Introduction to Carb Cycling
What Is Carb Cycling: How to Do It + Meal Planner for body recomposition.
Carbohydrates, or carbs for short, are a divisive subject in nutrition.
Depending on who you read or what you choose to believe, you must avoid carbs at all costs, or they are the most essential of the food groups!
It’s no wonder so many people are carb confused!
The thing is, carbs are neither good nor bad.
They have their uses, benefits, and drawbacks.
Most people should avoid nutritional extremes like eating too much or too little carbohydrate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t manipulate your intake to achieve specific effects.
Manipulating your carb intake is called carb cycling.
What is Carb Cycling?
Most diets recommend precise amounts of carbs.
For the ketogenic diet, dieters must keep their intake to less than 50 grams of carbs per day.
For the standard American diet, carbs make up 60% of your daily calorie intake.
Other diets specify anywhere between 20-70%.
The main thing that all of these approaches have in common is that your carb intake remains stable and doesn’t change.
With carb cycling, your carb intake fluctuates from one day to the next.
You may even eat mostly low carb meals and just one higher carb meal per day.
Cycling your carb intake means you can harness this crucial food group while avoiding any potential drawbacks.
Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling for Fat Loss – Carb Cycling 101
Is Carb Cycling Good for Fat Loss and Muscle Gain?
The simple answer to this question is yes – it is.
Whatever your body composition goals are, carb cycling can help.
Your body uses carbs for energy.
When you eat carbohydrates, they break down into glucose and then:
- Used for instant energy
- Stored in your muscles for later (in the form of glycogen)
- Converted to and stored as fat (another form of energy)
While instant energy and glycogen are “good” effects of eating carbs, most people want to avoid gaining fat.
By manipulating your carb intake, you can enjoy the energy-boosting effect of eating carbs while avoiding any potential fat gain issues.
For gaining muscle, this means eating more carbs on training days, when you need energy for workouts, and less carbohydrate on the days when you are resting, and when unused, carbs could end up converting into fat.
Carb cycling is also useful for fat loss.
High carb days ensure your glycogen stores are topped up so you have the energy you need to work out, while low carb days avoid the carb overload that could otherwise interfere with fat burning.
What Foods Can You Eat When Carb Cycling?
You can divide the food you eat into three nutrient groups, formally called the macronutrients, or macros for short.
The three macros are:
Most carb cycling approaches keep your protein and fat intake constant, so all you need to do is adjust your carb intake according to your chosen eating plan.
To do this, you need to know what foods count as carbohydrates.
Carbs are the most abundant food source in most diets, and there are lots of different carbohydrate-rich foods.
The most apparent sources you’ll need to consider (and manipulate) are:
- Potatoes and other starchy vegetables
- Fruit, especially bananas
- Breakfast cereals
- Baked goods
- Processed foods
On a high carb day, you can eat carbs in abundance, but on low carb days, these are foods you’ll need to cut back on.
You don’t need to eliminate carbs, but you will need to deemphasize them in the short term and eat more protein and healthy fats.
Not sure where to start?
There is a sample one-week carb cycling meal plan at the end of this article.
Is Carb Cycling Safe?
Some diets are safer than others, and carb cycling can be as healthy as it is useful.
However, to make it as safe as possible, here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Don’t binge on carbs on your high carb days – overeating carbohydrate could cause digestive upsets.
- Focus on quality carbs – oats, brown rice, veggies, and potatoes are excellent choices, candy, soda, and processed foods are not.
- Drink plenty of water – when your body converts carbs into glycogen for storage, it also stores water. Make sure you drink plenty of hydrating fluids to avoid things like headaches and cramps.
- Start slowly – start by making small adjustments to your carb intake to see how your body responds. If carb cycling makes you feel unwell, it may not be the right approach for you.
- Take it easy on your low carb days – being overly active on your low carb days will use your carbs up before they can be converted to and stored as glycogen.
- It could also mean you don’t have as much energy as you need. Take it easy on your lower carb days to get the most of carb cycling.
Guru Mann – How To Carb Cycle for Fat Loss
How to Calculate Your Carb Cycling Macros
If carb cycling has one drawback, it is this; it can involve lots of weighing, measuring, and calculating.
For some people, this is a real drawback!
The good news is you can use cheap or free food tracking apps to do all the math for you, and you can even carb cycle without doing any weighing or measuring.
In terms of macro ratios, most people should stick to these numbers:
High carbs days:
- Carbs: 2-3 grams per pound of body weight
- Protein: 1 gram per pound of body weight
- Fat: 0.25 grams per pound of body weight
Low carb days:
- Carbs: 0.25 grams per pound of body weight
- Protein 1-1.25 grams per pound of body weight
- Fat: 0.5 grams per pound of body weight
Alternatively, you can consume about 50-60% of your calories from carbs on high-carb days, and then cut it down to 15-20% of carbs on your low carb days.
While both of these approaches can work, they are quite labor-intensive, which is why many people just eat “regular” amounts of carbs on high carb days and purposely reduce their carb intake on their lower carb days.
That’s the approach you will find in the sample meal plan below.
How to Do Carb Cycling
To cycle your carbs successfully, you should align your diet to your activity levels.
Ideally, your high carb days should fall on the days you do high-intensity exercise, and your low carb days should fall on the days you rest or only do light training sessions, such as easy cardio, yoga, or go for a walk.
How many high or low carb days should you have?
