You are barely scraping through your leg workouts anymore. Halfway through, you just wish if you could have had more to eat. You have been in a deficit for quite some time and are getting used to it. But this deficit hits you harder on your heavy workout days and the quality of your workouts are going down because of that. Do you find yourself at such a juncture in your journey?
Well then, Carbohydrate Cycling (a.k.a Carb Cycling) is the solution for you.
What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a dieting strategy which refers to the planned changes to our daily carbohydrate intake within a week to improve exercise performance, usually during a cut and can also be used as a tool to break fat loss plateaus.Essentially, we put our high carb days to coincide with our heavy workout days, low/medium carb days for light workouts and no/low carbs for the days we don’t workout. The protein and fat intake stays the same throughout the week.
Let’s face it, we need carbs to perform optimally. Having more carbs not only makes us feel better psychologically, our workouts tend to improve as well.
How to Set Up?
Now that we know what we have to do, let’s talk about how we follow carb-cycling. First and foremost, to lose fat, we have to be in a state of calorie deficit, whether we want to cycle carbs or not. Let’s say we determine our calorie intake and are supposed to consume 200g of carbs everyday. That amounts to 1400g of carbs in a week. Considering we are training 6 days a week, we “undulate” between the amounts of carbs that we’re going to have on certain days.
- High Carb days– These are the days we are going to be consuming most of our carbs, sort of like refeeds. We would want to keep around 50% of our total carb intake on our heavy training days, like legs and back. That comes to 700 grams of carbs across two days.
- Low Carb Days– This is for the days when we are performing light workouts. We can split all the remaining carbohydrates over 4 days, which amounts to 175 grams a day each.
- No Carb days– On these days, we are not going to be consuming carbohydrates from direct sources. Only fibrous vegetables should be included to account for the fibre intake.
This is just a sample split which I have given as an example and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to experiment with the numbers, make changes to the plan according to your training regime and see what works out best for you.
How it works?
Consuming large amounts of carbohydrates when we are not as active doesn’t make much sense as body burns less fuel. Carb cycling makes sure we maintain/enhance our exercise performance by optimally timing the consumption of carbs during a low calorie period.
High-carb days help in maintaining high glycogen levels in the body which translates to a better power output in the gym. This means we are able to lift heavier and progressively overload the muscle, which leads to muscle growth.
Leptin is a hunger regulating hormone secreted by the adipose tissues in our body. While dieting for a prolonged period of time, our leptin levels drop below a certain threshold which is why we’re always feeling hungry. High carb feedings exert a positive effect on the leptin levels in our body and we feel better both physically and psychologically. Thus, carb cycling can help us stay on track without actually having to cheat on our diet and may serve as a tool to break through fat-loss plateaus.
So far we have discussed the merits of carb cycling and why we should be doing it. Now, the logic notwithstanding, there are a few reasons why this may not be the ideal diet strategy for you-
- Not sustainable– Changing the macro ratios everyday throughout the week may prove to be challenging and time-consuming for most of us, considering we lead very busy lives with full time jobs. This means that we may end up screwing up our diet if we are not cautious enough in our approach.
- Low/No Carb Days– Just as the high carb days are a thing of beauty, the low carb days that follow immediately after, can become rather challenging because they come right after. Let me explain with an example – Let’s say you have scheduled a low carb day after a grueling leg day. Needless to say, on the low carb day, your body will be craving for more food to recuperate from the previous day’s session. That could lead to a binge.
Irrespective of whether we are following carb cycling or not, it is the average energy balance of our body that determines if we are losing fat. If you’re someone who has been in a deficit for quite some time and looking to shuffle things up, or are stuck at a plateau and want to break it, you can give carb cycling a shot. Otherwise, sticking to the same macros throughout the week will yield the same results if overall calories are equated.
At the end of the day, the best diet is the diet which you can stick to. Be consistent and the results will follow.
Author credits – Sandeepak Ghosh