I will let you in on a little secret:
Paleo diets can work. Low carb diets can work. Flexible diets can work. Intermittent fasting can work. High carb diets can work. Just eating food can also work. Juicing... meh, stick with one of the above.
Im not being facetious here. The point is, most diets can work. When implemented with consistency, that is. But by that same token, they can fail miserably if youre not goal-focused and apply them slapdash in between binges.
SEE ALSO: 5 Everyday Behaviors That Make You Fat
But thats not why youre here. Youre here because you want to know which one is the most effective. There is one. And its not in that list. But more on that in a moment.
First, some house keeping: the key to fat loss is being in a calorie deficit. Simple, right? Not exactly. Men in particular are prone to unwittingly being in a calorie surplus and then wondering why they dont have shredded, six-pack abs.
Monitor your intake. Rule one.
Now on to actually getting shredded, six-pack abs. If youre looking to maximize your fat loss while holding on to as much muscle as possible (beach body, anyone?) you should try out my favorite diet system – the one I use with all my clients, be they action movie stars or men on my online training program. Its called carb cycling. And heres how it can work for you.
Carb cycling is one of those terms that gets as many articles written promoting it as it does deriding it, although they are usually from people who either don’t fully understand it or aren’t using it as intended. It’s not a new thing. But its a misunderstood concept to the point that using it correctly is very new indeed.
The fact is, carb cycling is a method I have utilized with my clients for as long as I can remember. Its been an incredibly useful tool in effective diet planning for decades and I swear by it. Name a movie for which Ive trained the leading cast and I can guarantee Ive had them all carb cycling. Without it, we wouldnt have achieved half the impact during all those shirtless scenes.
In fact, if Marvel ever wrote a comic based around Wolverines body composition, hed definitely be a carb cycler. Hell, Hugh was.
So, how is it done? Well, the basic principle of carb cycling is simple. Over the course of a week you have days with high, medium and low carbohydrate intake. That sounds easy, and it is, but you have to coincide your higher-carb days with heavier gym sessions and low-carb days with either rest days or low intensity training. Whatever the day, you also require a high protein intake to help muscle growth.
It’s this cycling of carbs that leads to fat loss and muscle growth. As much as you’re cycling your carbs, you are also cycling your fat intake. It should be low when your carb intake is at its highest, and high on days when your carb intake is low.
All of this carb cycling gives your body a number of physical and biological benefits, namely:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Improved metabolism
- Improved muscle gain
- Improved fat burning
Why It Works
Despite what we so often read, carbs aren’t necessarily kryptonite to the body you want. It’s true that there are no essential carbohydrates, unlike essential fats and amino acids, but they do help to boost metabolism (and of course they tend to be delicious). If your timing is off, however, and calories are too high, carbs can easily be stored as fat. But not any longer. We’re going to use them to our advantage.
It might sound like carb cycling is purely focused on what you eat, which it is to a point, but it’s what’s happening to your body internally that gives you the edge. High-carb days are all about refueling your muscles’ glycogen levels and flooding your body with insulin. This process has anti-catabolic efforts, reducing muscle loss. Insulin inhibits muscle breakdown, which is perfect for those days when you’re doing your toughest, most intense workouts on high carb days.
On moderate (or medium) carb intake days, you are giving your muscles just enough carbs to maintain their glycogen stores, but creating a biological environment for improved insulin sensitivity, and consequently, fat loss.
For days when you’re eating food with low carbohydrate properties, this is when you’re going to be in the lowest calorie situation too. By only doing low intensity workouts, or having a complete rest day, in a way, you are fooling your body into burning fat at an accelerated rate by keeping the insulin levels low. When it comes to fat loss, this is the part of the process where it really begins to work.
But what do I eat?
Good question. These are examples only and without the macro breakdown, the practical application is limited, but they show how the principles can be implemented. Tuck in.
Example High-Carb Meals
Breakfast: Oatmeal with whey protein and almonds
Lunch: Sweet potato with chicken and broccoli
Dinner: Quinoa with salmon, pine nuts and asparagus
Example Medium-Carb Meals
Breakfast: Rye bread with scrambled eggs, spinach
Lunch: Brown rice with chicken and broccoli
Dinner: Avocado and prawns with rocket and tomato
Example Low-Carb Meals
Breakfast: Smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, avocado and asparagus
Lunch: Chicken and cashew stir fry with peppers, broccoli and spring onion
Dinner: Tuna with avocado and green beans
Don’t think that healthy food should be boring! Use these healthy flavoring options to keep your taste buds happy and your willpower high.
- Fresh or dry herbs
- Soy sauce
- Curry powder
What Else Do I Need To Know?
If you think carb cycling might be something you want to try, there are a couple of other things you need to know.
Carb cycling works well for both fat loss and muscle gain. For fat loss as a primary goal, you should be in an overall calorie deficit. For muscle gain as a primary goal, you should be in a calorie surplus. As I touched upon earlier, keep your protein intake high; it’s essential for maintaining muscle in a calorie deficit.
