What if I told you that you could feast on an abundance of carbs – enjoying a large plate of pasta, a stack of pancakes, or a large bowl of your favorite low-fat frozen yogurt all without packing on any fat? In fact, you would lose fat.
Before moving forward, if you haven’t gotten your daily macro intake. Start here with our Macro Calculator.
Your Complete Guide To IIFYM Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is one of the hottest approaches out there right now in the nutrition industry and for good reason – it works. If you want to burn fat, bust through plateaus, and feel great while doing so, carb cycling is the protocol to turn to.
Some people have the notion that carb cycling is too complicated to use in their diet plan, but it really doesn’t have to be. There are many ways to go about setting up a carb cycling plan depending on your goals and preferences.
Let’s first introduce the concept of carb cycling, then go over the pros and cons to it, and finally, show you how you can make it work with your program plan.
What Is Carb Cycling?
First things first, we need to cover what carb cycling is. As the name suggests, it’s a When you look at many standard diets out there, you see two different groups.
Typically you have the low carb group which focuses on forming meals out of proteins, healthy fats, and vegetables. Carbs are only added in very small doses, if at all, and added around the workout period. It’s your classic ‘low carb diet’ approach.
Then you have higher carb diets. These plans are typically lower in fat, favoring carbs over fats and allow you to include carbs in abundance. This is the diet that many endurance athletes tend to use or those who simply can’t go without carbs. So, while you can lose fat on a diet that contains a high amount of carbs all the time provided you are tracking your macros properly, it’s usually not ideal.
Hunger tends to be higher (because your fat intake is so low), and you’re more likely to experience fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels throughout the day as well. Carb cycling brings both of these worlds together, creating the ultimate plan that offers a number of key benefits.
With carb cycling, you’ll include some high carb days in your plan (which will satisfy those carb lovers out there!), as well as some much lower carb days in your plan (which will help keep fat burning at an optimal level).
You’ll shift through the cycle on a week to week basis, ensuring that all your calories still line up to where they need to be, giving you the weight loss results you’re Some carb cycling plans may also include medium carb days as well, which adds an additional layer to the carb cycling protocol.
While this isn’t necessary, for those who are training hard multiple times per week, it can be a great addition to the diet.
Who Will Benefit From Carb Cycling?
So now that you know a little more about what carb cycling is, who will most benefit from using it? Who should be going on a carb cycling plan for optimal results? There are a number of people who will do very well on carb cycling plans.
Athletes who need to lean down without sacrificing performance Those who are training hard and want to focus on possibly building some lean muscle mass while still losing body fat (achieving body recomposition as it’s often called).
Those who don’t tolerate low carb diets all that well and nearly go crazy without a few carbs in their diet from time to time. As well as those who don’t tolerate high carb diets all that well but still want to exercise with intensity.
Do You Fall Under This Umbrella?
People who seem to always plateau quickly on a diet plan, failing to see results after two or three weeks have passed by. Also, people who want to include more variety in their diet plan and not be limited all the time by very low carb food choices.
Those who are worried about developing diabetes and who want to control their blood sugar levels, while still having enough energy to keep up their workout protocol.
Those who strongly dislike utilizing refeeds in their diet plan (periods of very high calorie, high carb eating), and would instead prefer a more moderate approach that accomplishes a similar goal.
So as you can see, many people can benefit from carb cycling. It can work well for both young and old, male and female, fit or unfit, as well as those who are very lean or who are just beginning their fat loss journey.
Benefits Of Carb Cycling or Zig-Zagging Calories
So what are the real benefits of carb cycling? Why should you be doing this plan?
Apart from the obvious – you get to eat high carb foods!! – there are other great reasons to be choosing a carb cycling plan.
Improved Metabolic Output
The first big benefit and the primary one that does draw many people to this approach is the fact that you’ll experience a slightly improved metabolic output.
Whenever you go on a calorie-reduced diet for a period of time, it’s only natural that your metabolic rate is going to adapt and start to slow down. This is thanks to the shift in a particular hormone called leptin, which regulates both total body fat cells as well as incoming energy (from the foods you eat).
Whenever your body senses a decline in either of these, leptin begins to down-regulate. This then tells your body to start conserving energy, preventing further fat.
The result is that you start feeling extreme hunger all the time, your energy level declines (making getting through a workout nearly impossible!) and your metabolic rate begins to drop. All of these things will essentially prevent you from sticking with the plan and seeing a consistent fat loss.
