What is Carb Cycling?
December 5, 2012
December 5, 2012
When you’re starting on a program like P90X, Insanity, Turbofire or Asylum, most of the struggles we see are with the nutrition side of things. People are often intimidated by it, they don’t understand how and what to eat, if they did they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now. Or sometimes you do the program and you get decent results and then you plateau. For most people, when they look at the P90X Nutrition Guide, Insanity Nutrition Guide or any of them, they ask….what about carbs? Aren’t they bad or when do I eat them? Or I did a low carb diet before and it worked for a while. Well today’s post is about a method of dealing with carbs and where and how you can fit it in to what you’re already doing or what you’re about to embark on.
There’s a theory or practice you may have heard of. You’ve read about it in fitness magazines and on the internet. Some ultra-ripped body builders swear by it. And even Oprah has dedicated valuable minutes of her daytime talk show to the topic.
It’s carb cycling, and depending on who you talk to, it’s either the single greatest way to lose weight and get toned or a dangerous diet fad that should be avoided at all costs.
The truth, as is always the case with the latest, greatest diet trend, is most likely somewhere in the middle. How well carb cycling works for a person depends on an array of factors that are unique to the individual trying to get in shape–body type, metabolism, health history, exercise habits, diet and willingness to start and stick to a program.
Great, you’re thinking, that doesn’t help at all in determining whether or not carb cycling is right for you–does it work or is it just another fruitless fad.
Okay, you want an answer, and you’ll get one. But first, you need to fully understand what carb cycling is, how it works and what the positive and negative effects can be.
What is carb cycling?
Carb cycling is a diet plan designed to help people burn extreme fat without losing muscle.
In short, people who are “cycling” plan their meals around a program that involves eating between six and seven small meals each day that are either extremely high in protein and low in carbohydrates or high in carbohydrates and low in protein.
For example, a person may eat high-protein, low-carb meals for three straight days and then eat a high-carb meal on the fourth day, then repeat the cycle until he or she reaches their weight-loss, muscle-mass goals.
To maximize the benefits of carb cycling, most people coordinate their diet with their exercise routine. For example, high-carb eating days take place on the most high-intensity exercise days–this is especially true and effective for people who are weight training. Low-carb eating days are planned during low-intensity exercise days. This is where it could get tricky for someone doing Insanity, P90X or especially Asylum because of the body’s need for fuel to get through the intensity of those programs. So be cautious.
It may sound like a lot of planning–especially finding time to eat up to seven meals a day–but it can work. And if you’re following the Beachbody Nutrition guide that came with your program, you’re already eating that many times anyway.
The low-carb, high-protein meals put your body into starvation mode, which then causes your body to burn insane amounts of fat. At the same time, it’s giving your muscles the protein they need to grow. The high-carb days give your body the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients it needs to function properly (think “go to the bathroom,” “feed the brain,” and “properly fight off illnesses”).
If done properly, carb cycling can allow you to achieve your goals—burn fat, build muscle and get toned. In short, it works because it fires up your body’s metabolism, ensures that your muscles have the food they need to grow (or at least not fade away or atrophy), and your body can still function properly.
What are the ups and downs of a carb-cycling diet?
So what’s the bottom line when it comes to carb cycling? Great question…Here’s the answer: Carb cycling works really, really well … if you’re not a sugar addict … if you stick to it … and if you mix it with your Beachbody exercise program like P90X, Insanity, Turbofire or Asylum. However, I recommend following the P90X, Insanity, Asylum or Turbofire Nutrition guides first before taking matters into your own hands by trying the carb cycling approach. Those nutrition guides, especially the Insanity Nutrition guide and the Turbofire nutrition guide are two of the best maps to success you’ll find. It’s a matter of making it easy to follow.
Carb cycling may be a valid option for someone who has hit a plateau with the program and needs to wake the metabolism up. Plateaus are common and for those of us who are older and have to fight harder…it may be what you need.
It melts fat. It helps people maintain their muscle mass. And, unlike other low-carb or no-carb diets, you won’t become lethargic when you’re cycling. Your body is getting exactly what it needs to function the way it’s supposed to function. It’s just not getting it all at once. In a sense, you’re manipulating your body to maximize its fat-burning potential.
But, it doesn’t come without a cost. Some people who have carb cycled report suffering from constipation, heart burn and stomach problems. Others have reported that after a few days of low-carb meals, they go on carb binges because they’re craving sweets and bread so bad it almost becomes an obsession. It can also be a more expensive and time consuming way to lose weight–high-protein foods such as lean can get expensive. In the end, if you have trouble sticking with something that’s not easy to follow or remember you may struggle or you could try it for a matter of a month and see what happens.
But, if you are dedicated and put your mind to it, carb cycling can and does work.
Just ask Oprah.
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