Carb cycling seems to be standing the test of time as a staple of the typical bikini competition diet, so I thought I would write a brief article on what I see being done incorrectly by many competitors, and how to make your carb cycle better.
First I want to clarify that I am talking about the typical “high carbs on leg day, medium carbs on back and shoulder days, low carbs on arms and cardio days” version. I am NOT talking about cyclical ketogenic or near ketogenic diets where you go very low cal/carb for a few days and then have a big refeed or carb load for 1-2 days.
I will also say that I am NOT a fan of carb cycling and never use it with my competitors. Reason being is that since most competitors train 5-6 days a week (sometimes multiple times per day…although that isn’t necessary), and considering the post workout anabolic window is actually 24 hours long, there is really NO point in the week where low carbs/cals would be a good idea. And for the high carb days to not take you out of an overall deficit and put you into a surplus, you have to go very low cal/carb on your low days to make up for the high days.
Adding fuel to the fire, most carb cycling programs don’t bother to specify where to put the carbs for PM training vs where to put them for AM training. They just say “high carb on leg day, low carb on arm day”. So if you train legs in the morning, then go high carb all day, you’re golden…the carbs are on the right side of the workout to accomodate the TWENTY-FOUR HOUR (NOT 30 minute) anabolic window, where insulin sensitivity is high enough that insulin will shuttle glucose into the muscle cells vs muscle cells AND fat cells.
But if you have high carbs all day, then train legs at night, and then have to go low carb starting the next morning, you’re missing out on the anabolic window entirely. And if overall calories/carbs are low enough and you are lean enough to be doing something like this to begin with, you WILL feel the effects of low carbs during that post leg day anabolic period. Energy will be very low, you will be more sore than you should be, you will retain water, you will be very hungry and have big sugar cravings. Good chance sleep will be affected as well from low serotonin levels…and you need lots of sleep at this point in your prep.
So how do you fix this issue? Best thing to do is to NOT carb cycle to begin with, or to do the modified version described in my Article Series where you account for the “size” of the muscles you’re training simply by adjusting the size of the post workout meal.
But if you MUST carb cycle…all your friends are doing it, you think its neat…whatever the reason…then I would simply make sure you put the higher carbs AFTER your leg days (or higher volume days in general). I would borrow these carbs a little from ALL your other days so that you aren’t having 2 days of SUPER low carbs…since you probably don’t have 2 24 hour periods in your week where you don’t need a decent amount of food for recovery/anabolism, etc. I would have some carbs at the pre-workout meal, maybe sip on some fast carbs during the workout, and then go high carb for 24 hours after you had that pre-workout meal. I think though that once you start crunching the numbers and attempting to figure out where to borrow all those extra carbs from where it won’t totally screw you for THAT anabolic period, you will see why I don’t like carb cycling. And if that doesn’t do the trick, just head over to my testimonials page and check out all the ladies who never use it but are doing great :).
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