Time is a flat circle. Things come and go in cycles. Notions and ideas fade as resurface time and time again in an infinite loop. Clothes, seasons, styles, food trends, ideas, all emerging and fading out.
The same can be said for fitness. We have seen numerous diets come and go, each with their own set of strict rules to adhere to. For example, in a ketogenic diet any deviation from the guidelines will cause the house of cards to fall apart. Eating carbs on keto will pull your body out of ketosis, which is the main way the diet is utilized to burn stores of body fat.
With discipline, a diet like that can be very effective. Often, though, people who dedicate themselves to diets like that regularly find themselves bored of eating the same food groups and dishes over and over again. Fatigue sets in and they deviate from the plan, resulting in putting weight back on. It can be disheartening and discouraging.
What if we told you that there was another path to take to reaching your desired body composition, and that you were not priced into eating the same 5 meals over and over again? Did we mention you that you get to eat carbs while doing it?
Finally, a food plan with some flexibility. It’s known as “carb cycling” and it has shown to be effective in both reducing body fat and increasing gym performance.
Essentially, the technique is to increase carbohydrate intake on days where you know you will be able to dedicate a lot of time to training harder than normal while reducing carb intake on rest days, or days spent on more maintenance-level exercising.
One of the biggest upsides to carb cycling is that it allows you to mitigate some of the more harsh side effects of other diet plans. We know that a diet consisting of mainly white fish and lettuce can be tiring, which adds to the appeal of carb cycling. You’re allotted a small number of cheat days, as well as some variation of foods to eat throughout the course of your diet plan We have discussed this at length in our previous article on ketogenic diets. While you won’t take advantage of going into full ketosis doing this, you will still be able to effectively burn fat. It’s simply a different path to take based solely on your own personal preference, but we find that more people enjoy carb cycling based on this key difference.
Before we get into the meat of this article, we do want to remind you that carb intake should always consist of good, healthy food choices like whole grains and vegetables. If our goal is to become a healthier, fitter person, do not ever consume refined carbs that come from candy bars, snack cakes, sodas and other sugary drinks, or white flour. These are totally devoid of any real nutrients and do nothing for your body. Eliminating these types of foods will directly contribute to immediate fat loss and contribute to a heightened state of well-being. Always remember that eating is a source of fuel for your body, which should operate like a well-oiled machine, not a dumpster fire.
So what constitutes a high-carb day? Like we said, carb intake should be much higher on days where you will be training that much more intensely. Leg day is a prime candidate for when you would want to load up on carbs.
As you lift weights, your body depletes its stores of glycogen, which is something that we have covered extensively in our previous article on “the pump.”. Exercises like deadlifts or squats demand a tremendous amount of energy to perform well. On these days, the use of carbohydrates to power through is essential. As this high amount of energy is expended, your muscles will lose all of the stores of glycogen within them, which come from carbs. This depletion is what causes us to feel weak, shaky, or get “noodle legs.” Restoring glycogen is also an important factor in recovery. Shorter recovery time for your muscles translates into fewer rest days and higher output during training days, which means more rapid, drastic results.
Blackstone Labs’ own Formula 19 is a great choice to consider when weighing out supplements to use. It contains an added dose of complex carbs, meeting the criteria we just discussed. This was formulated specifically with weightlifters in mind, containing glutamine, which is another great ingredient to aid in recovery as it is the most rapidly absorbed essential amino acid. This is what your body uses to rebuild muscle tissue. It’s also a great way to get the extra carbs needed on your training days when you are near your caloric limits.
It is important to also point out that on your high-carb days, you should absolutely reduce your fat intake. Ingesting an excess of fats alongside of carbs will result in weight gain and leave you feeling sluggish in the gym. Fats are fine on your rest days when ingested at reasonable levels.
Starting any new diet will almost always come with some downsides. As you begin to carb cycle, you will likely notice that your gym performance will begin to lag. This is a result of your body simply not being used to the way it is being fed. This will not persist for long, luckily, so keep that in mind and use your willpower and discipline to power through it.
Throughout the course of your carb cycling journey, it is to your benefit to stay at a caloric deficit, meaning that your body will expend more calories than it takes in. This, on its own, is proven to reduce body fat. It’s simple math: Fewer calories taken in, more calories burned equals less stored fat. When paired with increased gym time, the demands on your body increase, which is why you are likely to experience fatigue at first. In time your body will adjust and learn to operate on what it is given, but the adjustment period can be rough.
If you were the person who perhaps did not pay the closest attention the their diet before making this change, you may even experience some symptoms that mimic withdrawal. You may not realize it at first glance, but sugar, salt, and fat are all addictive substances. Depending on how drastically you change your diet, your body will wrestle with you as you remove them. Dig your feet in and remind yourself of how much better off you are without them. You will thank yourself as your body changes into the look you desire in time.