While your calorie intake does play a key role in leptin levels, carbs more than anything impact it. So someone on a very low carb diet for an extended period of time is going to find that they experience a faster decline in their leptin levels than someone who is eating more carbs with their diet.
What’s the one way that you can help reset leptin, regaining your energy?
Your Metabolic Rate, and Calming Hunger and Cravings
By having higher carb days added to your diet plan, you’ll temporarily elevate leptin levels, which in turn kick-starts your metabolic rate. This over the long run can go a long way towards really preventing the fat loss plateaus that plague so many dieters.
Which now brings us to the next big benefit that carb cycling offers – lower hunger. While low carb diets by nature do tend to do a nice job at lowering your overall hunger level, this only seems to happen for so long.
If you are constantly falling off your low carb diet due to food cravings and boredom, it doesn’t matter how great that low carb diet may be, you aren’t going to see sustainable results.
After a few weeks on a low carb plan, hunger comes back with a vengeance and that low carbohydrate diet never seems to leave.
What your body really wants at this point is more carbs. The carb cycling diet will provide this, thus you should notice superior hunger control. For many, this can mean the difference between sticking with the diet or not If you often find yourself falling off diets because of hunger, carb cycling could be.
Enhanced Exercise Performance
The next big benefit to the carb cycling approach is improved exercise performance. Trying to maintain an intense exercise program on a very low carbohydrate diet is nearly mission impossible – you just won’t do it.
In order for your body to maintain intense muscular contractions (such as those used during weight lifting or sprint training activities), you need to be fueling your muscles with carbohydrates.
Glucose is the only type of fuel that can be utilized as dietary fat cannot be broken down fast enough for this type of exercise. As such, low carb diets simply don’t provide the right fuel substrate to maintain.
By using carb cycling, you will be taking in carbs at various points in the diet plan, so you will be easily able to maintain your energy for the workouts you have planned (3).
Greater Diet Adherence
For some people, one big downfall of the conventional low carb diet approach is the lack of variety that comes with it. You can only eat so many grilled chicken breasts, pieces of steak, fillets of fish, and eggs coupled with vegetables before you start to go a little crazy.
While it’s true that you can get creative in the kitchen and there are a number of low carbohydrate recipes out there, it’s just not the same as having some delicious tasting carbs in the mix.
Many low carb diets even restrict fruits, which can really limit options further. The nice thing about carb cycling is that you’ll build more variety into your diet plan.
Especially if you combine carb cycling with the If It Fits Your Macros approach, now you can indulge in foods like lasagna or pizza on your higher carb days if you want.
This can make sticking to your diet that much easier.
Since diet adherence is the number one factor and requirement for success on any plan, this is a great benefit to carb cycling diet. If you are constantly falling off your low carb diet due to food cravings and boredom, it doesn’t matter how great that low carb diet may be, you aren’t going to see sustainable results.
Improved Nutritional Intake
Which now brings us nicely to the next big benefit you’re going to get – an improved nutritional intake. If you are always eating the same handful of foods on your low carb diet (or whatever type of diet you happen to be one), eventually you may run into nutritional deficiencies.
The micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) are also key for optimal function and it doesn’t take much of a deficiency for them to influence your overall well-being.
The more food variety you can include in your diet plan, the less the risk will be that you will suffer from a nutritional deficiency. While this may not have a direct influence on your overall fat loss results, it certainly will have an influence on your long-term health and overall well-being.
Improved Relationship With Food
Finally, the last big benefit to carbohydrate cycling approaches is they can help improve the relationship you have with food as well. Whenever you put foods in the ‘bad’ or ‘do not eat’ category, such as what you do with very low carb diet plans, it can lead to a long-term fear around this particular type of food.
For instance, if you are taught that anything over 10 grams of carbs per serving is going to lead to rapid weight gain, it may be quite some time (even once you have reached your goal body weight) before you feel safe and comfortable to eat foods like pasta, rice, or cereal again.
Some people never feel good about eating these foods because they firmly believe they will gain fat rapidly if they do.
With the carb cycling approach, because you are adding these foods into your diet on a weekly basis and seeing that they aren’t causing you to blow up and gain a high amount of body fat right away, it can help you maintain a much healthier relationship with food.
Another issue many people who are on a low carb diet for a long time run into is the high carb backlash. Basically, they go the other way. Rather than being afraid of carbs, they become obsessive about them.
So while they may lose weight initially on their reduced carbohydrate diet, it’s not too long before they are gorging on carbs because their cravings simply were too much to. They fall off the bandwagon and are now consuming as many carbs as possible.
