So you have probably been hearing more and more about carb cycling and for good reasons! This is a superior, upper level nutrition plan that allows for variety and flexibility in your diet. Essentially carb cycling mixes higher carbohydrate days with lower carbohydrate days with the goal of achieving fat loss. Overall, the amount of calories you consume in one week stays consistent but what changes is your macronutrients or “macros”. Typically there are some low carb days, regular carb days and high carb days. Doing this allows for “discretionary” calories which translates to consuming foods you crave (within reason) without suffering as much of the negative consequences that a purely low carb plan would have.
Why Cycling is Important:
Consuming a diet low in carbohydrates depletes glycogen levels and forces your body to break down fat and use keytones for fuel. This is what you want to happen if you are looking to lose fat. The issue is if you consume a low carb diet every single day, you will have a marked reduction in your physical performance. By incorporating higher carbohydrate days you are able to refuel your muscles so that your strength and endurance is not compromised. Download my free Carb Cycling Guide.
Another negative aspect of a strict low carbohydrate diet is hunger, cravings, difficulty focusing and a reduction in metabolic rate (your metabolism). Cycling your carbs as well as adding exercise to your plan will help to offset these factors. Carb cycling can help you lose stubborn fat, but before you jump in, here are some things you need to know.
1. You Need a Strategic Plan
Entering into a program like this without a game plan of how you intend to combine your diet and exercise will not result in the outcomes you hoped for. One of the very first things you need to do is to schedule your highest carb days on the days when you lift heavy weights or on your hardest workout. In my program we combine high carb days with leg days or a full body workout in order to provide the fuel to get through these killer workouts. This allows you to lift heavier, become stronger and aid in the recovery process.
One thing to keep in mind is that this type of lifestyle will require more planning initially until you get comfortable with the process. To make things fool proof I suggest my clients track their macros and caloric intake. Spending one day planning out your weeks meal will also help to keep you on track.
2. Keep Your Target Weekly Caloric Intake Consistent
Before starting a carb cycling program you must calculate your total weekly caloric intake. Your caloric intake should be based off your age, height, weight, fitness level and goals. This value must remain consistent on a weekly basis to achieve overall fat loss. Keep in mind an overall caloric deficit is required for weight loss but it not the only component. For sustainable fat loss that doesn’t negatively impact your hormones, or metabolism carb cycling is key. (www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html)
3. Feeling “Puffy” After High Carb Days is Normal
When you load up on carbohydrates water will also be pulled into your muscles, so expect to fell like you have gained some water weight. When carbohydrates are consumed your body will convert them into glycogen that is then stored in your muscles. Your body is constantly trying to maintain balance or “homeostasis”. When carbs of consumed your kidneys are singled to retain more sodium. For every gram of glycogen, 2.7 grams of water is stored in order to maintain sodium-blood concentration (1). Typically clients describe themselves as feeling “puffy”. If you are already lean you will likely notice this the next day but don’t be alarmed it will recede when you return to your regular or low carbohydrate days.
4. Low Carb Days Are Not Always Pretty
If your body is used to consuming a high carbohydrate diet or one that is rich in “unhealthy foods”, there is going to be an adjustment phase. Your body is used to burning glucose for energy but now the body needs to transition into ketosis and use fats (keynotes) for fuel. For some this period brings forth some unpleasant symptoms. Often described as the “Ketosis Flu” some report experiencing headaches, nausea, brain fog and/or fatigue. To prevent these feelings, drink plenty of water, be sure to consume your fats and maintaining your electrolytes. Like any new lifestyle change it takes 21 days to form a habit so stick with it.
5. High Carbohydrates Does not Mean a Feeding Frenzy
Photo: Protein pancakes a guilt free high protein treat.
If your goals are fat loss you can not expect to achieve the results you want if you overdo it on high carb days. Stay away from high fructose corn syrup and white sugar. While a treat is absolutely okay every once in a while, the goal should be to consume foods that will provide dense nutrition. If you use up your carbohydrates on simple sugars there is a greater chance that this glucose will be converted and stored as fat. My advice is to choose complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, starchy vegetables etc.
6. Lower Fat on High Carbohydrate Days
In order to achieve an overall weekly caloric deficit, on high carbohydrate days it will be necessary to reduce your dietary fat intake. Refer back to point number 2 on the importance of keeping weekly calories consistent. Another option would be to offset the additional calories consumed on a high carb days with a low calorie day. Incorporating intermittent fasting is a strategy to help achieve this.
I hope you have found this information useful and are now empowered with confidence to get started with carb cycling. I believe carb cycling when combined with intermittent fasting and a strategic exercise plan is a superior form of lifestyle for those who wish to maintain workout performance and lean muscle mass. In my opinion, this is a key way to prevent plateaus and lose fat
- Glycogen Storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight gain, and distortions in estimates of body composition