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Old 11-27-2018, 08:10 PM
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Default ***Dieting 101: Carb Cycling***

Dieting 101: Carb Cycling

Carb Cycling: What is it?
Carb cycling is a pretty basic concept that can be applied to your nutrition regimen to help reach your goal. The great thing is, it can be used for virtually any goal: bulking, cutting, maintaining, and everything in between (whatever that may be! )!

Simply put, it's the manipulation of the carbohydrate macronutrient within your weekly diet plan. You should know up front that there are MANY ways to set up a carb cycle; there's no right or wrong, but I will give you examples (later) of what I think is optimal, what I've personally used and have had success with. Typically, a well-thought out carb cycle will follow some sort of pattern on a daily basis... e.g. Monday - high carbs, Tuesday - low carbs, Wednesday - no carbs, etc. I say "well-thought out" because we shouldn't just arbitrarily change carb intake from day to day; there has to be a reason behind it, a goal. Let's start with 'bulking'.

Carb Cycling For Bulking
First, if you've read my posts or Lean Bulking sticky (found here: ), you know I'm not personally a fan of 'bulking' per se; I am a fan of adding as much lean mass as possible, with as little fat gain as possible. This, IMO, is where cycling carbs can REALLY help.

I believe in taking in energy (i.e. carbs) when your body needs it most. A weight training session, high intensity cardio, a hike, playing sports, etc. - all good times to have energy stores ready to go. On the other hand, not as much energy is required during downtime; off days, etc. For example, if you're eating 3500 calories on workout days, and that's 500 calories above maintenance, I see no need to consume 3500 calories on off days (which could be looked at as additional caloric overage beyond 500). Since I always keep protein and fats moderate no matter what, I can reduce carbs which will, by default, reduce overall calories. Some disagree with this logic, but you will have to decide for yourself what makes sense, and more important, what works for you. Let's look at an example:

5'11 male, 200lbs, 12% bodyfat. TDEE is roughly 2600 calories. He's lean bulking, and wants to keep his bodyfat as close to 12% (or lower) as possible. He's decided that on workout days, 3100 calories is what he needs to add lean muscle tissue. He's going with a 40/45/15 (Protein/Carbs/Fats) macro split which puts him at 310g protein, 350g carbs, and 50g fat. He'll be working out on a 3 day split, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He'll be doing cardio on Tuesday's, Thursday's, and Saturday's, with a complete rest day on Sunday. Here's the way I'd set up his carb cycle for optimal muscle gain with minimal fat:

Mon/Wed/Fri - High carb days (350g carbs)

Tue/Thur/Sat - Moderate carb days (175g carbs, total calories are now roughly 2400)

Sunday - Low Carb day ( mostly fibrous veggies, <50g starchy carbs, total calories are at roughly 2000, not counting veggies, which, if you eat enough [and you should], can actually add up )

On workout days, he's fueling his workouts, with plenty of spare carbs left over for recovery.

On his cardio only days, he's taking half the amount of carbs (lesser activity), but still enough to aid with continued recovery and growth.

On his rest day, he's taking in very few starchy carbs, and eating mostly fibrous veggies instead. He's been eating plenty of carbs all week, glycogen stores are close to full if not 100% full, and although this is a total rest (i.e. recovery) day, there's no need for a large amount of additional carbs.

Some people might look at total calories and think they are too low for a 'bulk'. Remember that a) this isn't a traditional bulk. It's a lean bulk - we don't want to add a bunch of weight (fat) just to have to spend months later cutting to get it all off and (hopefully) yield a few lbs of LBM. Further, in my experience, most people think they need a lot more calories than they actually do. This is especially true with beginner dieters, and so called hard gainers (who just haven't learned to eat and/or train optimally yet).

Again, this can be set up other ways, this is only one example. Not everybody works out only 3 days a week, but the underlying objective still applies: more energy taken when needed. If you workout 5 days a week and follow a typical single bodypart split, you may want to consider moderate carb days for shoulders and arms, and save the high carb days for bigger workouts like legs, chest and back. You have endless combinations and numbers to play with; experiment, stick with it for a bit, and see what works best for you.

Carb Cycling For Cutting
So how about those of us who want to shed bodyfat? This, IMO, is where carb cycling really can shine. The carb cycle that has worked extremely well for me in the past (I also happen to be running it as of the time of this write up) is similar in many ways to Lyle McDonald's UD2.0 plan - if you're not familiar with it, google it. It's tougher than anything I'm presenting here, but a very good read.

The sole purpose of cycling carbs with regard to cutting is depleting (and later, replenishing) glycogen stores. Glycogen is a molecule made up of glucose and water, stored in muscle and the liver. Without going too much into it, our bodies use glycogen as a primary energy source. When glycogen gets depleted (via training, exercise, activity, etc.), our bodies begin to mobilize fatty acids, which can then be burned as fuel in place of/in addition to glycogen and glucose. As such, carb cycling for cutting should be set up very differently from that of bulking. Let's take the same example from earlier:

5'11 male, 200lbs, 12% bodyfat - wants to reduce his bodyfat to < 10%. His TDEE is still around 2600, and he's decided to go with a modest deficit of 2200 calories to start with. Now we have a number to start working out a carb cycle. He's training Monday through Friday, doing cardio Monday through Saturday, and taking Sunday off to rest completely. That's actually my current schedule; here's how my carb cycle is set up:

Mon/Tues/Wed - Moderate Carbs
Thurs/Fri/Sat - Low Carbs
Sunday - High Carb/Refeed

Using 2200 calories as my 'baseline', I'd apply that to my moderate carb days and set macros up as follows:

275g protein (roughly 1.5g/lb of LBM)
55g fat
150g carbs

So for Monday through Wednesday, we're following this calorie/macro scheme. I'd also be focusing my more intense training sessions (e.g. legs, back, etc.) during this period. I'd then start a 3 day carb depletion phase on Thursday:

275g protein
55g fat
0g carbs* (no starchy carbs. Fibrous veggies only!)

