Athletes and bodybuilders who want to lose weight and build muscle mass have a strict exercise routine. They have to spend hours training to improve their stamina and overall health. Since they exercise for a longer time, their energy levels should not deplete, so their carbohydrate intake should be sufficient.
Carbohydrates provide glucose to the body, converted to energy to support multiple body functions. The carb cycling meal plan is a strict diet plan with varying carbohydrates. The diet is quite common in athletes and bodybuilders to perform their exercises without any drop of energy.
Carb cycling has a different approach when it comes to losing weight. Unlike other diet plans, carb cycling emphasizes having alternating periods of low carb and high carb diet. It does not eliminate the carbohydrates from the diet and is primarily designed for athletes. The main goal here is to reserve enough energy in the body so that metabolism keeps on working at a steady rate.
Many people prefer to follow this meal plan to regulate their carbohydrate intake while following other diets. The article will help you understand carb cycling basics, the conditions you need to follow, and a detailed meal plan for your assistance.
Carb Cycling – a Brief Overview
Different diets, such as keto, or Atkins, do not include enough carbs. While such diets may work well for people who are not into exercise, the rest who work out for more than three days a week need an alternate solution. If they do not eat enough carbohydrates, their energy levels will decline, and they will face a problem in performing exercises.
So, there is an alternate meal plan for such people, carb cycling. In this meal plan, there are days in which they have to eat more carbs, whereas, the rest of the days, their diet has lesser carbs. It allows them to maintain energy levels and monitor their carb intake. Usually, the carbohydrate intake guidelines are 45-65% of total calories.
You typically have two high-carbohydrate intakes and two moderate-carbohydrate intake days in carbohydrate cycling. For the next three days, the carb intake is usually low. Protein intake remains normal these days, whereas fat is also adjusted depending on the carb intake.
The carb cycle helps fulfill these needs and maintains energy in the body. You feel more energized and focused on your workouts if you have an accurate amount of glucose. Doing this also helps you lose weight easily. Besides, it also improves your metabolism and aids important metabolic functions in the body. You can also overcome your weight loss plateaus with carb cycling.
The alternating days you have to eat high-carb meals and low-carb meals restore your energy. On your high-carb days, you have to focus on eating nutritious foods and have more carbs. For instance, for dinner, you should have one serving of brown rice, with a grilled chicken fillet, and a side of vegetables that makes one serving. After that, you can have a fruit-like banana for your dessert.
On your low-carb days, you get to eat foods that are low in carbs. But, here, you need to make sure that you include healthy options in your breakfast so that you can start your day in a better way. While you are following a low-carb day, you should focus more on eating proteins and healthy fats to make you full.
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Carb Cycling and Weight Loss
Low carb diets have gained immense popularity among those aiming to lose weight and build muscle mass. These diets show promising results, but they also pose a serious health risk. According to research, a low carbohydrate diet combined with a high protein food can pose serious risks to cardiovascular health.
In many cases, it has been seen that as soon as the person stops following no-carb diets, they gain all the weight they have lost. So, the best approach is to have moderation in diet, in which you get to eat all your favorite foods without any problem, and carb cycling is perfect for you.
Carb cycling does not deprive your body of major macronutrients and provides sufficient energy to do well on your days. The carbohydrates fuel your brain, liver, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system. The body also stores enough carbs in the liver and provides muscle fuel when low on carbs. The fiber content of carbohydrates improves gut health and aids in losing weight.
When you want to lose weight, it is best to follow a proper exercise routine and carb cycling. Besides, you should also adjust your caloric intake to see the best results. The best approach is to include whole grains and healthy carbs options even on high-carb days.
Other weight-loss diets demand to stay on track for a longer time. You do not get any cheat days, so you often get demotivated. But with a carb cycling meal plan, you have a chance to eat your favorite food in moderation. You do not deprive yourself of any food, so you stay more focused and motivated to achieve your goals.
“High carb intake secretes insulin which packs a lot of fat on most people,” says Shelby Starnes, a bodybuilder and carb cycling expert. “Keeping carbs high in all your meal plans will make you fat. So, it is better to have low carb periods too, to keep your insulin sensitivity high.”
