Carbohydrate cycling is a method of carbohydrate manipulation that utilizes days of eating both high and low amounts of carbohydrates on a daily basis.

Name: Justin Bland
University: University of Leeds
Course: BSc (hons) Sport and Exercise Sciences with Physiology
Year of Study: Graduated in 2015, Starting an MSc Nutrition.

 

Why Carb Cycle?

  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • The low insulin levels from the low carbohydrate days will allow for more efficient fat burning as insulin blunts lipolysis (fat burning)
  • Helps spare lean muscle mass as the high carbohydrate days allow carbohydrates to become the primary energy source so the body wont be converting excess amino acids in the body for energy. Also carbohydrates cause an increase in insulin levels which is a highly anabolic hormone that aids in protein synthesis
  • High carbohydrate days help blunt cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone which is released during times of stress and dieting, so blunting its catabolic effects aid in the maintenance of muscle mass
  • Can be adapted for both fat loss and weight gain by manipulation of overall calorie levels.
  • When looking to increase in muscle mass, carbohydrate cycling is a good way of minimizing excess bodyfat due to the low carbohydrate days blunting the insulin response and the high carbohydrate days which increases the hormone leptin, leptin is one of the best fat burning hormones. Leptin levels decrease when in an extended period of calorie restriction, so high carbohydrate days allow for extra calories to be eaten and enables leptin levels to increase and therefore increases fat burning.

 

 

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Examples

This example is for an individual weighing 180lbs looking to decrease body fat levels on 2000 calories a day (with the individual being a 500kcal maintenance deficit daily). Protein levels stay consistent throughout the whole week but carbohydrate and fats are manipulated daily, hence the name ‘carbohydrate cycling’ ;).

  • Day 1- P-216g C-100g F-82g Calories-2000
  • Day 2- P-216g C-100g F-82g Calories-2000
  • Day 3- P-216g C-100g F-82 Calories-2000
  • Day 4- P-216 C- 250g F-40g Calories-2224
  • Day 5- P-216g C-100g F-82g Calories-2000
  • Day 6- P-216g C-100g F-82g Calories-2000
  • Day 7- P-216 C- 250g F-40g Calories-2224

 

This is obviously just a theoretical example trying to illustrate the concept. This person is following 3 low carbohydrate days at 100g a day, followed by one high day of 250g. Then the person has 2 more low carbohydrate days at 100g daily and one high day at 250g.

The pattern is; low,low,low,high,low,low,high.

Looking at the weekly picture your calorie intake will average out at a deficit throughout the whole week, which will result in a loss in bodyweight. The manipulation of carbohydrate levels, will allow the benefits of insulin’s anabolic properties and increase in leptin levels on high days and the fat burning benefits on low carbohydrate days, due to the lack of circulating insulin.

Another common method of carb cycling is to match your carb intake with the size of the muscle group your training that day. Leg days being high carb days, upper body being medium carb days and cardio, abs and rest days being low carb days. This can be seen as a more efficient use of the energy source, maximising your carb intake when it’s most needed and making sure your hormones are in the right place for each particular training day.

 

 

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Progression

When results start to slow down you can tweak your plan to help revive progression. Ways to progress carbohydrate cycling…

  1. change the amount and order of low/medium/high days you do
  2. change the amount of carbohydrates you eat on low/medium/high days depending on your goals
  3. increasing calorie expenditure from exercise.

There are a variety of progressions available to you when looking to keep progressing. But as with every diet, remember not to use all your tools at once. Little changes over a long period of time will see greater long term results.

 

Justin Bland
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