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Nutritional strategies part 2: Carb cycling

You’ve clean up your diet through cutting out pro inflammatory foods and basing your meals around single ingredient foods. With any luck, you should be experiencing better energy, digestion, sleep and performance in the gym. As discussed in part 1 of this series, a great deal of benefits can be gained from cleaning up our diet with a modified elimination diet.

If you want to maximise your results there will come a time where you’ll need to change things up in order to continue to improve. The manipulation of your carbohydrate intake is the best place to start.

In recent times the humble carbohydrate has been demonised so much that many are afraid to even look at a plate of rice let alone eat it! The reality is that many carbohydrate rich foods are fantastic for health and performance. Take the humble white potato, its rich in vitamin C, fibre and provides a great source of energy.

It’s true if you are insulin resistant and inactive then feeding up on potatoes at every meal is unlikely to do you many favours, however going very low carbohydrate for too long can negatively effects metabolism and can also lead to low energy and poor athletic performance.

There is no one size fits all when it comes to optimal carbohydrate intake as different quantities are needed to maximise health, body comp and performance.

Here at CoActive we like to use skin fold calliper measurements to help us determine a clients insulin sensitivity and thus there optimal carbohydrate intake. As a general guide the lower the subscapular ( upperback ) and suprailliac ( above hips ) measurements the more insulin sensitive the client is.

Wolfgang Unsoled goes a step further ( he is German ) and has his clients strive to get below 18mm combined measurement ( subscap + Supra ). For more information on the subject, check out controlling insulin & blood sugar to assist with weight loss.

From here we must then take in to account the clients lean mass and activity level and of course goals in order to properly prescribe how much carbohydrate is suitable.

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These two suffice to say will have very different carbohydrate requirements!

Carb Cycling

Carb cycling essentially just refers to manipulating carbohydrate intake to maximise health, body composition and performance. It can vary from having zero carbohydrate for 14 days to eating carbohydrate at every meal except breakfast.

In our experience a great place to start is with the post workout meal. The reason for this is we are more insulin sensitive after training so likely better able to shunt energy back into our muscles as opposed to fat tissue.

For example a client who has been on a very low carbohydrate diet may start by introducing 4 carbohydrate meals a week post training. We can then monitor body composition and performance and adjust accordingly. If the client can handle the extra carbohydrate after training (their body fat has not gone up ) we can then introduce the next stage which is eating carbohydrate with dinner every night on training days.

The reason we like carbohydrate at night is that it helps with serotonin production and so helps us feel relaxed which in turn helps with sleep.

If results continue to improve then the next step would be to manipulate days. For example having a high, low and zero carbohydrate day. The high day may involve having 4 carbohydrate meals so ideally done on a big training day. The low day could be having carbohydrate post workout and at dinner. Then the zero carbohydrate day involves no carbohydrate besides what you get from green vegetables.

This strategy is beneficial in that leptin levels will rise on the higher carbohydrate days thus helping to keep metabolism up. Then on the zero carbohydrate days insulin sensitivity will be improved allowing you to better tolerate the carbohydrates on the other days.

Carb Cycling Summary

  1. From a low carbohydrate diet start by introducing carbohydrate in the post training meal.
  2. If your body fat is not going up introduce carbohydrate at dinner on training days.
  3. If you still making progress try having a high, low and zero carbohydrate days.

Carb Cycling Tips

  • Before worrying about carbohydrate clean up your diet by cutting out pro inflammatory foods and basing your meals around single ingredients.
  • Start the day with a high-protein, high-fat meal to set your blood sugar up for the day.
  • Have your body fat measured to help determine your insulin sensitivit.
  • Save higher carb foods for post-workout and/or dinner.
  • Choose healthy, whole carbs (fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, grains) over processed carbs (bread, sweets, chips).
  • Once you have mastered the basics try alternative high, low and zero carbohydrate days.

Come back next month for part 3 of nutritional strategies, in the meantime if you have any questions on any of the points mentioned above then please contact a member of the CoActive team using the form below.

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