Carb cycling is becoming more popular nowadays because when implemented correctly, it can make fat loss easier from a psychological and physiological standpoint. Carb cycling is a fat loss program wherein you mix low carbohydrate days with higher carbohydrate days to lose weight without the pitfalls of a typical low carbohydrate diet such as difficulty focusing, lower metabolic rate and increased cravings.
By having higher carbohydrate days, you offset most, if not all of these factors so people find carb cycling easier to adhere to. This is important because studies show that the best weight loss plan is what the individual is more likely to adhere to in the long run.
It is considered a superior nutrition plan because it keeps the body guessing, which can delay adaptation. This is crucial when dieting because the body can adapt to a caloric deficit in as little as a few days. Once that happens, progress stalls and adjustments will have to be made again. Those with fast metabolisms who have built up their calories will have more room for adjustments, but those who are on below-average maintenance calories will have a very difficult time losing fat without the use of carb cycling.
Before you jump into a carb cycling plan, here are some things you must know about carb cycling:
- 1.Expect weight fluctuations almost every day.
It can be difficult to track progress through weight and progress photos when carb cycling because of water weight. For every 1g of carbohydrate that you consume, the body stores 3g of water along with it, so higher carb days will result in an increase in scale weight, while low carb days will result in a decrease in scale weight.
This fluctuation will be more obvious in leaner individuals because once you pass a certain point (8-10% body fat for males, 15-17% body fat for females), any weight gain will be noticeable. If you are psychologically sensitive to changes in scale weight, carb cycling is not recommended for you due to the constant fluctuations.
- 2.Time your hard carb days with your heaviest training days of the week.
One of the basic principles of carb cycling is to time the high carb days with heavy training days so that you perform better and have better muscular endurance. For most people, this is leg day or full body workout day.
The reasoning behind this is simple—your body needs extra fuel on those days, so having more food before and after workouts will help you power through your sets and recover better afterwards. It also helps to target your weakest body parts on high carb days to take advantage of the added calories.
The high carb days may also serve as a form of a refeed wherein the sudden increase of carbohydrates will stimulate the release of the hormone leptin which is responsible for hunger and feelings of satiety. Leptin usually drops when an individual is in a caloric deficit, so periodic refeeds are necessary for balancing hormones. Without it, the body will simply shut down and go into starvation mode.
Fats are decreased on high carb days to make room for more carbohydrates without increasing the number of calories excessively. This shift in macronutrient ratios should be enough to fuel you through your workout without canceling the fat loss that has already occurred or will still occur during the week.
- 3.Hit your target weekly caloric intake for fat loss.
Since you are cycling your carbs (which in turn, will affect your daily calorie intake), you should compute the average of your daily intake and monitor your progress every week to see if you are hitting your goals. For example, if you maintain your weight at 2,000 calories a day, that equals 14,000 calories a week. If you consume 1,500 calories for 3 days, 1,750 calories for 2 days and 2,500 calories for 2 days, that equals 13,000 calories which gives you a deficit of 1,000 calories. Carb cycling differs with a standard fat loss diet wherein you would consume the same amount of calories every day.
Sample Carb Cycling Plan:
180 lb. male
Maintenance calories: 2700 calories
Weekly Total: 18,900 calories
High Carb Day:
Total: 2,900 calories x 3 days = 8,700 calories
Moderate Carb Day:
Total: 2,493 calories x 2 days = 4,986 calories
Low Carb Day:
Total: 2,135 calories x 2 days = 4,270 calories
Weekly Total Calories = 17,956 (deficit of 944 calories)
Monday: Chest & Biceps – Moderate Carb Day
Tuesday: Quads and Calves – High Carb Day
Wednesday Back & Triceps – Moderate Carb Day
Thursday: Hamstrings and Calves – High Carb Day
Friday: Shoulders & Abs – Low Carb Day
Saturday: Full Body Workout – High Carb Day
Sunday: Rest – Low Carb Day
- 4.Consume high glycemic index carbs on your high carb days and low glycemix index carbs on your low carb days.
On your low carb days, it’s best to take advantage and limit the spikes in insulin to allow fat loss to occur. When insulin is high, the body is more likely to store fat. Low glycemix carbs do not spike insulin as much, so switch out those Pop Tarts for a salad or two.
Once you have endured your low carb days and moderate carb days, it’s time for high carb day. Think of this as a ‘cheat day’ of sorts wherein you can consume more carbs without having to feel guilty about it.
- 5.Everyone is different. Set up your diet plan according to your personal goals and statistics.
Just because someone is getting shredded on 1 low carb day and 6 high carb days, doesn’t mean it will be the same for you. This is where experimentation, observation and documentation come in. Experiment with your high carb, low carb and moderate carb days to see how your body responds to the carb manipulation.
If you aren’t losing weight/fat, you may need to increase the frequency of low carb days or decrease the amount of carbs on high carb days. If you are losing too quickly, you may need to increase the carbs on your low carb days or bump up the frequency of your high carb or moderate carb days. Also, not everyone needs to have a moderate carb day; some people would prefer to have a bigger deficit on low carb days so that they can fit more into their high carb days.