bit when I've researched; I think due to varying goals (body builders, weight loss, etc). Also, some people are more sensitive to carbs. As for me, my low carb days are 60-75g. My high carb days are around 150-200g. Below are just two of the calculators I came across. I recomend looking around and see what you feel more comfortable with.

How much protein do I need?
Depending on your goals, your protein should be 1-1.5 g per pound of body weight.  So, at 145lb (give or take, since I don't weight myself) I aim for 145g of protein a day. This seems like a lot (and it is), but you want to support your muscle growth and prevent your body from using muscle tissue as energy. 

What does a week of carb cycling look like?

A low carb day will look different from a high carb day.

Low carb day:
Meal 1: 1 carb, 1 protein, unlimited veggies
Meals 2-5 (or 6): 1 protein, 1 fat, unlimited veggies

High carb day:
Meals 1-5(or 6): 1 protein, 1 carb, unlimited veggies

A week can vary depending your activity levels. But a sample week could look like this:
Monday: Low carb
Tuesday: Low carb
Wednesday: High carb
Thursday: Low carb
Friday: High carb
Saturday: Low carb
Sunday: Free day
This can differ from person to person. Do what works for you. I align my high carb days with my more intense workout days or if I have more than one session in a day. Also, I don't have two high carb days back-to-back. See what works for you, and adjust it accordingly.

What kind of foods do I eat?

Remember how I said not all carbs are bad? That's true, but there are bad ones. Please don't think on your high carb days, you can meet your carb goal by drinking your way through Starbucks and eating pizza. That will completely throw your body out of whack! You should always stick with whole, clean foods. I call them "God's foods," as they are foods that He made and provided for us. Choose the foods that are closest to their original state and have very few (and recognizable) ingredients.

Cottage cheese (low fat)
Egg substitutes
Greek yogurt (nonfat plain)
Yogurt (low carb/high protein)
Red Meat
Beef (lean cuts)
Roast beef
White Meat (lean)

Yogurt (low fat) with fruit
Corn tortillas
Whole grain breads
Brown or Wild rice
Brown rice pasta
Root Vegetables
Sweet potatoes/yams
Soy Milk

Bok Choy
Brussels sprouts
Collard greens
Green beans
Mixed greens
Mustard greens
Snow peas

Cheese (low fat)
Feta cheese
Heavy cream
Mozzarella (low fat)
Balsamic vinaigrette
Creamy salad dressing (low fat)
Mayonnaise (regular)
Safflower oil
Olives (large)
Almond butter
Almonds (raw)
Peanut butter (natural)
Peanuts (raw)
Pecans (raw)
Pumpkin seeds
Sesame butter/tahini
Sunflower seeds
Soy nuts (roasted)
Walnuts (raw)
Canola oil
Fish oil
Flaxseed oil
Olive oil

What should I expect?

Each person will be different. I did well on my first low carb day, but around 6 pm I hit a wall. I got through it and slept well, but I was quite fatigued the following morning. I immediately had a bowl of oats and eggs for breakfast. Within an hour, I was fueled. While some people can handle that, as a teacher and a parent I need my energy! So, I upped my "low carb" intake to prevent that from happening again. 

Other tips

  • Drink lots and lots of water. You already know this! :)
  • Eat every 3-4 hours, 5-6 meals a day.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself!
  • Plan out your meals ahead of time. It makes everything so much easier and you avoid getting stuck without your nutritious food.
  • I'm not a fan of the scale, but if you must weigh yourself then remember you'll hold more water on high carb days.
  • Take your measurements AND before and afters. Since weight can fluctuate so much (especially for women), that means it is not 100% accurate. Measure and take progress pics. I take progress pics weekly.
  • A deficit of 3500 calories is needed to lose a lb - remember that on high carb and free days and don't go crazy!
  • Remember, there are no quick fixes. This is a process.
  • Be flexible. If you "mess up," it's OKAY!  Life is messy... it happens.
*I'm not a medical professional. I love all aspects of fitness, and this is information that I've learned when I've researched the topic.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

G-Free for Me

My "g free" story began during the summer of 2012. I began Arbonne's 30-day detox. As a part of the detox, common food allergens are eliminated. This includes, peanuts, soy, dairy, and gluten. I knew very little about gluten at the time, but I gave it a shot. I felt AMAZING that month. Honestly, that was probably the best I had felt in... well, I don't even know how long! I learned a lot about clean eating during this time, which is an amazing habit for everyone to pick-up... for life.

