Carbohydrates provide energy for the body, fueling you throughout daily activities as well as tough workouts. It is when carbs are eaten in excess or at the wrong time that carbohydrates can be stored as fat – and these carbs typically come from processed foods. For fat loss and muscle growth, however, healthy carbohydrates are a necessity.
The challenge with carbohydrates is eating the right amount of carbs (from the right sources) at the right time. Through a process referred to as carb cycling you can manipulate carb consumption, which causes the body to respond positively by losing fat and maximizing muscle growth.
Carb cycling refers to the process of cycling through a designated amount of carbohydrates in your diet for a specific amount of time. For example, most carb cycling plans run off three low carb days followed by two high carb days, then repeat. This gives the body the right amount of carbohydrates to be used as fuel without becoming excessive. The high carb days replenish glycogen stores in the body and aid in recovery – so don’t skip them and think your body will succeed at just lower carbohydrates! Carb cycling is all about shifting the amount of carbohydrates your body receives, not keeping it at a low level.
The type of carbohydrates you are giving your body are just as important as the time and amount. Always provide your body with clean carbohydrates from complex carbohydrate sources. Some of the best sources of clean carbohydrates are:
Vegetables do not get counted into the carbohydrate count for carb cycling because they are low in calories as well as carbohydrates and provide a good amount of fiber. Only starchy complex carbohydrates need to be counted in carb cycling.
As a starting point, most carb cyclers start out with 200 grams of carbohydrates as their high carb days with the lowest carb day being at 50 grams of carbohydrates. Some may even try a “no-carb” day, with the bulk of your foods containing high fiber vegetables along with lean proteins and a few servings of good fat. As a note, high carb days are not an excuse to binge eat. These days serve as a refuel for the body and are a way to reset muscle building and fat burning hormones.
The amount of carbohydrates used for carb cycling will of course not always be exact, as some people are more “carb sensitive” than others. Other factors that will change the amount of carbohydrates used during carb cycling are activity level, workout intensity, age and sex. Try out our Macronutrient Calculator, and find your daily balance.
Carb cycling is a meticulous process that involves strict adherence as well as carb counting, so it may not be for everyone. Those who need to lose a lot of weight may find more success from simply cutting back on starchy carbs as well as cleaning up their diet. Carb cycling is typically most successful for those who only need to lose a final few pounds or simply want to improve their fat to muscle ratio without cutting in the traditional sense.