A Guide to Carb Cycling for Fat Loss and Health
Carb cycling is a method we at Body Solutions London have used for some time. It is my preferred method following the initial low carb phase that clients will often experience in the initial stages of a fat loss transformation. Carb cycling is not just a fat loss method though it is also a great health promoting protocol.
I have found carb cycling particularly useful in preventing the dreaded lowering of metabolic function that seems to be apparent in long term low carb/low calorie dieters.
There are many different ways you can use carb cycling to your advantage, in most though I will either use one or two high carb days per week, and perhaps some moderate carb days 1-2 times per week. The protocol often depends on how much lean mass you want to gain. Below is an example of a client of ours that we used initially 2 weeks of low carb followed by varying carb cycling protocols during the following 10 weeks.
Carb cycling - a great long term fat loss strategy
There is no denying it, low carb diets in the short term are a great strategy for fat loss, but why is it many people plateau on low carb diets. Simple, over time metabolic function tends to reduce on low carb diets, the continual glycogen deplete state increases catabolic stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. One of adrenaline and cortisol’s functions is to support lipolysis and gluconeogenesis (the breakdown of fats and proteins to help produce energy for our cells).
Whilst the constant breakdown of fats to produce energy may sound ideal we must also remember many of our bodies toxins are stored in fats so excessive fat utilisation may promote increased load on detox pathways and subsequently gut function as we try to remove the toxins from the body. Other negative effects of excessive lipolysis is that much of the fat broken down is polyunsaturated fatty acids which have been shown to supress thyroid function in excessive amounts but also increase water retention in cells, giving that puffy appearance. Far worse than that is the breakdown of our bodies own protein stores such as muscle tissue during gluconeogenesis to produce glucose in the liver. This process is spurned on by the stress hormone cortisol that amongst other things is raised during periods of low blood sugar like when fasting and low carb dieting. Whilst cortisol raises in the short term can give the appearance of increased energy and mental focus, it can also be very destructive in the body, it is essentially the body in a stress response state.
I am not saying we should remain solely carb burners but more we need to allow the body to effectively use glucose as well as fatty acids as our primary source of fuel to prevent the negative side effects listed above. This is where carb cycling seems to tick all the boxes.
Two Example Carb cycling methods we use:
Carb cycling method 1:
In this method we use 2 high carb days, 2 moderate carb days and 3 low carb days, as seen in the example below. An equation I now use with my carb cycling clients is roughly bodyweight in kg x3-4 gives you your carbs for your high carb day, moderate carb days is around 1g per kg body weight and low carb days are less than 25 grams, which is basically eating leafy greens and other non-starchy veg all day, no fruit, no starchy carbs.
(can be adjusted to your needs, but I prefer high and low carb days to be on training days due to increased insulin sensitivity after training).
- Mon: Moderate
- Tue: High
- Wed: Low
- Thu: Moderate
- Fri: High
- Sat: Low
- Sun: Low
High Carb Days = body weight in kg x3-4
High carb foods still come from sources on the lists provided, when you are closer to your desired body fat goal you can start to introduce some more simple carbohydrates, cheat meals etc. However it should ONLY be when close to or at desired target.
Moderate Carb Days = Body weight in kg x0.5-1
Fibrous veggies can be eaten freely; you can also add 1-2 portions of fruit from the list provided and 1-2 small portions of starchy veg from the list provided. Ideally have your starchy carbs/fruits post workout, when the body is most insulin sensitive, thus able to tolerate carbohydrate intake and less chance of fat conversion from the intake of carbs.
Low Carb Days = <25grams of carbs
These days, you eat high-fiber vegetables such as those on the non-starchy veg list along with proteins and fats. Be sure that if you are consuming nuts they are not also high in carbohydrate like cashews for instance, macadamia’s and brazil nuts tend to be better choices, however most fats should be from animal sources or coconut oil, olives and avocado.
Carb cycling method 2:
Using the same methodology or modified methods of Milos Sarcev’s fat loss protocols, such as 50grams of carbohydrates 6 days per week and 300grams of carbohydrate one day per week, we have achieved some great results. This is a very effective protocol for those working in the city that might find it hard to use a more standard carb cycling methods with varying levels of carbs each day. Following a strict Monday – Saturday low carb regime and then letting loose with the carbs on the Sunday seems to fit in with many city workers lifestyles. We have also seen good lean mass gains by increasing the carbohydrates consumed to much higher levels on the high carb day. It is not however an excuse to eat poor carbohydrate food choices, you should still be sticking to the food lists provided in the members section of our website.
Simply put, using the tables provided in the members area of Body Solutions London you might have 6 days per week either a little fruit or some starchy carb in the post workout meal but no other carbs on those days and then have a reefed on high levels of quality starchy carb and fruit on the day off.
Individualised Carb Cycling
Levels will always need a little modification depending on the individual, their tolerance to carbohydrates, current inflammatory levels, training methods etc, so have a play with the methods/intake listed above. There is no actual peer review scientific literature (not that I have read anyway) on the methods of carb cycling and I have by no means invented it, it has been developed over many years by some of the top bodybuilders and strength coaches to attain impressive body composition results and in my view is one that also prevents subsequent reductions in health that can occur all too often with so many of the diets out in the public realm.