When it comes to dieting for fat loss and maintaining lean muscle gains, nothing is more powerful than carb cycling for fat loss. Carb cycling is my favorite eating strategy throughout the year for maintaing all of your hard earned muscle mass and cutting body fat simultaneously.
There are a few different ways to set up carbohydrate cycling and this article is going to give you 2 options as well as diving into the benefits of carb cycling for your body composition goals.
What is Carbohydrate Cycling?
Carbohydrate cycling is an eating strategy that can help you boost a crucial fat burning hormone called leptin as well as take advantage of the muscle building effects of insulin.
Carbohydrate cycling means that you are rotating your carbohydrate consumption throughout the week to keep your metabolism churning and to maximize the muscle building potential of proper carbohydrate timing.
When you are carbohydrate cycling you typically will split it up between a low, moderate and high carbohydrate day. This boosts your metabolism and you can rotate your carbohydrate intake based on your workout schedule.
To assess how many days of each you partake in, you have to assess your body fat percentage. I recommend that if you are at 10 percent body fat or less you have 5 Moderate carbohydrate days, 1 Low carbohydrate day and 1 high carbohydrate day.
If your main goal is fat loss and you are above 12 percent body fat(this means no visible abs), you should do something closer to 4 low carbohydrate days, 2 moderate carbohydrate days and 1 high carbohydrate day.
It really all depends on how may days you are training and what body fat percentage you are sitting at. The more “low carbohydrate” days you include in your diet the faster fat loss will become. But it will be more challenging to build lean muscle mass since insulin is highly anabolic.
A good rule of thumb is that on non training days you should stick to a low-moderate carbohydrate intake and on training days you should stick to the moderate-high carbohydrate intake.
One trick is to use your high carbohydrate day on your weakest body part or most intense workout of the week(usually a leg day for me). This is because the carbohydrates and insulin from your high carbohydrate day will help you build more lean muscle mass and recover quickly.
How many carbohydrates should you eat each day?
Here is a quick outline that you can follow for your low, moderate, and high carbohydrate days.
- Low Carbohydrate Days: 0.5 grams per lb of bodyweight
E.g. – A 200 lb guy would consume 100 grams of carbohydrate on his low day
- Moderate Carbohydrate Days: 1 gram per lb of bodyweight
E.g. – A 200 lb guy would consume 200 grams of carbohydrates on his moderate day
- High Carbohydrate Days: 2.5 Grams per lb of bodyweight
E.g. – A 200 lb guy would consume 500 grams of carbohydrates on his high carb day
Timing of your Carbohydrate IntakeOne of the most important aspects of your carbohydrate cycling diet is the timing of when you actually consume the carbs. Periods of low insulin will result in fat loss and periods of high insulin result in both fat storage and lean muscle gains.
The key is, you want to use insulin at a time when its effects can be beneficial for lean muscle gains and recovery. This means that you want to consume the majority of your carbohydrates post workout when you are carbohydrate cycling for fat loss.
Since you don’t want to lose lean muscle mass, it will become important that you spike your insulin post workout to shuttle the amino acids into your cells and initiate protein synthesis. Insulin is actually the most anabolic hormone in your body following a resistance training workout so it is crucial that even on your low and moderate carb days that you consume a lot of post workout carbohydrates.
If i happen to train on my low carbohydrate days, I will make sure that about 80 percent of my carbs are following my workout. If it is a moderate carbohydrate day I will make sure about 60 percent of my carbohydrates are ingested in my post workout shake and post workout meal.
On your high carb days its obviously not realistic to ingest 200-300 grams of carbs post workout (Unless you stuff your face full of frozen yogurt like me) – but you should space them out during breakfast, lunch, pre workout and post workout. Try to stay away from eating a bunch of carbohydrates late at night as this is a recipe for disaster when your goal is fat loss.
Final Thoughts on Carbohydrate Cycling
Here are a few more rules to consider when you are carbohydrate cycling for fat loss:
- You should stick to low glycemic carbohydrates unless it is post workout when the goal is to spike your insulin. Low glycemic carbohydrates are the ones high in fiber. The list of my favorite low glycemic carbohydrates when carb cycling are: ezekiel bread, oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, sweet potatoes, black beans, kidney beans, whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and chia seeds.
- High glycemic carbohydrates can be ingested post workout and are going to spike your insulin and cause an anabolic effect. My favorite high glycemic carbohydrates when carb cycling are: white potatoes, jasmine rice, fat free frozen yoghurt, Dextrose, chocolate rice cakes, and gummy bears. I will only consume these carbohydrates in my post workout shake or during my post workout meal.
- Another big rule is to keep your fat intake low on your high carbohydrate days and anytime you are spiking your insulin. If your insulin levels are high and you are consuming dietary fat your body will signal to store fat since insulin is both anabolic for muscle and fat.
Stick to these simple rules and you will have tremendous fat loss results on a carbohydrate cycling diet. The best part is, you should be able to slowly build lean muscle mass along the way!
How have carbohydrate cycling diets worked for you in the past? Anything crucial that I missed? Please share your thoughts below!