If you’re doing intense workouts more than 2 or 3 times a week (whether it be cardio are intense strength training) carb cycling is one of those “advanced tricks” that will ensure you maintain your strength and energy, while keeping your fat loss headed in the right direction!
To understand why carb cycling is important, you’ll want to read my other article on glycogen. (For real, this is important. Don’t skip it). You can read that article here.
Back? Great. Now that you’ve got a full understanding of what glycogen is and why it’s important to keep your glycogen stores full, let’s talk about one possible strategy for achieving that, without having to eat excessive amounts of carbs.
Carb cycling isn’t for everyone
Note that carb cycling basically applies to two groups of people. If you don’t fall into one of these two groups, you can skip this article complete.
- People who are doing a keto-based diet, are reasonably active, and have been eating a ketogenic diet for more than about 60 days.
- People who are doing a traditional diet (a healthy mix of carbs, fat, and protein), AND are doing high-intensity cardio or strength training MORE than 2 or 3 times a week.
If you don’t fall into either of the above 2 categories, carb cycling isn’t going to help.
What is a carb-cycling day?
The goal of your “carb cycling day” is to refill your glycogen stores. Pick a day that you are going to be reasonably active (for athletes, this is your most intense workout day of the week).
You are basically going to eat your normal protocol, except add 600 calories worth of HEALTHY carbs to the routine. This is 150g of carbs on top of what you are normally eating. (You will love this!!)
Healthy carbs are things like whole-wheat pancakes, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, bananas,
For people doing keto
The biggest problem with keto is that, for most people, their liver is incapable of keeping glycogen stores completely full. This eventually results in weight-loss becoming difficult, or an overall feeling of lethargy. If you have the kind of job that keeps you on your feet all day, you regularly do light exercise (like going for a walk 3 or 4 times a week) or you’ve been doing a ketogenic diet for a very long period of time, carb cycling is something you ought to look into.
The more active you are on keto, the more often you’ll need to “carb cycle”.
- If you are very active or do high-intensity exercise on keto, you should consider carb cycling every 2 weeks.
- If you are moderately active, do it once a month.
- If you aren’t active at all, do it every 60 to 90 days.
Note that a carb-cycling day will most definitely kick you out of ketosis. (e.g. it will halt your weight loss for 2-3 days). It’s worth it, since the renewed energy you’ll feel, and your body’s break from producing ketones, will recharge your weight loss ability. Also note that if you stick to healthy carbs and avoid anything sugary (candy, fruit, etc.) you actually have a shot at staying in ketosis through a carb cycling day, as long as you spread the carbs out throughout the day).
For athletes doing a traditional approach
If you’re doing intense strength or cardio training more than 2 or 3 times a week, you should be doing carb cycling once a week. Pick your heaviest workout day and eat up!
What to expect
Put simply: You’ll gain weight the day after you do your carb cycling. This isn’t fat, it’s water, since you’ll be putting your body into a state of shock at all the extra carbs you just pounded. (This requires water to process them). This isn’t a bad thing, as not only does it refill glycogen, but it keeps your metabolism guessing.
Your weight loss chart will show a slight bump-up the day after your carb-loading, followed by a slow, steady trend downward after that. It’ll take about 3 days to get back to your “pre-carb-loading” weight, and then it’ll drop lower. The water weight, essentially, will be hiding your fat-burn progress.
Never fear, not only will you feel a renewed sense of energy after each carb-cycling round, but this is also a highly-effective strategy for breaking plateaus and forcing the scale to new lows.
Enjoy the delicious carbs!