THE CONCEPT: CYCLING 101
There are three types of days while on this diet -- high carb, low carb, and no carb days. Generally, the three days are rotated, or cycled, equally. Again, I will stress that this can, and should, be tweaked, based on the individual's goals, geno and pheno-types, and dieting history. Indeed, much of this will be discussed in future installments. Here, we will lay out the basic plan, which is designed for relatively rapid fat loss for most individuals and the one that got me into contest ready condition, twice.
Carbohydrate manipulation is the key here, but we will back into this by discussing our protein and fat intake, which each remain constant. Bear in mind the multitude of goals and assumptions this diet balances.
NUTS AND BOLTS: THE BASIC PLAN
This plan is based on eating six times per day. An acceptable alternative is five meals daily, and if you so choose, be sure to keep the daily ratios consistent, as each meal will require more food.
Protein: the easy part. Actually, protein is the foundation of this diet. It is not to be skipped, skimped upon, taken lightly, or otherwise reduced simply because the diet does not focus on it. The significance of protein cannot be overstated, though such details are beyond the scope of this article. We shall not get into the minimum requirements for a bodybuilder, which types of proteins are superior to others, and the numerous other issues that have perplexed the scholars and been debated ad nauseam. Suffice it to say, that one gram per pound of bodyweight is the absolute minimum, and there is no maximum on this diet. In other words, at each and every meal, of each and every day, you can feel free to dig in to as much protein as you wish. Though there are some rules. Beyond these rules, and for simplicityâ€™s sake, I will assume you are eating a sufficient quantity at each and every meal and leave it at that.
Assuming you are eating six meals each day, regardless of which type of day, you will eat a minimum of 1/6 of your total daily minimum requirement for protein at each meal. Thus, a 200-pound individual should eat at least 33 grams of protein at each and every meal. If five meals is the necessary course, the same individual should eat a minimum of 40 grams of protein per meal.
You can eat more, but to overindulge at one meal, does not excuse a deficient amount at another. In other words, do not shortchange your protein consumption at any meal.
Again, this is the minimum, so if you are still hungry eat up. Of course, like any other macronutrient, too much protein can hinder fat loss or even promote fat gain. This is another instance where I am putting some faith in the bodyâ€™s sense of self-regulation. For the few of you who eat too much protein and fat loss stalls, you will want to limit total daily consumption to no more than 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Most of your protein requirements must be satisfied from very lean protein sources. Indeed, four of your meals must use lean protein sources, while the remaining one or two may come from a higher-fat source. For our purposes, a â€ślean sourceâ€ť is one that has no more than 10% of its calories from fat. It is important that you look at the calorie breakdown here, as a product may say â€ś10% Fatâ€ť but refer to the fact that 10% of its macronutrients are fat. And because fat is more than twice as calorically dense as carbs or protein, it will derive more than 10% of its calories from fat. Now, as I have stated, this is a simple diet, so if you donâ€™t want to figure out what you can and cannot eat, I have provided a list of generally acceptable lean protein choices.
In addition, one or two meals should contain a higher-fat protein choice. Again, I have provided a list for easy reference, but for those of you with peculiar tastes, you can choose any protein that derives about 20-25% of its calories from fat. If, however, youâ€™d rather eat a lean protein, then for that meal you should add about 10-15 grams of fat from the â€śFat Listâ€ť below, in the fat consumption section. For example, if you have six meals, and four have protein sources from list A and two from list B, you are fine. You cannot have more than two from list B. And if you have none from list B, and all six from list A, then two meals must have an added fat source from the list below.
Approved Lean Protein Sources (A)
Chicken (white meat)
Turkey (white meat)
Tuna Fish (can)
Fish (flounder, tuna (fatty or not), salmon, shark, etc.)
Shellfish (all types)
Protein (preferably whey post workout, and casein before bed; MRPs must be low-carb)
Lean beef (including lean cuts of steak)
Cottage Cheese (0 or 1% fat)
Egg whites (egg beaters)
Approved Higher-Fat Protein Sources (B)
Chicken (dark meat)
Turkey (dark meat)
Eggs (half whites, half whole eggs)
Steak and other meats (not exceptionally high fat cuts)
Cottage Cheese (Whole Milk)
As for fats, this diet does not worry too much about them. Nor will we discuss them much, save for this brief discussion here. While this is not a high fat (or Ketogenic) diet, it certainly is not a low fat diet. When I first started cycling carbs, I kept fats to probably less than twenty grams a day. Here, I recommend keeping dietary fats on the low side, with the majority of fats coming from supplemented EFAs (essential fatty acids)â€”specifically fish oil (high in long chain omega 3 fatty acids -- EPA/DHA).
