Enjoy carbs the right way with carb cycling.
Carbs have always been seen as the necessary evil when it comes to fitness and nutrition. While they have been demonized as the forbidden macronutrient, the truth is, we need them. For those looking to get to the next level, whether that be with increasing muscle mass, boosting athletic performance, or seeking that toned, desired physique, you need all of the right stuff to make any of those three possible. While pumping yourself with protein will provide great benefits to whatever your goals are, you need carbs and should not shy away from including them in your diet.
While many diets suggest restricting carbs, and others who say just leave them out altogether, there is an approach that many do to keep carbs in their dietary routine but do so in an effective way. It is called carb cycling, and it allows for people to alternate between days of high carbs and low carbs to keep energy and performance levels high.
Don’t be afraid of carbs and what they can do for you. It is true that too many can stunt your growth and gains and lead to the adverse of what your goals are, but knowing the right approach and techniques to tackle the issue of carbs will make dieting more enjoyable and your life a whole lot easier.
What Is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a diet that requires a lot of attention and is used by those looking to drop body fat, gain muscle mass, or use it for sport specific ways like storing more carbs for an upcoming event. It works by alternating the amount of carbs you eat on certain days.
You would eat a higher amount of carbs on one day and then a lower amount the next, but would really need to focus on your output level when it comes to exercise to fit in the appropriate days into your week. The goal of this would be to have carbs in your body for those days you do workout and then a lower amount of carbs for the days you don’t (1).
How To Plan Your Carb Intake
Planning your carb intake depends on many factors and it all centers around whatever your intended goals are. For those looking to lose weight, manage weight, or change their body composition, it all depends on where you are at in that process. As you become more lean, you will include more high-carb days and begin a muscle building or performance boosting stage. For those still looking to see weight loss, more days of lower carbs are needed to begin to see the intended result.
Your carb days will also need to focus on types of training and when you are training. The idea around carb cycling is that you see your intended goals because you have more carbs in your system to fuel workouts, so they burn away, and then inactive days you don’t have as many to be stored (2). Focusing on the type of training, how intense that training would be, and how long that training session would be is important to consider when planning out your carb cycling week. Having ample fuel is key so this may take a little more research and attention to nail down.
Benefits for Performance & Physique
Carb cycling is a great way to lose weight to prime you for the muscle building phase as you look to tone and get that desired physique. The goal with carb cycling is to allow you the same level of performance to burn calories and have energy while also keeping you in a state of relatively low carbs. Having a calorie deficit is key for losing weight (3) and combining this idea with carb cycling will really work wonders for your weight loss goals. It is important to include plenty of protein in your diet to see the most benefit.
When it comes to gaining muscle and physical performance, the periods of regulating high and low carbs allows for increased levels of fuel to aid in exercise, recovery, and nutrient delivery to ensure the promotion of muscle growth leading to increased performance (4). When done right, you will feel great because that desired energy level will be there for your workouts, but your off days won’t feel sluggish as a result of excess carbs remaining idle in your body.
When it comes to carb cycling, there are some important tips to remember to avoid making some unfortunate mistakes. Do not avoid or forget to keep fiber in your diet. Fiber is a great way to support the feeling of fullness, cholesterol control, and support gut microbiomes (5). Loading up on fiber, especially on those low carb days, will help remove added sugars and refined carbs to set you up for a great high carb day.
Knowing how many calories you need a day and making sure you eat enough, even on low carb days, is more than important to consider. One main reason a binge happens is ironically from dieting. Because we may deprive our bodies of certain foods or nutrients we actually need, we fall into that trap of not filling ourselves up as best we can and ultimately binging out. While this is not going to totally destroy your diet, it is a minor set-back that could be avoided. Eating adequate carbs and getting the right amount of protein is a great way to promote muscle growth and keep you full so you stay right on track with all of your goals.
Carb cycling is an interesting dieting tool to consider if you are looking to enhance performance and head towards that desired physique. Alternating between high and low carb days will ensure you have all the energy needed to power through tough workouts without the added strain of unnecessary carbs on your off days. Make sure to get the adequate amount of nutrients to avoid mistakes and be confident that your performance and physique goals are just around the corner if you stay dedicated to this way of dieting.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Ullrich, I. H.; Peters, P. J.; Albrink, M. J. (1985). “Effect of low-carbohydrate diets high in either fat or protein on thyroid function, plasma insulin, glucose, and triglycerides in healthy young adults”. (source)
- The Lancet (2018). “Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health, study suggests”. (source)
- Howell, Scott; Kones, Richard (2017). ” ‘Calories in, calories out’ and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories”. (source)
- Tipton, K. D.; Wolfe, R. R. (2001). “Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth”. (source)
- Anderson, James W.; Baird, Pat; Davis Jr., Richard H.; Ferreri, Stefanie; Knudtson, Mary; Koraym, Ashraf; Waters, Valerie; Williams, Christine L. (2009). “Health benefits of dietary fiber”. (source)