The Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling

Summer is coming to an end, but you shouldn’t get rid of your beach body. While many people use the fall and winter as bulking seasons, why not use this time to maintain your physique? Using a cyclic approach to dieting can be a great way to lean out and preserve muscle mass. Carbohydrate cycling diets rotate carbohydrates in and out. Most often, a high amount of carbs are consumed on workout days, and lower amounts on rest days. The logic behind this is that it allows you to reap the benefits of a low-carb regimen- fast weight lost & less bloating, without having to suffer through the downfalls- crankiness and low energy, that  have been observed in previous carb cutting diets.

The History

According to carb-cycling enthusiasts, the body is more efficient at maintaining muscle mass while shedding fat when carbohydrates are cycled throughout the week. This means some days eating a low amount of carbs, while other days increasing the carbohydrate intake. This isn’t new, it’s been around for a few decades, used mostly in the bodybuilding community and being great for heavy lifters.  But if you’re not a heavy lifter or bodybuilder, it’s something you will want to check before starting. It can be a powerful weight-loss tool, because excessive consumption of carbohydrate foods stimulates the release of insulin, but without cycling it, it can store excess carbs, as fat. This isn’t just any fad diet, its complex and requires a lot of discipline and organization.

How It Works

Carb cycling works by alternating between low & high carbohydrate days, the fat-storing cycle pauses.  Carb cycling gives the body the amount of energy it needs to increase the metabolism while also creating a calorie deficit to induce weight loss.

When to Carb Cycle

Carb cycling is used to fine tune your physique. If you have a lot of weight to lose, then you should hold off on the carb cycling. You will get better results if you slowly diet down first. If you are trying to add a lot of muscle to your frame, carb cycling isn’t for you either.  Carbohydrate cycling is for people who are fairly lean and wants to slow add muscle while maintaining a low-level of bodyfat.

Length of Carb Cycling

People ask how long they need to stay on this carb-cycling diet; the answer is, until you reach your goal! It should be somewhere between two and eight weeks depending on your initial body fat. If it takes more than 8 weeks, you are doing something very wrong. Carb-cycling is a short-term tool, get on, lose the fat, get off and go back to your normal healthy diet high in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. There are no cheat meals allowed, if you don’t have the discipline to maintain strict nutritional control for this two-eight week period then do not try carb-cycling! You either do carb cycling or you don’t.

How to Carb Cycle

Before beginning a carb cycling diet, make sure you know your terms to make sure this is an easy transition for you, though it still will require a lot of work and time into preparation.

Now, there are two ways if you wanted to drop some fat, either rapid weight loss or normal weight loss. This would mean that you would follow three different guidelines for a certain amount of days and until you have reached your goal. These guidelines go as follows:

Low Carb: During this phase, limit your carbohydrate intake to roughly 50 grams per day. The main sources of your carbs should come from vegetables.

Moderate: The plan is designed around this phase. It consists of low carbs, high protein and high fat. During this phase, double the carbohydrate intake from the super strict phase (50g X2 = 100g).These carbs will come from starches as well as fibrous vegetables and some fruits.

High Carb: This is the fun, most enjoyable phase. Here you will increase your carbohydrate intake to at least 400g. Try not to exceed 800 g of carbs because this is way too much to stay on track of your fat burning goals. You can eat all good sources of carbs such as: starches, fruits & vegetables.

For rapid weight loss, follow Low Carb for 3-14 days. This will result in a drastic weight loss. Then, to maintain a fairly normal weight loss move of to the moderate phase.

For normal weight loss,  do a combination of the two phases, 5 days of moderate carbs, follow by 2 days of high carbs.

Here are some guidelines of your macro-nutrient ratios for this plan:

High Day

Carbs: 2-3 grams per pound of body weight
Protein: 1-1.25 grams per pound of body weight
Fat: as little as possible

Low & Moderate Days

Carbs: 0.5-1.5 grams per pound of body weight
Protein: 1.25-1.5 grams per pound of body weight
Fat: 0.15-0.35 grams per pound of body weight

Here is another example


Depending on your training program, you should pick two days a week to have low carbs on your rest days.

Meal Planning

Now that you have the ideas down in your head, what should your meals look like?

On high carb days, you should be doing just that, having your carbs high. Eat some oatmeal with fresh fruit and a scoop or two of protein, or make a protein shake with fresh fruit and peanut butter on top of your one to two scoops of protein. By lunch time you should be eating real food, like chicken and vegetables with some brown rice cooked with olive oil. Dinner time would again include a protein, vegetable and carb cooked with olive oil. Depending on the time you workout, you should either enjoy your recovery drink of choice or a small glass of milk.

Now, for a low carb day, maybe some eggs and a vegetable like spinach for breakfast. By lunch, you can enjoy a protein and a vegetable of your choice. Preferably a “green” vegetable, which is low in carbs and high in fibrous. A dinner option may be salmon plus another green vegetable. As far as snacks, aim for something in the protein department tuna fish.

In Conclusion

Make sure you meet the caloric needs for the training program you are on when on any diet and keep in mind this takes time, energy and a lot of determination. But you can do it!

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