The first nutrition strategy I use with my clients is cleaning up their nutrition by means of eliminating inflammatory based foods, whilst focusing on eating meals with single ingredient foods.
If you have proactively been doing this you should be experiencing better energy, digestion, sleep and performance in the gym.
To progress further, and continue to see results you will come a point in time where you’ll need to change things to continue to improve and see results. The first thing we look to change is your carbohydrate intake, as carbohydrates are a fantastic source of energy and fuel for training but also a great tool to aid muscle recovery.
Carbohydrates have been demonised in the media and other sources; however, many carbohydrate rich foods are fantastic for health and performance. Take white potato, it’s rich in vitamin C, fibre and provides a great source of energy.
If you are insulin resistant and inactive, moving very little day to day then consuming potatoes at every meal will not be beneficial to your health and fitness goals. However, at the other end of the spectrum going on a very low carbohydrate nutrition plan for too long will negatively affect your metabolism and can lead to low energy and poor performance not only in the gym but in daily life.
There is no one size fits all with nutrition, and as such this is also true when it comes to optimal carbohydrate intake, as different quantities are needed to maximise health, body comp and performance.
At Results Driven Fitness I use skin fold caliper measurements to help determine a clients insulin sensitivity and as a result optimal carbohydrate intake. As a general guide the lower the sub scapular (upper back) and suprailliac (love handles as many like to put it) measurements the more insulin sensitive the client is.
One of my mentors Wolfgang Unsöld goes one step further with his clients getting them below 18mm combined measurement (sub scapular and suprailliac), before introducing carbohydrates.
From this point I take into account the clients lean mass, activity level and goals in to appropriately prescribe the level of carbohydrate in their nutrition.
This is one of my clients who had very different carbohydrate requirements at the start of their journey, compared to their carbohydrate intake at the end of their transformation.
Carb cycling 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, with the exception of breakfast.
In my experience the first place to start is with the post workout meal. The rationale behind this is that we are more insulin sensitive after training, meaning our body is in a position to push energy into our muscles, opposed to fat tissue.
A client who has been on a very low carbohydrate nutrition plan may start by having four carbohydrate meals a week post training. I 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) I can then look at progressing to the next stage, eating carbohydrate with dinner every night on training days.
The main reason for eating carbohydrate in your last meal of the day / evening meal is that it helps with serotonin production, which helps us feel relaxed, in turn helping with sleep.
If results continue to improve, the next step is to manipulate days. This is achieved by having a high, medium/low and no carbohydrate day. The high carb day may involve having as many as four carbohydrate meals, so this maybe done on a training day of high volume or where more muscle mass is trained such as the lower body. On a medium or low day, you could be having carbohydrates post workout and in your evening meal. A no carbohydrate day involves no carbohydrate except what you get from green vegetables.
This type of nutrition plan is beneficial in that leptin levels will rise on the higher carbohydrate days helping to keep metabolism up. On the zero carbohydrate days insulin sensitivity will be improved allowing you to tolerate the carbohydrates on the other days.
Carb Cycling Summary
From a low carbohydrate nutrition plan begin by introducing carbohydrate in your post training meal.
If your body fat is not going up introduce carbohydrate at dinner on training days.
If you are still making progress to having a high, medium/low and zero carbohydrate days.
Carb Cycling Tips
Before worrying about carbohydrates clean up your nutrition by eliminating inflammatory foods with meals focused on single ingredients.
Start your 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 sensitivity.
Save higher carb foods for post-workout and/or dinner.
Choose healthy, whole carbs such as fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, and grains, and avoid processed carbs such as bread, sweets, and chips).
The final step would be to alternate high, low and zero carbohydrate days, as long as you are still seeing progress and results