• A Better Way Of Carb Cycling

      by Mike Roussell, PhD T-Nation

      Carb cycling is a time-tested strategy used by bodybuilders and physique competitors for both getting contest-shredded and staying lean while packing on off-season muscle.

      Until recently, carb cycling had remained off the mainstream radar, reserved for articles and discussion forums found on bodybuilding websites frequented mainly by diehard physique enthusiasts.

      However, scientists recently got wind of carb-cycling strategies and decided to put them to the test against two other popular dieting protocols. Here's how it stacked up and how you can put this research approved twist on carb cycling to work for you.

      Traditional Carb Cycling
      Carb cycling has been written about in great detail here at T Nation. In my Carb Cycling for Idiots article I outlined the following approach:

      No Starch: This is obvious, you just don't eat any starches. Your carbohydrate intake will be made up entirely of fruits and vegetables.

      Low Starch: You'll have starches during your workouts and in the first meal following your workout.

      Moderate Starch: You'll have workout starches and starches at your first two meals following your workout.

      High Starch: Breakfast starches, workout starches, and starches at your first two post workout meals.

      Now if you use the "starch cycling" approach, depending on whether you're doing full-body training or some kind of upper/lower split training, your weekly nutrition plan would look like this:

      Full Body Training Schedule
      Sunday: Off – No Starches
      Monday: Full body – High Starch
      Tuesday: Off – No Starches
      Wednesday: Full body – High Starch
      Thursday: Off – No Starches
      Friday: Full body – High Starch

      T Nation contributor Tim Henriques, in his article, Carb Cycling for Fat Loss, presented the following ideas:

      Super Strict: The carbs are most limited in this phase. You can have up to 50 grams a day, and the majority of those carbs must come from veggies; no traditional starch or sugar in this phase.

      Normal: This is the main phase of this plan. It's a lower carbohydrate, higher natural protein and fat diet. You can have up to 100 grams of carbs a day, most of which will come from veggies with a small amount of fruit and starch, but not from junk food.

      High Carb: On high-carb days, you're encouraged to consume a large amount of carbohydrates, generally in the 400-800 gram per day range. The purpose is to replenish the body's glycogen stores, stimulate an anabolic response through insulin release, and give the mind a break from the moderately restrictive normal phase of the diet.

      You'd then put these diet guidelines into play in two ways if you wanted to drop some fat:

      Rapid weight loss: Follow Super Strict for 3-14 days to promote significant weight loss, then move to Normal weight loss for maintenance.
      Normal weight loss: Combine 5-6 days of Normal with 1-2 days of High Carb. If losing weight too fast, add in a half to a full day of High Carb; if you're not losing weight fast enough, reduce High Carb by a half-day.
      Matt McGorry shared this approach in A Beginners' Guide to Carb Cycling:

      High Day
      Carbs: 2-3 grams per pound of body weight
      Protein: 1-1.25 grams per pound of body weight
      Fat: as little as possible

      Low and Moderate Days
      Carbs: 0.5-1.5 grams per pound of body weight
      Protein: 1.25-1.5 grams per pound of body weight
      Fat: 0.15-0.35 grams per pound of body weight

      And finally, in The Carb Cycling Codex, Christian Thibaudeau outlined a very detailed version of carb cycling that I've summarized below with an example of the macro breakdown for a 200-pound bodybuilder looking to lean out:

      High Carb Days: 330g protein, 344g carbs, 33g fat
      Moderate Days: 330g protein, 275g carbs, 33g fat
      Low(er) Carb Days: 330g protein, 206g carbs, 33g fat

      With all these different options available, is it possible that the researchers from University Hospital in South Manchester England would come up with a different protocol? Yes, very different.

      If you look at the above examples, none of the protocols are very low carb (with the possible exception of Tim Henriques' super strict days).

      Also, you don't see a huge drop in calories with any of these protocols between the normal and lower carb days. That's where this new protocol comes into play.

      Intermittent Low Carb Dieting

      The recently presented Intermittent Low Carb Dieting (what we'd call carb cycling) protocol presented by Michelle Harvie, PhD at a conference in San Antonio combined a Mediterranean Zone-like diet with a low calorie ketogenic diet, the definitions of which follow:

      Restricted Low Carbohydrate Day (Low Carb day): 650 kcal, <50 grams carbs/day
      Restricted Mediterranean Diet (Normal Carb day): 1500 kcal/day, 40/30/30 (carbs/protein/fat)

      Participants were required to undergo 2 Low Carbs days and 5 Normal Carb days each week.

      The study (I estimated the macronutrient breakdown for the Normal carb days) was carried out on overweight women, but since "overweight woman" hardly describes the typical T Nation reader, we need to modify it to fit our needs. Hence:

      Normal Carb day: 2000-2500 kcal (depending on body size), 40/30/30 macronutrient breakdown
      Low Carb day: 1000/1250 kcal (half the calories you'd have on normal days), <50 grams of carbs per day

      What makes this different from other protocols is that you're going very low calorie and ketogenic two days a week. Researchers were able to show that this approach worked almost twice as well for stripping away fat when compared to a plain moderate carbohydrate calorie-restricted diet (9 pounds lost cycling versus 5 pounds lost using a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet).

      If you hate low-carb dieting you're going to love this – the study included a third diet group that followed a traditional ketogenic diet. The carb cycling group lost just as much body fat as those following the ketogenic plan 7 days per week.

