Carb Cycling Pros & Cons

There are SO many different methods of manipulating your diet to get the results you want from your program but which is right for you?  The answer?  It depends.  It depends on a lot of different factors and what works for your best friend or favourite trainer may not work for you.  Let’s talk about carb cycling!

What Is Carb Cycling?

Basically, carb cycling is just varying your carb intake based on your workouts.  This method is quite popular in the bodybuilding community.

Here’s a basic explanation on how to do it.  On heavy training days consume 2-2.5g or carbs/pound of body weight.  On moderate training days consume 0.5-1g and on rest days consume 0-0.5g of carbs/pound of body weight.  Your other macronutrients (fat and protein) stay the same.

High carb days should be spaced so that you have 3 or 4 days of low carb intake in between.  The reason for this is so that you’ll consume your highest amount of carbs when your body is completely depleted of glycogen stores.  This will help ensure that the extra carbs get used up as energy rather than being stored as fat.

Some Pros of Carb Cycling

  • A great way to improve body composition because you’ll only be taking in carbs when you need them most. You need carbs for energy so consuming them on days when you’ll be working harder means they’ll be available for that energy demand.  On days when you don’t need that quick energy your body will be able to fuel itself with stored fat.  This means that you should be able to lose fat and at the same time maintain strength.
  • For most people carb cycling is a great way to get you out of a fat loss plateau.
  • Psychologically this way of ‘dieting’ can be easier to follow. Trying to eat low carb all the time can leave you feeling grumpy and dealing with strong cravings.  But if you know you have a high carb day coming up you’ll be better able to deal with the discomfort of being carb depleted.  It also helps motivate you to train hard so you can ‘earn’ your carbs.

Some Cons of Carb Cycling

  • It’s a bit time consuming because you HAVE to track your macros. You’ll need a good app such as My Fitness Pal to keep track of your macros and make sure you’re sticking to them.  If you just wing it you’re going to get it wrong and your high carb days could end up just being a binge day.
  • You can develop an unhealthy relationship with food. On the low carb days you might find yourself dreaming about high carb day and then when your high carb day comes around there’s a risk that you may binge on carbs.  This type of ‘dieting’ can become a bit obsessive so if you’re prone to eating disorders this is probably not a great choice.
  • It doesn’t take individual appetites into consideration. Some people find that on heavy training days they don’t have as much as an appetite on rest days.  Trying to go super low carb on a day when you have a larger appetite is torture and usually doesn’t last long.  Trying to make yourself eat more carbs on days when you don’t feel that hungry can also be unpleasant.
  • It can be hard on your digestive system. Varying your diet is good but, for some people, when you vary it too much it can cause gastrointestinal distress.  You may find that you feel super bloated on high carb days which can make this method quite unappealing.

Your Body Your Choice

Every body is different.  What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another person.  Personally it took a lot of time and experimentation for me to find something that works well for me and it probably will for you too.  If you’re curious about carb cycling definitely try it.  Keep track of your results, especially your energy and mood and see if it’s right for you.  Just remember, your ‘diet’ needs to be something you can do long term so if you’re not happy with it figure out how to make it something you can live with.