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Phases of 'Carb Cycling'

Updated: Mar 4, 2022

Carb cycling is a diet that alternates the amount of carbohydrates you eat depending on your activity schedule. To me, carb cycling is more about body awareness than it is about dieting — awareness of what activities we’re doing and what fuel our body needs to perform. It’s not about restricting but about nourishing.

I often have clients who perform endurance activities (like running, biking, swimming) who feel like their body isn’t giving them the performance they’re looking for while dieting. It is so important to properly fuel your body for the activity it will perform. This often means exceeding your typical daily calorie intake.

Here are four “phases” of carb cycling that you need to pay attention to when you’re exercising.

Pre Workout

Before your workout, you need energy. So, slightly before you start working out (1 hour approximately), you want to eat a higher carbohydrate and antioxidant meal with a small amount of protein.

Glycogen is the energy stored in your body for immediate use (like sprinting). When you use up your glycogen store you hit the wall with a lactic acid build up. The body has to renew the glycogen and this takes time through the ATP process, that is why we cannot sprint for longer that 20 seconds before the body locks up. By eating a higher carbohydrate meal, you're helping your body spare glycogen and have more stored energy.

I choose some overnight oats with berries and 1/4 cup greek yoghurt 2% fat.

Anabolic Phase

Within an hour of finishing your workout, you need higher protein consumption with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates. This will help the body recover and start the repair process.

If you have a bit of a drive after your workout, bring a protein shake for the ride home. Then, within an hour of returning, have a large salad with lean protein, 5-6 oz of fish, chicken, or lean beef and 1/2 cup yams, brown rice, or quinoa.

Growth Phase

For the remaining hours in your day, eat every 2.5 - 3 hours to help maintain the muscle-building phase. Focus on getting enough protein in this phase, plus incorporating carbohydrates for glycogen and fats for extra fuel!

Carbohydrate Loading

Where does carbohydrate cycling fit into the mix? If you are going to do an activity that requires a long amount of energy (like running, cycling, swimming) for multiple hours (1 - 5 hours), you must load your complex carbohydrates several hours before the activity. Carb Loading will help store energy in the muscles so that it is there when you need it.

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