In this new weekly series I will breakdown different dieting strategies, the pros and cons behind these diets, who they are best suited for, and practical applications for use in your own diet. I will also give out a few different (very easy and simple) recipes to try that relate to the dietary technique being discussed.
The winner for the most talked about, scrutinized, and romanticized macronutrient goes to: carbohydrates.
Carbs are the most flexible macro, as they can be as simple as plain white rice or as unique as sugary cereals. Carbs make you feel good by giving you blood sugar spikes, and make you feel bad afterwards with blood sugar drops. Carbs can be the difference between being ripped and hard, to being overweight and diabetic.
With the aforementioned being stated, it makes sense then that when we diet we restrict or cut out all carbs doesn’t it? Well it’s a little more complicated than that. When we ingest carbs our muscle glycogen, or the fuel our muscles use, is replenished. This ensures that we are recovering properly and have enough energy in our muscles to get through the next workout.
Carbs also cause an insulin response in our bodies. Insulin stores sugar as fat and also produces an anabolic effect, which can help promote muscle growth. When blood sugar levels rise the body produces insulin to either store the sugar as fat or send it out for energy. Too much carb consumption can cause the body to store an excess amount of blood sugar as fat.
So, we know that carbs can cause body fat accumulation, but can also elicit muscle growth and help to maintain muscle tissue. How do we get the best of both worlds? Carb Cycling.
Carb Cycling 101
Every carb cycling approach can be set up differently, but this is a general overview of what exactly carb cycling is. Carb cycling is manipulating carb consumption on different days to elicit a particular response within the body. This means some days you take in more carbohydrates than others. With this type of approach, you can maximize muscle growth without sacrificing fat gain. Obviously if you are in a caloric surplus for an extended period of time fat gain is inevitable, but this approach may help minimize these effects.
An example of this type of approach would be 4 low days and 3 high days. The low days might not exactly mean zero carbs, just lower than your high days. This topic is too broad and person dependent to give an exact protocol.
- Very easy to follow dieting approach. Lay out your high and low days and then plug in the calories and macros for those days.
- Flexible for either those looking to gain or cut. You can easily use this dieting tactic if you want to gain some mass but do not want to add on excess body fat.
- If used with a GDA, fat gain could be minimized even further. Redcon1RPG is a product you can take before each carbohydrate heavy meal (in this case before every carb meal on your high carb days during a carb cycle). RPG works as an insulin mimetic and helps the body release insulin in a slower manner, meaning the likelihood of glucose turning into fat tissue will be minimized. This product works to lower the amount of blood sugar in the bloodstream, and transporting that glucose into the muscle to be stored as glycogen. Glycogen is used by the body in the muscle cell to be used as fuel during exercise. RPG is much safer than exogenous insulin (which is used a lot of times in a carb cycling diet). This product is non-hormonal, instead acting as an insulin mimetic. This product must be taken with carbs to be effective, and to be taken safely. Just like endogenous or exogenous insulin, too little sugar intake can cause a drop-in blood sugar.
- It’s not as restrictive as many calorie deficit diets would be.
- Keep leptin (the hunger hormone) levels at a healthy level.
- Even without the use of a GDA, insulin sensitivity should remain relatively high. This is the case because low carbohydrate days are followed by higher days.
- Not everyone can diet on high carbs, even if there are more low days than high days. Some people also could not handle the fluctuation in blood sugar levels a diet like this has.
- It still takes some ingenuity to figure out what works best in a carb cycle for each individual person. I would not recommend someone trying a carb cycle for a contest prep if they have never tried it before.
- For ectomorphs and hard gainers this diet could prove to be counterproductive as calories during low days might not be enough.
- The leaner a person gets the harder it’s going to be to lose body fat with a carb cycling approach such as this. Low carb days may need to be adjusted to fit the leanness of the individual. For example, the higher carb day might only be once a week or once every 10 days.
In my opinion carb cycling is one of the most, if not the most, effective ways to lose body fat while helping to maintain muscle tissue. It helps to maintain energy levels in a severe deficit, improve cognitive function, and keep morale high as the calories continue to drop. This diet would be best suited for most in a caloric deficit, however for those prone to gaining body fat quickly this can be used in an offseason or mass gaining phase. If you want to lean up while also holding onto muscle mass, give carb cycling a try!
Carb Cycling Recipe
This recipe would be best used during a low carb day during a carb cycle.
Buffalo Ground Beef Lettuce Wraps
- 1 pound 96/4 lean ground beef.
- 1 head of lettuce
- 3 green onions.
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt.
- 1 cup low fat mozzarella cheese.
- ½ cup Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
- Brown ground beef and season with garlic salt and pepper to taste.
- After beef has been cooked through add the hot sauce and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Chop the green onion and add to the beef mixture.
- Break apart lettuce to make pieces that are big enough to add one to two ounces of ground beef.
- Add beef to lettuce and top with mozzarella cheese.
Approx. Macros per lettuce wrap with 1 ounce ground beef:
Protein: 8 g
Carbohydrates: 1 g
Fat: 2 g