- Monday – high carb (train)
- Tuesday – high carb (train)
- Wednesday – low carb (rest day)
- Thursday – high carb (train)
- Friday – high carb (train)
- Saturday – low carb (rest day)
- Sunday – high carb (train)
But, if you are mostly sedentary, or want to lose weight more than you want to build muscle, you may find that more low carb than high carb days works best.
- Monday – low carb
- Tuesday – low carb
- Wednesday – high carb
- Thursday – low carb
- Friday – low carb
- Saturday – high carb
- Sunday – low carb
Choose the approach that you think will work best for you and then modify it based on your results.
If you aren’t gaining muscle, consider adding more carbs to each day or even having an extra high carb day per week.
Alternatively, if you aren’t losing body fat fast enough, reduce your daily carb intake or have fewer high carb days per week.
Body Recomposition – How to Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time
Sample One Week Carb Cycling Meal Plan
So, what can you expect to eat on a carb cycling diet plan?
Here’s an overview of a typical week.
Adjust the quantities to match your macronutrient and calorie needs, and also feel free to make food substitutions as necessary.
For example, if you don’t like pasta, you can use rice instead.
Monday – high carb
Snack: Rice cakes, tuna pouch, mayonnaise
Lunch: Turkey salad sandwich
Snack: Pita and hummus
Dinner: Baked potato, steak, green beans
Tuesday – high carb
Breakfast: Pancakes, grilled bacon or smoked salmon, maple syrup, pomegranate juice
Snack: Cereal bar
Lunch: Chicken and vegetable stir fry with brown rice
Snack: Trail mix
Dinner: Chicken, turkey or veggie burger, baked sweet potato wedges, side salad
Wednesday – low carb
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, grilled mushrooms, tea or coffee
Snack: Beef jerky
Lunch: Large tuna salad, a small serving of quinoa
Snack: Peanut butter, sliced apple
Dinner: Grilled chicken breast, oven-roasted vegetables
Thursday – high carb
Breakfast: Oatmeal, chopped dried apricots, orange juice, protein shake
Snack: Banana, natural yogurt, raw honey
Lunch: Deli meat or cheese sandwich
Snack: Bagel chips and salsa dip
Dinner: Grilled lamb chops, mashed potatoes, peas
Friday – low carb
Breakfast: Poached eggs, turkey bacon, grilled tomatoes, tea/coffee
Snack: Protein shake
Lunch: Lasagna made with sliced zucchini instead of pasta sheets
Snack: Guacamole and carrot sticks
Dinner: Grilled fish and roasted mixed vegetables
Saturday – low carb
Breakfast: Avocado stuffed with cheese and wrapped in turkey
Snack: Nuts and string cheese
Lunch: Large salad with roasted chicken and sundried tomatoes
Snack: Turkey jerky
Dinner: Stir-fried chicken and mixed vegetables wrapped in lettuce leaves
Sunday – high carb day
Breakfast: Eggs, bacon, hash browns, sprouted grain toast, jam, and orange juice
Snack: Two medium-sized bananas
Lunch: Baked potato, grilled tuna steaks, and a mixed raw salad
Snack: Natural yogurt, granola, raw honey
Dinner: Pasta carbonara, garlic bread, side salad
Remember, this is not a diet you have to follow.
It’s just an example meal plan of what you could eat on a carb cycling diet.
Make sure you create or follow a plan that matches your dietary needs, likes, and dislikes.
That’s the beauty of carb cycling – it’s so flexible!
Carb Cycling for Vegetarians and Vegans
Can vegetarians and vegans do carb cycling?
But you’ll need to make some adjustments to your diet to make it work.
Adjusting your carb intake presents no additional issues as most high-carb foods are also plant-based.
However, getting enough protein without adding to your carbohydrate load is a little trickier because many staple plant-based proteins are also high in carbs.
That’s not an issue on high carb days but makes things a little trickier on low carb days.
If you prefer to follow a plant-based diet, replace the animal proteins in the meal plan with any of these low-carb plant-based protein foods:
- Peanut butter
- Almond butter
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Plant-based milk, e.g., unsweetened almond milk
- Vegan dairy products, e.g., cashew nut cheese and almond milk yogurt
- Beyond Meat plant-based meat substitutes
- Plant-based protein powders and bars
Nimai Delgado – What A Vegan Pro Bodybuilder Eats In a Day
What Is Carb Cycling – Final Thoughts
Whether you want to lose weight, burn fat, or build muscle mass, alternating between high carb and low carb days can help.
By adjusting the amount of carbs you eat to reflect your body composition and exercise goals, you can enjoy the benefits of eating carbs while avoiding most of the drawbacks.
Very low carb diets can work, but a lot of people end up craving carbs. Cravings often lead to binges and weight gain.
With carb cycling, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods, and that means you should find this eating plan more comfortable to live by in the long run.
The key to successful weight loss and muscle gain is long term compliance.
The carb cycling method does require discipline and organization but also means you don’t have to quit carbs forever, which makes it an excellent diet for longer periods of time.
Now that you know what carb cycling is and how to do it, you still need to have additional tools for weight loss and body transformation.
Everyone is different, so while carb cycling might work for some, it might not work for you.
Ultimately, you are the scientist for your body, and that requires experimentation to find what eating plan best fits your lifestyle.
Use these two free guides on How to Lose 20 Pounds in 3 Months Using 5 Simple Steps and a 12 Week Deadlift Program for Beginners in Fitness or Powerlifting.
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