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, he or she 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 cells, 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 ends up in fat cells where enzymes convert glucose into fat for storage, thus allowing you to lose weight.
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