You have to decide: Would you like to build muscle with intensive strength training and a targeted excess of calories, or do you want to lose excess fat through demanding workouts and a clearly defined calorie deficit? Both at the same time – that is not possible. Or is it?
The opinion that muscle building and weight loss are only possible to a very limited extent remains stubborn in the bodybuilder scene. The bulking phase, in which you eat more than you need and exercise hard to build muscle, is usually followed by a reduced-calorie diet, which makes the muscles really visible through fat loss.
However, in recent years a diet has spread in the fitness industry that claims the opposite: Carb Cycling is a diet that aims to build strong muscles and reduce body fat at the same time. In the meantime, the emerging trend has also reached athletes outside of bodybuilding. In this post we take a closer look at the principle of carb cycling and show you what a plan can look like.
In case you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of this promising diet before, we can calm you down: Carb Cycling is a relatively new approach to nutrition. To put it simply, there are individual nutrition plans behind Carb Cycling, in which the macronutrient distribution and especially the amount of carbohydrates varies on different days of the week.
Precisely because carb cycling is a fresh topic, there are so far only a few controlled studies on the part of science that can let us know with certainty whether the principle will bring successful results. However, every carb cycling nutrition plan is based on the function of carbohydrates in the human body and these have already been extensively researched. The bottom line is that Carb Cycling is based on the biological mechanisms behind the manipulation of carbohydrate metabolism.
How does carb cycling work?
The focus of carb cycling is to “cycle” the supply of carbohydrates. The goal is to provide training days with enough energy to feed the muscles (build muscle) and to take in fewer carbohydrates and fewer calories on rest days in order to reduce body fat. (Weight loss). A carb cycling plan can include the following days.
- High Carb Days: These are the days when most calories are consumed. The macro distribution says that about 50% of the energy supplied should come from carbohydrates.
- Low Carb Days: Fewer calories and fewer carbohydrates, on these days only about 20% of the calories should come from carbohydrates.
- Medium and No Carb Days: Not all carb cycling plans include Medium Carb and No Carb Days. If so, the calorie intake from carbohydrates on a No Carb Day is less than 10%.
Which of your weekdays are high, low or even no carb days cannot be said in general. However, the same rules apply to all cyclers for the individual days:
Regardless of the amount of carbohydrates you have set, you eat 5 meals a day – no more and no less.
- Your breakfast is always a combination of high quality protein, complex carbohydrates and valuable fats.
- Unless you are following the rules of intermittent fasting, you should always have your breakfast in the first hour after you wake up to get your metabolism going.
- The first snack, lunch and your second snack are based on your daily plan and are accordingly rich or poor in carbohydrates.
- Your dinner is low carb every day of the week.
An important info: The carbohydrate-rich days do not mean that you can eat everything that has carbohydrates without worrying. The quality of the carbohydrates is of great importance. For the meals around your workout, simple carbohydrates are suitable for quick energy, otherwise complex carbohydrates are preferred. The same applies to the intake of proteins, without which no muscle building is possible.
And now to the mechanism in the body: On the one hand, carbohydrates promote muscle growth by providing us with energy during exercise, but on the other hand they are also involved in the storage of body fat. Carb Cycling tries to get the most out of carbohydrates. It’s too early to be clear about whether carb cycling is working effectively.
Carb Cycling Plan
As already emphasized several times, carb cycling is very individual. Since no two plans are the same, we will only give you an impression of how a week can be structured. Because before you alternately eat a few and then a lot of carbohydrates, you have to deal with your needs.
Using our calorie calculator gives you an initial overview of how high your basal metabolic rate is. As soon as you have calculated this, there are other factors to consider: How busy are you in your everyday life? Which ones do you exercise on? How intense is your training? Only when you have answered all of these questions can you create a carb cycling plan.
For guidance, here is a plan for beginners. This stipulates that a low carb day follows a high carb day and vice versa.
- Monday – low carb
- Tuesday – high carb
- Wednesday – low carb
- Thursday – high carb
- Friday – low carb
- Saturday – high carb
- Sunday – high carb
Advantages & disadvantages of carb cycling
The entry into the life of a carb cycler seems to be a bit more complex compared to other diets. You need to calculate your daily calorie consumption, grapple with macronutrient distribution, and put together a carb-cycling plan that fits your workout frequency. In the best case scenario, you have a high carb day on your training days that provides you with enough carbohydrates to keep you fit and powerful.
If your optimized carb cycling plan is on paper, you should track it for quick success. What does that mean? Basically, for example, you can use an app to get a detailed overview of the carbohydrates, proteins and fats you consume every day. If you want to strictly follow carb cycling, this also implies weighing your meals. This can be a nuisance, but it’s supposed to make carb cycling effective.
One advantage: The changing days mean you are much more flexible than with many other diets. On days when you are supposed to eat a lot of carbohydrates, at least during the lunch break you can go out with friends without a guilty conscience and eat a high-carb meal that you like.
Obviously, the pros and cons of carb cycling can be debated. What one person perceives as an exciting challenge is a burden for the next. We believe that everyone can find out for themselves what works. Are you interested in the model of carb cycling? Then just try it out!
Summary: Carb Cycling
Carb Cycling – the cyclical carbohydrate intake, which prophesies muscle building and fat loss at the same time. Here is a summary of what to remember about bodybuilders’ diets:
- With carb cycling, the focus is on varying the intake of carbohydrates on different days.
- The diet has grown in popularity with bodybuilders in recent years, although there are still no solid studies to confirm that the diet does what it says on the tin.
- The principle of carb cycling is based on the manipulation of the carbohydrate metabolism.
- The most common way to get started is to alternate between High Carb Days and Low Carb Days.
- The High Carb Days are based on the training days to ensure that sufficient energy is available during the workout.
- Carb Cycling requires the calculation of an individual plan and constant tracking.