Carb cycling – miracle or myth?

The emerging popularity of low carb diets caused a craze within the fitness and dieting world that has led us to what can be called a phobia of carbohydrates. According to the principles of the ketogenic or paleo diets carbohydrates are not needed at all and the less glucose in our bodies, the better. Although it has been proven that for some medical reasons limiting carbohydrates may be very beneficial, optimizing fitness and bodybuilding performance is a different story altogether. Low carb diets have been scientifically proven to relieve or even cure type 2 diabetes, epilepsy and cancer. However for a healthy individual who is or strives to become the best athlete in class, carbs shouldn’t be an enemy.

In sports, carbohydrates provide instant energy as well as help building muscle. In absence of carbohydrates cortisol and glucagon are produced and they in turn cause a catabolic effect on the muscles. But does that mean that bodybuilders and other athletes stuff themselves with carbs daily? This is where the concept of cycling comes in.

Carb cycling is simply alternating carbohydrate intake daily, throughout the week depending on training routines. For example on the first, heavy training day we ingest a high amount of carbs, on the second moderate and on the third (rest day) we will eat a low amount of carbs. Some athletes on the other hand, will consistently ‘load’ carbs for a longer period of time (bulking) and then reduce their intake the closer they get to the competition (cutting). Some even use the ketogenic diet for 2-3 weeks before contest.

What the above pattern and its effectiveness proves is that when we completely exclude a macronutrient from our diet, out body simply doesn’t get stimulated or ‘surprised’ into a reaction. Just as much as our bodies adjust to the way we train and become ‘lazy’, so do our metabolisms. That’s why it’s only reasonable to make changes to get optimal results.

Of course, portion control is key here, we want all the carbohydrates to be used in a timely manner, rather than being stored as fat. Consuming most of them around workout times will maximize energy and muscle growth and minimize catabolism.

But does all this equal a ‘green light’ to binging on chocolate, candy and pizza? The first principle of health and fitness is to eat and live ‘clean’. Above all it’s important to remember that carbs or no carbs our diet should comprise of whole, organic and healthy foods such as omega rich fats, lean organic meat, fish and poultry and wholegrain, unprocessed carbohydrates.

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