The carb cycling diet has been popular among bodybuilders, fitness models and certain types of athletes for decades. Carb cycling — eating more carbs only on certain days — is believed to be beneficial as one of the best diet plans to lose weight and gain muscle because it stimulates certain digestive and metabolic functions.
Carb cycling is a method of dieting that involves planned increases and decreases in carbohydrate intake. Fat intake becomes low when carbs are high and high when carbs are low. Carb cycling is considered an aggressive and high level nutrition strategy.
There are many different carb cycling protocols, but most have you alternate between at least two of three types of days:
- High-carb days
High-carb days typically call for 2 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. They are usually your highest calorie days.
- Low-carb days
Low-carb days typically call for about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. They are usually your second-highest calorie days.
- No-carb days
No-carb days typically call for less than 30 grams of carbohydrate. They are usually your lowest calorie days.
Why would carb cycling be important?
It’s important to distinguish between the short term and chronic long term effects of carbohydrate and calorie restriction.
Although the body handles short-term deprivation relatively well, a strict nutritional regimen of low calories or low carbohydrates can be hard on the body over the long haul.
Missing a meal here or there, or dropping carbohydrates very low, isn’t disastrous when it’s occasional and brief.
However, restricting calories and/or carbohydrates for longer periods can have negative metabolic effects.
Although every carb cycling diet plan is different and needs to be customized based on whether weight loss or muscle gain is the primary goal, most carb cycling diets build in about one to three days per week when you can consume more carb-heavy foods like potatoes or grains.
What types of things do you eat when you’re not boosting your carb intake? On lower-carb days, foods like non-starchy veggies, grass-fed meats, eggs and healthy fats are the base of your meals. Why would someone choose to carb cycle instead of just dieting the old-fashioned way? Some the advantages that a carb cycling diet has include:
- preserving muscle mass and preventing muscle wasting
- helping muscle recoveryafter workouts
- boosting weight loss or reducing body fat percentage
- preventing a dip in your metabolic rate
- including flexibility and a variety of healthy foods
- allowing you to keep your favorite meals as part of your plan
- giving you more energy
- preventing extreme hunger or fatigue
- helping to prevent hormone imbalances
The primary benefit of a carb cycling diet is it intensifies and often speeds up weight loss while still preserving and even building lean muscle mass. When it comes to improving body composition, this is the gold standard because it keeps your metabolism running efficiently and allows you to maintain your weight more easily long term.