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Keto, But with a Cheat Code: Does Carb Cycling Really Boost Brain Power?

The ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet that has you getting more calories from fats and protein as opposed to getting them from carbohydrates. It is actually very popular, but some enthusiasts have found a way to tweak it a bit.

Being a low-carb diet, you expect it to restrict the consumption of carbs, right? However, aficionados have come up with a strategy dubbed carb cycling which allows people on the keto diet to embrace carbohydrates.

The pattern has you alternating between low-carb and high-carb days throughout the week. Instead of completely doing without carbohydrates, carb cycling looks at your intended activities of the day, and based on this, dictates how many or few carbs you should consume.

Carb cycling has you switching between low-carb and high-carb days

Bodybuilders and Athletes

This approach is most evident in bodybuilders and endurance athletes just before competing seeing as a high-carb intake boosts performance. Additionally, it helps them achieve a much-desired physique, giving them that extra oomph, as dietitian Torey Armul tells CNBC Make It.

A quick search through the social media platforms Pinterest and Instagram will reveal that fitness influencers are also big on carb cycling, using this pattern to shed some weight. On Instagram alone, there are more than 470,000 posts with the hashtag #carbcycling, with many of them being of meal plans and recipes on how to go about it if interested.

Once an unheard-of phenomenon, carb cycling is now gaining a lot of traction from lots of people who see it as a means to achieving their set out fitness goals. It enhances stamina, thus its popularity.

There are more than 475,000 #carbcycling posts on Instagram

According to Ali Webster from the IFIC (International Food Information Council), interested parties see this practice as a middle ground. With carb cycling, they get to have control over their carbohydrate intake instead of being restricted by the nature of the original keto diet.

It Makes Sense

And as Armul puts it, carb cycling makes sense scientifically. Making changes based on activities of the day is good practice, and it is especially beneficial to athletes. She goes on to say that the body favors carbohydrates as an energy source compared to fats, so incorporating them during intense activity is great for your body, particularly the muscles and the brain.

Health experts from Harvard say that the human brain finds it difficult to utilize protein or fat as fuel, echoing what Armul says about carbs as an energy source. There are also studies to this effect, showing that depriving the body of carbohydrates impacts negatively on cognition and thinking.

Tufts University carried out such a study back in 2008, comparing the results of a memory test from two groups of women. One had been on a 3-week diet plan low on carbohydrates, while the other one was on a low-calorie balanced diet.

Harvard health experts agree that carbs are the best source of energy for the brain

Guess what their findings were? Members from the balanced diet group performed way better than those from the low-carb group, and Holly Taylor, the study team’s leader, admitted that the results were within what they expected.

Taylor went on to expound that glucose (found in carbohydrates) is important to the brain, and lack of it is detrimental to our memory, thinking, and learning. While fat is still a reliable energy source, it is not as effective as glucose.

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