Carb Cycling For Women
Carb cycling is a very effective nutrition strategy for women to burn fat and build lean muscle. Please don’t be turned off when I say “build lean muscle”. For most women, it simply is not possible to gain significant muscle mass due to lower testosterone levels than men. You can find one of my more recent posts that outlines a complete plan here.
Is a Low Carb Diet Best to Burn Fat?
Ok, I’m going to try and keep this discussion simple, so here’s the deal. Carbs are NOT evil but most people consume the wrong kinds and far too many (sugars, breads, pastas, cereals and such). Trust me, your body knows the difference between a sweet potato and a bowl of “low fat” cheerios with processed “low fat” milk!
If most of your dietary intake is from processed foods and “junk” carbs then your insulin levels are chronically elevated. Elevated insulin levels make it nearly impossible for your body to burn fat for fuel! This is why low carb diets seem to work so well….. until they stop working!
A low carb diet to burn fat works very well for the majority of people because it allows your body to basically reset itself from chronic consumption of processed carbohydrates.
Pure Low Carb Diets are flawed
if you Lift Weights…..
When you consume carbohydrates they are first converted into blood glucose (aka blood sugar). Your insulin levels raise since insulin is a storage hormone. Your body will store this glucose in your liver first as something called glycogen. If your liver glycogen is full, next on the list is muscle glycogen. Think of muscle glycogen as fuel tanks full of carbohydrates in your muscles. When you lift weights, these glycogen tanks are depleted.
If your body is good at burning fat for fuel (more on how to do this later) then it will take longer to deplete your muscle glycogen stores but it your train hard, it WILL happen.
…and you need to lift weights to achieve
great muscle tone and a sexy slender body!
This article is not about how to train to burn fat, but I will be clear that if you aren’t performing challenging strenuous activity (either body weight exercises or weight lifting) you may lose weight but you won’t look the way you want to!
Enter: Carb Cycling
Carb cycling is no secret among bodybuilders and fitness competitors but those of us that have full lives, jobs and families want to look great too! Until recently, there has been very little knowledge about carb cycling outside of those elite previously mentioned circles.
In a nutshell, carb cycling allows you to remain is an optimal fat burning state most of the week. Periods of increased carbohydrate intake are planned 1 or 2 times per week to replenish glycogen stores, satisfly cravings and rev your metabolism if your calories where low.
The timing of your carbohydrate intake is very important! Increased levels of carbohydrates in your diet, when timed correctly, have the following benefits:
- Replenish Muscle and Liver glycogen (stored carbohydrate energy)
- Increase Leptin levels (chronic low calorie diets cause leptin levels to fall and your metabolism slows down!)
- Increase Thyroid hormone levels (chronic low carb diets caused these levels to drop)
- Increased Insulin levels after strength workouts to drive nutrients to your muscles for recovery
Teaching Your Body How To
Use Fat For Fuel
If you have never followed a low carb plan before, you need to understand some important concepts. For a low carb plan to be effective, your body needs to perform some metabolic “re-wiring” to turn on the fat burning enzymes that have been suppressed by insulin.
To do this,
you need to it may be beneficial to switch to a High Fat, Moderate Protein, Low Carb meal plan for about 2 weeks straight. I need to stress that your normal low carb days will not be high fat, but rather moderate fat. This is going to sound a bit strange but you need to eat larger amounts of fat for a short period of time to teach your body how to burn fat! After 2 weeks, have a 12 – 24 hour “Carb up”. Go ahead and eat chocolate cake, pizza and ice cream…. and try not to feel guilty doing it!
If your current “diet” consists of large amount of low fat carbohydrates such as fruit juice and toast for breakfast, etc, then your insulin levels may be quite high.Insulin is a storage hormone and it is nearly impossible for your body to utilize fat for fuel in this state.
Switching to a high fat, moderate protein diet for
12 days is a great way to hit the reset button.
Low Carb and Carb Cycling in Action
Once this adaptation has occurred, you will switch to High Protein, Moderate Fat, Low Carb.
So after the above mentioned carb up, you will follow a high protein, moderate fat, low carb plan for a specific number of days, followed by one or two days of increased carbohydrates, then repeat the cycle.
There are 2 primary carb cycling options:
If rapid fat loss is your goal, keep your calorie intake low during the week and follow a high protein, moderate fat, low carb meal plan. If you are above 25-30% body fat, this may be a good option for you. Each weekend you will introduce carbs into each of your meals for a 24 hour period as well as one or two cheat meals depending on your progress.
This short period of time will not be long enough to cause body fat to increase (unless you really go crazy!). Your body will also quickly shift back to a fat burning state after this carb up period.
This carb cycling plan works very well for women and is based on Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale’s Metabolic Diet. There are many many variations, tweaks and modifications that can be made based on body type, training volume, lifestyle, etc.
Option 2 (my preferred choice):
A stricter meal plan that incorporates 3 or 4 days of High protein, moderate fat, low carb, followed by 1 day that is high carb, then repeat the cycle.
Rachel Cosgrove has an excellent plan outlined in her book “The Female Body Breakthrough” that follows this approach in the later stages of the program.
Example Low-Carb Day:
(order of the meals is not critical)
4 oz ground turkey, 1 whole egg, 2 egg whites, spinach, 1/2 grapefruit (or handful of berries)
Meal replacement shake or post workout shake:
1-2 scoops whey protein
handful of mixed berries (post workout)
2 tsp flax seed oil (meal replacement)
Grilled chicken breast salad with lettuce, peppers, cucumber
2 Tbsp Paul Newman’s olive oil and vinegar dressing
6 ounces of lean chicken, beef or fish
2 cups of mixed vegetables (no starches such as corn, peas or potatoes)
2 tsp almond butter on celery
1 can of tuna in water
(mix with mustard and 1 tsp flax oil
2 tsp olive oil based mayo)
Example High-Carb Day:
(order of the meals is not critical)
1 whole egg, 3-4 egg whites, spinach, 1/2 grapefruit (or handful of berries)
2 slices of Ezekiel toast (sprouted grain bread)
Meal replacement shake or post workout shake
1-2 scoops whey protein with peach and banana
1 tsp flax seed or Udo’s choice oil
Grilled chicken breast or turkey breast
on a spelt tortilla (or 1/2 cup brown rice)
6 ounces of lean chicken, beef or fish
2 cups of mixed vegetables
1 medium sweet potato or 1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup cottage cheese with pineapple (no sugar added!)
greek yogurt with 1/4 cup raspberries
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Hidden carbs can completely derail your progress as you attempt to shift your body into fat burning mode both in the initial phase and the low carb days that follow. Here is a quote from the book “The Anabolic Solution”:
“Watch For Hidden Carbs The start up phase will run smoother and get you in gear quicker if you remember that refined carbs are hidden in almost everything you will find on those supermarket shelves. Seasoning, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, nuts, BBQ sauce, breaded or processed meats, gourmet coffee and sausages can all present a problem. These foods are renowned for hidden carbs and you have got to check the label to make sure what you are getting on this diet”
Click on this link to see a list of foods that
can help you determine food exchange options:
-> Food list for losing fat and building lean muscle