The Case For & Against Carbohydrate Cycling for Fat Loss
We don't just review the best home gym equipment on this site, we also care about nutrition because it is an essential component of any fitness regime. In this article I discuss the pro's and con's of losing weight by Carb Cycling. You may have heard about this method, if not read on for some insight nd my personal conclusions.
To lose fat you have to underfeed, and because protein and fats have essential uses within the body, restricting the number of calories from carbohydrates is the obvious place to start. But is it really that simple? Restricting carbs for long periods of time can have negative effects on the body, and this is why many people turn to carb cycling; a low carb diet that enables you to maintain your metabolic rate whilst burning fat
About Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is the process of alternating periods of low carbs with high carbs to prevent a fat loss plateau whilst maintaining your metabolism. There are no set rules but here are a few quick examples:
1. Infrequent High Carb Days
Perfect for: those with good discipline and low cravings
This is a low carbohydrate diet that allows you to go to town on the carbs once every 7-14 days. Now when I say go to town on the carbs, this is of course within reason. Our overall goal is still fat loss so it’s important to try not to have more than 3 – 3 ½ times your normal daily calorie intake.
- It’s easy to let the ‘re-feed’ days slip closer together due to social events or mental lapses, but it’s important to stick to your plan if you want to see results
- Train on your high carb day so you can make use of those added calories
- There’s no one size fits all plan. Regularly assess your body fat with a skilled practitioner; you may find a different strategy works better for you
2. Frequent Moderate Carb Days
Perfect for: those who battle with self-discipline and are prone to binging
If you find you struggle to stay away from carbohydrates for too long, or large ‘re-feeds’ sending you spiraling into days of endless binging, this option may be better for you. This again is a low carb diet, but allows you to increase your carbohydrates intake for 1 day every 3-4 days. The easiest way to stick at this is to increase your carb intakes on training days.
- Every 3-4 days eat meals that are similar to what you would usually eat, but add in some carbohydrates with each meal. This way you’re less likely to binge on junk
- Focus on high quality carbs such as fruits, potatoes, rice and beans/legumes
- Try not to go over 1 ½ times your normal daily calorie intake
3. Mixed Carb Days
If you’re already quite lean but struggle to keep onto muscle this maybe the best option for you. It just takes quite a bit of preparation and thought as you won’t be eating the same every day. This strategy uses 3-4 different menus of varied carbohydrate intakes over the course of a week. You would use low, moderate and high carb days.
Perfect for: those who are already quite lean but struggle to hold onto muscle.
This option takes a little more preparation and thought as you won’t be eating the same thing every day. Using 3 different menus of varying carbohydrate intakes over the course of a week, you will have low, moderate and high carb days.
- Schedule your high carb days on days where you train with high intensity (save it for a big squat day)
- Plan your 3 types of menu ahead of time – this one is important for those who find it hard to stick to a plan
- For maximum fat loss effect, have more low carb days
- When lowering your carbohydrate intake you should generally increase your fat intake and keep your protein consistent, as long as it’s sufficient
Carbohydrate cycling is an effective method for fat loss, and done correctly you could quickly see the benefits whilst managing the negatives. Individualism of diets created by a professional is the key to succeeding, get it wrong and it could be detrimental to your health and performance.
The Case for Carb Cycling
Carb Cycling can be a hugely practical method of dieting. So, if you bring the right attitude, you can make it work for you. If a more linear type of diet has never work for you in the past, this could be your saving grace.
Carb Cycling Diet explained [Video]
So let’s look at the pros of carb cycling:
The problem most people have whilst dieting is trying to preserve your strength and performance in the gym. Dieting will slow down your recovery time, your joints tend to feel sore and with less availability of glucose you’re unlike to be hitting PB’s. The flexibility of carb cycling enables you to design your high carb days around workouts that have a higher intensity. For example, have your high carb day the day before a morning session of heavy benching, or on the same day as a heavy deadlift evening session.
The risk of becoming a social recluse is a common problem for dieters. Eating out means difficult portion control, temptation in abundance and more often than not, quite a few beers. Managing your higher carbohydrates days around social events or your weekly date night is simple with carb cycling. You’ll be able to work in a couple of glasses of red and your favorite dessert.
We all know that the perfect diet is the one we can stick to long term; low carbohydrate diets alone have quite a large dropout rate. This is due to it being mentally tough and to your hormones working against you, your body is smart and will do everything possible to stop you starving yourself to death. This includes increasing your appetite hormones and slowing down all non-essential bodily functions, the regular re-feed days could offset some of these problems.
The truth is, the perfect diet is the one that you can make work long term. Long term low carbohydrate diets have high a high dropout rate due to them being mentally tough. Your body is smart and hormones will be working against you, doing everything possible to stop you starving yourself to death. This includes increasing your appetite hormones and slowing down all non-essential bodily functions. When carb cycling, your ‘re-feed’ days will help to offset some of these problems.
The Case Against Carb Cycling
The strong case above shows that carb cycling is mostly beneficial from a training, social and psychological aspect, but what about the evidence on hormones and metabolism? We often hear that low carb days can deliver better fat metabolism, utilization and oxidation. Blood glucose and insulin levels are reduced and this is all true, but whether or not this makes a huge difference to your overall fat loss is still unclear.
Carb cycling can be tough for those who really struggle to defeat cravings, and a ‘re-feed’ day can easily turn into a binge week, month or even year. In this instance a more moderate reduction in carbohydrates would be more appropriate and effective. This is also the case for those who are unconfident and unskilled in the kitchen. Low carb days will lead to bland and boring foods which will make it more difficult for you to keep up your plan.
Taking Out the Guess Work
If you are looking to get more specific with your carbohydrate intake, you can take out the guess work by using HumnFit. HumnFit is a home finger prick blood test kit that gives you lots of information about your diet and health, it measures your bodies biomarkers to tell you exactly how much carbohydrate, protein and fat you should be eating. You will then be given a specific macronutrient ratio and supplements to help you reach your goal. The test also advises you on your electrolytes, organ function and overall health.
Once you have tested you will be able to cycle your carbohydrates more efficiently, as you will know how well your body tolerates and utilizes carbs. You will also get recommended supplements which can help you use carbohydrates more efficiently.
As the editor of mygymexpert.com and an experienced Personal Trainer, I take nutrition very seriously. Carb cycling is an efficient and effective way to achieve fat loss, provided you work with a professional who can deliver the right plan for you. As I mentioned earlier, the plan that will deliver the best results is the one you can maintain long term, so take the time to find out what is achievable for you.
If you are overweight, reducing your carbohydrate intake and increasing your protein intake may lead you to more weight loss than other diets. There are some added health benefits if you can stick to this way of eating, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease although these benefits may simply be down to overall weight loss.
Carb Cycling for beginners - what is it? [Video]
Remember, don’t just drastically change your diet, this can lead to malnutrition and illness.
Always seek advice or a professional to design a diet plan that’s specific to you and to hold you accountable to sticking to it.
Don't forget how important training is! Remember to look over our best home treadmill reviews and other home gym equipment to help you along.