Before I start this post I would like to say that this structure of carb cycling is what works for me. I am by no means telling you that this is the correct way to carb cycle – nor am I educated in any areas. This is what i’ve learnt through my research and personal trial and error.
For those already wondering why I don’t track macros to carb cycle then this is simple because I’ve tried tracking before and learnt that it just isn’t for me – I became too obsessed and to me, that isn’t what life is about. However, I can totally understand other people’s reasoning for counting macros such as, bodybuilding etc and that too is amazing. So many people underestimate the strength and determination of those counting macros.
Firstly, what is carb cycling?
Carb cycling (the cycling of your carbohydrate intake) is a well known diet structure used for weight loss. Carbohydrates are used as energy by the body. They not only fuel our workouts, but also provide stable fuel throughout the day. Ingesting carbs also replenishes our glucose and glycogen stores to prevent fatigue – exactly why carbs shouldn’t be known as the enemy!
Carb cycling allows you to still eat carbs from clean sources, without adding body fat, and cycling enables you to better utilize fat for burning as fuel, as opposed to burning carbs and muscle tissue for fuel.
So why do carbs have such a bad rep? That’s because carbs can make you gain weight – just like any other food. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. The key to remember is what type of carbs to consume and how much.
My favourite carbs to include in my main meals are:
When carb cycling I like to stick by these few rules and I honestly think they work well.
1) High carb days should be placed on your heavy lifting days. For me, this is always leg/glute day.
2) Choose carbohydrates highest in glucose or complex carbs.
3) Reduce your fat intake on your high carb days.
4) Stick to your plan for the results (the same as anything – don’t expect an overnight change).
5) Increase your fat intake on your low carb days to keep your energy levels up.
The normal pattern of cycling carbs is to have three low carb days, followed by two higher carb days, to aid in recovery, and to replenish glycogen. This gives us just the right amount of carbs to be used as fuel without becoming an excessive amount. I will also always have my treat day on one of my high carb days – again, this is to replenish glycogen levels and to keep my metabolism firing and hope that my large pizza goes straight to the booty, ha! Finally, the last two days are considered moderate days for me.
Of course, always use carbs from clean foods and not junk food. Treat your body well and it will re-pay you the same way. It’s important to fuel your body with the right energy.
What I recommend as a starting point, is to determine just how many carbs you should eat on your highest day. You will certainly need to test this out a little and see what works for your body. Remember, your highest day should always take place on a heavy lifting day – you’ve worked your muscles hard and they need to recover well with protein and carbs. Lots of carbs!
Obviously, I don’t track macros so you’re probably wondering how I carb cycle and work out the amount of carbs I should have. I work out my low, moderate and high carb days through my choice of starchy carbs with each of my main meals (I have 3 main meals a day and 3 snacks). So, this means I work out if I will be having brown rice (for example) with one of my main meals. You shouldn’t count fibrous vegetables into your total carb count for the day. They are low in calories and carbs and are a good source of fiber and do not count in the scheme of things while carb cycling. It’s best to only count starchy complex carbs.
To give you a better understanding here’s an example of my diet when carb cycling:
Low Carb Day
Normally on cardio, arm day or rest day (less muscle being used)
Breakfast – Oats with a banana (unless rest day which is a poached egg, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and a rye cracker)
Snack 1 – Peanut butter & carrot
Lunch – Tuna salad with a poached egg
Snack 2 – Apple
Dinner – Salmon, cauliflower rice and veg.
Moderate Carb Day
Normally on shoulder, back or chest day.
Breakfast – Oats with a banana
Snack 1 – Peanut butter & carrot
Lunch – Chicken salad
Snack 2 – Apple and rye cracker
Dinner – Chicken, buckwheat and vegetable stir fry
High carb day
Leg/glute day & Saturday treat day (on treat day I tend to ignore my fats and eat whatever).
Breakfast – Oats
Snack 1 – Peanut butter & carrot
Lunch – Rye bread, chicken, mushrooms and bell peppers in a tomato sauce.
Snack 2 – Apple and rye crackers
Dinner – Chicken stir fry with brown rice OR cheat day dinner is normally a large chicken supreme pizza (yes, I eat the lot. No, I don’t feel guilty.)
So now I can predict a few of your questions;
Do you get bored of the same snacks? Surprisingly no. I’ve always been a creature of habit and I love my snacks, hah!
Is that what you eat everyday? No, this was just an example of a few of my meals but in terms of my carbs – yes.
What days do you have your low carb, moderate carb and high carbs? At the moment I work it around my fitness schedule. High carb days (leg days) are always Wednesdays and Saturdays. However, the low carb/moderate carb days shift around dependant on my workout plan. Normally I just wing my meal plan after I’ve trained in the morning. For example, this morning I trained chest and shoulders, therefore I knew it would be a moderate carb day. However, one of my low carb days will always be on a Sunday which is normally my rest day.
Of course, this all took some trial and error to work out what worked and what didn’t work for me. For example, how low my carbs should be on low carb day. Many people count their carbs for every single meal. However, I found that on my low carb days I was left very hungry in the evenings and started picking at food – completely defeating the object! So, I cut out counting my snacks and this worked so much better. I no longer feel hungry – not even on my low carb days. However, if by any chance I do feel hungry in between meals than I eat. I do not let myself starve – instead I listen to my body and fuel it with what it needs.
Since I’ve been carb cycling (the start of May) I’ve noticed the difference. I don’t weigh myself at all – so I couldn’t tell you if I’ve lost weight (that’s not my goal). However, taking progress pictures daily allows me to see that my core is a lot leaner as well as other body parts, such as my legs and arms.
Right now, I love carb cycling and I like the way my body reacts well to it. It’s easy to manage and stick to and it works great with providing my body with enough energy – much better than a constant scary low carb diet! Carb cycling is realistic and to be honest I don’t even feel restricted to it – if I go off plan a little I can always change it up!
So, that’s my way of carb cycling without tracking macros – and I really hope I explained it well through the way I structure the cycle. If you have any questions then I am more than happy to help!