When dieting for a bodybuilding contest, I use an arsenal of weapons to lose unsightly excess body fat. One of the dietary procedures I institute, is to cycle my carbs.
Carbohydrates are used as energy by the body; they fuel our workouts, as well as providing ample fuel to be used throughout the course of the day. Ingesting carbs also replenishes our glucose and glycogen stores to prevent fatigue. Carb cycling allows you to still eat carbs from clean sources, without adding body fat, and cycling enables you to better utilize fat for burning as fuel, as opposed to burning carbs and muscle tissue for fuel.
Are Carbs The Evil Enemy?
Carbs are not the evil villain the media makes them out to be. Improper carb timing can however, cause these carbs to be stored as fat. Carbs are not essential to the body, but they make dieting, and eating in general, a lot easier and more pleasurable… as long as the carbs are from the proper sources. Carbs get a bad rap in the news lately, due to people jumping on the proverbial bandwagon to make a buck off the latest trend in dieting…. low carbs! There are tons of low carb foods hitting the grocery stores daily, everything from bread, to potato chips, can now be found with a low carb label.
A few years back it was all about bashing fats… remember?
What will it be next year… protein? We’ll just have to wait and see I guess, but they’ll think of something.
Carbohydrates eaten in excess, or eaten at the wrong times, can help to add adipose tissue to the body, but they are not a bad thing if incorporated into a diet properly. Eat the majority of your carbs early in the day and at the post-workout meal, tapering off on them as the day goes on.
What Is Adipose Tissue?
Adipose tissue, or fat, is loose connective tissue composed of adipocytes(cells that compose adipose tissue). Its main role is to store energy in the form of fat, although it also cushions and insulates the body.
Never eat carbs late at night, opt for protein instead. Sugar laden junk foods are always bad, and they are comprised mostly of carbs, and fat. In turn, they should have no place in a serious bodybuilders diet. If people eliminated, or cut down on junk food alone, they would lose a lot of weight, and look and feel much better for it. Quitting junk food however, is usually too much to ask for most people. Most junk food is simply calorie dense garbage, totally devoid of any nutrients. When I devise a diet for a trainee, the first step I implement is to have them cut back on junk gradually, until it is totally eliminated from the diet, except for the rare occasional treat. Once it’s gone from the diet, it’s usually not thought about again, except for the occasional craving. Eating junk food is a conditioned thing that can, and should be eliminated. In this article I will outline a plan that still allows you to eat healthy amounts of good carbs, and still lose fat in the process.
Forms of Carbohydrates
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not carbs that are the villain, but rather the type of carbs eaten, and the specific times that they are ingested. If you are indulging in junk food on a daily basis, then you will most likely get fatter. Another problem is eating carbs too close to bedtime, when your activity and expenditure of energy is lessened. This is not a mystery, and all that’s needed by the person looking to lose body fat is a lifestyle change! Cut down on eating the cr@p, and you’ll be well on your way to better health, increased energy, and a leaner body.
The Proper Attitude!
When talking to bodybuilder’s and others, that want to lose fat, or increase muscular definition for competition purposes, I often find a trend in their thinking that they can still eat things in moderate portions that are usually considered taboo, while on most diets. Terms like “re-feed,” “cheat meal,” and “cheat day,” almost always come up. These ideas can be used to your advantage, but in my opinion, you should wait until you are pretty close to achieving your desired body fat % goals before even thinking about them at all.
Yes folks, I’m an “old school” type of guy who will tell you right off the bat, that you MUST make some sacrifices, and give up all negative eating habits to achieve these goals if you want to succeed in losing fat or winning a contest!
I typically diet down for bodybuilding contests achieving approximately 3-5% body fat. Did I accomplish this while cheating and eating the occasional junk treat? My answer is a resounding NO. I suffered a bit here and there, but once I flip the switch in my mind to eat “clean” I do just that. There can be no half measures. You must get into the proper mindset and stay completely focused on achieving your goals, if you screw around and cheat once, you will repeat this cheating again and again. I know this from early attempts at getting cut-up, and from experiences learned from training my clients. Remain steadfast on your mission to getting lean, and you most definitely will.
