Carb Cycling for Fat Loss
Carb Cycling for Fat Loss
There’s never been a more talked about and intriguing diet fresh on the minds of fat loss fanatics and fitness junkies than carb cycling. Unlike other diet trends that pop up out of no where then quietly fade into obscurity, the voodoo surrounding carb cycling has been running strong since the turn of the millennium.
Whether you’re looking to shred down for a bikini contest or photo shoot, or you just want to stay moderately lean while adding some grade A beef to your frame, carb cycling can be a very effective route.
If structured correctly.
The problem is that carb cycling is a very general term and only refers to one macro. You still have to plug in proteins & fats into the equation.
And this is where things get dicey for carboholics & those with carbophobias.
Their emotions are pulling them in one direction and their feeble understanding is tugging them in the other direction. So they don’t follow any set program and just wing it meal to meal and throw in a pizza on their off day and boast to their cronies they’re carb cycling.
Carb Crazy Conundrum
The way carb cycling works is that after a few days of “low” carbs, your muscle glycogen stores become depleted and your body is more likely to tap into body fat stores for fuel. Then you toss in a cheat day of ice cream, brownies or cookies which will fill back up your depleted muscle bellies and rev up your dwindling metabolism thus resulting in more fat loss.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Here are some common mistakes the amateur carb cycler tends to make:
1) Going too low in carbs or too low for too long. This results in muscle loss and loss of appetite.
2) Overdosing on protein.
3) Eating junk food for carbs instead of nutritious healthy carbs on the high carb days.
4) Not eating enough, if any cruciferous, leafy green & multi-colored fibrous vegetables on low carb days
5) Only eating very low or very high carb days and leaving out moderate carb days
6) Attempting weight training days on their lowest carb days and using rest days for their high carb-cheat days.
My First Crack at Carb Cycling
Back in 2001 I followed my first ever carb cycling diet in prep for a photo shoot. It was also the very first time I followed a specific number of macros per day. I followed it for 40 days and dropped between 4-5 lbs of body fat. Up until that point I’d never tallied up my macros before each meal.
That’s why I have to chuckle at these foppish newbies who hash tag #IIFYM or #flexibledieting as if they’re privy to some esoteric pursuit. I was blazing new trails in the fat loss frontier while you were sucking on your baby bottle and pooping in your pampers, junior.
At the time, an old school body builder friend of mine showed me a carb cycle program that one of the Mr. Olympia competitors allegedly used that year to win 1st place. I fell victim to the same delusional mindset as newbies still do today. I thought that if a program works for a top tier juice head that it was certainly good enough for me.
The only difference was I didn’t pay $800 for it like youngsters would today.
Day Protein Carbs Fats
#1 1 1.5 .25
#2 1.5 .5 .25
#3 1.5 .5 .25
#4 1 2 .25
Do not attempt to follow this program. Trust me, it won’t work for you. I am listing it as an example to demonstrate it’s flaws.
Here’s how it worked.
I multiplied each macro number x my body weight and that was the number of grams I ate per day.
I weighed myself every week and then adjusted my macros accordingly for the next week to fit my new body weight.
I followed the program for 5 weeks and weighed 221 when I started it and 216 on the day of the shoot. I would guesstimate I probably lost between 4-5 lbs of body fat during the 5 week period and a couple pounds of water the last 2 days prior to the shoot. I was happy with my success on it at the time because my previous eating program was a haphazard attempt at eating “clean” with out weighing or measuring anything.
Looking back 15 years later, most of my success had to do with the fact that it was the first time in my life I actually followed a set macro profile and carb cycling. Plus, being a young ex-college football player, injury free and a blast furnace metabolism.
Days #2 and #3 were way too low carbs & fats (for a meso-ecto like myself) and too high in protein for me since I was already under 8% body fat when I started the program. Had I swapped 50 g of protein for 50 g of carbs I think I would have felt much better.
Keep in mind that this raw macro breakdown was flawed in many ways and at best was designed to be used acutely to get a muscled up steroid user ripped for the stage, not to lose a few pounds or sustain over the long haul.
This program never would have been effective for a female who is predisposed to high body fat and high estrogen levels (endomorph) because of the double body weight in grams of carbs that fell every 4th day. In fact even the one and a half x body weight in grams of carbs would be way too high and only marginally ineffective for a genetically gifted-naturally buff person (mesomorph) or hard gainer or skinny-fat individual (ectomorph).
I mean can you imagine a 45 y/o 5’5 160 lb woman eating 320g of carbs every 4th day and 240g of carbs every 3rd day?
It also didn’t take into account the daily activity level.
One of my program design principles is to always integrate the daily eating intake with the daily activity level for maximum effectiveness. When you match the energy expenditure with the energy intake for the day you can maximize fat loss and better preserve muscle mass. Having an even energy-balance for the day can also better utilize nutrient partitioning and stoke your metabolism.
Here is the daily hierarchy for carb placement:
Total Body Lifting > Lower Body Lifting > Upper Body Lifting > Cardio > Rest
So what this means is that the day(s) of the week that have your highest carb intake should be matched up with the day you perform total body weight lifting. If you don’t train the entire body on any single day then match your high carb day up with the day you perform lower body weight training.
Your second highest carb day should be on the days you train upper body or cardio and your lowest carb days should be on your rest day.
Cycling Protein & Fat’s Too
People get too caught up in the whole voodoo surrounding carbohydrates and forget about the importance of proteins and fats in the carb cycle equation.
Basically the lower the carbs the higher the fats and protein should be, but only a slight increase in protein on the low carb days.
Protein should always have a low ceiling weather in a mass phase, cutting phase or contest prep phase. The naive populous believe that their protein macros never get stored as body fat and somehow magically increase fat burning.
“How do you know what people think about protein you jerk!?”
Anytime someone signs up with me and they list their current eating on their evaluation – every single time they are guilty of overdosing on the “P” word.
That’s why even on your lowest carb days I wouldn’t even raise your protein more than 10g-20g depending on your size. So someone who weighs 115 might add an extra 2oz of lean protein on their low carb days (not per meal, per day) and someone who weighs 200+ would add an extra 4oz of lean protein on their low carb days.
Instead I prefer to raise the fats by an extra table sp or 1/2 avocado a couple times a day. So although the high carbs days will be your highest kilo calorie days they’re not going to be significantly higher in total kcals than your low carb days.
Somatotype & Body Type Specific Carbs
The most influential factor in the carb cycle design process is your somatotype. In fact the high carb day for an endomorph would still be lower than the low carb days for an ectomorph.
This is why somatotype identification is so vital to the design of any eating pattern but especially a carb cycle program for two reasons:
1) Carbs are fluctuated the most of any other macro
2) Carbs evoke the most insulinogenic response
“But I’ve got hypothyroidism and can’t lose fat no matter how much cardio I do and carbs blow me up. How can I eat carbs?”
I’m already two steps ahead.
I’m listed macro placement based on your somatotype here. So find the body type that best matches yours and you’ll have a general template to start from.
Here’s a basic starting point to set up the structure of your very own carb cycle.
Day Carb Level Activity Level
1 moderate Total Body Lifting (low reps)
2 low 15 minute Cardio
3 moderate Total Body Lifting (mod reps)
4 low Rest
5 High Total Body Lifting (high reps)
6 moderate 15 min cardio
7 low Rest
Now go cycle your carbs,
just don’t forget about your protein and fats too.