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Carb Cycling for Vegans
How Does It Help With the Weight Loss?

Rafid Nassir
Published by Rafid Nassir
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 28, 2021

I’ll try pretty much any eating trend, provided it’s not too outlandish. And even then, if there’s credible science behind it, I’ll probably give it a go.

After all, iIf someone smarter than me figured out a way that I might be able to lose weight or gain muscle faster, I’d always be interested.

Carb cycling, and how to do it as a vegan, has been on my radar for about a year now, and last month I finally got around to researching it properly. Here’s what I found out.

What is Carb Cycling?

carbohydrates

Just in case you landed on this page looking for an answer to what carb cycling entails, here’s the high-level scoop:

Carb cycling is the practice of alternating between days where you either eat a large number of carbs and other days where you drastically limit your carb intake.

Carb cycling is based on the principle that you have different workout intensity levels during the week and that your carbohydrate intake should reflect this.

The main goal of carb cycling is to give you additional control over your body’s capacity to burn fat and build muscle.

Typically, high-carb days will be those in which your workout intensity is high, while low-carb days are those when you have a rest or work out with less intensity.

Why Do People Practice Carb Cycling?

Intelligently mapping your carbohydrate intake against your training schedule is a great way to promote weight loss or muscle gain. It’s a very subjective and goal-oriented diet, and people tend to go into it with these two objectives in mind.

The link between carb consumption and weight regulation is well established [1]. Controlling the amount of carbs your body turns to for energy is a very efficient way to burn fat, build muscle, and lose weight. Hence the popularity of keto and other low carb diets.

However, certain carbs are good for you. They’re also delicious. Carb cycling is a way of enjoying the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet on certain days while reaping the rewards of eating the right kind of carbs on other days.

Is Carb Cycling Possible as a Vegan?

eating salad

It sure is! Yeah, it poses some challenges that a non-vegan may not have to deal with, but these are very manageable if you’re serious about achieving your goals.

The primary issue that a vegan faces is knowing where to cut back on carbs since plant-based diets tend to be quite carb-heavy. Speaking of, you may want to check out the 80/10/10 diet which is super high in carbs.

Grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and legumes are all excellent protein sources but aren’t appropriate for low carb days.

“Vegan protein sources such as tofu and tempeh are high in protein and fat but low in carbs which also makes them suitable on a low-carb diet.”  Ewa Krzepisz, Vegan Blogger at Letseatsmart.com

Don’t fret, though; there are alternatives to these vegan staples for your low carb days.

Carbs Aren’t Your Only Concern

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that carb cycling is only about counting your carbohydrate intake on certain days. There are other nutrients critical in helping you lose weight, building muscle, and remaining healthy that you have to pay attention to.

Firstly, a protein source.

Whether you’re carb cycling as a vegan or not, it’s essential to maintain a consistent protein intake regardless of where you are in your carb cycle. The protein sources you select depends on whether you’re in a high or low carb day. During vegan carb cycling on high carb days it is important to up your carbohydrate intake and eat healthy carbs such as oatmeal, legumes, bean, lentils, and split peas. On low carb days it is important to focus on good healthy vegan protein sources. Foods such as Seitan, tofu, edamame, and chickpea .It is important to make a good carb cycling plan which will help in overall fat loss and body composition goals.

Secondly, don’t forget about fat.

On low carb days, your body will need an alternative energy source, so go wild with high-fat foods. On high carb days, however, go the low-fat route. See the section below for more information on foods recommended for these days.

Vegan Carb Cycling 7-Day Meal Plan

How you space your low carb days and high carb days is entirely dependent on your objectives. Do you want to lose weight, or do you want to build muscle?

If fat loss is your primary goal, the most commonly used weekly cycle is 3 low carb days, 1 high carb day, 2 low carb days, 1 high carb day.

Let’s get more specific.

Here’s an example weekly meal plan to see what exactly you should be eating when following this diet pattern.

