Carb Cycling And Calorie Cycling For Fat Loss And Performance
Is carb cycling the secret for rapid fat loss? Will calorie cycling lead to more gains in the gym? Or are they both concepts you shouldn’t even consider?
At one point or another you’ve come across the term carb cycling and / or calorie cycling. And you’ve probably considered it as an option for helping you achieve your goals.
Whether it’s losing body fat, building muscle, or both, the notions of carb cycling and calorie cycling seem to make sense.
Or at least the people promoting them provide a convincing argument. Am I right?
So is there some truth behind the tales? Or is it yet another case of fitness snake oil salesmen making things more complicated than they need to be?
Well, in this article you’re going to find out once and for all what the no BS truth is.
Because that’s what Iron Paradise Fitness is about…
Removing the confusion.
Removing the nonsense. The bull shit. And the headaches.
And leaving you with the honest, simple facts you can apply straight away to your own lives.
So let’s delve in and make everything a little clearer…
What is Carb Cycling?
When I say the phrase carb cycling what springs to mind?
An hour on an exercise bike, munching on a croissant?
Maybe you’re thinking it’s all about having rice on Monday, bread on Tuesday, and pasta on Wednesday…
Or maybe you’re a little smarter than I’m giving you credit for.
Well, the fact you’re reading this makes you an incredibly smart person in my eyes.
Anyway, back to the point… Let’s define carb cycling.
In reality carb cycling has one broad definition but different methods of application. Allow me to explain…
Carb cycling is about having different amounts of carbohydrate on different days of the week.
Nothing too complex there…
One day might be high carb, ie above 40% of total caloric intake. The next might then be a low carb day, ie below 40% of total calorie intake.
But why would anyone bother doing this? What’s the theory?
Well, I’m sure it won’t surprise you, but some believe this approach will elicit greater weight and fat loss.
More than likely claiming the lower carb days turn your body into some form of fat burning furnace.
Or some other attention grabbing and largely misleading headline.
And there’s more to it than pure fat loss. Because one of the main reasons for carb cycling relates to training performance. And this again might seem logical.
More carbs on a training day equals more energy. Therefore, more energy equals better performance in the gym. And this leads to more gains, more muscle, and probably more calories burned.
And it does seem to make sense. Just think about it for a second.
I’m sure you’ve experienced those workouts where you’re nuts deep in a calorie deficit and dragging you almost limp carcass to the gym.
Once there, your workout is pretty lacklustre. Trudging around the gym floor, dragging your feet like a petulant teenager whose been forced on a shopping trip with their parents.
Did you have the best workout possible? Probably not.
So could carb cycling give you a much needed boost? If so, that would be a good thing, right?
Well, that’s the theory anyway. But is it fact?
Is Carb Cycling Better For Fat Loss?
The answer to this one is both YES and NO… And I know you probably expected me to tell you it was all horse shit and bro science. So I may have caught you off guard.
Allow me to explain.
Let’s look at the NO scenario first.
For now, let’s assume you’re in a calorie deficit with your imaginary twin. You’re both the same height, weight, and build. Basically, everything about you is identical.
You both eat 2,000 calories per day. And this represents a calorie deficit of 500 calories. With me so far?
But there is a difference between the two of you. Your twin is carb cycling.
You’re having 250g of carbs every day. Whereas your twin is having one day at 50g, followed by one day at 450g. And they continue to alternate throughout the week.
Is your twin now an Evil Twin because their fat loss is faster than yours?
Well, the answer is NO! Why? Because calories are matched. Essentially, you’re both still eating 2,000 calories, so the rate of fat loss will be the same.
Your ratio of carbs and fat matters not when it comes to fat loss my friend.
Carb Cycling If You’re Not Counting Calories
Here’s where the plot twists though.
Carb cycling could help you lose weight and fat if you’re not counting calories…
“What… Simon. Why the hell would someone not count calories?”
A good question.
