The other day my client asked my thoughts on carb cycling, which is the manipulation, or “cycling,” of low carb days and high carb days throughout the week. I’m a proponent on flexible dieting, but am open to all approaches if they are easy and get results.
Carb cycling is used to lose body fat and gain muscle mass, and further there are a million different carb cycling protocols which all manipulate:
- The amount of carbs you are eating relative to protein and fat (high, moderate, and low carb days).
- How often moderate and/or high carb days are cycled in (typically low carb days dominates the week carb cycle).
- How often a “refeed” day happens. Refeeds are days of higher calories, most often correlated with higher intensity workouts that day.
The Science of Carb Cycling
When you drop calories or drop carbs for long periods of time, your metabolic rate will drop as well. This is often what people refer to as starvation mode.
If you drop your calories or carbs for too long, your fat loss will plateau, so mixing in higher carb days and higher calorie “refeed” days ensures that this does not happen by stimulating the thyroid to increase your metabolic rate and put your ghrelin and leptin levels, which effect appetitite and hormones that set your fat homeostasis.
Fat homeostasis is important because it’s the level of body fat your body holds at a set point. Having new body fat set points is key if you want to see definition year round.
Carb cycling also takes advantage of insulin. When carb intake is low, your body becomes more insulin sensitive. On high carb days when insulin is stimulated, the effect is much higher.
That effect being muscle growth.
Carb Cycling Vs Flexible Dieting
For me, and most human beings for that matter, carb cycling requires too much will power and sacrifice to maintain. I felt like ass during low carb days which in turn ruined my workouts. During refeed days, I would go way higher on my calories, which makes sense because more restriction equals more binges.
Worse, on refeed days, the carb cycling community tells you to “eat clean, body building foods.”
That is just garbage. How do you expect to live a normal life when you can’t even go out and eat with your friends and not have to limit yourself?
I never feel restricted during flexible dieting (learn more about flexible dieting HERE). Also, it’s an approach I can follow year round and have the same if not better social life.
The goal is not to get your body fat down. That’s easy. The goal is to get your body fat down, AND KEEP IT DOWN.
Flexible dieting also has refeeds if you are in a caloric deficit to offset the effects of “starvation mode.”
Carb cycling, while a good approach and sound in science, is just too tough to adhere to. Flexible dieting is the easiest and simplest approach if you want to keep seeing results in your body composition year round.