Carb Cycling – What you need to know

Carb cycling is an effective fat loss tool

It involves the manipulation of carbohydrates in one’s diet over a particular period, usually with protein and fat intake remaining the same. This generally means that a person is also calorie cycling as the days where more carbohydrates are consumed, more calories are also being consumed. While carb-cycling is great for a short-term fat loss strategy it can also be used effectively for lean muscle gain ie gaining quality muscle mass slowly without excess, if any, fat gain.

As mentioned carb cycling is a short-term strategy

and should only really be implemented for those who have already lost a fair amount of fat. Wanting to get rid of that last bit of stubborn fat or work through a weight loss plateau. The body can function reasonably well for extended periods of calorie restriction. But not so when restricting calories and carbohydrates simultaneously.

For the sake of fat-loss a person would follow a low carb/low calorie plan so that their energy consumption is less than their energy expenditure – this is the only way one can expect to lose fat.

Often carbohydrates are targeted for manipulation because carbohydrates are the bodies main energy source

With carbs being broken down into glucose to be used as a fuel for the body to function – take away the carbs and the body needs to find an alternative fuel source such as stored fat. Consumption of excess fat and carbohydrates causes fat gain. And dependency on insulin spiking simple sugars. The less carbohydrates we consume the less we need or crave because our blood sugar levels remain more constant. This can also help ward off cravings or binges due to radical fluctuations in blood glucose levels.

But staying low carb for too long can alter key fat loss hormones

And affect the thyroid, slowing down or even halting fat loss. Another fault with long term carbohydrate restriction is that it is not sustainable – that is where carb cycling can prove beneficial. Planning the way in which you consume your carbohydrates can help. Like on more intense training days vs non-training days or lighter training days can help restore some balance to your hormones. To get you back on track with your fat loss efforts.

As mentioned one would typically cycle their calories when doing a carb cycling plan. Because their protein and fat intake remains the same with higher or lower carb intake on certain days. Another method of carb cycling involves simultaneous fat cycling whereby fat intake is lowered on higher carb days and visa versa. While this sounds somewhat complicated the important thing to remember is that a persons’ total caloric intake needs to remain in a deficit to produce fat loss.

If all we need for fat loss is a calorie deficit, why cycle carbohydrate intake?

Carb cycling can improve your energy levels by keeping your body fuelled for high volume training days. Thus allowing it to burn stored fat for fuel on low volume or rest days. It can also help maintain muscle mass while going through long periods of dieting. And bring back your mental mojo when dieting is taking its toll. Correct manipulation of carbohydrates can also restore hormone balance and improve insulin sensitivity. So lets look at some possible methods for carb cycling that you could implement.

Low carb with infrequent ‘carb up’ days usually every 1-2 weeks – ensuring you maintain that calorie deficit.

This method is used to try help restore hormonal imbalances, boost ones’ psychological state and break plateaus. Although it does not specifically speed up fat loss.

Low carb, medium carb and high carb days

Low carb on rest or low volume days. High carb on high volume training days and moderate carbs on the days between. This method is used to fuel the more intense training days and keep muscles full on moderate days. It also will hopefully maximize the stored fat being burned on rest or less intense training days. With this style of carb cycling a person would either keep protein and fat intake the same or just protein the same and manipulate fat intake as well.

Low carb with planned ‘carb refeeds’

Similar to the infrequent carb up days but instead, the specific day to carb up is scheduled to coincide with a high-volume training day. Or even when training a muscle group that you want to grow, for example legs. This method usually involves low carb days with a planned high carb day, every 3-5 days depending on the training plan.

Which method you chose is entirely up to you and your goals but its important to get the basics of your fat loss plan in place first.

Knowing what your total calorie intake should be is the place to start. Then know what your protein intake should be – from there fats and/or carbohydrates can be manipulated and experimented with. The key things to remember are:

• A calorie deficit needs to be maintained even when carb cycling. It is not a magic trick to produce fat loss if your calorie intake is too high.

• Start with a less aggressive and less complicated strategy and assess your progress as you go along. It might be a simple as a carb up every 1-2 weeks.

• Have a clear training plan from the start so that carb intake can be cycled according to that.

• If terms like keeping your ‘muscles full’ and needing more fuel for ‘higher volume training days’ don’t match your physique goals or your training plan/level of advancement, then carb cycling is not for you.

• Carbohydrates aren’t the enemy and should be used correctly to give your body energy and assist recovery and growth.

Carb cycling is not a new phrase especially in the health, fitness and bodybuilding industry

As time goes on and more research is conducted we learn new methods and new reasons for why the body responds in certain ways. Carb cycling is not magic or some quick overnight fad, it still requires dedication and commitment. And of course, trial and error, to find the right process for you. If your current fat loss plan isn’t working perhaps its time to give carb cycling a try?



Camella Sanders is the owner and founder of Fit Farm Girl. For business inspiration, follow her on IG @camella.sanders

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