Carb cycling is a dieting technique used by athletes, bodybuilders and fitness models all over the world with some of the most impressive physiques. However the actual diet itself works for all sorts of people, and is not as complicated as it sounds once explained properly.
There are many different ways people set up their carb cycling plans, the main concept is that you ‘cycle’ your carbohydrate intake from low days to high days. Simply eating higher carbs on some days, to help promote muscle growth and refuel your glycogen stores; and eating lower carbs on other days, to help with fat loss.
Glycogen is essentially stored carbs, which you use up during your daily activity as well as during exercise. You refuel your body’s glycogen store on the ‘high carb days’, and on the ‘low carb days’ as your stores are depleting, carb cycling tricks your body into burning fat as fuel.
So why not just stay low carb constantly if it burns fat?
The danger of staying in the fat burning zone for too long, is that your body will only remain in that zone for a small amount of time, before looking for a higher source of energy. The next best source would be taking protein from already existing muscle mass, which is of course the opposite of your intentions.
How carb cycling works
High carb days stimulate an insulin response in the body, and provide energy to fuel your workouts, which means your body is not using the protein you are ingesting for energy, thus allowing it to be sent to your muscles.
Low carb days keep your body more receptive to insulin, improving your body’s muscle building response. They also help to promote fat loss in the usual way a low carbohydrate diet would.
Since carb cycling involves the so called high carb days, it’s psychologically satisfying, allowing you to constantly have something to look forward to. The high carb days roll around pretty quickly, curbing cravings and therefore making it a far easier to get through low carb days. If you are a stage in your diet when you allow yourself a cheat meal once a week, these are incorporated into a high carb day.
Of course it’s not all Pizza and Donuts I’m afraid. The high carb days carbs still need to be made up from clean carbs. Brown pasta, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, wholegrain bread, Oatmeal for example. The low days containing the same sort of carbs but in far smaller quantity, and filling meals out with more proteins, grains and vegetables.
Building your cycle
There are different ways to set up your cycle, the most important rule being a high carb day must be followed by a low carb day. Some people recommend medium carb days, low days and high days, however to simplify things I am just going to discuss how I set it up.
My diet dictates 3 low carb days followed by 1 high carb day, and then start the cycle again. This does mean that the cycle is not a week long, so high carb days won’t always fall at the weekend for example (for those cheat meal conscious people). But that’s how it works for me.
Low carb days the goal is to hit 50-150g carbs. Depending on your size, height and goals obviously these may need to be adjusted slightly, but this is a good starting point. Women looking at around 50g-100g carbs and men the top end of the scale. Not forgetting this diet also requires healthy fats, a good amount of protein, and balanced meals containing fibrous vegetables to work effectively.
High carb days the goal is to roughly triple your low carb day target, although some men can get away with a lot more carbs. There’s no hard and fast rules, some of these numbers may need adjusting as everyone’s body responds differently. Remember a high carb day is not an excuse for a binge so clean carbs only please.
Whether you still have a fair few pounds to lose, or you are looking to get those abs popping out, this diet has great results. The leaner you are the harder it gets to lose fat, so this diet is ideal for those people who have hit a plateau in their weight loss on their current diet plan. For those who find they have a harder time sticking to a diet, this provides a strange feeling of flexibility, making it far easier to maintain. If you are just starting out on a healthy path, having built in days where you can eat more in a structured way, is a great way to introduce better lifestyle habits.
I was asked to write this blog post by the wonderful people at @fitnessbuddy247 on instagram. Take a look at their website, I think you will find some really interesting content!