In fact, by using carb cycling, some people are able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Though this will seldom be optimal, and to get the best results you’d be much better off concentrating on one goal (muscle gain or fat loss) at a time.
But, by using carb and calorie cycling, you’ll be sure to get superior results, in terms of improved body composition, as compared to what you would get by following a more standard diet plan. So in this article I’ll explain exactly what carb cycling is, why it’s so effective, and how best to use it to achieve your own particular goals.
What is Carb Cycling?
As its name implies, carb cycling simply involves eating more carbohydrates (and calories) on some days (your training days) than on other days (your off days).
There are, however, a number of different approaches you could take to this. For example you could have high carb, medium carb and low carb days, or you could just have high and low carb days. You could increase your fat consumption on your low carb days, or you could keep it the same. And you could vary the total amounts of macronutrients consumed on each day depending on whether you wanted a calorie surplus (to build muscle) or a calorie deficit (to lose fat) over the course of the week.
So Why Use Carb Cycling?
But why would you want to bother? Why not just eat the same way each day? Well that would work alright, but cycling carbs and calories tends to provide much better results for most people. Here’s why:
Carbs are essential to fuel your workouts and optimize performance, as well as to assist recovery and promote growth. They also help keep your metabolism high and maintain healthy testosterone levels.
But carbs have a downside too, and that is they cause a lot of insulin to be released. And although this can be a good thing, in that insulin promotes muscle growth, it can also be bad as insulin also promotes fat storage. So you don’t want your insulin levels to be high too often or for too long.
So by having some days where your carbohydrate intake is much lower, you’ll be able to keep your insulin levels lower, which will help to promote fat burning.
Also cutting carbs is a convenient way to reduce your total calorie consumption, as you don’t want to reduce your protein intake, and you also need a reasonable amount of fat to maintain optimum health and function. And as a calorie deficit is essential for fat loss, this is the best way to achieve that.
So by eating more carbs (and calories) on your training days, you’ll be having them when your body most needs them. And by eating less on your off days, you’ll be giving your body a chance to burn off any excess fat that may otherwise have been accumulating.
You do need some carbs on your off days though, in order to maintain energy levels and optimize brain function, as well as to promote restful sleep, so don’t cut the starches out completely.
How to Do Carb Cycling
The exact setup you’ll use will depend on your current goals; that is do you want to build muscle, lose fat, or “recomp” (do both)?
If you want to build muscle optimally, you will want to have a decent calorie surplus on your training days and a slight calorie deficit on your off days, giving you a moderate calorie surplus over the course of the week. If you want to lose fat, you’ll need more of a deficit on your off days and a slight surplus on your training days, giving you a moderate calorie deficit over the course of the week.
And if you want to “recomp”, you’ll need a moderate surplus on your training days and a moderate deficit on your off days, giving you a maintenance calorie intake over the course of the week.
So just as an example, you might set it up something like this:
Say you weigh 180lbs, and you’ve decided to simply have high carb (and calorie) days on your training days, and lower carb (and calorie) days on your off days.
On your training days, you want to focus on muscle growth, so you’ll have a calorie intake of 16 times your body weight in pounds, which would equal 2880 calories.
You want 1g of protein per pound of body weight, which is 180g. Protein provides 4 calories per gram, which is 720 calories. You want 25% of your calorie intake to come from fat, which is again 720 calories. Fat has 9 calories per gram, so you want 80g of fat (720/9 = 80). Your carbs will then make up the balance, which is 1440 calories. Carbs again have 4 calories per gram, so you’ll want 1440/4 = 360g of carbs.
You’ll notice that in this plan 50% of your calories come from carbs, 25% come from protein and a further 25% come from fat.
Then, on your off days, you want to focus on fat loss, so you’ll now reduce your carb intake by half, which means you’ll now have 180g of carbs. Keep your protein intake the same, and I suggest you keep your fat intake the same as well. So you’ll now be getting 720 calories from protein, 720 calories from fat and 720 calories from carbs – a total of 2160 calories (or 12 times your body weight), with 33.3% of your calories coming from each macronutrient.
That’s just a rough guide to use as a starting point and to get you thinking along the right lines. You don’t even have to count calories/carbs if you don’t want to. Just make sure you eat about half the amount of starchy carbs on your off days as you do on your training days (or maybe a little less than half as you’ll probably be eating more vegetables on these days). And then monitor your progress on a week by week basis (by weighing yourself first thing in the morning on the same day each week), adjusting as necessary until you are getting the results you want.
It should go without saying that most of your carbs should come from healthy, whole food sources, especially if you are trying to get leaner. So think brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, quinoa etc. and not pizza, cake, donuts, cookies, pastries etc. You can, however, have white rice or white potatoes post workout.
A little junk food once or twice per week is ok too, but if you find it habit forming you’d be better off eliminating it entirely – at least until you achieve your target body fat level.
So that’s my guide to carb/calorie cycling. By using it in the way described here, you should be able to accomplish your goals in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Best of luck.