Carb cycling and Intermittent fasting

It all sounds very technical, and to some, very scary; there are certainly negative connotations with the word fasting across large swathes of the populous. However, if you take the time to dig into these topics, you’ll realize a couple of things:

  1. They are regimens grounded in common sense
  2. They are not complex to practice

Carb cycling

Carb cycling is simply the process of consuming more carbohydrates on training days, and less carbohydrates on resting/non-training days. The concept is pretty simple:

  • Eating more carbs on training days stimulates an insulin response that shuttles nutrients into your muscle cells, causing them to grow. The increase in carbs also replenishes glycogen stores that fuel your muscles.
  • Eating less carbs on rest days promotes fat loss by essentially tricking your body into burning fat for fuel (instead of the sugar from the carbs it would normally get). It also helps to keep your body more receptive to insulin, thus improving your body’s muscle-building response.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating regimen, not a diet, that quite simply takes you through periods of eating and not eating. Now, you might say you do that already, and you do! But the key to an IF regimen is that the fasting period–the time during which you don’t eat–is extended more than normal. The rationale behind the extended fast is that it has numerous positive effects on your overall health, including important hormone regulation.

I was reading the April 2014 edition of Muscle and Fitness where Fred Duncan gave a great summary on Intermittent Fasting as part of his article on the fallacy of the old-school Bulking and Cutting approach to dieting. A really nice piece and easy to understand.

“It’s time to break your 24/7 eating cycle. This is where some short fasting – abstaining from eating for 12-24 hours – comes in handy. Before you dismiss it, open your mind and consider the logic.

What happens when you don’t eat for a few hours? With no food, your insulin levels are low. When insulin is low, the body shifts to using more stored fat for energy; this is why fasting can be so useful in stripping body fat. Fasting has also been shown to increase carbohydrate metabolism, lower your risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and provide other anti-aging and longevity benefits.

But isn’t not eating … catabolic? The short answer is yes; but do you think we would have survived and evolved as humans if we couldn’t endure a some stretches of low food intake? Although many people have become terrified of the word “catabolism”, it actually serves many useful purposes. For example, the breakdown of fat for energy is a catabolic process. Still scared of it?

The body needs these periods of reduced food intake to regulate itself and clean-up the junk we constantly fill it with. In other words, you need to give your body and your digestive system a chance to reset.

But what about muscle loss? You’ve been told that if you don’t have a constant supply of protein, your muscles will shrivel and die. This is absurd. As long as you consistently aim for a positive protein balance, where process synthesis is greater than protein breakdown, your hard-earned muscle will at the very least be retained, if not increased. You do this just as easily by having all your protein in three meals as you can with six meals.

There are also plenty of mechanisms that occur during fasting that actually protect muscle, like, for example, increases in growth hormone. A short fast will actually decrease body-fat stores, improve your carbohydrate metabolism, protect muscle, increase your metabolism (shown in fasts of up to 36-48 hours) and help you live longer.” — Fred Duncan

Closing thought: I won’t try to pretend that there isn’t complex nutritional science underpinning each of these techniques, and if you are interested in that sort of thing, you won’t struggle to find a mountain of information on either topic. However, if you want to give them a try, they are easy to practice and the only way you’ll find out if they work for you is to experiment for yourself. 

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