The Best Carb Cycling Article Ever Written


Back in my impressionable youth someone suggested I do a bodybuilding show.

 

“You look great.”

“You’re a natural.”

 

I’m a sucker for a compliment, so I bit.  I was doing a bodybuilding show.  Looking back at it three years later, I think he had alterative motives. I wasn’t that good and I definitely wasn’t a natural.

 

After I signed up, I now had to figure out how to prep for a show.  I had little to no idea how to take my ass from where I was to stage ready without doing miles upon miles of running.  So I did what anyone would do.  I Googled it.

 

I came across an article that mentioned the fat loss benefits of carb cycling, something I had never heard of, and I dove in with a reckless abandon.

 

After about a month I had abs for the first time since doing a Tough Mudder two years prior.  Thankfully this time was about ¼ of the work and in 1/5 of the time.  That was good because I had two months to prep for it.  Come to find out later, three months is a good runway to prep for a show if you are already lean.  I got really lucky.

 

I never made it to the show because my back herniated 2 days before but that’s a story for another day.  The point of this story is carb cycling works.  Here is proof it worked for me.

carb-cycling-before-and-after

WHAT IS CARB CYCLING

 

One of the benefits of the bodybuilding world is that they are very literal with naming convention.  Carb cycling is cycling between high and low (sometimes medium or no carb) days.

 

The exact protocol varies on who types up the article.  This of course is my version of the story.

 

This cycling of carbs and in turn calories, helps you slim down probably the easiest of any diet I’ve tried.  Keeping in mind I did a ketogenic diet and ate bacon and eggs every morning.

 

Rather than eating low carb/low calorie for weeks on end and eventually hating life to go on a week-long junk food bender, you alternate between maintenance calories and low calorie with the occasional higher carb/calorie day.  This high carb day is as blissful as it sounds.

 

WHY IT WORKS

 

I wish I could say I came up with this plan but carb cycling has been around for decades – I was probably still in Huggies when it came out.

 

Consistent low carb/calorie dieting wreaks havoc on your body.  A few months to prep for a show or to get ready for bikini season is fine but when you drag the low calorie out for longer your body takes a beating.  According to Ryan Andrew’s article on Precision Nutrition, long term dieting can experience a reduced metabolism, thyroid hormone output (regulates just about every organ in the body), sympathetic nervous system activity (think fight or flight response), leptin levels (this is a biggie for fat loss) and reproductive hormone output (no babies for you).

 

Enter carb cycling.  While not the be-all-end-all in diets, in my opinion it’s pretty damn close.  Take my opinion for what it’s worth, there is a very good chance I’m not wearing pants while typing this.

 

The low carb days put the body in an abrupt calorie deficit which causes a release of hormones that triggers fat loss to make up for the lack of ingested calories. 

 

The high carb days are known as re-feed days to help optimize your body.  This helps keep the leptin levels, glycogen stores, protein synthesis and most importantly your sanity operating at high levels.

 

HOW TO DO IT

 

Depending on who you talk to carb cycling has a few different, but similar, methods of attack.  It all comes down to how much you can tolerate.  If you are a beginner or just starting a dieting cycle I’d go with my approach, not because it’s mine but because there is less of a swing in calories and carb intake (read: less time being hangry).  I like the minimal amount of work for the most benefit.

 

Let’s break out the calculators – it’s time for some math.  The first thing we are going to account for is protein aka the backbone of the program (I’ll explain that more later on).

 

To ensure you don’t lose gainz and actually put on muscle –  protein should be at least 1 gram (g) per pound of bodyweight.  I usually go higher than that like 1.2 g per pound.  For me, that would look like 195 (bodyweight) x 1.2 g=234 g of protein.

 

Seems like a lot doesn’t it?  Take into consideration that I eat six meals a day.  So if you divide that over the course of the day, you’re looking at about 40 g per meal.  That’s six ounces of chicken or two scoops of protein per meal – not a huge amount.

 

After we get the protein down, let’s figure out the fats.  Fats should make up 20-30% of your diet to keep your hormones function as they should.  This equates to about 0.4 g per pound of bodyweight.  Again for me, this would be 78 g.

 

On to the star of the show, carbs.  This involves some complex math so be ready to work some brain cells.  The high carb day will use the same calculation as protein, 1 g per pound of bodyweight.  Medium carb day will be 0.75 of high carb day and low carb day will be 0.5 of high carb day.  It would look like so:

 

High carb: 1 g x 195 (bodyweight) = 195 g = 200 g for simplicity

Medium carb: 200 g x 0.75 = 150 g

Low carb: 200 g x 0.5 = 100 g

 

The calorie difference between high and low carb (~400 calories) gives you just enough for your body to start using fat for energy.  Too much of a calorie decline can lead to a slower metabolism.

 

At the end of the day here is how the calories break down, keeping in mind that Protein and Carbs are 4 calories per gram and Fats are 9 calories per gram:

 

High: 2438 (C: 200 x 4, P: 234 x 4, F: 78 x 9)

Medium: 2238 (C:150 x 4, P: 234 x 4, F: 78 x 9)

Low: 2038 (C: 100 x 4, P: 234 x 4, F: 78 x 9)

 

This all equates to roughly 10-12 calories per pound of bodyweight which is right in the sweet spot for fat loss without having to eat lettuce and a glass of water for 3 meals a day.