Why fish oil? There are so many good reasons that a detailed discussion can be an article unto itself. For our purposes, it is sufficient to know that it has all the benefits of other EFA sources (such as flax and hemp oil) and in addition, has been shown to increase leptin sensitivity and exert positive effects on body composition much more efficiently than other EFAs (this is one of the important nutrient partitioning â€śtricksâ€ť one must employ for a successful recomposition).
Now, on to the practicality of it. First, you will be getting some fats in your lean protein sources (probably between 10 and 20 grams of fat) and a few grams from the carb sources (another 10 to 20 grams on high carb day). Second, at least two meals per day will include protein of the higher-fat variety. And if not, then you should add a fat source from the list below.
Fat Sources (an amount equal to 10 to 15 grams of fat).
(Natural) Peanut Butter
Heavy Whipping Cream
Hemp Seed Oil
Third, you will be supplementing with fish oil at 10 to 20 grams a day -- the more the better. This assumes you are using a standard fish oil supplement which, on average, contains one gram of oil and is 30% EPA/DHA. Should you choose the superior version, you may consume a bit less. I recommend you either split it up equally across all meals, or split it in half, and consume it with two meals. If you absolutely refuse to take fish oil, despite my pleas that you should (and the evidence that will be provided in the third installment), add in one to two servings of flaxseed or hempseed oil daily.
Carbohydrate Consumption and the Cycling Process
Ah, the carbohydrate. By now (if you havenâ€™t skipped ahead, and I know some of you have â€“ shame on you) you are saying, â€śits about time!â€ť Well, the protein and fat portions of this diet are relatively easy to follow, but that does not mean they are unimportant. To the contrary, they are critical. This diet is one, however, that focuses on daily manipulation of carbohydrate consumption. First, we will discuss how we do this; then we will discuss additional concerns important to this diet. As previously mentioned, in a future installment, we will discuss in greater depth the theoretical and scientific underpinnings of the carbohydrate manipulation.
As mentioned, we have three types of days in the diet, and they vary only by the amount of carbohydrate that is consumed. They are the high carbohydrate day (high carb), the low carbohydrate day (low carb), and the no (approaching zero) carbohydrate day (no carb). Again, we are assuming six meals per day, so you will need to adjust if you follow a five-meal plan.
HIGH CARB DAY
On your high carb day, four of the meals (three if you are only eating five meals) can have as much carbohydrates (yes, they must also be from the approved list â€“ we love lists) as you like. But remember, you must eat the minimum amount of protein at each meal as discussed above. So for you carb gluttons out there, you might want to make sure you eat your protein source before truly loading up on those carbs first. Also, each one of those meals must include a small piece of fruit (again, a requirement before downing enough other carbs to the point of no return). Almost any fruit will do (save bananas, kiwis, avocado, and other very high calorie or high fat fruits). We are looking for a small serving of fresh fruit, say between 50 and 100 calories worth. The fructose from fruit will help keep liver glycogen stores full and keep your body in the fed state as opposed to starvation-mode. And, if only consumed in small amounts, is not likely to spill over into adipose.
Also --and this is important-- you can choose which meals (3 of 5 or 4 of 6) will have carbs and which don't, but the meal preceding and following your workouts must be a carbohydrate meal Obviously, make sure you leave sufficient time between your pre-workout meal and your workout, or limit the quantity of carbs at this meal, lest your body succumb to reverse peristalsis. Other than that, itâ€™s up to you, as I donâ€™t want to bog you down with too many â€śrulesâ€ť (we have plenty already). The other two meals will be made up of protein only, and, while there is a minimum amount, as always, there is no maximum.
So to sum up, all but two of your meals will have a small piece of fruit, and as much carbohydrate from the approved list as you like. The goal is to eat until complete physical, emotional, and thus, physiological satiety. You are not expected to gorge yourself, nor are you expected to exercise the usual strict self-restraint.
