Carb cycling for beginners
In this article, I will be talking about the whys and hows of a typical carb cycling diet, provide you with a carb cycling meal plan as well as a carb cycling calculator that I have used with great success.
Why carb cycle? What is carb-cycling?
Carb cycling is great for most people who do not possess freakish insulin sensitivity. What carb cycling is, is basically increasing and decreasing carbohydrate intake during the course of a week.
The reason for carb cycling is that while carbs are great for people who weight train, it can also potentially pile on body fat if not put on a leash. I will not go into a detailed explanation here, but it is basically due to the hormone, insulin, which is released in response to increased blood sugar levels. This hormone is a double edged-sword, as it is both muscle-building, but also potentially fat-storing.
The premise of a carb cycling diet is that carbohydrates are not essential, and serve to 1) replenish muscle glycogen and 2) blunt muscle catabolism.
Carb cycling results will vary from person to person and is also dependent on the exact macronutrient ratio. It also depends on what goals you are trying to achieve, be it strength/size or fat loss. Keeping this in mind, you should refrain from comparing your results with those of others.
How to carb cycle?
A caveat on carb cycling: do not be too concerned with how these numbers are arrived at. They are only estimates and provide something for you to start with. The success of any diet is ultimately dependent on adjustments made along the way.
To calculate the macronutrients, use this carb cycling calculator:
Using myself as a 200lbs example, and I wish to gain mass:
- Maintenance + 400 for the high days à (17×200) + 400 = 3800 calories
- Determine your protein needs on low, medium and high carb days, which is 1.2, 1.1, and 1g per lb of bodyweight respectively
- Determine your low, medium and high carb needs, which is 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5g per lb of bodyweight respectively
- Full up the remaining calories with fat
|Monday||Chest & Back||300/200/200||3800|
|Tuesday||Arms & Delts||100/200/240||3160|
|Thursday||Chest & Back||300/200/200||3800|
|Friday||Arms & Delts||100/200/240||3160|
First of all, you may notice that there is a huge difference between the high and low days. However, if you average out the intake on low, medium and high days, it is 3500 calories which is still 100 over maintenance. This is generally a good starting point as you want to see how your body responds to a particular calorie intake before you make adjustments.
Second, the allocation of high, medium and low carb days. The amount of carbs you take in should be a reflection of training volume, i.e. sets x reps. That said, 10×10 on squats will not require as much carbs as 10×10 on curls. Ultimately, it is up to your good judgement to decide.
Apart from macronutrient ratio, I believe that the timing of carbs is somewhat helpful. I like pre-workout and post-workout meals to have the majority of carbs, and the rest can be interspersed throughout the day, with the exception of breakfast. Breakfast should preferably have 0 carbs to optimize insulin sensitivity.
Because you are allocated quite a generous amount of fat, you can and should consume the fattier cuts of meats. Eggs are also a great source of protein and fat. However, the allowance of fat should not be an excuse to go on a fried food frenzy. While you may not see the negative effects of junk food on your body composition, it will reflect itself in your health and blood work.
A carb cycling meal plan would look like this:
Meal 1: Eggs, bacon
Meal 2 (preworkout): Oatmeal, peanut butter, whey
Meal 3 (postworkout): Lean protein, rice, rice cereals
Meal 4: Pasta, sauce with 80/20 beef
Meal 5: Rice, ribeye
Meal 6: Toast, peanut butter, casein
Here comes the hands-on part of carb cycling: adjustments. As I have mentioned, adjusting a diet is key to its success. After all, what works for me may not work for you. Below are a few possible adjustments for you to make, and when you should make such adjustments:
|Increase carbs||– Increased training volume
– Need for more calories; bodyweight is stalled
– Feeling “flat”; no pumps in the gym
– Regression on lifts
|Increase fats||– Need for more calories; bodyweight is stalled|
|Decrease carbs||– Reduced training volume
– Need for more calories; wish to drop more bodyfat- Feeling bloated; holding water
– Lifts are improving steadily
|Decrease fats||– Need for reduced calories to resume weight loss|
But when should you prioritize what? For fat loss, I like to reduce fat first, as it is possible that carb restriction at beginning stages of dieting can be unnecessary and hinder performance in the gym. For mass gain, I like to increase fat first as I personally do not respond well to high carbohydrate intakes, and I would risk increased fat gain by increasing carb intake.
That said, how a carb cycling diet should work in the long run is that you will need to establish the maximum amount of carbs tolerable before you start adding on body fat. The benefits of carb intake should always outweigh its cons. That is the goal of a carb cycling diet.