Carb cycling, yet another nutrition strategy that finally reached the casual fitness enthusiast after being extensively used by athletes and bodybuilders alike. And it seems like people do find it very useful.
So, what is carb cycling?
The concept is simple. On some days, you keep your carb intake low, and other days you keep it high. Protein and fat intake stay relatively the same each day.
The most common cycle ties closely to your training days. On the days you are resting, carb intake is low. On days that you train, you boost your carb to either moderate or heavy intake respective to moderate or heavy training.
Why carb cycling?
On a weight loss diet, you will typically go months eating at a caloric deficit every single day. The problem with this is that long deficits will ultimately lead to drops in metabolic functions to the point where your initial calorie deficit is now your maintenance and weight loss comes to a halt. Anabolic hormones will drop and catabolic hormones will rise.
Fewer calories are burned, muscle tissue is at a risk of wasting away, and, although fat loss initially rises, it ultimately diminishes as your metabolism drops.
Kind of a crappy position to be in considering that the reason you eat less in the first place is to avoid this exact issue. And that’s when carb cycling comes in.
what is the benefit of carb cycling?
By cycling high surplus carb days into your schedule, you can fend off metabolic slowdown caused by a calorie deficit by theoretically re-setting the catabolic state of the body with the added carbs, and more importantly, added calories, shifting things into an anabolic state.
On top of that, extra carbs mean more glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, providing more energy for your workouts.
Extra insulin will also mean higher amino acid intake to the muscle cells, helping you fend off muscle breakdown.
And bonus points when you train on the same day, because training will boost muscle protein synthesis, meaning the extra carbs and nutrients will promote muscle growth.
Moreover, since you will be going back to a low-carb state very soon, insulin levels will drop and you prevent storing too much fat.
The result is that on rest days, you are maximizing weight and fat loss with a calorie and carbohydrate deficit. On training days, you are maximizing muscle growth with a calorie and carbohydrate surplus.
Although carb cycling sounds like a good strategy, there are a few downfalls. First is the meticulous planning it requires. Every day you have to plan your specific carb intake. This isn’t the easiest thing to do or adhere to if it’s already hard enough to even find time to go to the gym.
Furthermore, there is no concrete evidence that shows significant benefits of carb cycling over other nutrition strategies.
You might be just fine with a re-feed day once or twice a month to normalize the catabolic effects of dieting.