As I said previously, I am a big believer in self-regulation by the mind and body. You are not to worry or stress about whether you are eating too much, or too little. If you eat too many carbs one meal, you will probably eat less the next, as youâ€™ll still be full (just make sure you get the protein in). The beauty of this plan is its simplicityâ€”you are not "aiming" for any number. Rather, you are aiming for the subjective feelings that I just discussed, a satisfied stomach and mental state. You should not "want" more. Nor should you eat more than you want. Relax and go with the flow; it is quite hard to screw up the high carb day, if you stick to the right carbs. And you will learn your bodyâ€™s response as you go on. Increase your carbohydrate consumption if you are not "satisfied." You want a constant feeling of fullness, all day, such that you don't want to eat further. You need to be in tune to your body, and this comes with practice.
Most people find themselves looking forward to, if not salivating at the thought of, the upcoming high carb day. This is no surprise. Indeed, it is by design, and how I came up with the plan for myself. It is a psychological reward, satisfying your emotional need to eat. It makes the very strict part of the diet (which we will get to) bearable. It is a small but frequent reward to hang on to that also has these profound psychological and, equally as important, physiological benefits.
However, some of you will have a difficult time with the high carb day. Stress and concerns of eating too much will plague you. Not counting every gram of carb, and every calorie consumed, will haunt you. For those of you with such concerns I remind you that first, you are supposed to eat a lot of food on this day, to make sure that your weekly caloric deficit is not too low, and second, that no one should ever dread high carb day. The point is to eat as much as you want; not stuff yourself like a Thanksgiving turkey.
LOW CARB DAY
The low carb day is a bit trickier. Actually, itâ€™s the most difficult of the bunch. The anal group out there will love it though, as there are specific macronutrient goals. For those of you who, like me, deplore counting, fret not. There is a way around it (weâ€™ll discuss this privately later my lazy brethren).
Here, three meals (two if you are only eating five meals) may contain carbs. Again, one rule is that at least the meal following your workout must be a carb meal. The others you can schedule as you see fit. Here, carb amounts are limited, however. We are seeking to eat approximately one gram of carbohydrate (from the list) per pound of bodyweight each low carb day. So our hypothetical 200 pound dieter would eat about 66 grams of carbs in each of three meals of the day, and the others would be just protein. Oh, and donâ€™t forget your small piece of fruit, at these carb meals, as well.
Now, recall that this plan is designed for simplicity. So it is best if you simply learn general portions of the carbohydrates you choose to eat. Iâ€™d prefer that you don't measure out your carbs strictly; but for the exceptionally anal, this is your chance to shine. For those like me, the goal is a satisfied, but not full stomach. The subjective feeling to strive for is where youâ€™d like to have more, but know you donâ€™t need it.
NO CARB DAY
The no carb day is the simplest, yet most physically challenging day. For most, the cyclical nature of the diet will make this day a relatively easy emotional challenge, however. It also, I am willing to bet, will be the most controversial day, among the dieting community. Yes, I am prepared to be tarred and feathered. Hell, I may enjoy it. Regardless, it is the key to this diet. And it involves, quite literally, no carbohydrates. Okay I lied: a few sneak in with your green veggies; as with any good rule, there is an exception. Here, you will stick to your six (or five) meals, and only consume protein (and some fats); again from the list, and again, at least meeting the prescribed minimum. Unless â€śmasticatory boredomâ€ť sets in, however, I doubt you will have any trouble eating your minimums, and you likely will eat far more. However, do not be surprised if you eat less than you expect, since eating protein alone can cause one to feel satiated more rapidly. This may seem like a painful or difficult day, but in practice itâ€™s not that bad. Trust me. And remember, a high carb day is just around the corner.
No, I did not forget. You wonâ€™t find veggies (except the truly calorically dense ones) on the carb list. And here, I am referring to green leafy, low calorie, fibrous vegetables. Things like salad (no dressing), cabbages, escarole, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash, and kale are appropriate. Generally, any vegetable that contains less than 50 calories per cup will suffice.
Each and every day, whether it be a high, low, or no carb day, at least three meals, each and every day should include one cup of green veggies. It can be with or without your carb meals. I donâ€™t care, though you may find it more pleasing to the palate to consume your vegetables with your no carb meals.
Now, on to the good stuff: the lists. Don't get overly excited because you aren't going to see most of your favorite goodies on here. Indeed, it is a relatively sparse list, given the plethora of carb sources found in grocery stores.
Oats (Slow Cooked Preferred)
Sweet potatoes or Yams
Fiber One (All Bran) Cereal
Starchy Veggies (corn, peas, etc.)
Approved Yet Limited Carbohydrates**
Whole grain breads, pitas, etc.