Day 1: Low Carb

  • Breakfast: Soy yogurt with blueberries
  • Lunch: Grilled tofu with asparagus
  • Dinner: Shiitake mushrooms stir-fried with cauliflower, carrot, kale, bell pepper, tamari, and sesame oil
  • Snacks: Sliced fresh carrot, zucchini, cucumber, and/or radish with avocado hummus, lemon juice, olive oil, and sesame seeds

Day 2: Low Carb

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with almond milk and blackberries
  • Lunch: Salad with tempeh croutons, tahini, baby kale, cherry tomatoes, radishes, beet, asparagus, garlic, fresh lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil
  • Dinner: Tofu stir fry with mushrooms, spinach, garlic, and zucchini
  • Snacks: Mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachio, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts)

Day 3: Low Carb

  • Breakfast: Pudding with chia seeds, coconut milk, and one scoop of low-carb vegan protein powder
  • Lunch: Baked tofu with mushrooms, broccoli, and tomato sauce
  • Dinner: Tempeh stir fry, with cashew nuts, mixed vegetables, and coconut oil
  • Snacks: Pumpkin seeds

Day 4: High Carb

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts, cranberries, and strawberries
  • Lunch: Ezekiel tortilla with chickpeas, avocado mash, spinach, and mixed greens
  • Dinner: Veggie burger with white beans, quinoa, corn, red bell pepper, onion, garlic, and flaxseed
  • Snacks: Sliced apple, pear, or other fruits with almond

Day 5: Low Carb

  • Breakfast: Tofu scramble with a small red bell pepper and broccoli noodles
  • Lunch: Zucchini noodles with tomato or avocado pesto
  • Dinner: Grilled seitan with stir-fried mixed veggies, curry, and soy sauce
  • Snacks: Almond or peanut butter

Day 6: Low Carb

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with almonds
  • Lunch: Broccoli, cauliflower, or parsnip fried rice with leeks, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, bok choy, celery, and/or other mixed greens
  • Dinner: Tempeh steak with steamed cauliflower and broccoli
  • Snacks: Avocado (half)

Day 7: High Carb

  • Breakfast: Chia pudding with purple sweet potato and plant-based milk
  • Lunch: Sandwich with kidney beans, eggplant, and mixed veggies on whole-wheat bread
  • Dinner: Baked sweet potato with spinach and chives
  • Snacks: Banana, grapes, or other fruit

If you’re looking to gain some bodyweight and muscle, you can alternate between low and high carb on a daily basis. Remember that your high carb days should coincide with your hardest workouts if you choose this format.

What to Eat on a Low Carb Day

  • Soy-based, vegan protein: tofu and tempeh.
  • Nuts and nut-derived butter.
  • Berries - especially strawberries and blackberries.
  • Avocado.
  • Chia seeds.
  • Olives.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Low carb vegetables: radish, spinach, celery, cucumber, cauliflower, bok choy, courgettes, green beans, asparagus, cabbage, and broccoli.

What to Eat on a High Carb Day

  • Fruits with a high sugar content: Bananas, mangos, apples, and grapes.
  • Vegetables with a high starch content: Potatoes, corn, peas, lentils.
  • Rice.
  • Bread.
  • Cereals.
  • Snacks with added sugar.
  • Quinoa
  • Oats

Nutritional Goals During Your Carb Cycle

fitness

Aside from avoiding certain ingredients on the various days of your carb cycle, you’ll also want to consider some very specific nutritional objectives.

These aren’t hard rules but rather a suggested approach to getting the most out of your plant-based carb cycling diet.

If your Goal is to Lose Fat

Low Carb Day

  • Aim for a 25% calorie deficit.
  • 20% of your calories should come from
    carbohydrates.

High Carb Day

  • Aim for a 10% calorie deficit.
  • 50% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

If your Goal is to Build Muscle

Low Carb Day

  • Aim for a 10% calorie surplus.
  • 25% of your calories should come from
    carbohydrates.

High Carb Day

  • Aim for a 10% calorie surplus.
  • 50% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

Calculating Your Required Intake of Carbs and Protein

As I mentioned before, when carbohydrate cycling, you don’t need to alter the amount of protein you’re consuming from one day to another. How much should that be, though?

Exercise scientist Rob Allen suggests the following simple formula for working out your required protein intake: Simply make sure you’re consuming 1 gram of protein for every pound in your body weight every day.

When it comes to the required about of carbs, use the following method:

Low Carbohydrate Day - Multiply your body weight (in pounds) by a factor of 0.3 for women and 0.5 for men.

High Carbohydrate Day - Multiply your body weight (in pounds) by a factor of 1.2 for women and 1.4 for men.

Summary

The jury is still out on the feasibility of cycling your carbs as a method to burn fat or gain muscle. While many nutritionists and exercise specialists are advocating for it, the scientific community hasn’t conducted any official research yet.

The best way to know if it works is to follow these guidelines and see for yourself. Just remember to keep a broad nutritional view when doing this. It’s not just about carbohydrates. Bear in mind that your body needs fat and protein.

Also, remember that the best way to get the most out of carbohydrate cycling is to combine it with a complimentary exercise routine. It’s not just about what you put into your body, it’s also about what you do with all those nutrients.


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