      So you "go keto" two days a week, enjoy more carbs the rest of the week, and lose just as much fat.

      Here's how you can put this into action.

      Training Split – Full Body Training 3 workouts/week
      Monday: Total Body, Normal Carb
      Tuesday: Off, Low Carb
      Wednesday: Total Body, Normal Carb
      Thursday: Off, Low Carb
      Friday: Total Body, Normal Carb
      Saturday & Sunday: Off, Normal Carb

      Training Split – Upper/Lower Training 4 workouts/week
      Monday: Upper Body, Normal Carb
      Tuesday: Lower Body, Normal Carb
      Wednesday: Off, Low Carb
      Thursday: Upper Body, Normal Carb
      Friday: Lower Body, Normal Carb
      Saturday: Off, Normal Carb
      Sunday: Off, Low Carb

      Sample Diet – Normal Carb

      Meal 1
      1/3-cup steel cut oats (with 2/3-1 cup water)
      2 scoops Metabolic Drive® Low Carb vanilla
      1/2 cup blueberries

      Meal 2
      1 scoop Metabolic Drive® Low Carb chocolate
      1 cup frozen pitted unsweetened cherries
      2 tbsp natural peanut butter
      2-3 cups water
      3-4 ice cubes

      Meal 3
      2 boneless chicken thighs
      1 onion, diced
      1 pepper, diced
      1 cup black beans
      2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

      Meal 4 - Workout
      2 scoops Surge® Recovery

      Meal 5
      8 oz flank steak
      1/3-cup quinoa, dry measure (+ 2/3-cup water to cook)
      1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
      1 cup green beans

      Sample Diet – Low Carb
      (Add 5 grams of Leucine Structured Peptides 2x during the day, between meals)

      Meal 1
      4 omega-3 eggs
      2 cups baby spinach

      Meal 2
      1 oz cheddar cheese

      Meal 3
      8 oz grass fed strip steak
      10 stalks asparagus

      Meal 4
      6 oz salmon
      2 cups broccoli florets

      This version of carb cycling has been show to work very well in eliciting weight loss while controlling insulin levels. The ketogenic days are very simple to follow and can easily fit into any schedule, allowing you to plan to have more carbs on days when a little dietary freedom would be appreciated.

      Get Cycling!

      Carb cycling works – bodybuilders figured that out a long time ago – but it's always a hoot when the starchy collar academics finally validate something we've all been doing for years.

      Check out some of the carb cycling variations listed earlier and find one that best suits your needs, or try the plan outlined here. Hey, studies show it works!

      Source: http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?****5069233
      Comments 9 Comments
      1. Torobestia's Avatar
        Torobestia -
        Kind of a cool article. I might give this a shot my next cutting cycle. I don't mind a restrictive diet psychologically but I seem to stall pretty hard after 12-16 week mark (since I do it naturally, maybe it's the same for others, but I don't imagine so). Cycling seems to be the key.
      1. MidwestBeast's Avatar
        MidwestBeast -
        Very interesting. The new style (when modified for a bodybuilder) is similar in total calorie consumption to what a lot of the guys using IF/Lean Gains do. Your calories are kept "normal" on your lifting days, but restricted to a very low number on your off or cardio-only days. I would imagine following this protocol with the restriction of carbs on those off days would certainly add a note of effectiveness. I'd say it's certainly worth trying (and healthier than a long-term CKD).
      1. Bryanz47's Avatar
        Bryanz47 -
        If someone can explain the reason behind such low fats?
      1. Torobestia's Avatar
        Torobestia -
        Originally Posted by Bryanz47 View Post
        If someone can explain the reason behind such low fats?
        Nutritionists were involved in the design of the diet.


        But that is one point I would modify - I wouldn't really consume under 80g. (6'3 250lbs dude needs his dietary fats!)
      1. BatCountry's Avatar
        BatCountry -
        Good info! I'm doing a carb cycle right now, going with the more traditional 3 days of starchy and 3 days of fibrous. It has worked for me before in just 6 weeks i went from 16% bf to 11%. I intend to stay on with it longer this time and aim for 9% or lower. Think i'll try the above for at least a couple of the weeks with the addition of cardio on the low carb days.
      1. Vengeance187's Avatar
        Vengeance187 -
        If this is what he's talking about, then it's a poor study design. The carb cycling group took in 1,700 less calories per week than the other group. A proper design would have the same total weekly calorie consumption in each group. It's unkown whether the results are simply due to the lower calorie consumption, especially when the other site says the results were fairly similar, not drastically different as this article states.
      1. hugry4more's Avatar
        hugry4more -
        Subd for when I cut next year
      1. Bryanz47's Avatar
        Bryanz47 -
        Originally Posted by Torobestia View Post
        Nutritionists were involved in the design of the diet.


        But that is one point I would modify - I wouldn't really consume under 80g. (6'3 250lbs dude needs his dietary fats!)
        Totally agree with you. Isn't there a study showing a correlation between high fats and high test vs. Low fats and lower test (ie. 40 vs. 20)? On my phone so I'll try to find study later
      1. Dr.Stri8ed's Avatar
        Dr.Stri8ed -
        Originally Posted by Bryanz47 View Post

        Totally agree with you. Isn't there a study showing a correlation between high fats and high test vs. Low fats and lower test (ie. 40 vs. 20)? On my phone so I'll try to find study later
        I believe u r correct. I've read that several places too, especially since fat intake correlates with hormone production.
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