Diets: Carb Cycling is it the secret to getting lean and big? *
oatmeal and cinnamon bun ETB
Carb Cycling 101
By Chris Powell
Carb cycling is the foundation of what I do every day and with every client. It works! I’m going to introduce you to the basics of carb cycling and the four different carb cycling plans—Easy, Classic, Turbo, and Fit—as well as 9-Minute Missions, which work in combination with carb cycling for optimal weight loss results.
First up, the carb cycling basics.
What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is an eating plan with alternating high-carb and low-carb days. It’s that simple. It also has built-in reward days or reward meals (depending on the plan you’re following), so you can still eat your favorite foods on a regular basis. Sounds pretty much perfect, right? You can eat healthy foods, enjoy foods you love, and still lose weight.
While each plan has a different mix of high-carb and low-carb days, each day works basically the same:
Eat five meals—no more, no less.
Eat a high-carb breakfast that includes both protein and carbs within 30 minutes of waking.
Eat your remaining 4 meals—either high-carb or low-carb, depending on the plan you’re following—every 3 hours.
Drink a gallon of water.
How does it work?
In order to lose weight, our bodies need the right combination of proteins, carbs, and healthy fats. Here’s why:
Protein builds and maintains muscles and these muscles burn calories like an inferno. Protein also breaks down more slowly than carbs and fat, which burns even more calories and helps you feel fuller longer.
Carbs are the preferred fuel source for your muscles and organs, and they come in healthy versions (vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes), and not-so-healthy versions (cakes, cookies, soda, doughnuts, candy, and many processed foods). Healthy carbs are also crucial for burning calories, and since they break down more slowly than those not-so-healthy carbs, they keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady, and they also keep your calorie-burning furnace hot so it burns more calories!
Healthy fats (unsaturated fats) eaten in moderation help the development and function of your eyes and brain and help prevent heart disease, stroke, depression, and arthritis. Healthy fats also help keep your energy levels steady and keep you from feeling hungry.
So why do we alternate high-carb and low-carb days in carb cycling? On high-carb days you’re stocking your calorie-burning furnace so that on low-carb days your furnace burns fat, and lots of it! This pattern tricks your metabolism into burning a lot of calories, even on those low-carb days. It’s an amazing and well-proven process.
What are the benefits?
Carb cycling has many benefits:
It fits any lifestyle.
You’ll learn how to shed weight and body fat, and how to make smart lifestyle choices for the rest of your life. This puts YOU in control.
You’ll feel better and have more energy.
You’ll eat the foods you love.
You’ll build lean, strong muscles.
You’ll be empowered physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
We’ve touched briefly on carb cycling. Learn more about my four Carb Cycling plans to find your ideal one and let’s get cycling!
Carb Cycling: The Turbo Cycle
If you want to shed those extra pounds extra fast, the Turbo Cycle is for you. Of the four carb cycles, this cycle takes off weight the fastest. Unlike the Easy and Classic cycles, which alternate low and high-carb days, the Turbo Cycle pits two low-carb days against every high-carb day. That means you’ll burn fat two days in a row before your body’s furnace (metabolism) is re-stoked on your high-carb day, and you’ll lose weight really, really fast!
Even though the Turbo Cycle has an extra low-carb day as compared to the Easy and Classic cycles, it is not a calorie-restricted cycle. Women should not consume fewer than 1,200 calories a day, and men should not consume fewer than 1,500 calories a day. And since you’ll have two low-carb days in a row, you may feel less energetic on the second low-carb day. But this is okay. These low-carb days are powerful weight-loss accelerators!
Here’s what a Turbo Cycle week looks like:
Here’s another sample
All that above is fine and dandy! But how do we calculate it and personally apply it?
If you have the goal of getting six-pack abs, one of the most important things you can do to achieve this is to take a very close look at your diet program. If you aren’t eating properly, it’s going to be very hard to get down to the lower levels that are required for six pack abs, thus full results will be unlikely.
Often, the standard lower calorie diet will get you down to a level of body fat where you can see the top two abs fairly clearly, but it won’t be enough to get you the full six-pack abs that you’re really looking for. To obtain that level of definition, you have to step up your diet game and really push hard for maximum results.
Usually, this will come in the form of carbohydrate cycling. Since protein requirements really cannot be lowered as you progress along with the diet (they in fact should be increased if anything), the only two options you have are to decrease fats or decrease carbohydrates. Typically fats are already low themselves, so this leaves carbohydrates.
Let’s go over the most common carb cycling approach used, which is where you will place higher carbohydrate days on your heaviest training days and then lower carb days on off/low-intensity training days.
One Of The Most Important Things You Can Do To
Achieve Six-Pack Abs Is To Take A Close Look At Your Diet.
Figuring Out Weekly Calorie Balance:
Because the calories you consume over the course of each day during the week is going to vary when you carbohydrate cycle, you should be instead using the weekly calorie balance as an indication of how many you need for weight loss.
