Carb Cycling For Fat Loss | Low Carb Diets
In my previous travel fitness blog article, I discussed Diet Tracking by using a food journal such as MyFitnessPal and also understanding your daily calorie allowance needed to lose weight. I now want to talk about the diet I used to lose more than 30 pounds.
Low carb diets are both criticized and praised all over the television and internet. Many low carb critiques come from “vegetarians” or “vegans”. I’m not here to bash “plant based” diets, because part of the diet I followed to help me lose over 30 pounds includes cycling your carbohydrate intake for optimal fat loss.
One reason why low carb diets work so well in weight loss is because by cutting carbs out of your diet, you inherently cut out a ton of calories. Most carbohydrates are very calorie dense. Most meats, and veggies are quite low on calories. Therefore, it becomes a lot easier to stay under your caloric allowance. Remember from my previous blog posts (referenced in the link above) on diet tracking, it is extremely important to understand how many calories you should be eating to both maintain, and lose weight.
The diet I am talking about goes by multiple names such as, Anabolic Diet, Metabolic Diet, Cyclical Ketogenic Diet, CKD Diet, and many more that I probably do not even know… All of which are fancy names for carb cycling.
I followed more of the Anabolic Diet route.
Here is a brief description of the Anabolic Diet as described by the community at Strong Lifts: The Anabolic Diet is a muscle building and fat burning diet. Dr Mauro Di Pasquale developed the Anabolic Diet as a response to drug/steroid use. He wanted a diet that gave similar results but naturally & safely. For a great 101 guide to the Anabolic Diet, check out this article at Strong Lifts Anabolic Diet 101
The Basics of Carb Cycling
The basics of any carbohydrate cycling diet are to go low carb for a period of time, which would entail a lot of meats, cheeses, leafy green veggies, and eggs. This diet period would be considered high protein, high fat, and minimal carbohydrates (less than 50g of carbs, most of which come from vegetables). That period would then be followed by a limited time frame where you would do exactly the opposite. You would have a limited carb reefed, or “carb fest” is what I like to call it. During this period, you would minimize your fat and protein intake, but raise your complex carbohydrate intake to somewhere around 450-600g. Some carb cycling diets say to cycle your carb intake multiple times per week and base those carb refeeds on times where you will be doing your heaviest weight lifting.
The Initiation Period
The way I initiated my carb cycling diet was to start by providing myself with a two week introductory period of low carb intake. This two week introductory period is extremely important because it gets your body switched into a mode where it will end up burning fat for energy, rather than trying to use your stored carbohydrates (glucose). We will call this the “fat switch”.
These two weeks are by far, the most difficult two weeks you will encounter in this diet. If you are just starting a low carb, ( aka ketogenic ) diet for the first time, the switch of not eating carbs will do all types of crazy things to your mood and energy levels. You will probably become irritable and tired due to the lack of carbs in the beginning. In addition, you may experience constipation in the beginning phases (have a low carb fiber supplement on hand), due to the removal of fiber rich, carbohydrates. It will also test your will power to the max. If you are like me, you will have cravings of Moose Tracks ice cream, craft beer and peanut butter brownies, but I promise that if you can make it through these two weeks, you have made it through the most difficult part and the rest of the diet will be a breeze!
Keep in mind, during these first two weeks, it is not out of the norm to lose approximately 6-10 pounds. While this is mainly water weight, it helps with the overall motivation to keep going with the introductory period because the scale will drop daily.
After the Initiation Period
After the two week introductory period, I followed a five day low carb diet, followed by a 36 hour carb refeed period. This approach was maintained for the remainder of the diet. I strategically started my introductory period on a Friday for a specific reason. I wanted Fridays to be the beginning of my carb refeed period. My thought was that the refeed period would end up also being my quasi “cheat meal/social time”. This is actually the main reason why I enjoy the carb cycling diet route. My wife and I can go out to dinner on a Friday and I can allow myself to have a beer, some sweet potatoes, maybe a roll of bread, or some whole wheat pasta (you can ask for that at Olive Garden.)
Why Carb Refeed?
So you might be asking yourself, “doesn’t the carb refeed defeat the purpose?” Well, the answer to that is, no! What happens during a refeed is that the dieter will change their diet to comprise mostly of complex carbohydrates, limiting dietary fats as well as sucrose and fructose. Since the glycogen stores in their liver and muscles become depleted, the carbs you ingest go straight to refilling them, instead of being added to the body’s fat stores. For this reason, typically the amount of calories consumed during a refeed can be far above an individual’s maintenance intake. While a typical carb cycling diet consists of 50g or less carbs per day during the low carb period, the typical refeed consists of 450-600g carbs. Also a weight gain of 2-3 lbs (sometimes more, if you do not eat clean) is usually reported during refeed. Consider this your warning! You WILL GAIN WATER WEIGHT during your refeed period, don’t starve yourself the next day, just stick with the diet format and the excess water weight will be gone in a few days, then your weight on the scale will continue to decrease.
Four Goals of Carb Refeeds
- To refill depleted glycogen stores.
- To upregulate hormones and thyroid activity that is depressed during any dieting.
- To provide the dieter with a psychological “break” that allows you to keep your sanity.
- To allow yourself a “cheat meal” and not completely deprive you of your favorite foods.
Keep in mind, a refeed can be risky. It is not a free-for-all period where you can indulge in every ice cream, brownie, and 12 pack of beer you want. When done incorrectly, you could end up adding fat back to your body. Be smart about it, eat mainly complex carbs, but with that being said, if you want a brownie during your refeed, have one! Just not the whole tray…
Understand Your Body Response
Once you perform the refeed period for a few weeks, you will begin to understand how long your refeed time frame should be. Listen to what your body tells you. I go by the mirror and my wedding ring. Sounds weird, right? What can my wedding ring tell me? Well, as I replenish my glycogen stores, I understand that my body will begin holding more water weight during that period. When my body holds water weight, my fingers tend to get a bit swollen. When my wedding ring becomes tighter on my finger, I usually know that it is time to taper off my carb intake. Also, look in the mirror each morning during the refeed, you will begin to notice your mid section “smooth out” and your face may tend to bloat a little bit. These are ways I understand my body, you may find different ways that you can also use.
My Carb Cycling Results
I have stuck to this diet for the past 173 days and counting. I have lost around 32 pounds, dropped 5.25” from around my abdomen, and almost 4” from my waist. I have added a ton of strength in the gym and continue to do so every day. I can tell you this much, from my experience, carb cycling works. The main reason people quit dieting is because they either fad diet, or deprive themselves of foods they like for so long that they cannot take it anymore.
Carb Cycling diets are not fad diets, they are lifestyle changes. Be prepared for people to call you a rabbit when you order a chicken salad for lunch, rather than a burger and fries. Conversely, if you want a burger, order one! Take off the bun, eat it with a fork and knife, tell the waiter to hold the fries and order a vegetable. My go to veggie is broccoli. You can ask my wife and kids… Sometimes they think they may end up turning green from all the broccoli we eat!
If you have any questions on carb cycling, low carb diets, or what to eat, please use my Contact Page
View my next blog article on Low Carb Food List. I will also post a follow up article on a typical carb refeed day and what foods to eat.