What is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is an advanced strategic nutrition program that integrates alterations in carbohydrate consumption. More simply, while carb cycling, you don’t keep your macronutrient ratio at the same level every day. Your body needs more carbohydrates after a high-intensity training session. Adversely, you need fewer carbohydrates on lower intensity days.
Carbohydrates and fats are a source of energy for the human body. They are metabolized via glycolysis and the Krebs cycle, respectively. Since each gram of carbohydrates holds 4 kilocalories, minor changes in your fat consumption must occur as well. Although carb cycling can be performed with major swings in calorie consumption, it is important to keep in mind that a surplus in calories will more than likely result in undesired body fat gain.
What it isn't!
Carb cycling isn't an eat pizza and ice cream, get-out-of-jail-free card. You have to earn these meals. I repeat, YOU HAVE TO EARN THESE MEALS!
The extra carbohydrates allotted serve a purpose. During a high-intensity training session, your body relies on glycogen (stored glucose or sugar from the muscle) for energy through glycolysis. It is essential that you get enough carbohydrates in to not only facilitate muscle building activities, but to also restock the level of glycogen in your muscles. Long-term failure to do so will result in the inability to train at maximum capacity and may lead to overtraining.
With this being said, earn these meals. You can't perform a training session that is slightly harder than a light session thinking that it's your personal high-intensity training level when it's actually just your moderate level. If you treat moderate training sessions as your high-intensity sessions and eat accordingly, your body will more than likely store that surplus of energy consumed as fat versus the more preferred muscle option because you aren't tapping into your glycogen storage in a moderate session versus a high-intensity.
A way to measure your intensity is to monitor your heart rate and also note your muscular fatigue before, during and after your training session.
How to do it
Let's look into a standard three-day exercise split. In this split we will plan and train physical activity Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while resting all other days of the week. Looking at this from the viewpoint of carb cycling, we can see that you will consume a lower level carbohydrates on all rest days.
Now let's say that you are just now beginning your exercise journey and you may have one day at low, moderate, and high intensities.
Do you see “eat pizza Wednesday"? No. But you do see an allotment to eat a little more carbohydrates. How much is dependent on you and your body and you will learn over time what works for you. I have found that just 25-40 grams of additional carbs on high-intensity training session days is enough to restore my energy and glycogen.
This protocol is a simple yet sophisticated method of how to facilitate recovery after varying training session intensities. It's a great way to get in touch with your body and start to learn exactly what you need to fully recover after training bouts. This does away with eating “square" meals every meal and allows you to start to understand when you need more fats or carbohydrates for energy. A surplus in both will surely lead to unwanted body fat gain.