Are you trying to lose fat, but worried about losing muscle mass and strength? Carb cycling is your answer, it will help you lose fat and at the same maintain strength and muscle mass as well.
Simple Carb Cycling
Before you start reading this post I want you to understand that carb cycling is not for everyone. It is not a required if you are a beginner.
How would you know that you are a beginner?
Well these are simple questions to think about
1. Do you know how many calories, carbs, protein, and fats you are consuming every day?
2. Do you keep a log of your daily diet?
3. Do you the know macronutrients of basic food items that you eat on a regular basis?
4. If I gave you certain macros and calories, can you make your own diet plan?
5. Have you followed a regular diet plan for long enough and have you tried cutting calories/carbs to get results?
If the answer to these questions is No, then carb cycling is not for you. It’s not that you won’t get results, it’s just not worth the effort creating complex diet plan which is difficult to follow when you can get better results by following simple plans.
When planning for fat loss, we have the following goals
- Increase or maintain muscle mass
- Increase or maintain strength level
- Increase or maintain the energy level
- Lose body fat
However, fundamental of all fat loss diet plans is caloric deficit. Now, when we create caloric deficit we hit a roadblock, we start losing strength, muscle mass, and energy levels.
To deal with these issues we use carb cycling, we structure our diets and workouts in such a way that we have high calorie/carb day and we keep major workouts on these days and then we have low calories/carb days and we keep minor workout or off on these days.
Let’s start with the diet planning
The first step is to identify your caloric needs.
You can use this tool to identify your daily caloric needs. It is important to understand that these tools are not accurate and the best measurement is always your own data.
So if you know your calories and macros than that should be your starting point.
For example, let me take a male at 200 lbs and 15% body fat
Considering a lightly active routine (for most of us tech savvy people who workouts once a day)
Metabolic rate comes out to be 2800 cals.
Let’s assume we want to lose fat at the rate of about 1 lbs per week (pretty standard).
By keeping simple mathematics we need to cut about 3500 cals per week. Which means about 500 cals deficit every day. This is where the problem begins. When we keep eating less every day we start losing strength and slowly our body starts going into starvation mode.
Brief on Workout
Before continuing with the diet plan let me explain the workout plan and how it fits into your eating routine.
I usually prefer a 4 days a week workout routine. As I mentioned earlier this is for intermediate and advanced people.
As such your workout plan should be built around major lifts like squats, deadlifts, bench, rows, shoulder press and some ancillary exercises to round your muscles.
With that in mind 4 days a week of compound movement should be enough to stimulate muscle growth.
Now coming back to the diet plan, now that we have identified 4 workout days and 3 rest days.
This is how the plan is going to work
On 4 workout days we are going to eat high calories, in our case 2800 cals.
On non-training/rest days, we are going to eat low calories, in our case we have to split the 3500 cals deficit in three days so 3500/3 = 1150 cals
So on non-training days, it is going to be 1650 cals.
With calories being set our next goal is to set the macros.
Before we go into macros, I want to clarify that there is no magical ratio. There are minimum and maximum ranges but no fixed number.
The best way to start with macros is to look at your own data and start working from there.
Here are some basic guidelines for protein and fats.
Protein should be a minimum of 1 gms to maximum 3 gms per lbs and fat should be at least .25 to .5 gms per lbs.
If your protein and fat intake are falling outside this range than we have to bring it back on track.
Now let’s go back to our example
Keeping fat at .25 per lbs = 200 * .25 = 50 gms
Keeping protein at 200 * 1 = 200 gms
Total calories = 200 *4 + 50 * 9 = 800 + 450 = 1250
On workout days remaining calories come from Carbs 2800 – 1250 = 1550/4 = 380 gms
On non training days remaining calories from 1650 -1250 = 400/4 = 100 gms
So here we are with a basic carb cycling template
For a 200 lbs male at 15% body fat
On training days
Fats 50 gms
On non-training days
Fats 50 gms
Before I wrap up, there are few other things I want to talk about this plan.
Type of workout
- It is important to understand that you make the most use of the 4 workout days. When we talk about the strength we want to measure it and we want to check how well we are progressing. The best way is to keep a limited number of exercises per workout – not more than 5 to 6.
- Keep compound movements in every workout – this helps in keeping your metabolic rate high as your body has to do more work.
- Keep exercises that give you the best results. This comes from experience, for example, I get better results from ez bar curl than regular curls. I get better results from close grip bench press than skull crushers. So it makes sense that I keep ez bar curls and close grip bench press in the workout and remove the rest. Remember, our primary goal is fat loss while maintaining muscle mass, so we want to keep exercises that gives maximum stimulation to our muscles.
- Keep a strength journal, keep track of how your lifts are improving over time.
Number of meals & Meal timings
There are different school of thoughts, some say that you should take 6 to 8 meals a day some say just 2-3 meals are fine.
While the research is inconclusive, I say from personal experience it is good to keep about 4 to 6 meals per day. These are manageable, doesn’t conflict with your lifestyle and you don’t feel hungry all the time as well.
In general, I like to keep one major meal before workouts, one major after the workout, a couple of snacks during the day and one major in dinner.
This is an important concept and you would be able to make better use of it with experience and experimentation.
In our meal template, we have kept protein a minimum of 1 gms. For example, you may notice that you have a significant amount of energy but you are not putting on muscle mass. This means you can cut down a bit on carbs and add more protein.
The easiest way is to look at the data, at the end of every 2-3 weeks. When you look at your measurements and strength logs you can make fine adjustments to your macros. However, keep the adjustments small like replace 25 gms of carbs with 25 gms of protein.
Calorie variations with 5 to 6 days training
Some of you might be interested in training 6 days a week, while I don’t recommend that but in that case, you may want to keep 3-4 heavy training days an 2 to 3 light training days and adjust your meal plans accordingly.
It is important to understand that weight training is catabolic in nature, so the longer you workout more catabolism is happening in your body. So keep your workouts short and intense not more than an hour.
Extra kick on non-workout days
In some cases, you may want to speed up things. You can include high-intensity interval training on non-workout days. Remember to keep the workouts short and intense, no longer than 20-30 mins
How to adjust your diet as you notice a plateau
As you follow this diet template, you will reach a plateau after a certain time, when you stop losing fat. This is the time to adjust diet again.
The easiest way is to cut back around 200-300 cals from your diet. However, I would suggest that you re-do all the calculations as you may want to track your fat and protein contents as well
How to track your progress
While we all want to believe in a transformation where our body keeps losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time. So we stay at the same weight and get ripped and jacked.
However, in reality, that rarely happens.
- The best way to track your progress is to measure your weight. I know this sounds against the logic but if you are training for weeks and following a fat loss plan and still not losing weight then there is something wrong. I know you could be gaining muscle, but that happens usually when you are a beginner. As you get advanced muscle gain becomes that much more difficult.
- Pics – Your pics can give you a real idea of how your body is changing, but it takes time, at least 2 to 3 weeks to see any visible change.
- Skinfold measurements – these are some of the most reliable ways to track progress. While I don’t agree with the fat % determined from these instruments, it is not our purpose either. The real reason to use these tool is to see the change and the direction in which it is happening. If the skin folds are changing and getting smaller over time, we are making progress.
- Workout logs – what you want to track here is how your major lifts are improving, at a minimum we want to ensure that our lifts are not decreasing.
That’s all from my side, it’s your turn. If you have anything, do share in comments.