**These may only be consumed on high carb days, and only for one meal per high carb day
ADDITIONAL YET IMPORTANT CONCERNS
The old dieting adage that one should not weigh (or take measurements) oneself daily is perhaps never truer than on this diet. This is especially important for those of you fixated on the scale. Wild weight fluctuations will occur, as you deplete, and replete, glycogen stores daily. And remember that for every gram of glycogen stored (or lost), three grams of water are also retained (or lost). As well, you are likely to look and feel bloated at the end of, and the day after, your high carbohydrate days. This is normal and not an indication of lack of progress (as many an individual who were skeptical, yet tried the diet can attest to). To the contrary, it is an indication that things are moving along swimmingly. As well, if you try to measure progress in this manner, you will become frustrated after your high carb day. You may then come to the â€śepiphanyâ€ť that the no carb days are doing wonders, and you will start adding in extra no carb days. Next, you will skimp on your high carb days, and all this will speed progress correct? Wrong. Rather, you will speed up your inevitable metabolic crash, as well as emotional and physiological discomfort and you will spiral into a pattern thatâ€™s end is failure. Melodramatic? Perhaps, but I think I made my point.
So, we resolve this by always taking measurements, and charting weight after the same type of day. Whether it is the morning after a high carb day, or the end of a no carb day, or whatever, consistency is key. Personally, for psychological reasons, I prefer the morning after a high carb day, but the choice is yours. Moreover, you should not be weighing in after a single three-day cycle. Weighing yourself once every other cycle is more than sufficient; so you are tracking progress every six to eight days, depending on your cycle length.
Cooking and Food Preparation
Ah, cooking. Before I get a zillion questions on this, let me try to head this off at the pass. This diet does not allow for calories (whether they be fat, sugar, or what-have-you) added at the preparation or cooking stage. Thus, you cannot fry, add butter, or oil. You cannot add salad dressing or breadcrumbs. You cannot add sauces or glazes. You cannot, well, you get the point, I hope.
You can use no-cal or very low-cal substitutes. So vinegar, soy sauce, and mustard are fine. No calorie dressing works if you can stand it. You can get away with some â€śketo breadcrumbsâ€ť (from www.lifeservices.com), or even a small amount of balsamic vinegar. Pam is your friend, as are most spices, grilling, broiling, boiling, and baking.
While I don't necessarily recommend them, I don't shun things like sugarless gum, diet soda, coffee or tea (black or with an artificial sweetener only), sugar free jello, and crystal light, and other things containing artificial sweeteners while on this diet. With that said, one must be careful that an excessive amount of calories is not consumed regularly with such "low calorie" items. Likewise, one should be particularly careful on No Carb day with these items.
While bodybuilders and non-bodybuilders can use this diet, most of us reading this perform some form of resistance training. For those that do, I assume you have a â€śtypicalâ€ť post-workout protocol, so I'll just give some basics. In conjunction with the Basic Plan (with fat loss being the goal), I recommend, at a minimum, between 30 and 50 grams of whey protein. This can be a protein only meal, and then followed by a carb meal on carb days, or can be taken with oatmeal (or another carb from the list) on carb days. On no carb days, obviously you'd just be having the whey. When using this diet to cut, we are not looking to create a post-workout insulin spike. However, a pure ectomorph looking to cut should probably consider it (by adding 30-50 grams of dextrose and/or maltodextrin).
In short, you can never have enough. The ten 8-ounce glasses per day recommendation is easily a minimum. I recommend at least a gallon per day.
A word on cardio
Briefly: cardio sucks. Or, and perhaps more accurately, cardio is overrated. And, hence, it is over-utilized, to the detriment of the dieterâ€”especially the muscular dieter. I expect this will be the second most controversial aspect of this article. Perhaps Iâ€™ll add a section on religion, to take some heat of my views here.
So for most people, unless â€śskinnyâ€ť (as opposed to lean) is the look you are going for, or you just love your cardio, Iâ€™d suggest dropping it. Period. Resistance training can provide most, if not all, of the physical benefits of cardio, and can do so more efficiently. Benefits such as improved heart rate, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increased metabolism, and nutrient partitioning are generally more efficiently achieved with resistance training, and of course, resistance training carries the added benefit of muscle growth.
With that out of the way, cardio does have its use. If you have been dieting for an extraordinarily long period of time, it may be beneficial. If you are already very lean, and still seeking to get freaky lean, that would be a good situation to add controlled amounts.
A thorough discussion of different types of cardiovascular activity is well beyond the scope of this article. Generally, however, adding in a weekly session or two of high intensity interval training at the appropriate time is a good idea.
