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build lean muscle by carb cycling

man eating bagel

We have all heard about the evils of a high carbohydrate diet. And while a low carb diet is extremely effective for the average sedentary individual, it leaves something to be desired for the serious lifter and athlete. In order to work out with extreme intensity we need to optimally fuel our bodies.

So what’s the answer? How do we get big and strong while still dropping body fat? The answer lies in what is known as carb cycling.

What It Is

man eating french fries

Carb cycling is very simply the idea that we alternate between high carb and low carb days depending on our activity level for the day. On intense lifting days we eat a high carb diet and on rest or low intensity days we eat a low carb diet. It sounds simple… because it is!

High carb days allow our metabolism to rev up, while the low carb days help keep our insulin levels low enough to burn fat while maintaining muscle.

Think of the high carb days as adding fuel to your calorie burning fire. And on the low carb days, your body will burn fat instead of the usual carbohydrates. This combination allows for maximum fat burning while maintaining muscle.

Not all carbs are created equal. There are good carbs (complex carbs which cause a slower change in blood glucose levels) and bad carbs (simple carbs which cause spikes in blood glucose levels). Foods such as donuts, candy and french fries are all bad choices and have no place in any diet. You want your carbs to come from vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and whole oats.

Guidelines for Carb Cycling

Low carb intake on non-training or less intense training days. Carbs on this day should primarily come from green vegetables. Don’t worry about an exact number of carbs, as long as you are getting your carbs from green vegetables your intake will be low enough.

High carb intake on intense training days. Carbs on this day should come from complex carb sources primarily, but on this day you can also add in some starchy carbs before and after your lifting session.

Alternate between high and low carb days. Never have two high carb days in a row.

Ideally, you will have two low carb days in a row at least once a week. For example, your carb cycle may look like this:

  • Monday – High Carb
  • Tuesday – Low Carb
  • Wednesday – High Carb
  • Thursday – Low Carb
  • Friday – Low Carb
  • Saturday – High Carb
  • Sunday – Low Carb

If you can’t seem to burn off that pesky body fat, or if every time you do your strength levels plummet, give carb cycling a try.


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We Love Fitness - 2013