You see, calories count, but you don’t have to count them. Meaning, if you know what you’re doing, you can create a calorie deficit without counting a single calorie.
And carb cycling might be one way to do that.
For example, if you were to alternate a normal day of eating with a day of low / zero carbs then you could potentially create the all important deficit. And notice I use the word “could”. Because you could conceivably still overeat on calories on either day. But cutting carbs from one day, might work for some of you out there.
So if that way of eating suits you, then go for it. It might the simple solution you’ve been looking for.
But remember, if you try it and don’t lose any body fat, then you’ve simply not created a deficit. Nothing to do with carbs being the devil and all that shit!
Could Carb Cycling Increase Performance?
Let’s look at the other side of the coin. You might not be looking to lose body fat.
And even if you are, your performance in the gym can still have some bearing on your success. So does carb cycling provide this elusive performance benefit you desperately want?
After all, it’s about those all important gains, right?
Carb cycling could actually aid your performance in the gym. But largely it’s going to come down to personal preference.
Studies conducted with top level endurance athletes show that periods of training in a carb depleted state can provide performance benefits when athletes subsequently compete with full carb intake.
But seeing as you’re unlikely to be a top level endurance athlete, that’s probably of no interest to you.
Although, Mo Farah… If you’re listening, give me a shout and I’ll help you out. Plus, I can come up with a better celebration than that stupid Mo Bot thing!
So it boils down to this… If having high carbs on training days helps you perform better in the gym, then great. Start carb cycling now. Because it sounds like it’s going to have some benefit for you.
But if you find it has zero effect, then that’s cool too. You haven’t lost out.
Essentially, it comes down to adherence and personal preference. What’s the optimal way of eating for you? What will keep you consistently on track with your calories and training? Once you’ve figured that out. Do that!
Another variation on carb cycling you could use, is Carbohydrate Bunching. And this is where you bunch carbs at certain periods of the day, mainly around your workout in this scenario.
So if carbing up before training provides you with the energy boost you’re looking for, then awesome. Go do that… And if sinking a large portion of carbs post workout suits how you like to eat. Awesome... Do that too!
You don’t necessarily NEED to have carbs post workout. But again, if it works for you and supports adherence, fill your proverbial boots!
Weight Fluctuations When Carb Cycling
Ok. So you’ve decided to do this whole carb cycling thing…. Awesome.
But here’s something I want to warn you about. Because I don’t want to lose your shit when you step on the scales.
With carb cycling you may experience some wild weight fluctuations day to day.
This will NOT be body fat (assuming you’ve maintained your deficit). More than likely, water weight fluctuations will be a factor. Glycogen stores will be getting replenished and depleted somewhat from one day to the next, which could manifest itself on the scales.
So it’s even more important you look at weekly averages to assess progress. Because you’ll drive yourself crazy if you worry about the inevitable day to day changes.
What Is Calorie Cycling?
With carb cycling done it’s time to turn attention to calorie cycling. First logical question is, “What’s the difference?”
Calorie cycling is about adjusting your total caloric intake to suit your lifestyle and dietary preferences.
And what does that mean?
Alternate Day Fasting is one example of calorie cycling. It’s a form of Intermittent Fasting, just with a slightly different name. Because you know how we love to confuse the shit out of you in the fitness industry, right?
ADF is exactly what it says on the tin. Eat normally one day, fast the next. It’s not much more complicated than that.
Another form of calorie cycling might be eating more on training days and having less on rest days. A little like carb cycling really.
And there are a bunch of different ways you can calorie cycle. Probably too many to mention right now, but you get the drift.
So the big question is this…
“Does calorie cycling elicit greater fat loss?”
Let’s find out…
Is Calorie Cycling Better For Fat Loss?
The answer its predictably a lot like the one for carb cycling. There’s a little YES and a little NO in there….
Because it all comes back to those delicious and sumptuous calories.
