What is it?
Carb cycling is simply splitting your carb intake for the week into three different daily amounts – low, moderate and high – to best complement your training regime.
Why should I do it?
Carbs in your diet trigger the release of the hormone insulin – one of the most important anabolic hormones in the body. Insulin directly influences the amount of amino acids and glucose transported to your muscle cells. Put simply, the more of it coursing through your body, the more your muscles grow. And it also prevents the mobilisation of nutrients stored in your muscles either as intramuscular glycogen or muscle tissue. Which means alongside helping build muscle tissue, it also protects against muscle breakdown.
A continuous high level of insulin, however, will create fat storage. Carb cycling, when you get it right, gives you the best of both worlds: optimum muscle gains; zero fat storage.
How do I do it?
By loading up with carbs on the brutal training days that would ordinarily suck the life out of you, but treating your body as if it’s in a cutting phase on the days when you don’t need excess energy.
So, on the days of your toughest sessions you would choose a high carb day, for your secondary workouts or less intense sessions you would choose a moderate carb day, and for your rest days you would choose a low carb day.
High days – in which you shovel in all the carbs your body can handle – refill your glycogen stores and promote the anabolic environment required for optimal muscle gains. Medium days allow you to maintain your glycogen levels with fewer total calories – you’ll have enough carbs to fuel your workout and prevent tissue breakdown, but not enough to be highly anabolic. Low days are ideal for when you’re just playing and enjoying outdoors. Your body, with its low insulin levels, will be primed for burning away body fat. And with fewer carbs, you’ll be eating more fats, which benefits hormone production and helps keep your body sensitive to insulin on the medium and high days.
Which carbs are best?
Leaving gluten out is obvious. I would steer towards yams and sweet potatoes (these last ones are incredibly delicious in almost everything), pumpkin and other starchy veg would be ideal to replenish those glycogen stores. Fruit tends to replenish mostly liver glycogen and too much fructose isn’t really ideal. I would aim for all carbs to be consumed in the peri workout period (pre and post) to maximise the anabolic response and hopefully hit some PR’s!
How much carbs should I aim for?
Low day 0.5-1.25 grams per pound of body weight
Medium day 1.5-1.75 grams per pound of body weight
High day 2-3 grams per pound of body weight