Ever since the infamous Atkins diet made headlines, it seems as if carbohydrates have been receiving a great deal of attention, even more so than fat in fact, which to be honest, has led to some pretty impressive discoveries.
Once people saw first-hand just how impressive weight loss results were by cutting out carbs from their diets, experts immediately knew that they were onto something big. Whilst the Atkins diet and other similar low/no carb diets have proved effective for losing weight, there are certain other things to take into consideration that are perhaps not working in the favor of these low/no carb diets.
For example, there is evidence to suggest that when people go from following a low/no carb diet for 6 – 12 weeks, when they do come off the diet and begin eating carbohydrates again, they binge eat on these foods, which not only quickly leads to weight gain, but it can also affect blood sugar levels within the body, even resulting in people turning diabetic in some instances. Not only that, but studies have also found that as well as protein, the muscles in our bodies also need carbohydrates, which is why people following a low/no carb diet for a prolonged period of time, actually reported a loss in lean muscle mass and not just fat.
When losing weight, ideally people would prefer to burn fat and maintain or even build lean muscle mass, and thanks to the discovery of a new method of dieting known as carb cycling, or carb rotation in some instances, people are now able to effectively do both simultaneously.
What is carb cycling and how does it work? – Carb cycling is basically a diet plan which consists of a person alternating between periods of low/no carbohydrate intake, to periods of moderate to high carbohydrate consumption. The idea is to ensure that whilst optimising your fat-loss results, you will also be maintaining or even improving your strength and energy levels, whilst maintaining or building lean muscle mass simultaneously.
The basic premise of the diet is that it works by providing your body with vital fuel and energy that it needs in order to increase your metabolism whilst also putting your body into a calorie deficit at the same time, which in turn leads to optimal fat-loss. Typically the days will be rotated between low/moderate carb days and high/moderate carb days, and in some instances, even no carb days. So for example:
- High/moderate carbs
- Low/moderate carbs
- No carbs at all
Generally speaking, the days can be cycled and rotated as you wish, though as a general rule of thumb, the trend tends to be that you have more low/moderate days than high days. So, for example: 4 low days, 1 high/moderate day, 1 low day, and repeat or 3 low carb days, 1 high/moderate day, and repeat.
How many carbohydrates, fats, and proteins should I be consuming on each type of day? – As far as how many carbohydrates and other nutrients should be consumed, generally speaking, it all depends on your actual bodyweight.
High carb days – These days will have you consuming around 2 – 2.5 grams of carbohydrate for every pound that you weigh. So if you weighed 200lbs, you would be consuming between 400 and 500 grams of carbohydrates. You should be looking at consuming between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, and 0.15 grams of healthy fats per pound of bodyweight.
Moderate carb days – On moderate carb days, you should be looking at consuming around 1 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrates for every pound that you weigh. Your protein intake should remain the same at between 1 and 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight, and your healthy fat intake should be 0.2 grams per pound.
Low carb days – On low carb days you should only be consuming around 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. The difference on low carb days is that your protein intake should increase slightly up to 1.5 to 1.6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Your healthy fat intake will also increase to 0.35 grams per pound.
No carb days – The title is slightly misleading as you still consume carbohydrates, only very few indeed, at around 30 grams of carbohydrates per day, and those should come from fresh vegetables. Protein intake remains at 1.5 to 1.6 grams per pound of bodyweight, and your healthy fat intake will increase up to 0.5 – 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight.
How can this diet help to build or maintain muscle? – The reason this diet differs from other diets that rely on carbohydrate manipulation, is the fact that the high/moderate carb days are so important for the muscles as it helps to flood them full of glycogen.
Carbohydrates actually help set the body up hormonally for muscle growth as they help to ensure the release of insulin within the body. When we consume carbohydrates, which are then broken down into sugars to be used as energy, the pancreas secretes insulin to help control and regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin helps to flood protein and carbohydrates into the cells within the muscles, speeding up growth and repair and also making them more efficient during exercise.
The only problem is that too many carbohydrates being consumed on a regular basis, means that they will readily be broken down and converted in fat, which the body then stockpiles as energy to be used as fuel at a later date, much like people with open fires or wood burners stock up on firewood to be used for the winter.
This diet is so effective because it provides all of the anabolic effects caused by insulin, whilst ensuring that the metabolism is increased, the body is in a caloric deficit, and that there are not enough carbohydrates for the body to store as fat for a later date.