For years, I wrongly assumed that carb cycling was an advanced technique that would make my clients lifes more complicated, and that they didn’t need carbs in their diet at all.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Truth is. Implemented properly, carb cycling makes fat loss easier from a physiological standpoint and, best of all, it makes dieting enjoyable because you actually get to eat carbs (aka pretty much every food you love).
Many diets, such as Keto or Atkins, almost completely ban you from eating carbs.
When I tried the keto diet for myself, I found this style of eating overly-restrictive, and after months on the diet – and many missed social events – I finally gave in. But here’s the thing: I did lose fat, and lots of it.
To get a better idea of why that might have happened, it’s important to understand the effect that carbohydrates have on our bodies.
How Carbohydrates Affect the body?
When you consume carbohydrates they are broken down into sugars (otherwise known as glucose) that then enter the blood stream. A hormone called insulin is released to remove glucose from the blood stream.
A large insulin ‘spike’ will occur when you consume a simple, or refined source of carbohydrates (such as fruits, fizzy drinks, or chocolate), whereas a smaller ‘spike’ will occur when you consume a complex source (such as vegetables or certain grains).
Insulin has taken much of the blame for obesity in recent years. The idea is that insulin tells your body to remove glucose from the blood and store it as fat.
That’s not entirely accurate, because insulin actually tells your body to burn the glucose, instead of fat stored in cells.
But whatever way you want to look at it carbohydrates came make it difficult to lose fat.
Why not just cut them out completely?
Carbs are an extremely important source of quick energy for your body’s cells.
Without carbs, there’s a good chance your metabolism will slow down, your stress hormones will sky-rocket, and your muscle-building hormones will plummet, making both fat-loss and muscle gain extremely difficult.
IMPORTANT NOTE: if you live a very sedentary lifestyle (such as working in an office and doing absolutely no exercise), or have a lot of weight to lose, a low-carb diet is probably ideal because your energy requirements are much lower.
But for the rest of us, who exercise regularly, do lots of walking and activities while travelling, or like to eat out, carb cycling can be the perfect compromise.
So What is Carb cycling?
Carb cycling simply means eating more carbohydrates on some days and less on others.
High carb days promote muscle growth and help you perform at your best, while low carb days encourage fat loss (or at least, minimize fat gain).
You get the best of both worlds.
The total amount of carbs you consume in a week should average out around the same as it normally would. Your intake of protein and fats will stay relatively consistent the whole time (although some people overcomplicate things and cycle fats as well) I would not recommend that if you goal is Fat loss.
Not only does cycling carbohydrates make it possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, it also means that, by extension, you will also be cycling calories. Since your intake of protein and fat stay relatively consistent, on high carb days you will consume more calories, and on low carb days will consume less.
A calorific deficit is absolutely essential to losing weight, and carb cycling makes it easy to create a net deficit that you can sustain for a very long time.
Just to remind you: if you have a lot of weight to lose, you don’t need to carb cycle: to get the best results in the shortest amount of time, simply jump on MyFitnessPal, track your food intake and eat 500kcal under maintenance each day.
As you get leaner, however, it becomes more and more difficult to lose fat. This is a phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as ‘starvation mode’. The problem with that phrase is that it has been tossed around very loosely over the years, and by some definitions it is a myth, but by others it is very real. The scientific term for what we are talking about is ‘adaptive thermogenesis’.
Since your body can’t distinguish between severe dieting and starving, regulatory mechanisms are activated to decrease your rate of further weight loss… Your body adapts to energy-restricted diets and tries to restore you to energy balance or even back to your original weight. Carb cycling offsets the effects of adaptive thermogenesis by ‘reassuring’ your body that it isn’t starving.
There’s one other factor that makes carb cycling work so well, and for me, it’s the most important: you only have to ‘diet’ every other day or only half of the week. (depends on how rapid fat loss you looking for)
When you think about your favorite foods – if you’re being honest – most of them probably contain carbs Avoiding them 100% of the time is difficult, maybe even impossible, and certainly not enjoyable.
And what about when you are traveling and want to try new dishes that most likely have carbohydrates?
Yes, low-carb days require discipline. But it is much easier when you know the next day (assuming it’s high carb) you’ll get to eat some of your favorite foods or try new dishes.
So, how do I start Carb cycling with my diet.
There are only 2 rules you need to remember:
Rule 1: On the days that you do your most intense workouts (like lifting weights or bodyweight exercises), eat starchy carbs and fruit along with protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.
Rule 2: On the days that you’re either off from the gym or are doing some kind of cardio, don’t eat any starchy carbs, but continue to eat protein, vegetables, healthy
This would be a good start for a beginner
How many low days and how many high days depends on how drastic of fat loss you want to accomplish or how large amount of carb you want to have on the high carb days. There is no set-in stone rules on what you should do. I Like to do 2 days low and 1 Day extremely high carb days. Remember those 2 low carb days you must stay extremely disciplined for it to be effective for fat loss.