As I’m nearing the end of one of the workout programs I’ve been doing by beachbody, body beast, I’ve been thinking about some of the variety of ways out there to switch up your diet. No, I’m not talking about going on a “diet” where you starve yourself and hit the treadmill for 2 hours in an attempt to lose weight, however harming not only your body, but metabolism along the way, I’m talking about a lifestyle change. I despise the word “diet”! Anything you do to your change your nutritional habits should be maintainable, like, FOREVER! Otherwise you’re only going to end up playing the yo-yo game where you relapse, binge, and end up worse off then when you started.
So there’s a few actually which have peaked my interest in the past little bit, all of which have some rather convincing research and articles to show their effectiveness. I touched on Intermittent Fasting in the past, but didn’t really give it a good go, and more recently have been hearing more and more about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macro’s) and carb cycling.
So, I’ve decided to do some research on carb cycling and have decided I’ll be trying it out over the next, probably 12 weeks after I finish body beast. So, what is it? Well the name kindof explains it, it’s a cycle where you alternate from high carb to low carb days in a constant rotation. I know, we hear SO much about how “carbs are SO bad for you” and how you should avoid them or even do carb free or low carb diets continuously. Well, keep reading to hear why that’s NOT a good idea. Yeah, sure, SOME carbs are bad for you, like cinnamon rolls & donuts, white bread, and sugary foods like many prepackaged breakfast foods such as cereals, oatmeals, etc. These are referred to as simple carbohydrates, and yes, should be limited. What you want, and your body needs, to be consuming is the complex carbohydrates which take longer in the body to be broken down into glucose. These are things such as whole grains, like whole grain pasta, brown rice & beans to name a few. And since they do take longer to be broken down, they’re considered to have a low glycemic index and are less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar levels keeping Type 2 Diabetes under control and helping with your weight loss. So that’s the good carb bad carb talk out of the way, now for why you shouldn’t maintain a constant low carb diet. The above doesn’t really go into why you need carbs, sure, some are good for you, but why not go low carb forever? We do, after all hear SO much about gluten and people being intolerant more and more over the years, and yes, some do have a very real reaction to gluten, but many do it for the fad.
But enough about that, the fact is, your body needs carbohydrates to produce energy. If you’re not fueling your body properly, you risk adverse effects on your metabolism, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. See, carbohydrates, as mentioned above, are broken down in the body into sugars such as glucose. If this is not needed right away for energy, it gets stored in the muscles as glycogen to be used later, you then go and run on the treadmill and lets say burn up all of your stored glycogen. If you don’t replenish these stores, your body will start to use other means for creating energy. It will first switch to using, yes, fat, as energy (sounds good right, only for a bit!) and then it will switch to using protein. Protein is primarily used in the body as a building block for muscles, bone, hair and other tissues, so a lack of this, can have adverse effects such as loss in muscle mass, bone strength and more. Our bodies are smarter than we think, and while some people think that they can trick their body by limiting it’s energy intake and thus burn more fat, that’s simply not safe, or true. What your body will do when there is a lack of macro nutrients to use for energy is it will start working more efficiently, it basically will start using less energy to perform the tasks at hand.
Now, why is carb cycling different? Why is it better? Keep reading!
With carb cycling, you rotate from a few days of high carbohydrate intake to a few days of low. Typically this is done on about a 3-4 day cycle. The typical route to using this set up is to have your higher carb days fall on your high training days, the high intensity ones, like leg day! Then your low carb days would be for less intense workouts, like a run, or your rest days even. Basically the concept is that you have your high carb days on the days with the most intense workout so that your body has that energy readily available so you can perform at best and power through your workout. Then the low carb days allows your body to switch to using up some of your fat stores as energy since your glycogen stores from the carbohydrates is now depleted. Because you’re cycling back and forth, you trick your body and replenish your stores of glycogen before hitting the adverse effects of a lowered metabolism and the burning of protein. Thus allowing you to build you muscle mass, while also losing fat. Since you’re still having days where you can carb load, your body and mind don’t feel like you’re dieting and many find it easier to maintain. Now, as with most things in sports science, you’ll find studies for and against the theory of carb cycling, but any change in your diet is a nice way to switch things up, find something that works for you, and it keeps your metabolism guessing to avoid a plateau.
Here’s how you’d break it down.
If you’re working to get down to a very low body fat percentage to get that six pack abs or to be in a competition of sorts, you will need to down the calories quite low to get here. You’ll basically be dropping to take your caloric intake to about 8 or 9 calories per lb of body weight. So lets do that, say you weight 150 lbs, that times 9 would be 1350 calories per day. But with cycling, your caloric intake will change between your low and high carb days. So multiply that number by 7 for your weekly intake.
If you’re looking to really get lean, you’ll want your protein intake to be at about 1.5 grams per lb of body weight. For the example, this would be 225 grams of protein. There’s 4 calories in a gram of protein, so that would be 900 calories of your daily intake.
For your low carb days you’ll be consuming mostly protein with a bit of healthy fats & carbs. So on your low carb days, add 200 calories on top of your protein for a total of 1100 calories for the day.
So if we look at the week and lets say you’re doing 4 days at low carb, that would be a total of 4400 calories of your weekly used for those 4 low days. Leaving you with a remainder of 5050 for the remaining 3 high carb days, so about 1680 calories per high carb day.
Now onto the high carb days. On these days you can decrease your protein intake to about 1.2 grams per lb of body weight, you wont want to drop it much more than that, so that would be 720 calories of your daily which is devoted to protein. You’ll still want some fat, but the main objective is the shock of carbohydrates & replenishing your glycogen stores. So leave about 30 grams of fat, (body weight in lbs x 0.2), so 270 calories worth. Now you have 690 calories left over for carbohydrates (1700 – 720 – 270) – or about 173 grams.
So that’s the basic concept! You’ll want to tweek the numbers slightly if needed, or in order to meet your own personal goals, but that lays out for you how to break it down and try it out!
Feel free to comment below with any questions!
Keep fit, and have fun!
Candice Stone, CPT