When aiming to get down to the very low levels of body fat required for six-pack abs, expect to go down to about eight or nine calories per pound of body weight. Some individuals won’t need to go quite this low, but for most it will be a requirement.
So what you’ll do is take your current bodyweight in pounds and multiply by nine (always start at the highest point and work your way down as you need).
Let’s say right now you’re 150 pounds. This gives you an average intake of 1350 calories per day (150 X 9), or 9450 calories per week.
You Should Be Using The Weekly Calorie Balance
As An Indication Of How Many You Need For Weight Loss.
View The Carb Cycling Calculator Here.
Figuring Out Your Daily Calorie Balance:
Now that you have your weekly calorie requirement, you can use this to formulate your daily calorie balance. For best results you’ll want to make your high carb days quite high and your low carb days very low.
This is to really trick the metabolism into thinking you aren’t dieting at all on your higher carbohydrate days to prevent it from slowing down, as well as to provide the fuel the body needs when exercising at such a high intensity.
All of this said, you do have protein requirements you must meet. Let’s set your protein requirements at 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. This is a very good number to use when really aiming to reach maximum leanness since the additional protein will both spare lean muscle mass and help keep you feeling satisfied.
So you have 150 pounds times 1.5 grams of protein per day, which equals 225 grams of protein. This then works out to an even 900 calories (225 X 4 calories/gram of protein).
For Best Results You’ll Want To Make Your High Carb Days Quite High And Your Low Carb Days Very Low.
Low Carbohydrate Days:
On your low carbohydrate days, you’re going to limit yourself to eating mostly protein with a very small amount of dietary fat as well as incidental carbohydrates – those found in vegetables or the carbs that come along with your protein source (such as with cottage cheese for instance).
So we take your protein requirements of 900 calories per day and add roughly 200 more calories to this, for a total daily intake of 1100 calories.
Be aware that these days aren’t exactly going to be easy, but you’re going to get great results if you can push through them – plus your non-diet days will feel that much better.
Higher Carbohydrate Days:
Next, the number of calories you have on your higher carbohydrate days will depend on how many days of training you’re planning.
On a diet such as this, a full body workout program tends to work quite well because it will hit the muscles with a maximum frequency (which is good from a lean muscle retention viewpoint) but will still provide plenty of time to rest to prevent overtraining on your reduced calorie intake.
You can choose an upper and lower body split instead, but be aware that this will mean more high carbohydrate days with fewer low carbohydrate days. That will not influence your weekly calorie balance since we’ve already pre-determined that, but it will mean lower calories on each training day.
Let’s use a full body workout performed three days a week as an example. So out of your total weekly calorie requirements (9450), you have used up 4400 calories (1100 calories X the four days you aren’t lifting weights). This leaves you with a total of 5050 calories to spread out over those three training days (about 1680 calories).
Since we aren’t restricting calories nearly as much on these days, you can decrease your protein intake slightly to 1.2 grams per pound on those days, meaning 720 calories will be devoted to protein (1.2 X 150 pounds X 4 cals per gram of protein).
Now you have 980 calories left over. Some of this should be directed towards healthy fat since it is important for overall health, but you do want to keep fat on the lower side since our main objective is to shock the body with all the carbs to stimulate the metabolic rate, restore muscle glycogen, and provide you with more energy.
Reserve approximately 30 grams of fat (bodyweight in pounds X 0.2), so 270 calories worth. Now you have 690 calories left over for carbohydrates (1700 – 720 – 270) – or about 173 grams.
You’ll want to focus the majority of these calories right around the training period since this is when your body needs them the most. Plus by doing so, you’ll find that the rest of the day stays quite similar in terms of meal planning to your low carbohydrate days.
So there you have all the calculations you need to put carbohydrate cycling into full effect. Keep in mind that you may wish to vary these numbers based on your own needs, but this is meant to illustrate to you the overall concept and how you would go about setting it up.
Some individuals also like to work medium carbohydrate days in there as well (used on upper body training days so high carb days are left for lower body training days), but this will make it a bit more complicated since you’ll have more numbers to work with.
Either way, with time and dedication, this type of diet when combined with a solid workout program should get you the results you’re looking for.
1 / High Carb Days Should Be Placed On Your Heavy Training Days
The very first thing you must know as you go about designing this type of diet program is that in order to see your best results, you should be putting your highest carbohydrate diets on the days you perform your hardest workout sessions. For most people, this will mean leg day (or if you’re using a full body workout, it may mean going high carb on all three of those days).
The reason for doing this is simple – the body needs those carbohydrates the most on these days. Having them before you do the workout will help fuel you in the gym so you can work harder and push more weight, and then having the influx of carbohydrates after the workout session will help saturate the muscles with carbohydrate storage (muscle glycogen) and aid with recovery.