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It doesn’t take much to realize what this will do to their body weight. Balance is key to keep you psychologically sane and healthy and lower carb diets.
As you can see, there are a number of great benefits to the carb cycling approach, which is why it’s such a proper protocol.
Drawbacks To Carb Cycling?
Like most great things in life, there are always benefits. Carb cycling is not immune to this. It does have its drawbacks, however for most people, the benefits far Here’s what you need to know. Weight Fluctuations/Water Retention. The first and probably most noticeable side effect of carb cycling approaches is the weight fluctuations that can occur with them.
When you go from eating 50 grams of carbs one day to eating 250 grams of carbs the next day, your body is going to notice. For every one gram of carbs your body stores, you can expect to also store.
…if you are the type who likes to plan out two or three meals to eat for every lunch during the week to make things easier, you simply can’t do this as easily with carb cycling.
So as you might imagine, this can lead to a significant amount of weight. It’s not abnormal to see the scale go up 1-5 pounds after a higher carb day, so if you are someone who tends to watch the scale daily, this can cause you to quit.
You need to remember during these times however that the weight will be lost just as quickly as it came on, so this shouldn’t be cause for alarm.
But, this said, it does mean that if you are someone who is doing photo shoots or anything of that nature, you’ll want to schedule these accordingly on your plan.
Increased Time Planning
The second drawback to the carb cycling approach is that it will require more time planning your meals. Unlike a standard plan that has you eating the same macronutrient breakdown each and every day, the carb cycling approach is going to shift throughout the week.
So if you are the type who likes to plan out two or three meals to eat for every lunch during the week to make things easier, you simply can’t do this as easily with carb cycling.
This isn’t to say you can’t still eat some of the same meals (as it may just be certain meals of the day that have higher carbs), but you will need to be changing things around on a day to day basis.
Once you get the hang of carb cycling, though, this shouldn’t add much more than a few minutes each week to your menu planning.
Slightly More Complicated Meal Prep
Which now brings us nicely to the last potential issue that some people may experience with carbohydrate cycling and that is a more complicated meal plan. Here again, you will need to be planning for a few different meals as the week progresses on, so that may require a little more work on the meal prep front.
Usually, this can be made simple though and could be something like having an extra cup of rice with one meal and two slices of Ezekiel bread with another.
Of course, if you wish, you can prepare more elaborate dishes with the carbs that you are allowed on those higher carb days, but it’s by no means necessary. There you have the few drawbacks to the carb cycling approach. As you can see, they aren’t major, but they should be noted.
Most people who are serious about this plan and about their fat loss results should have no problem dealing with these drawbacks and still making the plan work for. Well, now that you have the basic pros and cons of carb cycling, let’s talk a little further about setting this plan up in your protocol.
Setting Up Your Carb Cycle Program
We are going to assume that you already have your Macro Blueprint and know what your specific macros are. When it comes to adding carb cycling to your approach, there are many ways that you can go about things and it all comes down to your goals, preferences, and you may have one or two very high carb days on your plan and the rest be lower carb days.
Or, if you are engaging in exercise multiple times per week, you might have two high carb days, two moderate carb days, and three very low carb days each usually you will want to ensure that your highest carb days coincide with your hardest workouts of the week. This ensures that you have the fuel availability to do those intense workouts and can make the most of them.
Then you’ll typically want to place your low carb days on the rest days you have scheduled since you just won’t need that much energy during these days. Some people who are seeking maximum fat loss may keep their dietary fat intake relatively constant throughout the week as it’s not all that high, to begin with.
Those, on the other hand, seeking moderate weight loss or who may be seeking body recomposition benefits, may choose to keep their fat intake much lower on the high carb days, and then use a higher fat, lower carb intake on their lower carb days.
One thing you do want to watch is having a high fat intake on high carb days. Pair both of these together like this in a calorie surplus environment and you could be at a much greater risk of fat gain.
Usually as fat goes up, carbs go down and vice versa, so remember that as you. There are so many ways to utilize carb cycling in your diet plan that you really need to look at the big picture when planning and setting it up.
Having a professional work with you to develop the plan is a great choice for many people as they can ensure their calorie balance all lines up to provide them with maximum results and that their macronutrient intakes are where they need to be.
If you want to see optimal results from your weight loss efforts, strongly consider the carb cycling approach. It’s helped millions of people worldwide take control over their fat loss and it can help you as well.