Carb cycling involves days of eating a range of high carbohydrate foods, days of moderate carbohydrate intake and often days of low or no carbohydrate intake.
Carbohydrate / carb cycling is said to stimulate certain metabolic functions, such as insulin sensitivity, thyroid hormones and leptin* – which in turn has benefits for health, fat loss and potentially muscle hypertrophy (muscle-size).
In it’s simplest form, a carb cycling diet would involve eating a high amount of carbohydrate on training/exercise days and lower carbohydrates on rest days.
The basic concept is that having low carb days will make you more ‘insulin sensitive’ meaning that when you do eat a high amount of carbohydrate, more of it will be shuttled to the muscles for fuel and less will be stored as fat.
This is (kind of) the opposite of type 2 diabetes whereby constant high sugar consumption, effectively stops insulin from working as well, and blood sugar rises, more carbs are stored as fat and very little is stored in the muscles (especially if you don’t exercise).
Whilst on a carb cycling diet, a middleweight MMA fighter might consume 350-400g of carbohydrates on training days and 75-100g on rest days. On training days, the same fighter may aim to consume 3500 calories in total and 3200 calories on rest days.
For greater insulin sensitivity, he may also do a very low carb & high fat day, whereby he eats 30g of carbohydrate only.
Lower carb days might involve eating more vegetables, grass-fed organic meat, wild fish and healthy fats such as coconut oil. Typically protein intake remains fairly consistent throughout a typical week, however fat intake will increase on rest days/low carb days.
In theory, you could be ‘carb cycling’ and eat rubbish, low quality carbs on high carb days and still be adhering to the protocol, however, in order to gain the greatest health benefits from this diet, people will normally eat carbs on high carb days from sources such as:
High Quality Carbohydrate Foods
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
Benefits of Carb Cycling
- Higher insulin sensitivity / reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (as long as high carb days don’t contain high amounts of sugar)
- Possible to enter ketosis if carbs are manipulated appropriately, which can have numerous health benefits
- Some anecdotal evidence that it can help increase strength thanks to ‘carbohydrate super-compensation‘
- Some evidence that it can increase lean muscle mass
- Scientific evidence that it promotes fat loss to a greater extent than traditional method of calorie restriction alone. Study here.
Carb Cycling Diet Plan
High Carb Day 1
High Protein Porridge
Cinnamon to taste
Egg salad with pasta and plenty of raw green vegetables
Chicken salad sandwiches using wholemeal bread
Stir fry with brown rice
Low Carb Day 1
Low carb smoothie
Whey or hemp protein powder
20g coconut oil or cream
2 ice cubes
1 tbsp peanut butter
Handful of spinach
Whey Protein shake with flax seed powder
Feta cheese salad with olive oil & lots of raw spinach & kale
Handful of nuts
Coffee with coconut oil
Hummus and carrot sticks
Low carb Cajun Cauli Hash
Add smoothie if extra calories are required:
– Tin of coconut oil (check at least 50% coconut oil, cartons are typically 2-3% and tins which are 100% are more difficult to blend as they are solid at room temp)
– Hemp seeds
– 10ml olive oil
– 10g peanut butter
*Leptin is a hormone which signals when you are full
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