 

THE AESTHETIC PHYSIQUES CARB CYCLING PROTOCOL

 

(Yes I’m going to rebrand everything to Aesthetic Physiques)

 

I’m going to hit this from a few different angles depending on where you start.  Follow the one that comes as close to your situation and feel free to progress down the ladder based on your results.

 

15-20% Body fat or a Carb Cycling Beginner

Monday: High

Tuesday: Medium

Wednesday: Low

Thursday: High

Friday: Medium

Saturday: Low

Sunday: Low

 

10-15% Body fat

Monday: High

Tuesday: Low

Wednesday: Medium

Thursday: Low

Friday: Low

Saturday: Medium

Sunday: Low

 

<10% Body Fat

Monday: High

Tuesday: Low

Wednesday: Medium

Thursday: Low

Friday: High

Saturday: Medium

Sunday: Low

 

Once you hit sub 10% body fat your abs will be popping.  This is when you should be slowly bumping up calories 1) to increase muscle and 2) to protect your metabolism for the future.

 

TIP FOLLOWED BY A…

 

The first time you try it, like anything else, it’s going to feel awkward and time consuming.  Here are some tips I picked up doing this a few times.

 

Schedule Manipulation – If the schedules above don’t jive with your work/workout/social life schedule then feel free to switch it up.  The only pieces of advice I would give are to

  • Don’t put 2 high carb days back-to-back
  • Don’t put too many high carb days on rest days. Once in a while is fine.

 

Water Weight – If you are eating low carb before you start be prepared to see the scale shoot up in the days following a high carb day.  That is just water weight due to the increase in carbs.  It will go away in a few days.  I’ll admit it’s a little disheartening but the benefits the following week are well worth it.  Stick it out.

 

High Carb Days – High carb days are not a free reign food fest of eating shit.  Throw in some cookies, bread or whatever else you’re craving but don’t go crazy.  Keep calories in check.  The poison is in the dose with carbs, keep it in check and you’ll do fine.

 

Keep it simple – Don’t get bogged down with counting calories and macros.  It’s time consuming and sucks.  Plan one day, the medium carb day to count macros and just adjust from there.

 

I keep my protein consistent everyday so it’s once less thing to think about.  Next, I add veggies (which don’t count towards carbs) to lunch and dinner every day.  I keep a few meals of things I enjoy like breakfast (2 pieces of wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana) and after dinner snack (two ounces of pistachios).  These are the backbone of my program.  Odds are you have something in your current eating situation you eat daily.  From there all I have to do is add or remove servings of carbs to the other meals.

 

I’ll add oatmeal after a workout, sweet potato or rice to lunch or a Chobani Greek yogurt to my 3 pm snack depending on which day it is.  Word of caution about sweet potatoes, 1 sweet potato, at least where I get them, are freakin monstrous.  I can usually get 2 sometimes 3 meals out of 1.  Make sure to weigh it out and figure out the macros before you go blowing your progress over a sweet potato with elephantiasis.

 

Don’t get bogged down in the details; you still have a life to live.  The key to carb cycling is the varying calories throughout the week.  As long as you keep things in check you’ll see results.

 

WHAT MY WEEK LOOKS LIKE

 

As a point of reference, here is my week in all its gloriousness.

 

High Carb Day

Breakfast

Banana

2 TBSP peanut butter

2 pieces of wheat toast

 

Post Workout

2 scoops of protein

½ cup oatmeal

 

Breakfast 2

4 oz. 93% ground beef

3 whole eggs

 

Lunch

Salad with wine vinegar dressing

8 oz. chicken

1 cup of brown rice

 

3pm

Chobani Greek Yogurt

3 Mozzarella string cheese sticks

 

Dinner

8 oz. of a lean meat (usually chicken or turkey)

1-2 cups of veggies

2 oz. of pistachios in front of the TV

 

Medium Carb Day

Breakfast

Banana

2 TBSP peanut butter

2 pieces of wheat toast

 

Post Workout

2 Scoops of protein

½ cup oatmeal

 

Breakfast 2

4 oz. 93% ground beef

3 whole eggs

 

Lunch

Salad with wine vinegar dressing

8 oz. chicken

 

3pm (aka the lactose intolerant hell)

Chobani Greek Yogurt

3 Mozzarella string cheese sticks

 

Dinner

8 oz. of a lean meat (usually chicken or turkey)

1-2 cups of veggies

2 oz. of pistachios in front of the TV

 

Low Carb Day

Breakfast

Banana

2 TBSP peanut butter

2 pieces of wheat toast

 

Post Workout

2 Scoops of protein

 

Breakfast 2

4 oz. 93% ground beef

3 whole eggs

 

Lunch

Salad with wine vinegar dressing

8 oz. chicken

 

3pm

Chobani Greek Yogurt

3 Mozzarella string cheese sticks

 

Dinner

8 oz. of a lean meat (usually chicken or turkey)

1-2 cups of veggies

2 oz. of pistachios in front of the TV

 

Simple, boring but most importantly effective.

 

Your Turn

 

Do you have any diet staples like the ones I have?

 

Don’t forget to share  below!

 

Dave