Tuesday 18 December 2012

Carb & Calorie Cycling 101 for Fat Loss

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have written on Clean Eating and Nutrient Timing. Both of these nutrition strategies are helpful for gaining lean muscle without gaining too much fat, losing fat while holding on to muscle, and for fueling your body for high performance while getting and staying lean. Carb cycling is the final piece  to the lean eating puzzle. It is not for those new to performance nutrition. However, if you are training hard, eating clean, timing your nutrients well, have made some great progress and want to take your nutrition and results to the next level, then it's time to look at carb & calorie cycling for fat loss.

If you have a training background, you have likely heard the term periodization. The idea is that you divide your training into cycles and phases. One of the main purposes of periodization is to focus on a specific aspect of training at a particular time. This can be applied to nutrition and I wrote a blog post on Nutrition Periodization that you can check out for more information. The other purpose of periodization is to prevent your body from hitting a plateau. When it comes to nutrition, the same principle can be applied. If you always eat the exact same way, the body gets used to it and stops progressing. That is where carb and calorie cycling comes in.

Carb & Calorie Cycling for Fat Loss
Great low-carb meal
When it comes to fat loss, low carb trumps high carb. If you don't believe me, check the research out for yourself. Virtually every research study shows that low carbs is better. Also, I have never seen a study that shows a high-carb, low-fat diet is superior to a low carb diet for fat loss.

However, if you try to eat low carb all the time, you can run into these problems:
  • Depleted glycogen levels which hinders training performance
  • Muscle loss
  • Lower metabolic rate
  • Lower leptin levels (a hormone that helps regulate energy input and output)
  • Hard to stick with

The solution is periodic re-feed days. With these days you have a day where you purposely eat a greater amount of healthy carbs. This can be a big re-feed day every 1-2 weeks where you go about 3 times the amount of carbs you eat during your low carb eating plan. This could also be a more moderate re-feed (e.g. 1.5 times normal amount of carbs every 3-4 days.) 

Few more notes:
  • If you were going to treat yourself, this re-feed day is a great day to do this
  • Because this is more advanced nutrition, the majority of the carbs should be good carbs (see my post on Clean Eating for ideas)
  • This is a much better approach than Cheat Days
  • Keep fat intake lower on re-feed days
  • If you are doing the more frequent re-feed approach, schedule, this is a great day for a hard training session as this will improve glycogen storage
  • For more information on fat loss, check out my posts on Eating for Athletic Fat Loss Part 1 and Part 2
As I mentioned at the beginning, carb cycling is not for those just getting into fat loss nutrition. However, if you are eating clean and timing your nutrients, these principles can help further your pursuit of leanness. Always remember to be evidence-based with your eating and training. Understand these principles, but be sure to adjust your nutrition as needed to get the results you want.

Note for fitness professionals: stay tuned for more information on my upcoming workshop on Advanced Exercise Nutrition...

Berardi, J., Andrews, R. The essentials of sport and exercise nutrition: Precision Nutrition certification manual, 2nd ed. Precision Nutrition, 2012.

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