Dont be afraid of fats, but use them wisely. Eating food with higher fat content on your non-training days is ideal. Follow these simple rules and you’ll see the benefit of carb cycling in no time.
1. Calories are King.
I don’t care how many crunches or power walks you do, if you’re not in a caloric deficit, you’re not going to lose weight. And at the same time, if you’re trying to gain muscle, regardless of the amount of bicep curl drop sets you do, you’ll have to be in a caloric surplus.
The formula we use is a simple 3 step process:
Conversions: Weight in kg = weight in lbs / 2.2, Height in cm = Height in inches / 2.54
Calculate your BMR
(The amount of calories required to sustain your current weight while in a sedentary state)
Men: BMR = 66 + (13.75 x weight in kg) + (5 x height in cm) - (6.75 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 665 + (9.5 x weight in kg) + (1.84 x height in cm) - (4.67 x age in years)
Calculate your TDEE
(Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure - the amount of calories to sustain your current weight based on your current activity level.)
For this calculation, and based on real life experience of working one-on-one with hundreds of clients, I have a different “activity multiplier” than the typical online calculators.
TDEE: Multiply your BMR by the appropriate activity multiplier:
BMR x 1.1 (very sedentary lifestyle)
BMR x 1.2 (Leisurely walking for 30+ minutes 3-4 days per week, golfing, house chores)
BMR x 1.35 (Active- Strength training 3 days per week or circuit training 4 days per week for 30-45 min)
BMR x 1.5 (Very Active- individuals strength training 4-5 days per week and/or cardio for 45-60 minutes per session)
BMR x 1.7 (Extremely active, Super high metabolism- endurance training, heavy intense strength training 6-7 days per week)
My example: I am a 6’2”, 208 lb, 38 year old male who is very active. My BMR is 2042 and I would multiply it by 1.5 = 3063 for my TDEE.
Next, you choose your goal. Am I aiming for fat loss? Am I trying to build muscle? These will offer two different paths. Remember the golden rule- the quickest way to look like you put on 10 pounds of muscle is to lose 10 pounds of fat.
Fat Loss = I will subtract 25% from my TDEE. My TDEE 3063 x .25 = 765.
3063-765 = 2298 for my daily caloric intake.
Muscle Gain = I would add 20% to my TDEE. 3063 + 612 = 3675
Now that we know our calories, its on to our macro requirements, which brings me to nutritional importance rule #2.
2. Macronutrients are different for different people.
Before we move forward, let’s establish the different macros and their value:
- Carbohydrates- 4 calories per gram
- Fats- 9 calories per gram
- Proteins- 4 calories per gram
Macronutrients refer to the recommended carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for each individual.
Different people have different macro requirements, but everyone can work from a fixed protein dose of 1.5-2.5g per kg of bodyweight, whether youre looking to add muscle or drop body fat.
Food isn’t simple though, as most foods contain fats, carbs, and protein to varying degrees. So if you add something that is primarily carb-based like oats, there will also be protein and fats included. All of these totals must be included to determine the macros you are hitting.
If muscle building is the goal, then aim to top off your calories with carbs and fats in the following ratios:
On weight training days use 70% carbs and 30% fats with your remaining calories after calculating protein intake.
If your daily caloric needs for building muscle are 3,000 and you are 80 kg, then remove the 2g per kg from protein = 160g protein total x 4 (4 calories per gram of protein) = 720 calories from protein. 3000-720 = 2280
Add a 70% carb and 30% fat split on the remaining 2280 calories:
70% = 1596 cals from carbs / 4 calories per gram of carb = 399g of training day carbs
30% = 684 cals from fats / 9 calories per gram of fat = 76g of training day fats
On non-weight training days go for 50% carbs and 50% fats.
Using the same 3000 calories for building muscle and the same 720 calories for protein (80kg individual x 2 = 160g of protein)
You will evenly split 2280 calories 50/50 towards your carbs and fats.
50% carbs = 1140 cals from carbs / 4 cals per gram of carb = 285g
50% fats = 1140 cals from fats / 9 cals per gram of fat = 126g
Try out this protocol: 3 days low-carb, 1 day high-carb and repeat format.
70% carbs 30% fats
If your daily needs for building muscle are 3000 and you are 80kg, then remove the 2g per kg from protein = 160g total x 4 (4 calories per gram of protein). 3000-720 = 2280
This leaves 1596 cals from carbs = 399g carbs (4 cal per gram of carb) and 684 cals from fats = 76g carbs (9 cal per gram of carb)
Have these numbers left you lost?
The hardest part of any training schedule is following a food plan accurately. I always suggest having a custom food plan designed to ensure you are eating for your goals and not against them.
If you want a fully customized plan from me, which I will create based on your individual physiology, then you can get one here. Id love to have you on board.
David Kingsbury is the Hollywood PT flown in to build the biggest bodies in cinema. From turning Hugh Jackman into the hulking Wolverine to ripping Michael Fassbender into six-pack shape, his is the most sought after body-transformation blueprint in the world of A-list fitness.