I carried this new found knowledge passed the 30-day detox time frame. I was eating clean, but now including peanuts, soy, dairy, and gluten in my diet. Many gastro problems (that will go unmentioned :) ) started happening. Since I learned so much about the direct link with food and health (not just calories, fat, etc), I immediately started looking at what I was eating. I began to track how I felt after eating certain foods. With this, I suspected gluten was the culprit. I knew I still had to do an "elimination diet" to know for sure.

With this, I spent another month gluten free. Again, I was feeling great with no crazy problems from what I was eating. Once the 30 days was up, I tested myself - a couple bites of macaroni and cheese, and a slice of bread. The result? I was doubled over in pain. I have been tested for Celiac Disease, but the results were negative. I was diagnosed with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.

I still have so much to learn about gluten, nutrition, and such effects on the body. I have embraced this lifestyle, and honestly I don't find it as difficult to deal with as many suspect. Many think that being gluten free is expensive and too hard to do. If you choose to subsitute your gluten full products with gluten free versions, then yes it is expensive. They do have gluten free pastas, oreo-like cookies, waffles, brownies, etc, but I consider these subsitutions to be "treats." Considering the price, and the fact they may not offer much in the line of nutrition. I tend to choose naturally gluten free alternatives, such as quinoa, brown rice, vegetables, and legumes. These are normal, natural foods that shouldn't break the bank. If I am going out to eat with friends, I try to check out the menu ahead of time. Many restaurants (local and chain) offer gluten free menus and meals. Also, there are apps for the iPhone that gives you information at your fingertips. My favorite is "Gluten Free Fast Food," (free app). I don't eat fast food often, but that's the only time I really feel like I'm in a pickle. Hungry me is not nice. Just sayin'.

Gluten free does not mean it is better for you! Many people automatically assume that the gluten free label, and the use of the word diet means that gluten is bad, it will make you fat, etc. That's not the case at all. If you do not have a problem with gluten, then there is no reason to eliminate it from your diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, so you can find gluten in cookies, cakes, breads, etc. If you eliminate cookies, cakes, breads, etc from your diet, then of course you will lose weight.

My tips

  • When in doubt, don't eat it!
  • Learn to read labels, there are 754098234 names for gluten. Not really, but there is a lot. Just try to be familiar with it.
  • Google is your friend. I've been known to Google products or brands in the middle of a grocery store to make sure I didn't get gluten-ed.
  • Keep gluten free snacks in your car, desk, or purse. Again, hungry me is not nice. 
  • If a product is gluten free, it may not necessarily state "Gluten Free" on the packaging. Read the labels. 

Gluten Free Resources

Here are some of my favorite g-free resources


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Eating then and now

Eating Clean

It pains me to see malnourished people (adults and kids alike). "Malnourished" doesn't mean starving - it means you'r body is robbed of the nutrients it needs. Many of our country's overweight and obese population are malnourished. How is this? So much of the "food" available to us is merely a composite of chemicals, flavorings, loads of calories, and trans fats. We are overweight, yet we are sadly malnourished. After discovering this, I began my own journey into clean eating. If you are interested in to learning about clean eating, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Eat Clean Diet by Tosca Reno. These are a few of my favorites. I started with The Eat Clean Diet: Just the Rules!, then I moved on to The Eat Clean Diet Recharged!, and The Eat Clean Diet for Family and Kids


"Eat your protein first"

I was raised eating healthier foods than most. My mom was an amazing cook and held high value for foods that packed nutrition for our family. I clearly remember her refusing to buy us "puff ball bread" (cheap white bread) and any sugary cereals. I was raised on Grape Nuts, Cream of Wheat, and Shredded Wheat (plain, not the frosted kind!). She always said, "eat your protein first!" We had a major breakthrough when I was about 10-years-old when she started allowing us to get sodas, albeit it was Caffeine Free Coca Cola 6-pack (3 for me, 3 for my sister). Now, I find myself mimicking this behavior in my own home. Though, I think my son wants to revolt whenever he sees Grape Nuts at the grocery store and knows we can't get it, since we are both gluten intolerant.