Carb cycling is not exclusive to a diet specifically aiming for fat loss. Carb cycling can be used optimally for a maintenance diet, and even utilized on a hypercaloric diet with a focus on gaining lean muscle mass. This is part one of three in my Carbohydrate Cycling Series.
What is Carb Cycling?
Carbohydrate Cycling is a method of dieting used by many bodybuilders, figure, and fitness athletes all over the world to prepare for contests, shows and photo shoots. Carb cycling is not complicated, but I know it can be confusing if one has never attempted or taken the time to learn how they can apply it to their fat loss approach. Simplified, carb cycling is nothing more than varying your day-to-day carbohydrate intake. However, there is a structured approach, and I will explain a way to apply carb cycling to a fat loss diet. There are multiple ways to cycle your carbohydrate intake. The approach I will be discussing is a method I have used, and seen others use with much success.
Carbohydrate Cycling for Fat Loss
As earlier stated, many figure and fitness athletes have gotten into contest shape by using a carb cycling approach for fat loss. So how does this work? With any diet focused on fat loss, there must be a caloric deficit for the desired results to occur. With that in mind, one must be mindful of their expenditure, and be willing to manipulate their food energy to achieve the desired caloric deficit. There are many ways to cycle carbs, but I will just outline a simple method I like to use and that I find very beneficial in terms of fat loss and lean muscle mass retention.
Say my average maintenance calories are about 3000 per day and I want to aim for about 1 pound of fat loss per week. That would mean I need a -500 deficit daily over a 7 day period to yield ~1 pound of fat loss. I would set my protein to at least 1.5grams x body weight, and then adjust my energy calories according to the deficit I was going for on any given day. I would tend to place my higher carb days on my weight training days, and then create a bigger deficit on my rest / cardio days. I also like to have 1 day where I am eating slightly over maintenance. I would usually make sure that I used this particular day to refeed on a day where I was training a weak point on my physique.
So How Would I Set This Up?
My training would consist of 3 non-consecutive days of either an upper/lower split (rotated every week in the ABA BAB setup) or 3 full-body workouts. The volume would be low and strength oriented, training in the 3-6 rep range. I would have 4 total rest days in which I may do some low intensity cardio depending on how active I was on any particular day.
Example of a 200lb man’s approach wanting to achieve ~1 pound of fat loss per week:
Every day he is consuming 1.5xBW in grams protein which equals 300 grams per day.
4 rest days (low carb/calorie)
2 training days (higher carb/calorie)
1 training day (low fat refeed / hypercaloric day)
Rest – Low calorie day (2000 calories)
Training – Higher calorie day (2650 calories)
Training – Refeed day (maintenance calories +500)
A weekly example:
Sunday – rest (low carb/calorie day)
Monday – Upper workout (high carb day)
Tuesday – low intensity steady state cardio (low carb/calorie day)
Wednesday – Lower Workout (high carb day)
Thursday – Rest (low carb/calorie day)
Friday – Upper workout (high carb/refeed day)
Saturday – low intensity steady state cardio (low carb/calorie day)
All of the above is just an example to base numbers off of. To make this protocol work for any individual, all they need to know is their maintenance caloric level and adjust the deficit accordingly.
When I follow this protocol, on the low calorie days I focus on eating lots of green veggies for fiber and satiety. On the higher carb days I tend to eat fruit earlier in the day and focus on starchy carbs around my workouts. On my refeed day, I try to consume the majority of my carbs in the form of starch. On this day I focus on potatoes, rice, pasta and bagels and put the bulk of them in my post workout meal.
Remember, when following any diet in pursuit of fat loss, the overall deficit is the biggest factor in whether one loses weight or not. Consuming adequate amounts of protein and training sensibly will ensure that you retain as much lean body mass as possible.
In part two, I will discuss using a similar approach when on a maintenance diet.