How effective is carb cycling for athletes?
Once the favorite diet of bodybuilders, carb cycling has long since conquered all areas of fitness. The cyclical carbohydrate intake depends entirely on your activity. On intensive training days, you eat more carbohydrates. On calmer days, you reduce your carbohydrate intake. But what are the real benefits of carb cycling?
Sometimes more, sometimes less carbohydrates
Carb cycling is not a diet. However, this does not mean that it is easy to implement. It is about adapting low-carb days and high-carb days to the training process. Also, you increase the amount of good fats on the low-carb days and decrease fat on the high-carb days. The only thing that remains the same is a sufficiently high protein intake. Unfortunately, all this only works with detailed planning. You have to know your calorie requirements exactly, and you have to calculate how many carbohydrates you are allowed to eat daily.
Does low-carb help with weight loss?
It has been proven that carb cycling helps increase muscle mass and reduce fat. Some studies show that weight loss occurs, at least in the initial phase. However, it is questionable whether this is permanent. During low-carb stages that last two or three days, constipation, bad breath, headaches, and drowsiness can also occur. Mood swings are also possible. You can prevent this by drinking enough and taking extra electrolytes.
The philosophy of carb cycling
If you still want to try it, reduce your carbohydrate intake whenever your body does not need it. This is the case on rest days or on days when you only do light training. This prevents excess carbohydrates and weight gain. Carb cycling followers eat no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you are training endurance, then you eat up to about 100 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you do intensive strength training, you can eat up to 300 or 400 grams a day. It depends on your body weight.
- The America Council of Exercise recommends eating 2.0 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight on a high-carb day. One pound is 0.45 kg. There are calculators on the internet that you can use.
- On a low-carb day, you should eat about 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.
The three most important tips for carb-cycling
- The nutrition concept is only successful if you focus on high-quality carbohydrates in your diet. Although simple sugars provide quick energy and help with regeneration, it is better to mainly include so-called long-chain carbohydrates in your diet. They provide sustained energy, keep you full and keep blood sugar levels constant. Good sources are oatmeal, lentils, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans, buckwheat, and millet.
- Carb cycling makes it necessary to keep a close eye on your calorie intake every day. This is especially true for the high carb days. This means, as already mentioned that you have to do a lot of maths.
- Regardless of whether you have a low-carb or a high-carb day, you need to make sure you have sufficient protein intake on all days. You can find many great resources here.
The bottom line on carb cycling
Critics of this diet criticize that it is not always clear whether the carbohydrate requirement is really increased, especially on high-carb days. Besides, the many, many calculations and precise weighing can be very annoying. Surveys among athletes also show this. But you can’t do without these time-consuming measures. However, it is also clear that everyone who values large muscle mass can benefit from it. My personal conclusion: If you don’t do bodybuilding or strength training to build up as much muscle mass as possible, you can do without carb cycling. Instead, it is entirely sufficient to eat a balanced diet that is as natural as possible.