What is carb cycling?
Simply speaking, carb cycling is a process of alternating between lower carbohydrate, lower calorie days and higher carbohydrate, higher calorie days. These cycles are usually a couple of days long and are usually based on the days in which you train. Bodybuilders will often use severe carbohydrate and calorie restrictions on their “non-carb” days and load up on their “high carb” days. Unfortunately, these extremes won’t be quite as effective for runners because the energy systems required for optimal training are different between bodybuilders and runners. However, we can modify the process to get the benefits we need as runners. First we need to understand the basics of how carb cycling works.
How Carb Cycling Works
To better understand why carb cycling works it’s important that you understand the role carbohydrates, or lack thereof, play in weight loss.
Mainly, we know that limiting carbohydrate intake lowers insulin levels. Research shows that having low insulin levels accelerates the release of fatty acids and increases fat burning, even during exercise (which is where the idea of running before eating breakfast to burn fat comes from). Considering this information about the role of carbohydrates and insulin, if a runner wants to burn fat and lose weight, they would refrain from eating carbohydrates all together.
But we also have to take into consideration the idea of recovery and fuel for optimal performance. Insulin is a very important hormone in the metabolic energy and recovery process. Insulin facilitates the transport of glucose from the blood into the muscle cell, where it can be metabolized to produce energy. Meanwhile, carbohydrates and insulin also stimulate the recovery process by driving critical nutrients, including protein, to damaged muscles. Therefore, it is critical that athletes include carbohydrates in their diet; specifically, before and after workouts, which are the most critical time windows for running performance and recovery.
Carb cycling, when done correctly, facilitates this objective by ensuring that the liver or muscle tissue rapidly absorbs any ingested carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. If ingested carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores, there won’t be an excess that end up in fat cells where enzymes convert glucose into fat for storage, thus allowing you to lose weight.
The Effectiveness Of Carb Cycling
Recent research conducted by the Genesis Prevention Center revealed that intermittent, low-carbohydrate diets were superior to the standard, daily calorie-restricted diet and the traditional Mediterranean diet in reducing weight, body fat and insulin resistance. In short, mean reduction in weight and body fat was roughly 4 kilograms (about 9 pounds) with the intermittent approaches compared with 2.4 kilograms (about 5 pounds) with the standard dietary approach. The researchers also found that insulin resistance was reduced by 22 percent with the restricted low-carbohydrate diet compared to 4 percent with the standard Mediterranean diet.