Most guys who want to get lean know they need to reduce their carb intake to burn off fat. But long-term use of a low-carb, low-calorie diet can eventually start to backfire on you. At first, the carb reduction will lead to weight loss and improvements in body composition. But over time the continuity of being on a low-carb diet can down-regulate critical hormones involved in not only your fat metabolism, but also your muscle building. Cycling your carbs can provide a shock to your body increasing the hormones that enhance protein synthesis as well as fat oxidation.
What is Carb Cycling?
When you follow a low-carb diet, the body depletes its stored muscle glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate), which is the body’s main source of energy. This depletion can be enhanced particularly when following high intensity workouts. As a result, the body switches from using alternative sources of fuel, particularly fatty acids from stored body fat and ketones. The body will even increase mitochondria – the powerhouse cells to help increase energy demands – since metabolizing fatty acids as fuel is much slower than obtaining energy from glycogen. Increasing the amount of available mitochondria helps the body generate ATP faster to meet energy demands enabling you to still work out, while also allowing you to burn off more fat. This is exactly what you want the body to do when you follow a low-carb diet.
However, as you begin to lose more body fat over time, it will be harder to get through workouts and harder to maintain muscle mass. The body will begin to search out other energy forms – including your lean muscle. That’s where carb cycling comes in. Cycling carbs gives you the best of both worlds – during a low phase the body will be glycogen depleted and hence increase fatty acid oxidation, while on a high day the body will restore muscle glycogen while also enhancing hormones that can help stimulate muscle building and fat burning.
How To Carb Cycle
Carb Cycling is the practice of cycling days of low carbs with a day (or days) of higher carb intake . The frequency of your cycle will vary depending on how much fat weight you have stored, how fast you access glycogen and how active and intense your workouts are. When you begin to cycle your carbs, allow for only one high-carb day every 4 to 7 days. If you’re more active or have less weight to lose, increase the cycle frequency to one high carb day every 3 to 5 days.
After you have been carb cycling for a while and are starting to burn through carbs and stored glycogen quicker, you can increase the frequency to one high day every 2 to 4 days. Additionally, you can also base when you cycle your carbs around your training activity. If you can manage performing higher intensity workouts – like sprints, plyometrics or circuit training for the days when you’re in a low phase, you will not only burn through carb stores quicker, but also train your body to access fat more efficiently.
How Many Carbs Do You Really Need?
Just like the frequency at which your carb cycle occurs, the amount of carbs you need is also determined by your unique makeup. Remember, in order for you to burn through glycogen and access fat as fuel, you need to lower your carbs enough to allow for that to happen. To begin, start with a low-carb phase that provides approximately 20% or less carbs of your daily macros, along with 40 % of your daily macros coming from each protein and fat. On your high day, switch your macros to 30% or less protein, 60% or less carbs and 20% or less fat.
Putting it Together
Now that you know how many carbs you need and how frequently you should cycle, here’s a sample on how you can put together your own plan. This example is based on an active 180-pound male looking to lose body fat and maintain lean mass.
Low Carb Days
Protein: 220 g or 880 calories
Carbs: 110 g or 440 calories
Fat: 98 g or 880 calories
High Carb Days:
Protein: 165 g or 660 calories
Carbs: 275 g or 1100 calories
Fat: 48 g or 440 calories
|Low Carb Days
||High Carb Days
|Meal 1||1 cup of Egg Whites, 1 whole egg, ¾ cup of Oatmeal||1 cup of Egg Whites, 1 cup of Oatmeal|
|Meal 2||150 g Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Green Beans with 1 tbsp Olive Oil||100 g of Grilled Chicken Breast, 2 cups of White Potato|
|Meal 3||100 g Grilled Sirloin, 1 cup of Asparagus, 1 cup Sweet Potato||100 g of Grilled Sirloin, 1 cup of Brown Rice Pasta, 1 cup of Broccoli|
|Meal 4||200 g of Grilled Salmon, 1 cup of Cauliflower Potato Mash, ½ Avocado, 1 tbsp Salsa||100 g Grilled Salmon, 2 cup of Sweet Potato, 1 cup Broccoli|
|Meal 5||150 g Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Broccoli, 1 tbsp of Coconut Oil||100 g of Grilled Chicken Breast, 2 cups of Sweet Potato|
|Meal 6||1 scoop of Protein Powder Blended with 1 tbsp Coconut Oil||1 scoop Protein Powder Blended with ½ Avocado, 1 tbsp Coconut Oil|