A lot of sports nutrition concepts that were exclusively for professional athletes are now becoming more mainstream, such as counting macros. More recently, carb cycling has made its way into the spotlight. Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about carb cycling.
What is carb cycling?
In essence, carb cycling is the method of switching between low and high carb diets. While there's no strict method to follow when it comes to carb cycling, most people alter their carb intake throughout the week or month, based on their individual needs and goals. Most bodybuilders and high endurance athletes use carb cycling.
Carb cycling usually revolves around your training schedule -- on days when you're training more intensely, you should up your carb intake. But on days when you don't exercise or train, you cut back on carbs. Most people schedule high-carb, moderate-carb, and low-carb days scheduled throughout the week.
How can carb cycling help you? When your body receives a lower amount of carbs, it uses fat as its fuel source, which can aid weight loss when carbs are reintroduced. By being more strategic about your carb intake, you'll achieve better results in terms of both performance and body composition.
Why not just follow a low-carb diet?
When you're following a low-carb diet for an extended period, your metabolism slows down over time. You also start to feel fatigued and moody. But by alternating the number of carbs you eat, you won't experience these adverse side effects. Carb cycling can speed up your metabolism.
Carb cycling can be especially helpful if you want to build muscle. Switching between low-carb and high-carb days boosts insulin, helping to repair and grow muscle tissue.
Is carb cycling right for me?
Two types of people tend to benefit from carb cycling -- those wanting to improve their fitness endurance and those wishing to lose weight. Studies show that switching up your carb intake throughout the year can help increase muscle glycogen stores and performance. This is especially true when you lower your carb intake right before going into your training season.
When it comes to weight loss, carb cycling also makes sense. Following a lower carb diet can be helpful for weight loss. But you should increase your carb intake right before a high-intensity workout or strength training session to get the most out of it.
How do I try it?
Simple. First, you should begin tracking all your macros using an app or food journal. Then you'll need to figure out how many grams of carbs your body needs each day based on your body weight, age, sex, and intensity of your workouts. But some people consume 60 percent of their calories from carbs on high-carb days. On low-carb days, they switch out some carbs for healthy fats instead. No matter which carb-cycling plan you follow, try to match high-carb days with high-intensity workouts.
Focus on eating complex carbs rather than simple ones. Eat healthy choices, such as whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal.
The proof is in the bread
In a nutshell, carb cycling might be a good option for you if you're looking to increase muscle and lose fat. Remember to pair high carb days with high-intensity workouts, and always stick to healthy complex carbs. If you need more guidance, reach out to a nutritionist who can help you calculate your macros.