For most people, when they consider dieting, the first thing they think to do is to cut carbs. Especially with the Keto craze that’s currently at the top of the latest and greatest diet fads.
What most don’t consider is that a strict daily regimen of low calories or low carbohydrates over any long term; can be tough on not only the body, but your motivation and spirit as well. A possible solution to this problem COULD BE carb cycling.
What is Carb Cycling?
In the simplest of terms, Carb Cycling is planned alteration of carbohydrate intake in order to prevent a fat loss plateau and maintain metabolism along with workout performance. (Ref. PN)
Carb cycling is considered an aggressive, high level nutrition strategy. It is meant to be used short term and should really be used by people whose nutrition adherence is of extreme importance. Carb cycling is not thought to be a long-term solution for body fat management. Using this approach for too long of a period of time, can be downright unfavorable. It’s important to be aware of the effects of short term and long-term carb and calorie restriction.
While most people are able to handle short-term deprivation fairly well, after a while a diet based on low calories and low carbohydrates can be difficult on the body over the long term. Missing a meal here or there or keeping the carbohydrates very low isn’t the end of the world…as long as it is an occasional and brief occurrence.
Some studies even show that short and rather infrequent periods of fasting or carb restriction might actually be an advantage for both health and body composition.
For example, a recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology (Horne et al 2008) noted that occasional and short bouts of fasting (e.g. 24 hours) improved markers of cardiovascular disease.
What you need to know…There are many different methods of carb cycling. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that protein and fat intake stays relatively constant while your carb intake is manipulated. The other thing to remember is that when carb cycling- you’re also usually cycling calorie consumption as well. Since on average, carbs have 4 calories per gram, adjusting your calorie intake while keeping your protein and fat intake the same can really alter your calorie intake.
The days that your carbs (and usually calories also), are increased are known as re-feed days. A re-feed is a planned increase in calorie intake and usually lasts about 8-12 hours. It also usually consists of a decent increase in carb consumption. People who maintain a diet of carb cycling or even intermittent fasting- plan a re-feed, or a break, for psychological relief as well as for physiological benefits. An example of a re-feed is after following a strict diet of 1500kcal 5 days per week, consuming 2500kcal of CLEAN whole foods on the other two days. The additional calories mostly coming from carbohydrates. Keep in mind, since the carbs have been increased, there would be a slight decrease in protein and fat intake.
There are several different ways to go about carb cycling.
One way is to do Infrequent, Big Re-feeds. You up your carb intake every 1-2 weeks during a lower carb intake phase. Another way to practice carb cycling is through Frequent, Moderate Refeeds. You would take in a higher amount of carbs every 3-4 days during a lower carb intake phase. Strategic Carb Cycling is another way to hit it. Strategic carb cycling consists of structuring moderate carb intake around different menus at strategic intervals during a lower carb intake phase. This approach is a little more friendly in that it steers away from an extremely high carb intake because the menu changes regularly…thus making it feel a little less extreme in regard to not going a week or more at a time consuming such low amounts of carbs. It also allows for the metabolism to catch up with dietary intake. Last but not least, Carb Cycling for Muscle Gain. If you’re interested in muscle mass, you’re going to need a calorie surplus. The tough part is if you over consume calories for too long, you’re probably going to gain body fat. One way to gain muscle over fat during a mass building phase is with carb cycling. This tactic is similar to the “strategic carb cycling” approach. With this approach your menu is planned to go off your weekly training schedule in order to create a temporary calorie surplus. This is helpful in assisting with lean muscle mass and strength gains.
While there are several different ways to go about carb cycling, but here are some helpful tips, regardless of which approach you take:
Base the dietary approach on calorie needs and activity levels.
Always pick out the re-feed days in advance.
Stay on course until the re-feed day arrives.
Keep your decisions outcome-based. Different re-feed strategies work better for certain body types. Look at the evidence from your photographs and body composition tests to ensure that you are on the right track.
Try to exercise on the re-feed days for optimal body composition results.
On the re-feed days, the body still tolerates carbohydrates best first thing in the morning and around times when physical activity is high.
Not sure if Carb Cycling is for you?
Are you wondering what nutritional path would be good for you?