What is Carb-Cycling?

Lifestyle
By now we’ve covered the main dietary practises which contribute to changes in body composition; ‘lean bulking’, which consists of strict caloric control in a surplus –the point that proceeds maintenance– and ‘cutting’, a gradual reduction of carbohydrates, when completely necessary. So just like the need to reinforce a reduction of carbohydrates with healthy fats to ensure sound energy levels, it is equally essential to refuel the now depleted glycogen stores as a result. Carb cycling is one of the many methods used by bodybuilders and professional athletes that need to ‘make weight’ without sacrificing energy and thus performance. It supports meticulous manipulation of macronutrients to such a degree that it acts in similar ways to that of sodium and water manipulation, a progression that may seem extreme to the everyday dieter, yet it is highly effective nonetheless.
Now depending on how much one may aim to lose and whether or not carb cycling is absolutely necessary, it is a process that requires consistency. Most people tend to split a week into days of eating either ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ carb. This is an attempt to utilise potential fat stores as energy during ‘low’ days, to then maintain the foundation and preserve as much muscle as possible during the remainder. The extent to how much muscle –as opposed to fat–  is used as fuel is a fear know as going ‘catabolic’ the antithesis of ‘anabolic’ a notion bearing yet another marketing upheaval for ‘post workout’ supplements and the like. Ultimately, and this is assuming that you have a somewhat solid foundation of muscle to begin with, you probably won’t be going ‘catabolic’ you just won’t be looking as full on less carbs and therefore less water. Recognising that this process will do exactly that whilst being able to sustain on less fuel without re-carbing at every opportunity, will provide a visual bearing on potential weight loss in the days that follow. If you can imagine someone that is preparing for a photoshoot or stepping on stage for a competition, one that requires the individual to be in ‘peak’ condition, it would have required a long process of looking nothing like what you see in pictures to obtain the eventual desired outcome. In this regard, if you’re considering carb-cycling in conjunction with physically demanding sports or training programmes, be aware to prioritise the bulk of your macronutrients around days that require optimal effort.
There’s no magic number when it comes to ‘low’ days, and almost every initial carb-cycle is complete trial and error. Depending on the goal and the time frame in which this is to be ascertained, one may implement three, four or even five consecutive low days followed by a ‘re-feed’ –high day– For the most part, ‘re-feed’ days assists specific points in a diet which may have progressed to lower numbers, granting both a physio’ and psychological break from quite simply, systematic malnourishment. This is not the same as a ‘cheat day’ and while the mental implications of purging certain food cravings are beneficial, overindulging could potentially set you back a few days of hard dieting. In terms of energy stores and using carb cycling to the most effective degree, most people tend to put high days or ‘re-feed’ days either the day of or a day before a heavy/demanding split i.e legs or back. This ensures that performance isn’t compromised, though it is equally essential to conserve energy in the form of doing more reps with less weight as opposed to burning out from chasing 1RM’s or PR’s.
‘So do I need to carb cycle to lose weight?’
No. Carb Cycling is certainly a useful tool that one can implement to assist further weight loss, but it is not the only one by any means. As we have previously referred to a gradual reduction of carbs in ‘Should I start ‘Cutting’? it would be just as effective to maintain such a process if it is providing results and ultimately showing on the scale. Carb cycling is more of a system which allows for a prioritisation of energy levels during periods where overall caloric intake is scarce, as carbohydrates are a fundamental source of energy. In situations where there has been a sudden drop in carbohydrates, or a significant increase in overall output, it is vital that said stores are substantially replenished, for them to continue to assist performance.
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Should I start ‘Cutting’?

Lifestyle

So like my last post concerning ‘The Lean Bulk Myth’, it is worth noting a few common misconceptions surrounding ‘cutting’ and the further implications improper practise of such a process can have on the body. While ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ are terms that are commonplace within the fitness community, a wider application of these norms on behalf of the everyday person has meant that the true function of each ‘extreme’ has now became somewhat misconstrued. Now I can respect the fact that there are plenty of guys and girls out there whose interests aren’t centred around fitness or competitive sports, but quite frankly, it is the malpractice on behalf of these types of people that is the source of the problem.

First of all you can’t just go and ‘cut’ carbs. Carbs are a fundamental component of any diet, the main source of fuel in fact, and like insisting on driving your car when the petrol light comes on, it’s risky business. Both misconceptions come from the literal ambiguity of ‘cut’ in context; this can either suppose a substantial reduction of carbs or even a complete removal of them from one’s diet entirely. If you’ve ever had personal training or any assistance concerning a particular diet, you’ll know that your trainer/dietician will more than likely incorporate gradual as opposed to abrupt alterations. In this respect, and here we’re focusing on carbs as opposed to overall calories, failing to be aware of the timing of such a reduction is the first mistake. Whether it’s a looming date for a holiday or one particular event where the clothes you’re planning to wear are a fair few inches too small, you want to avoid ‘peaking’ too early.

Now I can accept that everyone is at different levels in this regard, nevertheless, the first few lbs are always the easiest to lose, regardless of whether your approach is somewhat systematic or a straight up panic. People go on last minute holidays, may not have to time to exercise regularly or simply have not been informed on the correct ways to diet, but there’s a fine line between ‘cutting’ and straight up starving. What many won’t be aware of, and something that I have previously failed to apply to a reduction of carbs was the requirement of replacing them with healthy fats; olive oil, avocado, nuts etc. If anything is removed or reduced from your diet, most of the time, a levelling alternative is required. This does not condone spooning out a full jar of peanut butter by any means, but forms a somewhat caloric safety net at the base of summit you just jumped off by suddenly cutting carbs. If such a substantial reduction is absolutely necessary, attempt to work comfortably between the point of being full from clean sources and being able to function on less.

In addition, –and this tends to apply to girls more so than lads– while cutting carbs may seem like an opportunity that provides a somewhat immediate improvement, it only prolongs their effect and ultimate sensitivity, thus making bloating much more likely. Think about how the effects of alcohol are tenfold when you’ve had a significant break from drinking and how only a few may suffice an entire night. The body’s reaction to anything becomes much more averse in absence, and it’s the same with food. Not to mention a complete removal of something you clearly can’t live without isn’t exactly logical, alienating the restrictive nature of dieting by its connotations, the thing that prevented you from eating ‘X’ or ‘Y’. If ‘X’ or ‘Y’ for you was in fact ‘P’ for pizza, realistically there has to be some sacrifice somewhere, unfortunately.

So where does this leave us? Well regardless of whether you count macros, follow a rigorous diet, aim to gradually reduce carbohydrates or simply want to put an end to bad habits, energy is key. For a healthy guy that wants to gradually cut away at the subcutaneous fat covering a solid build of muscle, there may be a very fine line between burning fat or the hard work of winter. This makes a sudden reduction of carbs not only problematic in the preservation of muscular tissue but in the sacrifice of energy levels even more so. What I would suggest, and coming from someone eight months into a ‘bulk’ despite plans to go on holiday in June, don’t necessarily eat less, just do even more. Unless you’re competing for a show and being as lean as possible is a fundamental requirement, a week of looking half decent is definitely not worth the burden of having no energy for six, twelve or eighteen, believe me.

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