As alluded to above, this diet is rather malleable. It can be tailored to the individualâ€™s goals, genetics, preferences, lifestyle, or all of the above. We have already taken up much of your time today, so the next installment will discuss in greater detail how to apply the basic plan to a bulk, how to optimize it in relation to oneâ€™s training, how to optimize it in relation to ones supplementation regimen, and how to arrange it to fit oneâ€™s lifestyle (if you have a specific idea in mind, be sure to email me, and perhaps Iâ€™ll include it).
Here, I will state briefly, that the three-day basic plan will (or should) provide for rapid, steady fat loss. You can easily self regulate this. Should fat loss prove too rapid make no adjustments until at least three weeks or approximately 7 mini-cycles to attain a baseline (and know that you are losing weight as opposed to water). Then simply add in an additional high carb day. So the rotation can be, High, Low, High, No, and it is a four-day rotation. Conversely, if you are still not shedding fat quickly enough, you should add an extra no carb day, as such: Low, No, High, No. And, of course, this is not the only way to do this.
Who can use this diet?
Well, frankly, anyone. With any goals. With any genetics. As I said, the diet is malleable â€“ such is its nature, by design. Who has used the diet successfully?
* Me (a meso/endomorph by nature) for two pre-contest preparations. I successfully got down to around 5% body fat each time, retained a substantial amount of muscle, and needed no tweaking of the basic plan, and no supplements, though I did do cardio. This was also the low-fat variety, which I no longer condone. I also did a â€ślifestyle versionâ€ť just over a year ago simply to get "beach ready." I got down to about 10% body fat, retained all of my muscle, and did zero cardio. This time the diet was of the current moderate fat variety.
* In 1998, my training partner (a pure mesomorph, the bastard) used my original, low-fat variety of cycling to prepare for his first bodybuilding show. He won. My training program helped immensely, as he gained 15 pounds of muscle, Iâ€™d wager, drug and supplement free, in the six months he trained with me prior to cutting. He retained nearly all of it, while cycling carbs.
* In 2002, a new training partner (an endomorph with slight mesomorph tendencies) used a lifestyle variety of the diet, and went from a bodyweight of 228 pounds to 192 in ten weeks, without losing any significant muscle-mass; indeed, his strength increased in that time.
* Several females, in 2002, on-line, successfully used a third generation of the Basic Plan to drop a few pounds for summer. There progress has helped me tweak the Cycle to what it is today.
* A male personal trainer, who I coached on-line, used this diet both to cut and bulk. He was so pleased with his progress that he has spawned off many other on-line cutters to do the same.
* Most recently, a female figure competitor, who I trained on-line, used the Basic Plan â€śPlusâ€ť (we tweaked it regularly as she progressed, mostly for her psychological comfort) to prepare for her second show ever. She was more muscular this time around before the diet, and she successfully retained that size, while simultaneously coming in leaner. Of course, I am referring to Avantâ€™s very own, Leslie. That show was a springboard into another, where she seeks to maintain her leanness, and improve her lagging body-parts. While not technically using the cycle as a bulk, and with the most advanced supplements at her disposal, she is maintaining and improving her leanness, while simultaneously increasing strength, and improving her physique.
* Finally, as this article is being written, another female bodybuilder turned fitness competitor (and long time cutter who has never achieved the elusive "six-pack") has embraced Carb Cycling whole-heartedly. Because she is venturing into the competition foray for her first ever figure competition in a short preparation time (and we donâ€™t know exactly how her body will respond, though early reports show that the term â€śfavorableâ€ť would be an understatement) she is on an aggressive version of the Basic Plan. Despite this, though again using a variety of synergistic supplements, she has been increasing strength during the cut.
* I also have two more tests Iâ€™ll be running soon, on myself. The first is a cut. It will be a lifestyle variety, which I will discuss in detail next time. The goal is to lean out, while retaining muscle, while I am rehabbing. Once I am fully rehabbed, I will be using it to bulk, for the very first time. I will be pulling out all the stops, and we will see how she goes.
The point is, with the proper guidance almost anyone can use this diet successfully. Indeed, I do believe almost anyone can use the Basic Plan successfully (for cutting), just perhaps not optimally, which of course is our goal. As an exception, I'd not recommend that a pure ectomorph (and perhaps even a pure meso) use this diet, or any variation thereof, while in a pure mass phase.
| current weight: 10.5