Carb cycling is one of the few techniques in bodybuilding that has nearly all fitness experts industry-wide commenting on its efficacy. Carb cycling is a healthy method of lowering your body fat or can be used to stay lean while bulking.
We’ve put together this short, yet comprehensive, guide to help you discover what carb loading can do for your body, regardless of your personal fitness goals.
We’ll cover meal plan examples and a calculator for those looking to add lean muscle.
What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a simple concept; eat high carbohydrates on some days to aid muscle growth and provide energy, and eat medium/low carbohydrates on other days to aid fat loss.
But I thought carbs are really bad, aren’t they?
No, carbs are not bad for you. Carbs provide more than 60% of the energy required by the body.
Let’s give you a quick primer on the two types of carbs: There are two primary types of carbohydrates:
1: Simple carbs
2: Complex carb
Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars with little nutritional value. Simple carbs are digested very quickly by the body, therefore not providing much effective energy. These kinds of carbs have a high Glycemic index, causing a rapid increase in blood glucose levels and insulin. This is undesirable because it will put your body in fat storage mode and can cause unstable energy levels.
Simple carbs are found in foods such as soft drinks, chocolate, candy, jam, biscuits, and cakes. Processed junk food is high in refined simple carbs, high in calories but very low in nutritional value. Complex carbs have a low Glycemic index and are digested slowly by the body. This results in more stable blood glucose levels and the body is able to make better use of this energy source, avoiding fat storage.
Complex carbohydrates provide a good source of calories, and fiber and are rich in vitamins and minerals. So, no, not all carbs are bad, but it’s beneficial to keep simple carb consumption to a minimum, particularly when on a fat-loss diet.
Choose oats instead of potato chips to not only stay healthy but greatly help with lowering your body fat. Bodybuilder Shelby Starnes said this when describing carb cycling:
By fluctuating macronutrients on a daily basis, we can ensure that performance and muscle building can be optimized on the days when it’s most important, while burning fat on the other days.
How Do I Start Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is performed by planning your carbohydrate consumption based on your lifting routine. High carb days are for days in which you’re pushing yourself to the limits in the gym. High-carb days are reserved for the most physically demanding day of your week. Low-carb days should be your less active or rest days from training to help promote fat loss.
Carb Cycling Calculations
High Carb Days: 2-4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight
Low Carb Days: 0.5-1 gram of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight
Take a look at your calendar right now and create a plan. On days you’re lifting, focus on eating plenty of complex carbohydrates. On rest days or cardio days, keep your carbs to a minimum, focusing on protein. This is the way to go if you want to keep things simple.
The rough numbers above are only estimates, to find the perfect ratio for your body tries experimenting with your own ratios.
What are the Best Foods for Carb Cycling?
There are 2 general rules to finding the appropriate foods to eat while carb cycling:
1: Eat foods high in healthy fats and proteins on low-carb days. i.e. eggs, salad, nuts, olive oil, cottage cheese.
2: Eat foods high in complex carbs and proteins on high-carb days. i.e. oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, chicken breast, potatoes, beans.
Eating “good” carbs and avoiding “bad” carbs is fundamental while following a carb-cycling regimen. The majority of bad carbs are processed, have high sugar content, and contain unwanted preservatives. Good carbs have the following characteristics:
- high concentration of fiber
- Slow and steady digestion
- lower processing
You should include the following items in your carb cycles because they are healthy sources of carbohydrates:
Legumes and Whole Grains
Some of the most beneficial additions to a carb cycling diet are whole grains and legumes. This is primarily because they have a lot of fiber and take a while to digest. They are thus ideal for a dietary plan that involves carb cycling. Oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and quinoa are some examples of entire grains. Beans and lentils of any variety are considered legumes.
Veggies and Fruits with More Fiber
Any meal plan for carb cycling must include fiber. The carbohydrates in fiber are not absorbed by your body, so they pass through you undigested. Due to the fact that it prolongs your feeling of fullness, this can aid in weight loss (9). Fiber can be found in legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Berries, avocados, cabbage, and broccoli are a few examples.
Complex Carbohydrates with a Low GI (GI)
These are often whole-food, slower-digesting carbohydrates rather than refined or processed ones (which are high GI). Additionally, they are rich in nutritive fiber. Pasta, beans, lentils, and rice are a few examples.
Fruits and vegetables low in sugar
Any low-sugar fruit or vegetable can be a healthy part of your carb cycling diet. They won’t result in insulin spikes, which result in the storage of fat, which is the reason behind this. Cauliflower, celery, and cabbage are a few examples.
High Glycemic Index Complex Carbs (GI)
These foods are high GI foods. Though they aren’t ideal for your carb cycling diet (because of insulin surges), they can be useful for kicking off fat burning and keeping you energized at the start or finish of a cycle when you’re cutting. These are essential because they replace your glycogen reserves and give you the energy you need for strenuous exercise or workouts.