By Stefan Ianev
Why You Should Try Carb Cycling
Carb cycling was all the rage a few years back, but these days you rarely hear anyone really talk about it or see personal trainers using it with their clients. That’s because the pendulum has now swung too far in the opposite direction. These days it’s all about energy balance and very little attention is given to nutrient timing or the macronutrient composition outside of achieving adequate protein intake.
While it is true that energy balance is indeed king when it comes to achieving your body composition goals, and that was a good message to pound home 4 or 5 years ago when everyone was getting too carried away with nutrient timing and macros, that doesn’t mean those things are still not important.
As a coach, even I am guilty of this myself. When some of the literature first started coming out showing that nutrient timing and the macro composition didn’t really make much of a difference if calories are equated, I fell for it too. For a while, I stopped focusing on individualising the macros and nutrient timing and focused mostly on energy balance.
Here is the problem with that and why it backfired on me. Most of those studies were performed on untrained populations. That means the subjects in those studies weren’t even training. Even in the studies that were done on trained subjects, their training protocols weren’t resemblant to that of a serious gym lifter.
Which would largely negate the need for nutrient timing. The biggest benefit of nutrient timing is maximizing recovery and performance.
If someone is not training at all or they are training with the intensity of a butterfly’s fart, then there is really no need to worry about performance or recovery. In that case, the only thing that really matters is energy balance and picking a diet plan they can stick to. But for someone who is killing themselves in the gym 4-5 days per week performance and recovery matter. Every inch counts. This is where carb cycling comes into play.
The Benefits and Execution
The benefit of carb cycling is prioritizing given days of the week in which you maximize performance and recovery. Typically, when using a carb cycling approach you will have 1-2 high carb days per week, 2-3 moderate days, and 2-3 low days. Here is a quick breakdown of this:
- The high carb days will generally be at maintenance calories or above and will be placed around priority body part days.
- The moderate days are generally at maintenance calories or slightly below.
- The low days are generally below and maintenance and place on non-training days.
The following tables illustrate how you can set up a carb cycling diet for mass gain and fat loss.
The main purpose of the high days is to maximize performance and recovery especially for our priority workouts or body parts. Although it’s unlikely that the high days actually boost metabolism, they may mitigate the drop in metabolic rate, and increase anabolism and/or suppress catabolism.
In my experience having a couple of high days per week during a caloric deficit, helps preserve more lean muscle than being in a deficit every day, even if the weekly calories are equated. This is especially true for ectomorphs who are more prone to muscle loss.
Also, for a lot of people having a couple of high days per week helps them stay more compliant with their diet plan even if it means taking a bigger hit on other days. Since compliance is the number one factor for dietary success, this cannot be ignored.
It is interesting to note that some individuals like myself experience the performance benefits of the high carb days the day after. In those cases, it is best to schedule their high days before their priority body parts or workouts.
The take-home point is that serious lifters may indeed benefit from carb cycling while for everyone else it may not matter that much unless it helps them stay more compliant with their diet plan.
Yours in health,
Clean Health Fitness Institute