Some of the most useful and practical training and nutrition tips come from the golden years of bodybuilding. Long before personal trainers started fancying themselves as scientists who don a white lab coat, bodybuilders were toying with training and nutrition philosophies, using what works, and throwing out what didn’t.
In todays time most of the evidence based fitness community laughs at what a lot of these old bodybuilders did, and talk about it not being optimal. Which is funny, because even though the bodybuilders may have followed broscience, they still looked better than 99% of the people we see today.
One of those methods they used was carb cycling.
What is carb cycling?
There’s a lot of people who talk about carb cycling, but far too many people overcomplicate things and make carbs and dieting far more confusing than it really needs to be.
At the most basic level carb cycling is just changing how many carbs per day you’re eating depending on your activity level. Nothing more, nothing less.
On days that you’re training extremely hard you’re going to eat more traditional carb sources, things like bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. And on days that you’re not training you’re going to eat far less of those, and fill up on more vegetables and eat more fat.
You can make things more in depth if you want to.
There are a few different variations on carb cycling that you can try, which are detailed below.
- High and low days: This is the most basic form of carb cycling there is. On training days you eat higher carbs, roughly 3g per pound of bodyweight, and on lower carb days you’re going to bring that number down to about .5g per pound of bodyweight.
- High, medium, and low days: This is a slightly more advanced option than the first. It involves extremely high carbs, still around 3g per pound of bodyweight, on days where your training is extremely intense. Then moderate carbs on easier training days, roughly around 1.5g per pound. And then very low carbs on off days, at about .5g per pound of bodyweight.
- Extremely low for 5-6 days and then refeed day: This is by far and away the most advanced option, and typically best for someone who is in the deep portion of a fat loss diet. It involves eating around .5-.75g per pound of bodyweight most of the week, and then once a week eating at 3-4g per pound of bodyweight to refill glycogen stores.
Why does carb cycling work?
This is one of the most tried and true bodybuilding diet tools in existence. It’s been used by everyone from old school legend Vince Gironda to Arnold to modern day monsters like Phil Heath.
By far and away the biggest reason it works so well is it uses the natural insulin response in your body to your advantage, by increasing insulin sensitivity to help you shed fat, while also providing plenty of carbs to fuel hard and intense training.
Want to give it a try?
If you’re not experienced when it comes to tinkering with your diet, then I would highly suggest trying out the first option, and maybe not even tracking in the beginning. Instead, just try and consciously eat more carbs and less fats on training days, and the reverse on non training days.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, begin tracking and really start dialing in your overall numbers.
However, if you fancy yourself a badass and you’re down to try and get shredded while also getting stronger and gaining more size, then give the second option a try. Set up your high carb days so they fall on challenging lifting days like legs and back, and the moderate days so they fall on days like chest, shoulders, and arms.
Enjoy the gains, bros.