carb cycling

Carb-cycling 101

The fitness industry is plagued by a constant onslaught of viral trends – a never-ending stream that can often make embarking on the journey to better physical health confusing and complicated. In amongst these many fads a select number of key techniques remain, substantiated by sound evidence and scientific research. Carb cycling is one such discipline – a method incorporated by a wide range of health and nutrition experts, from body builders and athletes to professional sports players and fitness models.

Carb cycling is a core technique used by fitness coaches and personal trainers across the board. Despite this, its shrouded by misinformation and confusing advice, making it difficult to come across sound, clear advice. Here we cover the basics, explaining what carb cycling is all about – and why it’s so beneficial from a fat loss, fitness and muscle growth perspective?

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling refers to the controlled fluctuation of daily carbohydrate intake. ‘High carb’ days promote muscle growth and enable you to perform at your best when working out. ‘Low carb’ days encourage fat loss and minimise fat gain. The total amount of carbs consumed throughout the week should remain the same – but the key is to raise and drop the daily amounts at intervals throughout each seven-day period.

Aren’t carbs ‘bad for you’?

Many popular diet regimes such as Atkins, Paleo and The Cambridge Plan almost completely ban carbs – and as these have been shown to be effective weight loss methods (at least in the short term) many mistakenly believe that fewer carbs = a better diet. However it’s this mentality that’s holding them back, and could be preventing them from reaching their ultimate fitness or fat loss goals.

The key when contemplating the effect of carbs on the body is to turn to the physiological, biological facts behind diet and nutrition. We know from extensive research and studies that unrefined carbs such as brown pasta, whole-wheat bread and grains such as quinoa and bulgar wheat release energy and break down as sugars (glucose) more slowly. We also know that a lack of carbs can cause our metabolism to slow down and impact the efficacy of muscle-building hormones. They’re additionally necessary to facilitate the flow of adequate energy, which is important if you want to maximise your workouts. These key qualities combine with an almost opposite effect compared with the one you may expect – helping the body to move beyond plateau when losing weight, maximising workouts and therefore contributing to muscle growth and fat reduction.

Why is carb cycling a powerful weight loss tool?

Cycling carbs makes it possible to achieve the best of both worlds – enabling you to build muscle and lose fat simultaneously. It also prevents the body from going into ‘adaptive thermogenesis’, a phenomenon that occurs when the body believes it is starving. This often happens after a prolonged period of dieting or fasting, and makes it harder to secure further weight loss. When you carb cycle you also cycle calories, facilitating a type of temporary fasting situation which results in a calorific deficit. This also aids weight loss.

Who is carb cycling best suited to?

Carb cycling can be used effectively by anyone to help to accelerate solid and sustained weight loss. Although ‘low carb’ days will require discipline, on ‘high carb’ days you have greater freedom, which also makes the plan easier to incorporate into daily life, where social events and everyday treats can get in the way of weight loss and muscle gain, rather than living for ‘cheat days’ or binge meals. This makes it much more sustainable compared with restrictive diet plans that require a complete ban on carbs.

How to incorporate carb cycling

Incorporating carb cycling needn’t be difficult – and that’s really the beauty of this technique. Essentially there are two key ‘rules’ to remember – rule one, reserve ‘high carb’ days for days when you plan high intensity workouts or bodyweight exercises, focusing on starchy carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, whole grain pasta and bread) and fruits. Remember to maintain the level of protein, veggies and fats as much as possible, focusing on fluctuating carb levels instead.

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Ollie Lawrence
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