Eat all the healthy carbs you want and still build muscle while you lose weight. Sound too good to be true? Advocates of the carb cycle diet insist it’s not. By eating good-for-you carbs on the days you have an intense work out and sticking to a low- or no-carb diet on days when your training is less intense, you can give your body the energy it needs for exercise while also losing weight. It’s a simple formula, but it seems to work for many people.
Just designating certain days as “high carb” doesn’t give you license to binge on white bread and sugary treats, though. The key to carb cycling success is focusing on complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, legumes, and some fruits. “They’ll keep you energized throughout the day while still promoting weight loss,” dietitian Jessica Crandall told Daily Burn.
Not sure what to eat on your high-carb diet days? Here are five delicious recipes that will help keep your carb cycle diet on track.
1. Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
Bread isn’t off limits when you’re carb cycling, but it’s important to choose the right type. Healthy bread made with whole grains can be found at most grocery stores, but you’ll need to read labels carefully to make sure that they fit with your diet goals. Or, you can just bake your own bread at home and always know exactly what you’re eating. This easy-to-follow recipe from Five Heart Home creates the perfect loaves for toast and sandwiches.
- 3½ cups white whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup vital wheat gluten
- 4 teaspoons instant/quick-rise yeast
- 2½ cups very warm water (120 degrees Fahrenheit to 130 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/3 cup coconut oil (melted and cooled) or vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup honey
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2½ cups white whole wheat flour
Directions: Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together 3½ cups of white whole wheat flour, the vital wheat gluten, and the quick-rise yeast. Add warm water and mix for 1 minute, scraping down the bowl halfway through if needed. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Add salt, oil, honey, and lemon juice to the flour mixture. Beat for 1 minute. Add the remaining flour, a cup at a time, mixing to combine. Use the mixer’s dough hook to knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the dough feels smooth rather than sticky.
Turn oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and let heat up for about 1 minute, then turn off the oven (you want the oven to be slightly warm, not hot). Grease 2 bread pans or line them with parchment paper. Transfer dough to a greased work surface and divide into two equal halves. Press each half into a prepared loaf pan.
Place bread pans in the oven and let rise for 20 to 40 minutes (the dough should be rounded above the pans). Without removing the bread from the oven, set the heat to to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes. Remove bread from pans immediately and let cool on a rack.
2. Lentil Quinoa Salad
Lentils are an excellent plant-based source of protein, while quinoa is a healthy, complex carbohydrate. The two come together in this salad recipe from the Food Network. You can serve it as a side with an additional protein and vegetable for dinner, or make it ahead of time for a quick and easy work lunch.
- ½ cup quinoa
- 1¼ cups water, plus 2 cups
- ½ cup lentils
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 lime, zested
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Directions: Put the quinoa in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a large microwave-proof bowl with a cover, add the rinsed quinoa and 1¼ cups water. Cover and microwave on high for 9 minutes. Let it sit for 2 minutes then stir. The quinoa should be soft enough to eat, but still “pop” a little when you bite into it.
Put the lentils in a sieve and rinse in cold water. In a saucepan, simmer the lentils in 2 cups water until they are tender, but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool.
In a small bowl, whisk the mustard and vinegar together, and drizzle in the oil to make an emulsion. Add the garlic powder, lime zest, and salt and pepper, to taste.
In a medium salad bowl, mix the quinoa, lentils, green onions, and chopped cilantro. Top the salad with the dressing, toss to coat and serve.
3. Pan-Fried Cod Over Garlicky Tomato Pea Buckwheat Groats
If you’re in need of a quick and healthy weeknight meal, try this recipe for pan-fried fish from Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen. Cod fillets are dredged in flour and cooked in olive oil, then paired with buckwheat groats (the hulled seeds of the buckwheat plant) mixed with grape tomatoes and green peas. If you don’t have cod, try substituting another fish of your choice.
- 1 cup buckwheat groats
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 4 cod fillets
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ cup flour
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Directions: In a large saucepan, combine the groats, water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until buckwheat is tender. Rinse with cold water and drain.
Add the olive oil to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the they start to soften. Add the vinegar and peas, stir, then add the groats. Remove from heat and keep covered until the fish is ready.
To prepare fish, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the fish dry, season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour. Shake off any extra coating and then transfer to the skillet and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Divide groats between four plates, top with fish, then serve.
4. Whole Grain Bean and Turkey Cassoulet
Yes, comfort food can be healthy. This casserole, which is made with turkey kielbasa, protein-rich beans, and farro, an ancient grain with a nutty flavor, is the perfect filling meal. Recipe from the Food Network.
- Cooking spray
- 1 medium onion, quartered
- 1 stalk celery, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 4 sprigs fresh parsley
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 2 whole cloves
- ¾ cup whole-grain breadcrumbs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ pound smoked turkey kielbasa, cut into ½-inch chunks
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pound farro (about 2¼ cups)
- Kosher salt
- 2 (15-ounce) cans low-sodium Great Northern beans, rinsed and strained
- ½ cup crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry red wine
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray; set aside.
Cut a 12-inch square of cheesecloth, lay it flat and place the onion, celery, parsley, thyme, garlic, bay leaf and cloves in the center. Tie opposite corners of the cloth to make a packet; set aside.
Mix the breadcrumbs and melted butter together in a small bowl until the breadcrumbs are coated with the butter; set aside.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the kielbasa and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. (If necessary, reduce heat to medium-low to prevent the kielbasa drippings from burning.) Remove the kielbasa and set aside.
Add the broth to the pot and scrape up any browned bits. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add 5 cups water; stir in the farro and ½ teaspoon salt and nestle the cheesecloth packet in the liquid. Bring to a boil, then partially cover and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook the farro, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 1 hour (it will just be visible above the liquid). Discard the cheesecloth packet. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, ½ cup water, wine, browned kielbasa, 1½ teaspoons salt and a few grinds of black pepper and bring to a medium boil; cook until much of the liquid has been absorbed and the beans and farro are visible above the liquid, about 10 minutes.
Carefully transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish and top with the buttered breadcrumbs. Bake until golden brown and bubbling around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.
5. Cuban-Style Black Beans and Plantains Oatmeal
Oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast. Nutty steel-cut oats take center stage in this Cuban-inspired vegetarian dinner recipe that also features black beans and plantains. Recipe from Well and Good.
- 1 cup steel cut oats
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pieces firm ripe plantains, peeled and sliced into 2-inch pieces
- 1 large diced onion
- 1 whole green pepper
- ½ chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 pinch salt and pepper, to taste
- Fresh cilantro (optional)
- Fresh sliced avocado (optional)
- Cotija or queso fresco (optional)
Directions: Prepare oats according to package directions, then set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a medium skillet and turn heat to medium. Once oil is hot, add the plantains and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until golden and slightly browned, turning once halfway through cooking. Remove from pan.
In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and green pepper and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is translucent and starting to brown. Add the beans, stock, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.
Divide the oatmeal between 4 bowls. Top with black bean mixture and the plantains. Garnish with cilantro, avocado, and cheese, then serve.
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