In fact, carb cycling - scientifically referred to as the Cyclic Ketogenic Diet or CKD - is nothing else but a low carb diet with intermittent periods of high or moderate carbohydrate consumption. In other words, periods of low-carb, high protein and high fat intake are cycled with periods of high carb, high protein and low fat2.
Turns out, carb cycling might be one of the most effective ways to lose fat and build muscles.
How does carb cycling works?
On low-carb days the body is forced into catabolic stages, in which it breaks down tissue (i.e., fat) to get the energy needed. Then, on high-carb days, the food intake nourishes the muscles to ensure that only fat tissue (not muscle) will be burned during the next catabolic stage3.
The catabolic stage in which your body goes is known as ketosis, or the condition in which the body burns fat and ketones instead of glucose (i.e., sugar) for fuel.
That’s the advantage of carb cycling; the body doesn’t find the “usual” fuel to burn so it’s forced to turn to an alternative source for energy: fat.
By doing so, the body switches from a carb based metabolism to a fat based metabolism.
However, this metabolic switch doesn’t happen right away. A lifetime of eating carb-loaded diet requires an adaptation period, that ranges anywhere between 4 to 14 days.
It’s also noteworthy mentioning that carb cycling is not a carb-free diet. Carbs do play an important role and as Mike Powell states in his book Choose to Lose: The 7-Day Carb Cycle Solution “Saying that carbs aren’t necessary to weight loss is like saying that the world is flat.4”
So far so good, but are there downsides with carb cycling?
First off, as it aims to alter the body’s metabolism, it should be done on an individual basis. The number of carbohydrate grams eaten during the intermittent periods should be closely monitored5.
There’s no room for improvisation here.
It has also been reported that carb cravings may be combined with higher than usual hunger pains that accmpany general reduced calories regimen. A strong will power is needed.
What about training performance?
Another factor to weigh in during carb cycling is the workout routine.
Depending on how intense you train, you might find a significant change in your performance levels especially during the low-carb phase6. Let’s not forget that a low sugar blood level means less readily available energy to burn, hence a deterioration in your overall performance can be expected at first.
In my experience carb cycling works. Actually, it really works. I’ve done it numerous times in my life, especially when I needed to reduce my body fat percentage. Every single time I got results.
As mentioned before, there’s no room for improvisation. You need to do it the right way.
A little trial and error is necessary at first, but if you like being your own lab rat and you aim to get fitter, then carb cycling might be just the thing for you.
As always, I recommend doing extensive research on the topic and maybe ask for help to a qualified professional before embarking onto this journey. Reading one of these books can help prepare you for what's to come:
1 Stopyra, Diane. "The New Rules of Carbs." Details Magazine. August (2013): 68. Print.
2 Cyclic ketogenic diet. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved on July 16, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org
3 Gerbstadt, C. Doctor's Detox Diet The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription (Volume 1). Sarasota FL: Nutronics, 2012. Print.
4 Powell, Chris. Choose to Lose: The 7-day Carb Cycle Solution. New York: Hyperion, 2012. Print.
5 Powell, Chris. Chris Powell's Choose More, Lose More for Life. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print.
6 McManus, Mark. “Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: The Best Ever Bodybuilding Diet?” Bodybuilding.com. March 29, 2004. Web. Retrieved on July 16, 2013 from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/cyclical_ketogenic_diet.htm