Brain fog and lack of focus can occur, too. Again, this is tied to the absence of these substances. You can expect to feel increased hunger and cravings for salty, fatty foods which can absolutely wreck any kind of concentration you have going on at the time. Quitting junk food cold turkey is obviously the best choice for your body, but the mind is a little harder to convince on the subconscious level. If you can’t handle it at first, try weaning yourself off incrementally, but do make the commitment to eventually removing all of it. The way you’ll begin to feel outweighs how any of these foods could ever possibly taste. After a while you won’t miss them and you may even become repulsed by the idea of eating them at all!
Water weight is to be expected at first while beginning a carb cycling regiment. Don’t get discouraged! Remind yourself that it is only water weight and will eventually stop. You could even sweat it out by increasing your cardio or training in a high-heat environment, which we covered at great length in a previous article. You could also take Blackstone Labs’ Eradicate. While it is primarily utilized by bodybuilders as an AI, it does have the added benefit of actively removing estrogen which is what causes your body to hold water and belly fat. Combine all of these if you are looking for that shredded, striated look. We don’t think we have ever met anyone who did not like insane muscle definition, so go nuts.
So, we have gone over which types of foods to adamantly avoid when committing yourself to a new fitness plan. Now that we have carb cycling in mind, the question presents itself: What do I eat?
On your high-carb days, you will want to get them from “clean” sources. This is an ambiguous term, but the sentiment is solid. A good indicator of a “clean” source is usually the presence of dietary fiber.
Whole grain oats are a time-tested mainstay of any fitness enthusiast’s diet. As we all know, carbohydrates are best consumed early in the day so that they will be broken down by the body and stored for energy that will be readily available at the time you begin your exercise routine.
Since we are already dedicated to removing “junk carbs” from our diet, we can rule out prepackaged, flavored oatmeal packets as they contain tons of sugar. We would also recommend against adding syrup to the mix. It might look like we are left only with a sad, gritty bowl of slop, but we know a few tricks to eating well around here.
Take ½ cup of whole grain oats and add a scoop of protein powder. We recommend giving 3-Whey a try because it comes in a variety of new and exciting flavors, keeping it fresh every day. Adding a handful of chopped strawberries, blueberries, or a banana is also acceptable. Then, just add some hot water and mix. Boom, breakfast is served. You could add up to 2 scoops of protein powder, depending on your preference of consistency or hunger level. This will put you on track to hitting all of your daily dietary needs This will also give you an added boost of energy from the sugars contained within the fruit. The added load of protein is a definite plus as well, which will keep you feeling full and aiding in the fight against hunger and food cravings. Pair this along with some eggs and you’ve got yourself a hearty meal that is super cheap as well. And stay away from muffins! We really just consider them to be like eating cake for breakfast. It’s a trap!
Other great sources of carbohydrates come from quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, or grits (for the truly southern). We do not count vegetables as being a part of your daily carbohydrate intake. You’ll notice that all carbs listed previously are starchy carbs, which sets them apart from vegetables, so eat them to your heart’s content. Literally nothing bad can come from gorging yourself on broccoli and kale, so feel free to go all out on this one!
As the rest of the day goes on, consider snacking on food that will keep you feeling full, but still keeps it clean. Bananas are a great choice, along with protein powder mixed with water, and a few handfuls of nuts throughout the day. All of these are low in calories as well, which keeps us on track for staying in a caloric deficit like we talked about before.
On your low-carb days, stick to eating lean protein and a limited amount of fats. Cuts of lean meat like chicken, fish, or leaner cuts of steak are fine. This does not, however, mean that it is time for burger gains.
Some would recommend that you take a cheat day once per week to normalize your habits and to give yourself a carrot to keep you motivated. This is probably okay to do at first, but we really aren’t into it so much. Try and condition yourself mentally from staying away from dirty food as often as you can. Dine out here and there and treat yourself for sure, but try and be mindful of the food choices you make. And take it easy on the alcohol while you’re at it! Beer and ciders are full of empty carbs, meaning that they do not help you in any significant way and contribute to fat gain. If you do decide to treat yourself to a night of drinking, stick to vodka as it has the lowest calories of any available sources of alcohol and does not contain any carbs.
Tips for Success
So you’re ready to jump into your new meal plan headfirst. You’ve weighed out what it’s going to take and you’re committed to success. We want you to excel and create lifestyle changes that will persist well beyond just a few months of regimented training and dieting. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you will not get caught slippin’.
MEAL PREP! Pick a day of the week, like a Sunday, and plan out and cook all of your meals for the following week. Write it down before you begin to cook. Keep a food journal and review it constantly. Label your meals day by day. By planning ahead, you decrease the odds of deviating from the course of your goal. By having convenient food sources readily available and easily pre-heated, you eliminate the odds of “grabbing something fast” while you’re out and about or stuck at work. Hunger and cravings are powerful urges and short-sighted overconfidence in resisting those urges is a flimsy shield at best. Count your daily caloric intake and calculate how many calories you are expending on your training days to ensure that you stay in a caloric deficit. Bring your protein powder with you in a marked container. Lastly, drink water! Drink at least a gallon of water a day. You will begin to rest better, become more energetic, and will feel full throughout the day. Do these things and watch the fat shrink away right before your eyes. We know it will be hard, but you can do it!