If you’re tracking, then and your weekly, fortnightly, or whatever other time period average is the same, then fat loss will be the same. It really doesn’t get any more complicated than that.
I’m sure many people trying to sell you a calorie cycling programme will disagree.
But then again, they are selling a calorie cycling programme, so……….
Back in the real world, there’s simply no difference. However…
When Calorie Cycling Is Beneficial For Fat Loss
Again, just like carb cycling, it’s almost a mirror scenario for calorie cycling when it comes to a potential use for fat loss.
If you’re not counting calories, then days of zero, or at least very low calorie intake could help you achieve your desired deficit.
Now, I won’t go over the whole “could” point again. But I will say this… A day of eating normally, followed by a day of no eating should be enough to get anyone into a calorie deficit. Unless you eat like Jabba The F*ckin’ Hutt on your eating days.
In fact, Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) is often used with obese people seeking clinical intervention. Because it can stimulate rapid initial fat loss, which is incredibly motivating.
So if the idea of fasting every other day sounds achievable for you, it’s possibly worth considering. Particularly, if counting calories fills you with dread. Because when it comes to creating a deficit, you tend to need to implement some of these more restrictive guidelines as you’re not paying too much attention to calorie intake.
Obviously, intuitive eating is an option. But that takes a bit of skill and knowledge of calories. So it might not be the best approach for the dieting novices out there.
What Are The Benefits Of Calorie Cycling
You might be surprised to hear me say it, but I’m a big fan of calorie cycling. Not necessarily in terms of a rigid approach, but something more fluid to help you manage daily life.
And what do I mean by that?
Well, imagine this scenario…
You're sat at home on a Sunday afternoon with your feet up, watching a Netflix Box Set. You open up your diary and start to plan the week ahead. After all, you’ve been listening to my advice long enough to know how important planning is, right?
So you start to think about what social events are on the horizon…
And low and behold the weekend looks like a diet train wreck waiting to happen.
Cleo’s leaving work on Friday, so you’re all out for drinks on Saturday. And knowing Cleo, it’s going to be lots of food, drink, and a hangover to content with. Sure, they’ll be a good time in there somewhere. But that’ll be lost in a haze of cocktails and tasty food. Essentially, it’s a day full of calories!
And then there’s Sunday! After dealing with the hangover it’s Sunday lunch with the family. And that means a full pub lunch with drinks on top. This is turning into a nightmare!
So what do you do?
Cancel? Make up some lame excuse that you don’t feel well or you’re washing your hair?
You could. But wouldn’t it be better to enjoy life AND still achieve that badass body?
Well this is where calorie cycling could help you.
How To Effectively Use Calorie Cycling
Simply plan how many calories you think you might need across those days out. Then plan lower calories days for the rest of the week to accommodate.
For example, you’re eating 2,000 calories a day. But you figure this needs bumping up to 3,000 on Saturday and 3,000 on Sunday. So that means you need an extra 2,000. In that case, simply create a larger deficit on the other 5 days of the week to the tune of 400 calories per day. And boom! Extra weekend calories created.
And you could adopt this approach even if you weren’t boozing it at the weekends.
If you want more calories on training days vs rest days, you can approach it in exactly the same way.
As with most things, it comes down to preference and adherence. Do what’s right for you!
The Bottom Line On Carb Cycling And Calorie Cycling
So here’s a summary of the key things to remember…
- Carb cycling and calorie cycling are no better for weight and fat loss where calories are matched.
- Where calories aren’t being tracked, both approaches may help create a calorie deficit.
- High carb and / or high calorie days may support training and performance.
- Calorie cycling could be used as a tool to assist with dietary adherence when managing social events.
- The overall guiding principle is individual preference and dietary adherence.
Finding the right approach for you is the most important factor and will be what generates the best long term results.
So there you have it. Another topic knocked off the list for you. Did this one help you get some much needed clarity? I really hope it did.
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I’m off to go chew on a baguette while riding a penny farthing…