What if I were to tell you that you can enjoy wholesome meals and eat to your heart’s content and still maintain your weight, or, for that matter, even lose weight. Sounds impossible? Well! The good news is, we can use one approach, where you can eat and not only keep your weight under control, you could potentially drop fat. All extreme diet plans can turn you neurotic at some point in time. This usually happens when you’re on a low or no carb diet for a prolonged period. This approach is very good and helps to keep your sanity in place. I have been a firm advocate of a low carb high protein diet and it has worked wonders for me. However, I had hit a weight loss plateau and did not know how to progress from there. It was extremely disappointing as I had put in a lot of hard work but my body stopped responding after a point. I would literally pull my hair and couldn’t figure out why this was happening. The answer I got in due course of time was, if you do the same thing, you will get the same results, unless, you make a change. I was eating the same quantity of food and doing the same workout for a very long period. My body got used to this and I stopped burning fat. I knew I had to make a change somewhere, however, I wasn’t sure what kind of change. Then I was introduced to this protocol. I realized it is relatively easy and better structured as compared to other diet protocols. The results have been overwhelming. So, what is this diet protocol? Well it’s called “Carb Cycling”
What is it? It’s calculated manipulation of your carb intake to encourage fat loss. The diet boosts your metabolism and prevents you from overcoming weight loss or growth plateau. How? We will get into details in a minute.
To be simple, it is consuming high carbohydrate meals on certain days vs low carbohydrate or no carbohydrate meals on other days.
It also increases and decreases your total caloric intake. This sort of a diet maintains metabolism and prevents your body from getting into a stable state or maintain status quo. Initial fat loss is easy. Remember the shock principle. When you introduce your body to an exercise and nutrition plan, it responds well ‘cause its new for the body. Then, in due course of time, it stabilizes. Stability keeps you in the same position unless you change your routine. Let’s understand how this works physically.
Your body will always fight to get into a comfortable position. This is the basic nature of your physical self. For e.g. let’s say you are doing a bicep curl. After 6-8 reps when your endurance starts to wear off, your body sends a signal to your brain to stop as the muscle can’t take the load of the weight any longer. This is your body’s way of fighting to get into its comfort zone. And then you push another 2-3 reps which tears your micro fibers due to muscle overload which promotes hypertrophy. Similarly, when you eat the same amount of calories and stay on that for a prolonged period, your body will adjust to that and makes it your Basal metabolic rate and you will hit a weight loss plateau. So, cutting a long story short, the body looks to relax and prevent itself from getting into distress all the time and you must fight with it to make it grow, shrink, transform whatever your goal for that matter. Now, as established, once you consistently follow a program (nutrition and training), the body adjusts to that and after a point you will hit plateau. Which means, biologically the body ceases to change. Hence, workouts and nutrition plans need to be tweaked periodically. Extreme diets (high protein-low carb) for a prolonged period can get you into a distressed state metabolically, resulting in low or no fat loss. This happens due to slow metabolism resulting from these diets. These are not lifestyle diets. Introducing carb cycling into your routine will help the body get back into burning fat more efficiently by regulating your metabolism. So, when you re-feed yourself or have a cheat meal after a long period of dieting, there is an instant release of energy for some time. That’s your leptin levels going up. Leptin is a hormone which is synthesized primarily by your adipose tissue. After indulging in a high carb meal your body releases leptin which gets your metabolism back on track and keeps your hunger pangs in check. This boosts your testosterone and growth hormone which originally got affected due to the metabolic stress caused by prolonged dieting. However, a cheat meal or re-feed day are arbitrary and unplanned. You mostly binge on these days and don’t keep a track of your calories. Carb cycling, however, is a planned method of high intake vs low intake of carbs where we know the exact amount to be manipulated to prevent the body from hitting a weight loss plateau resulting in better and efficient fat loss. Extreme diet plans can stress you physiologically and this approach relieves you from getting into that state. You still must eat below your maintenance calories to induce weight loss. That rule of thumb does not change, its energy in vs energy out which leads to drop in body-fat. However, this approach lets you indulge in eating high carbs on certain days resulting in better fat loss management. It’s not as simple as low carb today and high carb tomorrow and you see a miracle the third day. There are rules to the program. Let’s get into it.
In this approach, your body is not given an opportunity to adjust to a routine as every now and then you manipulate your calorie intake which keeps your body confused. There is more than one way to carb cycle. I will touch on the one which is popular and has worked for me as well.
- High carb days
- Low carb days
- No carb days
High carb days- Schedule your high carb days on heavy training days. You can go up to eating anything between 1.25 grams to 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of body-weight. Be prepared to experience some water weight gain. Make sure to eat complex or low glycemic carbs as they are not broken down instantly which will keep your insulin levels constant. Keep your fats low to offset the surplus carb intake which will keep you in a caloric deficit from your maintenance. Remember the 20% reduction rule. Instead of dropping carbs on the high carb day, drop your fats to be in a deficit. Do not drop your protein at any cost. In all approaches, our protein remains constant (1gm per pound of body-weight).
Low carb days- We will look to eat anything between 0.5-0.75 gms of carbs per pound of body-weight. Subsequently, increase your fats a little bit to make up for the loss. Make sure to eat complex or low glycemic carbs.
No carb days- This is essentially followed on non-training days or on days where your training intensity is less compared to other days. You cut the grains out completely and get your carbs from veggies. You can eat veggies in all your meals and it doesn’t count as carbs. They are very low in calories and can be eaten in substantial amounts.
Let’s take my example. My heaviest days are Monday and Thursday. I train chest and back on Monday and legs on Thursday. I make sure to have carbs with every meal on these days. Helps to keep my glycogen stores full and ensures a spill over to the next day, which is either a low-carb or no-carb day. My non-training day is Sunday and sometimes a Friday. I don’t consume any grains on my non-training days as my level of activity is restricted to a short run or swim only, however, I ensure to eat a lot of vegetables and that is my only source of carbs on the non-training day. All the other days my carbs are moderate and this way I manipulate my total caloric intake.
Few rules to follow,
- Do a short cardio session on your high carb days to keep the energy expenditure high.
- Keep your protein at 1 gm per pound of body-weight. This increases thermogenesis. What is that? As explained in my other article. Thermogenesis is the process of producing heat in the body by burning calories. The amount of energy your body requires to break down or process protein will always be more than it requires to process carbs. Hence, eating a high protein diet causes a better thermic effect of food. In layman terms, your body burns more calories at a faster rate on a high protein diet vs a low protein diet.
- As explained above- keep your fats low on high carb days- one gram of fat has 9 calories.
- To lose weight, maintain your target weekly calorie level. So if you are supposed to be eating 14000 calories a week (2000 every day) which is after the 20% reduction rule. Instead of manipulating your carbs only, we manipulate fats on high carb days to stay in a deficit.
- Make sure to choose complex carbs like, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa etc. The body takes time to break them down (due to their low glycemic index) hence there is no instant insulin spike.
- Be smart about this. If you notice too much of water retention on high carb days, adjust your carbohydrate and bring it down by a bit. Aim to eat at least 1 gm per pound of body-weight on high carb days to boost your metabolism.
- Veggies don’t count as carbs. So, you can consume veggies in every meal on your low carb days and other days as well to maintain your fiber intake. Mix it with your favorite protein and I promise you won’t miss anything.
- Remember to maintain your training intensity. If you don’t train hard enough on high carb days, most of the food will get stored as fat.
We lift; therefore, we are!
It’s Flex Friday! Hope you guys have a pumping weekend!