Carb cycling is one of those terms that gets as many articles written promoting it as it does deriding it, although they are usually from people who either don’t fully understand it or aren’t using it as intended. It’s not a new thing by any means. The fact is carb cycling is a method I have utilised with my clients for as long as I can remember. It’s been an incredibly useful tool in effective diet planning for decades and I swear by it.
The basic principle of carb cycling is simple. Over the course of a week you have days with high, medium and low carbohydrate intake. That sounds simple, and it is, but you have to coincide your higher carb days with heavier gym sessions and low carb days with either rest days or low intensity training. Whatever the day, you also require a high protein intake to help muscle growth.
It’s this cycling of carbs that leads to fat loss and muscle growth. As much as you’re cycling your carbs, you are also cycling your fat intake. It should be low when your carb intake is at its highest, and high on days when your carb intake is low.
All of this carb cycling gives your body a number of physical and biological benefits, namely:
• Improved insulin sensitivity
• Improved metabolism
• Improved muscle gain
Why It Works. What Do Carbs Do Within My Body?
Carbs aren’t necessarily the enemy of your body that the media makes them out to be. It’s true that there are no essential carbohydrates, unlike essential fats and amino acids, but they do help to boost metabolism and not to mention making food much nicer to eat. If your timing is off however and calories are too high, carbs can be stored as fat, but we’re going to use them to our advantage.
It might sound like carb cycling is purely focused on what you eat, which it is to a point, but it’s what’s happening to your body internally that gives you the edge. High carb days are all about refueling your muscles’ glycogen levels and flooding your body with insulin. This process has anti-catabolic efforts. Insulin inhibits muscle breakdown, which is perfect for those days when you’re doing your toughest, most intense workouts on high carb days.
On moderate (or medium) carb intake days, you are giving your muscles just enough carbs to maintain their glycogen stores, but creating a biological environment for improved insulin sensitivity and fat loss.
For days when you’re eating food with low carbohydrate properties, this is when you’re going to be in the lowest calorie situation too. By only doing low intensity workouts, or having a rest day completely, in a way, you are fooling your body into burning fat at an accelerated rate by keeping the insulin levels low. When it comes to fat loss, this is the part of the process where it really begins to work.
These are examples only and without the macro breakdown the practical application is limited but the show how the principles can be implemented.
Example High Carb Meals
- Porridge, Whey protein, Almonds
- Sweet potato, chicken, broccoli
- Quinoa, Salmon, Pine nuts, Asparagus
Example Medium Carb Meals
- Rye bread, scrambled eggs, spinach
- Brown rice, chicken, broccoli
- Avocado, prawns, rocket, tomato,
Example Low Carb Meals
- Smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, avocado, asparagus
- Chicken and cashew stir fry, peppers, broccoli, sprint onion
- Tuna, avocado, green beans
Don’t think that healthy food should be boring! Use these healthy flavoring options to
Lemon, Lime, Fresh or dry herbs, chilli, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, pepper,
What Else Do I Need To Know?
If you think carb cycling might be something you want to try, there are a couple of other things you need to know.
Carb cycling works well for both fat loss and muscle gain. For fat loss as primary goal you should be in an overall calorie deficit. For muscle gain as a primary goal you should be in a calorie surplus
As I touched on earlier, keep your protein intake high, it’s essential for building and / or maintaining muscle.
Don’t be afraid of fats, but use them wisely. Eating food with higher fat content on your non-training days is ideal.
Follow these simple rules and you’ll see the benefit of carb cycling in no time.
The hardest part of any training schedule is following a food plan accurately. I always suggest having a custom food plan designed to ensure you are eating for your goals and not against them!