That's roughly 1600 calories. The absence of (starchy) carbs furthers the caloric deficit by default. Too low? Not really. For one, we're only talking about 3 days, and secondly, this will be followed by a high carb refeed day.

Note the asterisk next to '0g carbs'. You won't really be consuming 0g. For one, there will likely be trace amounts of carbs in the foods you eat on a daily basis (e.g. cottage cheese, protein powders, condiments, etc.). Secondly, you will ideally be consuming lots of fibrous veggies. While they are relatively light in terms of carbs, they do add up. You'll probably wind up eating somewhere between 50-100g carbs on these days, but again, mainly via fibrous veggies.

Workouts during the depletion phase (Thursday through Saturday in this example) should change to fit the goal (glycogen depletion). Higher reps/lighter weight, more sets, total body exercises, bodyweight/depletive type workouts, etc. Remember that you will be doing cardio as well (moderate and low days).

This 3 day window is your fat burning sweet spot. Glycogen should be close to depleted after about 1.5 days, BGL will be low, and insulin will be suppressed. You'll mainly be running on fatty acids. By the end of day 3, you may be at the onset of ketosis - but don't bother buying keto sticks. The goal here isn't to enter ketosis.

Sunday: After 3 days of depletion, you're ready to replenish glycogen stores with a carb refeed. With any luck, you may also have a small window of growth as you will be overfeeding and in a very anabolic state, albeit for a brief period. As such, this high carb/refeed day should take place on a complete rest day. No training, no cardio. Just relax, recover, and try to enjoy yourself a bit. You're not only recovering, but preparing your body for the cycle to start over again the following day.
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Old 11-27-2018, 08:11 PM
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275g protein
55g fat
400g carbs

This breakdown will put you at roughly 3200 calories, 600 over maintenance. Carbs should consist of mainly starchy (potatoes, pasta, breads, rice, quinoa, lentils/beans, etc.), but feel free to enjoy life a bit with some fruit, or something you've been craving all week. Personally, I like to take an 'IIFYM' (If It Fits Your Macros) approach on this day. It gives me a mental break and allows me to enjoy some of the foods I normally don't eat while cutting. Just be careful not to go overboard, particularly with fat, because you are already consuming lots of carbs. Once glycogen stores are full, you'll experience the 'spill over' effect, which means additional energy (carbs/fats) gets stored in... fat cells! Definitely counter-productive. Just be mindful of what you're eating, do your best to hit your macros, and you'll be fine, especially if you've been perfect all week long.

Carb Cycling For Maintenance

IMO, running maintenance is, at certain times, just as important as cutting or 'bulking'. For one, giving your body a break from either of the 2 latter is always a good idea. Since doing 'nothing' wouldn't be a good approach, running maintenance, even if just for 4 weeks, is a good idea. Further, some people like to just maintain throughout the summer. They don't want to 'bulk' (for obvious reasons), and may already feel they're lean enough and/or don't want a flat/small/depleted look while they're at the beach. Even still, there are people who *need* to run maintenance for several months in an effort to 'reset' their body's 'set point'; e.g. maybe you've just finished a successful cut after years of being heavier/fatter. Jumping right back into a regimen where gaining weight is the goal would be a terrible and disastrous idea (I speak from experience)... you're body isn't yet 'comfortable' with it's new composition and needs an adjustment period, i.e. maintenance. Whatever the case may be, carb cycling can be applied to this as well.

I'm not going to provide sample cycles in this case simply because there is no specific goal per se; essentially, you want to maintain your current weight and/or body composition. You want to keep bodyfat in check, and maintain muscle mass. You could set up a carb cycle many different ways to help accomplish this, but the important thing is that you don't arbitrarily do so. Picking random days of the week and saying "I think THIS will be a high carb day, and THIS will be a low day, etc." probably isn't a great approach. Make it count. Training legs Tuesday and taking off Wednesday? Perhaps you should make Monday a high carb day, and Tuesday moderate. A carb cycle will only be as effective as the workout it's built around. That is, I build my carb cycles to compliment the training regimen.

One noteworthy point is with regard to maintenance calories. Running maintenance doesn't mean you have to eat at your TDEE every single day. You could do that, but you don't have to. Keep in mind that your body doesn't add up calories at the end of the day. We're continuously going through the process of breaking down and building up, caloric deficits and overages (even when eating in a deficit or overage), etc. As such, given a maintenance of 2200 calories, you could consume 1800 one day and 2600 the next, or vice versa, and manipulating carbs is what allows you this kind of flexibility.

In summary, carb cycling is a tool that can be used as part of a balanced, intelligent nutrition plan. Like anything else, if it isn't applied with consistency, results will be lackluster. There is no magic here, no smoke and mirrors, no perfect diet plan - only the knowledge to succeed, and your drive to apply it consistently. Enjoy!
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