Since you want all these carbohydrates to be put to best use on this diet, and have the least likely chance of turning into body fat, this means timing them correctly throughout your week.
2 / Expect To Experience Some Water Weight Gain
Second up on the list of ‘musts’ that you need to know, and be prepared for, is that you will very likely experience some water weight gain when doing the higher carbohydrate day. For every gram of carbohydrate you take into the body, you’ll store four grams of water with this. If you’re eating 200-300 grams of carbohydrates on those high carb days, this adds up very quickly.
Those who are leaner tend to experience this effect the greatest because at that point, any water weight gain is highly noticeable. Try not to let yourself get too alarmed over this. It’s a normal process and is not fat gain. Within a day back on your regular low-carbohydrate plan you should notice this recede.
If you’re someone who really struggles psychologically with weight fluctuations (and how you appear in the mirror), this very well could mean carbohydrate cycling is not for you. It is a side effect of this type of plan, and therefore something for which you must absolutely prepare yourself.
3 / Choose Carbohydrates Highest In Glucose Or Complex Carbs
When it comes to food selection while performing a carb cycling fat-loss diet, you want to think glucose. Either simple glucose sources (preferably around the workout period when they are absorbed quickest) or complex carbohydrates that will break down into glucose.
What you want to avoid here is fructose (such as high-fructose corn syrup), as this type of carbohydrate will behave differently in the body and won’t have the same benefits as glucose does. If you were to intake a large amount of fructose on your high carbohydrate days, there is a much greater chance some of this may get converted into body fat gains since it won’t get stored in the muscles as readily.
4 / Decrease Fat Intake On High Carbohydrate Days
Another important thing to remember as you go about your carb cycling diet is that you should also be decreasing your overall dietary fat intake on days you go high carb. It is normal for most people to increase their overall calories on the high carb day (to boost the carb intake that much higher) but by lowering the fat intake, you allow more room for those carbohydrates without going really crazy with your calorie level.
Ideally, stay within 300-600 calories of your low carbohydrate day intake to prevent the excess calories from canceling out the fat loss for the week unless you are specifically planning to have very low calorie, low carb days (see the example below).
5 / Maintain Your Target Weekly Calorie Level For Fat Loss
The fifth fact to know about carbohydrate cycling, linked to the point above, is that your total weekly calorie intake must remain at what is necessary for overall fat loss. Let’s look at an example.
Let’s say that you currently maintain your body weight at 2200 calories per day or, 15,400 calories per week. This means to lose one pound per week, you must create a calorie deficit (per week) of 3500 calories, or take in just 11,900 calories.
On a standard diet where you maintain the same calorie level on all seven days, this would mean you take in 1700 calories per day (2200-500=1700).
Now, since you are carbohydrate cycling and want your high carbohydrate days to have more calories, you’re going to get a little more fancy with the math.
Let’s say you actually want your high carbohydrate days to be above maintenance (to really boost the benefits that this diet has to offer), and plan to have three high carbohydrate days.
Let’s set those three days at a calorie intake of 2400 (keep in mind protein should stay constant throughout the whole week).
Now, since those three days equate to 7200 calories, this means you have 4700 calories left over for the remaining four days, or about 1200 calories each.
As you can see, those low carbohydrate days are quite low in calories, however, after coming off the higher carbohydrate day most people find this to not be a struggle.
If you’d prefer not to bring your low carbohydrate days that low in overall calories, simply adjust the total calorie intake on the high carbohydrate days slightly downwards. That will give you more calories for those low carb days. For example, you might do three high carbohydrate days at 2000 calories and four low carbohydrate days at 1500. As you can see, this stays within the 300-600 range better that was described in the point above.
It’s all about balance – make sure your weekly intake is where it needs to be and distribute the calories from there based on your set-up preferences.
So there you have it — all the information you need to know to get started with carbohydrate cycling. It does tend to be a superior form of diet for those who are really looking to maintain workout performance and prevent weight loss plateaus from occurring.
Just keep in mind that it will require more planning from a meal perspective to make sure you’re following the intakes you have set, so dedicate a little more time out of your day to do this.
Lets see how this works! Stay tuned!
**Update** February 12th 2014
I completed my first week lets see what the scale says, I can see more definition in my arms this week so I’m sure I benefited. However; because I am carbed up the scale might be higher. Idk I am a little nervous!
249lbs I lost a pound! Sweet!!
**Update** February 15th 2014
Another half week down and I’m down another 2lbs! 247lbs 2 more will be 100lbs total loss since my post surgery. And 45lbs in this latest push
**Update** March 19th 2014
My weight is holding around 250, my shoulders have doubled in size since I started carb cycling and my bodyfat is slowly still dropping.
Seems to be working, I have just increased my healthy fat intake yesterday from just fish oil to fish oil, avocado and extra virgin coconut oil.
Lets see what that does?? Stay tuned for more!