Best Approach for Carb Cycling
The way you follow a carb cycling meal plan depends on several factors written below:
The goal you want to achieve: When your goal is to lose weight, you need to fuel your body with energy. So, you should aim for lower carb days. Whereas for muscle building, and to improve your performance, you should eat more healthy carbs for at least three days a week. You will not lose muscle mass when you follow the carb cycle.
Training days: The best approach to eat carbohydrates in a moderate or high amount is to have them when you have to spend prolonged hours training. But, when you are on rest, you should eat a low-carb diet, as you do need much energy during those days.
Type of exercise: The type of exercise that you do also has a role in adjusting your carb intake. For instance, if you aim to work out for more than 1 hour, you need to fuel your body with good carbs. Besides, you will also need a mid-workout snack to keep your energy level optimal.
Body fat composition: Many people need to adjust their carb intake based on their body fat. The leaner someone is, the more carbohydrate they will need. Besides, you need to adjust your carb intake while planning your weight loss diet, depending on the goals.
Availability of foods: Carb cycling also depends on the availability of specific foods. If you do not have access to certain foods, you cannot implement the diet. So, you need to have healthy food choices to carry on with your plan.
Carb Cycling Meal Plan
Carb Cycling: Low-Carb Day Meal Plan
Three eggs with two slices of bran bread and mixed vegetables (10 g carbs).
6 oz. salmon salad (including vegetables like broccoli, kale, cauliflower) with one teaspoon olive oil (10 g carbs).
1 tablespoon mixed nuts with 1 serving turkey slices (10 g carbs).
6 oz. chicken steak, half avocado, mixed vegetables salad (16 g carbs).
Carb Cycling: High-Carb Day Meal Plan
Three boiled eggs, three slices (seed/grain) bread, tomatoes, mushrooms
and a side bowl of mixed fruit (berries, bananas) (60 g carbs).
6 oz. sweet potato, 6 oz. fish, mixed vegetables salad (45 g carbs).
One cup of oatmeal, almond milk, 1 cup berries, one scoop of whey protein (50 g
1 serving whole meal rice, 6 oz. lean chicken, homemade tomato sauce, one cup
kidney beans, mixed vegetables (70 g carbs).
Carb Cycling: Moderate-Carb Day Meal Plan
Greek yogurt, 1 cup mixed berries, one spoon seed mix (flaxseeds, sesame)
(25 g carbs).
6 oz. chicken salad with 2 boiled potatoes (25 g carbs).
One banana with a whey protein shake (30 g carbs).
1 serving sweet potato fries, 6 oz. lean beef, homemade tomato sauce, one cup
kidney beans, mixed vegetables (40 g carbs).
Carb Cycling Meal Plan for Men & Women
- 2–3 grams of carbs (x your body weight)
- 1–1.25 grams of protein (x your body weight)
- As little fat as possible
- 0.5–1.5 grams of carbs (x your bodyweight)
- 1.25–1.5 grams of protein (x your bodyweight)
- 0.15–0.35 grams of fat (x your bodyweight)
- About 1 gram of carbs (x your bodyweight)
- 0.75 grams of protein (x your bodyweight)
- As little fat as possible
- 0.2–0.5 grams of carbs (x your bodyweight)
- About 1 gram of protein (x your bodyweight)
- 0.1–0.2 grams of fat (x your bodyweight)
x= multiply by your body weight (in pounds)
Carb cycling can be a good option for losing weight and building muscle mass. Normally, people who excessively train or spend hours in the gym prefer to follow this meal plan. However, anyone who wants to lose weight and get in the best shape can go for it.
It is best to work on a training plan while following this meal plan to help optimize the gains. The number of carbohydrates you need greatly depends on your type of physical activity, your caloric needs, and the goal you are trying to achieve.
If you feel any problems and concerns while following a carb cycling meal plan, then it is best to consult a dietician for a better direction. Also, it is necessary to include healthy and low glycemic index foods in your diet to gain maximum benefits.
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- Lagiou, Pagona, et al. “Low Carbohydrate-High Protein Diet and Incidence of Cardiovascular Diseases in Swedish Women: Prospective Cohort Study.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), vol. 344, June 2012, p. e4026. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4026.