If you are looking to learn about carb cycling, chances are that you are at least familiar with some basic principles.
Carbohydrates, tend to go under the microscope when it comes to looking for ways to lose fat. A successful diet that has been seen to offer such results is the Ketogenic Diet or KETO.
Even though KETO is very successful with fat loss, we are not talking about the complete restriction of carbs here. Rather, it is more about carb manipulation that we are after.
While we dive into more advanced dieting techniques, you will notice that more programming and attention will be needed to achieve a certain goal. Unless you are familiar with your daily carb intake, how much of it you need and how much you take in, it is going to be difficult to cycle through it successfully.
What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling, as the name implies is about alternating between high and low carb days. In order to do that, it is important that you already have a clear view of your calorie and macro-nutrient intake.
All that means is that in order to carb cycle, you need to be aware of the number of calories and macros you are aiming for.
This technique is usually used for a combination of fat loss while you maintain performance and muscle growth.
When you are carb cycling, you go back and forth between high carb days and low carb days. You can base your carb cycles on various occasions. The ones that I recommend are based on your training, as well as refeeding for cutting diets.
When your carb intake is based on your training, you eat fewer carbs on your non-training days and more on your training days. The point of that is twofold. When you are not training, your body requires less energy. So you cut down on carbs and drop on a calorie deficit. When you are training though, depending on the kind of training you perform, you increase the carbs back up. (You might take intensity into account as well)
Re-feeding days, are essentially days where you can eat more and go on a surplus. This is usually done when someone is dieting down and is after weight loss. The purpose of refeed days is to give yourself a break from calorie restriction as well as to replenish your body with much-needed nutrients.
The Dieting Benefits
As you probably already know, there is no magic to what makes diets work. Each and every diet is based on the same principles of:
- Maintenance calories
- Caloric Surplus
- Caloric Deficit
If your goal is to gain weight, then regardless of the diet you have chosen to focus on, you need the caloric surplus. Similarly, losing weight requires a caloric deficit, meaning that you eat less than what you need.
When you are carb cycling, chances are that you are calorie cycling as well. It can only make sense that you eat less of something in general if you choose to eat fewer carbs on certain days.
Eating Less = Less Calories = Calorie Deficit = Weight Loss
The thing with carb cycling is that we combine those fewer carb days with high carb days. That can result in getting the best out of both worlds.
Specifically, when we are trying to lose weight, we dive into a caloric deficit. Depending on your goals and your current level, difficulty levels are going to vary. Cycling through your carbs can have a similar benefit to intermittent fasting, you wait for a couple of hours and then you can eat a relatively larger quantity later. It helps with feeling full and satisfied.
In our case, carb cycling can function like planned refeed days, where your hormone levels can regain their balance and give you that extra energy boost.
Your Carb Cycling Objectives
When choosing the days that you will carb cycle, you will have to pick the way to split your high carb with low carb days. There is a variety of things that people base their cycles around. My recommendation is to focus on two factors:
- Your Training
Basing your carb cycling around your training days, in my opinion, is the ideal way. On those days, your body is going to need more energy and your muscles need the nutrients to recover faster. It is not uncommon to notice a drop in performance when you are trying to diet down and lose weight.
Strategically cycling your carbohydrate intake around your workouts, will have the added benefit of supporting your body while it is cutting weight. You can supercharge those days by adding that extra kick of carbs. Not to mention that who does not enjoy a rich meal full of nutrients after a taxing workout to replenish all that energy?
While refeeds may at first seem like a cheat day, you should not confuse the two. A cheat day, other than the emotional boost, is not that much of a benefit. Refeed days, offer the same support as well the nourishment of a planned and balanced diet. Cheat days, include out of control eating. Refeeds are planned and there to support your body as well as your mental state.
Muscle Growth, Performance and Carb Cycling
As mentioned above, the way you choose how to carb cycle is going to play a key role in both performance and muscle growth. Let’s look at it individually:
Muscle Growth is about gaining muscle, anything that requires that you gain is going to require that you gain weight overall. As we cannot focus on losing just fat, we cannot focus on simply putting on just muscle either, there is a little bit of both. When you are looking to gain weight, a caloric surplus is usually the only way to achieve that.
Having said that, muscle growth is not connected with your carb intake. As long as your protein intake is sufficient muscle growth can be achieved.
So depending on various factors plus sufficient protein in your diet, you might just accomplish muscle growth when you carb cycle, even if that is to ultimately lose fat.
When it comes to performance, your diet is far more interconnected with your workouts. Depending on your own workout routine and schedule, it will be ideal to go heavy on carbs the days that you train, and cut back on your rest days. That way you can ensure that even while you close the week with a deficit in calories and carbs, your workouts stay as effective as possible.
How to do It
In order to cycle through your carbs, the first and most important step is to locate how many calories you need to maintain your weight. Your maintenance calories.
The reason behind knowing your calorie intake is twofold:
- When you know the exact amount of calories that you need, you can sufficiently calculate your macronutrient ratios. Meaning that you will split your diet in percentages according to each nutrient like Protein Carbohydrates and Fats.
- Once you know how much, you can track it. It might seem silly to weigh and track your meals, but eyeballing it will not cut it here. Carb Cycling requires moderate precision and a basic understanding of nutrition. Unless you know what you eat and what it contains, it will be difficult to see serious results.
The process should not intimidate you. If you are relatively new to your fitness journey, I have a guide here that will tell you about all the things you need to get started on working on your diet.
As the exact ratios are going to be based on many different factors, I am not going to give you any numbers here.
It came as a surprise to me as well when I discovered that there are Carb Cycling calculators available online. The one that I found to reflect my Goals Best is the Carb Cycling Calculator by Fitness Volt. There are really quite a few out there. Do not worry about pinpointing the perfect amount of calories and macros, there is no such a thing. There is only the amount that works best for you and the only real way to discover that, is to either experiment or get some really specific tests done.
As with anything in the fitness world, there is no magic potion, no magic diet or magic workout. If something works, it is because it was done with consistency, patience and the proper guidance.
Do not ever get into a diet if you are worried about your health. Every body is different, something that works for me might harm someone else. If you have absolutely any medical concerns, the internet is not the guidance you need. Underlying health conditions and eating disorders of any short, should be discussed with your doctor.
Remember, we are here for the long run. We want to be as healthy and strong for as long as possible. Never let an image guide your decisions, only when you are on your way to a healthier and stronger you, a good image is going to be an unavoidable outcome. So might as well do it right!
Below I am going to list some references as well as really useful links to help you on your trip to a better you.
References and Useful Links:
- PubMed, “Timing and method of increased carbohydrate intake to cope with heavy training, competition and recovery” By Coyle EF
- PubMed, “A lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet reduces abdominal and intermuscular fat and increases insulin sensitivity in adults at risk of type 2 diabetes” By Barbara A Gower and Amy M Goss
- PubMed, “Genotype dependency of the thermic effect of a meal and associated hormonal changes following short-term overfeeding” By E T Poehlman, A Tremblay, E Fontaine, J P Després, A Nadeau, J Dussault, C Bouchard