If you didn’t know, carb cycling is an effective way to burn fat and build lean muscle while using an intermittent diet approach that focuses on switching between high and low carbohydrates. The reason for this change is to regulate up the metabolism. A low-carb diet, while very effective, can downregulate the body’s metabolic responses, especially if the diet is also low in calories! In a previous post I discussed the “how-to” in this post and now I answer four common questions about carb cycling.
1. Should days with high carbohydrates be days with heavy lifting?
Although most people choose their high carb days on the days when they lift the heaviest, it is not necessary. In fact, you can get better results if you do your high days the day before your workout.
Why? For one thing, if you want to get the most benefit from the carbohydrates in your meal, make sure you have the most glycogen in your muscles. If you eat a large amount of carbohydrates on the same day that you are heavy lifting, you may not eat all of those carbohydrates depending on when you are lifting. Maintain proper digestion so that glycogen can be replenished.
Tip: Depending on how exhausted you are, you should have a few high-carbohydrate meals before training to ensure an even supply of glucose to your muscles. Remember, nutrient timing isn’t as important as it was thought. Eating a majority of your carbohydrates before exercise is enough to maintain an anabolic response even after exercise! So charge up and choose your workout later in the day or the day after charging first thing in the morning.
2. Should a high carbohydrate load be completed with simple carbohydrates?
Traditional carb cycling diets recommend eating simple carbohydrates like white potatoes and white rice on days when you have a high-carbohydrate day. If you want to guarantee that you will feel hungrier and have more cravings on high carb days, this is a great way to do it! Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and easily by the body, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar while stimulating the release of insulin. This surge in insulin quickly clears the blood of sugar and sets the blood sugar back to normal. This can lead to an energy crash, fatigue, and an insatiable desire to eat more sugar.
In a study of trained cyclists, a low glycemic carbohydrate lens from lentils was found to significantly improve endurance and time to exhaustion compared to a high glycemic meal of potatoes consumed an hour before exercise. The lentil meal before exercise produced a less hyperglycemic and less hyperinsulinemic response, and maintained blood sugar and maintained higher free fatty acid levels during exercise. This means that less glucose was oxidized and more fat was burned, making for longer, more intense workouts!
Tip: Simple carbohydrates can provide a quick burst of energy, but this energy is short-lived and can make you feel hungry, as well as fatigue, which can shorten your workout. Opt for complex carbohydrates on both low and high days to give you more sustained energy, more intensity for your workout, and even more fat burning! Use whole grains, beans, legumes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, fruits and vegetables with stems like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower!
3. Should my calories stay the same on high and low days?
If your goal is weight loss, you must create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight and burn fat. Whether you’re on a high or low carbohydrate day, your calories will stay the same. Cycling carbohydrates is an emphasis on macronutrient ratios. no calories. A calorie deficit of at least 500 calories a day is necessary to have weight loss; That’s 3,500 calories in a week. Your macronutrient ratios on low-carb days should be in the range of 50 percent protein, 20 percent or less carbohydrates, and about 30 percent or more fat. On days with high carbohydrate content, this range can be switched to 50 percent or more carbohydrates, about 30 percent protein and about 20 percent or less fat, depending on the food choices.
Cycling calories is also possible during a carbohydrate cycle, but it could be a challenge – keep in mind that on a fat loss diet, your calories are already minimal. Lowering them more to get more calories on a high day can break your diet if you’re not careful. Too few calories can also have the opposite effect on your fat burning!
Tip: Instead of driving both calories and carbs, choose one or the other. When it gets too much to be so strict with your calories and carbs, instead of cycling, consider one post-feeding day per week when both calories and carbohydrates are uploaded. Opt for a calorie gain of around 10 percent and use the macro ratios above for high carbohydrate levels. This gives you some satisfaction in one day a week and still is an effective fat burning diet.
4. What should I eat on high and low days?
What you eat on both days shouldn’t change so much or be different from any other fat loss diet that focuses on building or maintaining muscle. On low and high carbohydrate days, consider using some of the following methods:
Natural whey protein
Extra lean ground beef
Non-fat Greek yogurt
Non-fat cottage cheese
Natural nut butters
Tip: Any diet you use must be full of good things – the fresh, healthy, natural foods and free from processed foods. A carbohydrate cycle shouldn’t be an excuse to have a high-carbohydrate day full of junkie carbs! Instead, focus on the proportions of the foods you are eating.
Thomas DE et al. Carbohydrate Feeding Before Exercise: Effect of the Glycemic Index. Int J Sports Med. 1991. 12 (2): 180-6.