What we do when we cycle carbs in the manner that I advise, is to have three low carb days, followed by two higher carb days, to aid in recovery, and to replenish glycogen. This gives us just the right amount of carbs to be used as fuel without becoming an excessive amount. Always use carbs from clean foods not junk foods of course. The most important thing about carb cycling, in my opinion, is too never go too high throughout the diet, except for the latter stages, and only if necessary. We’ll discuss this aspect of the diet later in this article! What I recommend as a starting point, to determine just how many carbs you should eat on your highest day, is to eat 1 to 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. Start out using the latter number and adjust according to your results. I might add that it is vital to keep a nutrition journal when cycling carbs to be able to chart progress and make adjustments during the diet. This takes the guesswork out of dieting, and can also be looked back upon in the future to see how the body responded to certain tactics, and is an invaluable tool.
Do not count fibrous vegetables into your total carb count for the day. They are low in calories and carbs and are a good source of fiber and do not count in the scheme of things while carb cycling. Only count starchy complex carbs. Some tweaking will of course be necessary for most, as some of us are a bit more “carb sensitive” than others. Activity level, training intensity level, age, as well as sex, will determine how much you will need to adjust things, but as a rule I have found that 200 grams of carbs as your highest amount, is a good place to start. After a time you can decide whether you want to raise them a bit, or lower them, based on your results, and your body’s feedback. It is a good practice to try this technique well in advance of your contest to sort of “learn” your body, and how it responds to this procedure.
Below is an example of my 5-day carb cycling method using 200 grams of carbs as the highest amount on a high day.
- Day-1: 150 grams
- Day-2: 100 grams
- Day-3: 50 grams
- Day-4: 125 grams
- Day-5: 200 grams
Repeat cycle as written, throughout the course of the diet.
Essentially what I do is drop 50 grams of carbs over the course of the first 3 days, then increase by 75 grams, for the next two days. Some people prefer to raise fat intake on the lower carb days, or to increase fats on their off training days, to make up for the lost calories on the lower carb days. You can do this if you choose to, but I find it interferes with the fat burning process as fat is a calorie dense macronutrient that is needed by the body, but builds no muscle. I also believe that without the fat increase you will burn more fat as fuel on the low carb days, especially when training hard, dieting and doing cardiovascular workouts. Besides as far as calories go, protein and carbs are not calorie dense and you must be in a calorie deficit to lose body fat for a lengthy period of time such as a 16 week contest prep diet or just a fat loss diet for the fitness enthusiast, no matter if he or she competes or not.
Another way you can also accomplish this is to go to zero carbs for 3 days and 3 days only. This will accomplish the same thing as the 3-4 high carb days or the “cheats.” This is the only time to take fibrous vegetables into consideration, as no carbs whatsoever should be ingested during the 3 zero carb days.
Do not stay at zero carbs for any longer than 3 days, and never go below 50 carbs as your lowest amount, throughout the entire length of the diet other than the occasional zero carb 3 day period. Any lower, and the brain suffers, and thinking becomes cloudy, as the brain needs a certain amount of carbs to function optimally.
These are the best sources of clean carbs to use when dieting in general, and when cycling carbs:
- Baked Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Brown Rice
- Cream Of Wheat
I do not eat bread of any kind, or dairy products when dieting, and I recommend that you don’t either, to help optimize fat burning.
The only time to eat simple carbs other than vegetables is at the post-workout meal when you should take in 50 grams of dextrose with a whey protein shake immediately after training.
You do add these carbs from dextrose into your daily total, because even though they are utilized efficiently by the body at the post-workout feeding, they are still carbs, and should count towards your total for the day. Don’t worry about the glycemic index of the foods, but instead be more concerned with total carbs ingested for the day. It should never be too high! I also recommend HIIT cardio while dieting, and a high protein intake throughout the diet, as this will help to ensure that you retain the hard earned muscle that you’ve garnered from your training.
I hope this article helps you out in your quest for a better physique, and better health, via a lean muscular body.
Written By: Tim Wescott