Carb Cycling isn't eating Carbs on a Bike

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Written By Emily White

A nutritional program of low calories and low carbohydrates can have adverse effects on the body. This is especially visible in the long run. Fortunately, there exist high level nutritional programs that make sure the body receives important nutrition even with low calories or carbohydrates. One of these nutritional programs is carb cycling.

Carb cycling defined

Simply put, carb cycling is the alteration of carbohydrate intake. Such alterations have the following benefits to the body:

  • Prevention of fat loss plateau
  • Maintaining metabolism
  • Workout performance

Carb cycling is an aggressive and high nutrition program. Consequently, it is advisable for use by people who have an extremely high nutritional adherence or those who require a meticulous nutritional approach e.g. physique athletes

Furthermore, its aggressive approach makes carb cycling only useful for the short run. A long term use for body fat management is significantly unfavorable.

Importance of Carb Cycling: Short term vs. Long term

The body is generally effective in handling short term deprivation of carbohydrates and calories. However, the body does not take such a deprivation kindly in the long haul. It is not disastrous to miss a meal once in a while or dropping carbohydrate intake here and there. On the contrary, such brief and relatively infrequent reductions in carbohydrate intake can have positive effects on health and body composition. Carb cycling helps in the control of leptin and ghrelin levels with these being appetite and fat homeostatic hormones. Their job is ensuring that we eat enough and enough body fat.

Carb cycling maximizes glycogen stores. This results in improved workouts for low calorie periods.

In the long run, restricting calories and carbohydrates has negative effects on body metabolism. This can been seen in physique athletes who have to diet for months before a competition.

The endocrine systems in the body are interconnected. For example, the hypothalamus is connected to the pituitary which is connected to the adrenal (HPA) axis, the body’s mission control for hormones. These interconnections mean that a deprivation of calories and carbohydrates has far reaching effects.

Long term restriction dieters can experience a reduction in:

-metabolic rate

-thyroid hormone output

-sympathetic nervous system activity

-spontaneous physical activity

-leptin levels

-reproductive hormone output

All these effects brings the body’s composition gains to a standstill and inevitably negative effects on general health

The Place for Carb Cycling

With all the unfavorable effects associated with carb cycling, you may begin to wonder where carb cycling stands. Here is how to work with carb cycling.

1.) Planned manipulation and variation

The body is unable to reach starvation mode if a dieter plans higher carbohydrate intakes at regular intervals. Fat can also be lost of the dieter takes fewer calories than they expend.

During days of higher carbohydrate intakes, thyroid output increase thus increasing hunger control. Moreover, manipulating the intake of carbohydrates helps the dieter make use of specific anabolic hormones. In the times of higher carbohydrate intake, there are elevated levels of such hormones in the body. One of these hormones is insulin.

Ordinarily, insulin is associated with the regulation of entry of amino acids and glucose into the muscle cells. At low levels, the dieter cannot reap its benefits. In elevated levels, insulin increase the uptake of glucose by the cells which results in metabolic energy, fat synthesis and glycogen synthesis. A dieter can increase insulin levels at the appropriate time by scheduling higher carbohydrate intake days. Conversely, the dieter will be able to maximize on the potential anabolic effects from insulin.

2.) The different methods

Carb cycling comes in different methods but the underlying theme is to keep fat and protein intake constant while simultaneously manipulating carbohydrate intake. Calorie cycling is also part of carb cycling because carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram thus the adjustment of carbohydrates affects calories.

The days when carbohydrate intake is increased are called re-feed days. A re-feed day can be defined as a planned increase in calorie intake, lasting 8-12 hours consisting of increased carbohydrate intake. Re-feeds are scheduled to give psychological relief and physiological benefits. During re-feed days, the intake of fats and proteins should be slightly scaled back as carbohydrate intake increases. The result is that a dieter’s calorie count will remain in check.

The principles of good nutrition such as proper meal frequency, adequate protein intake and fiber intake and taking plenty of vegetables still apply in carb cycling.

Some approaches to carb cycling are:

  • Infrequent big re-feeds which involve higher carbohydrate intake every 1-2 weeks
  • Frequent and moderate re-feeds with higher carbohydrate intake every 3-4 weeks
  • Strategic carb cycling approach. It involves structuring different menus with moderate carbohydrate intake. These intakes are at strategic intervals during a lower carb intake phase.
  • Carb cycling for muscle gain approach. Gaining muscles requires a calorie surplus but a gross over-consumption of calories leads to a gain of body fat. This is where carb cycling comes in. similar to the strategic carb cycling approach, the dieter plans menus according to the weekly schedule that create a temporary calorie surplus. Such surpluses assist with lean mass and strength gains.

Important Tips for Each Carb Cycling Approach

  • The dietary approach should be based on calorie needs and activity levels
  • Choose the re-feed days in advance
  • Keep to the course and menu until the day of a re-feed
  • Let your decisions be outcome based because every carb cycling approach works better for different body types. Use photographs and body composition tests to ensure you’re on the right track.
  • Try exercising on re-feed days to give your body optimal body composition
  • The body tolerates carbohydrates best in the morning or at times of high physical activity during re-feed days

Final Recommendations

  • Use carb cycling only if you are nutritionally advanced
  • Use for a short time
  • Choose a strategy depending on your physical characteristics and physique
  • Establish a calorie, carbohydrate, fat and protein intake goal
  • Schedule re-feeding days

When it comes to carb cycling, you need to be careful about the period, approach and what best suits your body.


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