How To – Carb Cycling

What is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a relatively simple concept. Or at least, I like to keep it simple. Recall that the body likes to use carbohydrates for its source of energy for intense physical activity. So if you are doing high intensity anaerobic activity for exercise, your body needs carbs. Well, what about rest days in between, when you don’t do much more than walking and stretching? On those days, your body does not need as many carbs. This is carb cycling: higher intake of carbs on workout days and lesser intake of carbs on non-workout days. Simple.

Your body uses either fat or carbs as its main source of energy. So on your workout high carbohydrate days, you should naturally eat less fat. On your non-workout low carbohydrate days, you should eat more fat.

Carb Cycling in Action

Continuing the example, a workout day for me would look like this:

Total calories: 2500 cal

  • Protein: 200 g (800 cal, 32% of total)
  • Carbs: 250 g (1000 cal, 40% of total)
  • Fat: 78 g (700 cal, 28% of total)

So on my workout days, I would strive to eat 250 grams of carbs per day. Now let’s look at a non-workout, rest day:

Total calories: 2500 cal

  • Protein: 200 g (800 cal, 32% of total)
  • Carbs: 150 g (600 cal, 24% of total)
  • Fat: 122 g (1100 cal, 44% of total)

This is assuming just a maintenance, no fat loss or muscle gain. Also keep in mind these are just example numbers. The macros will be different for everyone, but the concept is the same. Eat more carbs on days you workout more intensely, and eat less carbs on days you workout less intensely.

Sources of Carbs

Not all carbs are created equal, and depending on the day and time, you want to get the right source of carbs. Your body releases insulin when carbs are consumed. However, depending on the type of carb consumed, your body’s insulin response can vary. The measure of the body’s insulin response to a type of carbohydrate is referred to as the glycemic index (GI). A high GI carb consumed will result in higher blood sugar levels, which results in a larger and quicker insulin response. High GI foods are rapidly digested and absorbed. Alternatively, low GI foods, because of the nature of their slow digestion and absorption, produce a more gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin.

carb cycling

On workout days, you’ll want to eat high GI carbs, particularly centered around your workout for the day. Eating high GI foods before your workout gives you the necessary fuel your body needs for fuel. Afterwards, the insulin spike from eating high GI foods is necessary to ensure your cells get the nutrients they need. You’ll want to be consuming whole, natural sources of glucose which come from: potatoes, yams, rice, etc.

On non-workout days, you want to make sure to not spike your blood sugar and insulin levels too much. Your body stops burning fat when your blood sugar levels are high. Since you aren’t working out intensely on these rest days, you’d rather your body use fat for fuel. This means that on rest days, your carbohydrate source should have a low GI. These usually consist of fructose, which comes from mostly fruits and vegetables.

carb cycling

Wrap Up

Carb cycling is a powerful tool for burning fat and maintaining muscle mass, in other words, staying a lean mean fat burning machine. I encourage you to practice it until it becomes second nature and just something you do. I also suggest incorporating carb cycling with intermittent fasting for ultimate weight loss and physique maintenance.

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