Even though this topic is not “necessary” per say, it should still be covered. You will be better off committing to your diet plan that you put together in the previous article, however, the strategies discussed here could come in handy. It’s also crucial to learn new things, which will in turn give you more power and options throughout your journey. So, what do I mean by “dietary strategies”? Dietary strategies refer to a multitude of different ways that can help you organize your diet better. Those strategies can also help those with out-of-norm lifestyles make stellar gains, improve their health, build muscle, lose fat and stay consistent with their dietary guidelines. For most people, utilization of these strategies is not necessary, but curiosity killed the cat! Let’s discuss carb cycling, calorie cycling and intermittent fasting and how they can help you stay consistent with your new lifestyle while eating out and enjoying life.
Let’s start with a common one that you may have heard of: carb cycling.
Carb cycling is short of carbohydrates’ cycling (DUH!). This strategy mainly revolves around increasing your carbohydrates consumption on certain days and lowering or even eliminating them on certain days. So, for instance, you would eat high carbohydrates on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, then eat zero carbs on the remaining days. Carb cycling advocates claim that by cycling your carbs, you get the benefit of maximizing muscle gains while minimizing fat gain or even losing fat! Is this true? Yes and no.
As usual, to gain weight you need a caloric surplus. To lose fat you need a caloric deficit. Period. This will always hold true regardless of the dietary method used. HOWEVER, while this strictly applies to weight gain and loss, it doesn’t apply much to body composition. Earlier in this series I discussed how you can build muscle and lose fat at the same time. I referenced a few studies proving my point and linked to an article by Menno Henselmans explaining the matter better than I do. So, can carb cycling help me maximize muscle gain while losing fat? Yes, it can. This is especially true because carbohydrates are not an essential macronutrient. In fact, the human body is capable of producing glucose/carbs from other macronutrients and stored body fat. So, on the days you train you would consume medium to high carbs to improve your performance and enjoy your caloric surplus and on the days you don’t train you keep your insulin levels at a lower level (protein is also insulinogenic) and perhaps eat at a caloric deficit to maximize fat loss. You can still eat a slight caloric surplus on non-workout days but then you would get most of your calories through healthy dietary fat which can also improve your health and improve your body composition through optimizing your hormones.
Pros of carb cycling
- You get to eat a lot of fat. YUM!
- You optimize your hormones through increased intake of dietary fat which will improve all aspects of your life and training endeavors.
- You will be more aware of your dietary habits since you will have to calculate your carb intake on different days.
- Improved insulin sensitivity since you won’t be constantly eating tons of carbs.
- Better nutrient partitioning.
- Your body learns how to utilize carbs more efficiently.
- Can be very good for carb intolerant individuals whose bodies don’t utilize carbs very well. This is usually reflected by a rapid increase in body fat (a caloric surplus still applies here).
Cons of carb cycling
- Requires some calculations.
- Must keep track of your high, medium and low carb days. This could be inconvenient to some people.
- Since dietary fiber is carbs, your fiber intake will be very low on zero or low carb days. This has its own negatives (next article.).
- Not necessary. You can still get shredded on a medium/high carb diet if every aspect of your diet is set up properly.
- People with good insulin sensitivity (carb tolerant) will experience some mood swings and irritability while on low carbs. This is not lethal, though. Don’t worry.
Is carb cycling necessary? No. Let’s move on to the next dietary strategy: calorie cycling.
Just like carb cycling, calorie cycling refers to consuming different number of calories on different days. So, on days you work out you would consume a caloric surplus and on days you don’t train you would consume fewer calories that put you at maintenance calories or even a caloric deficit. Calorie cycling is usually used by people who have busy schedules on certain days and more free time on other days. Some individuals who utilize calorie cycling are also more interested in recomping rather than strictly build muscle or lose fat. Why not do both?! That’s what those people think too.
Pros of calorie cycling
- Improved nutrient partitioning since your caloric intake constantly fluctuates.
- On days you work out, you consume a caloric surplus to maximize muscle gains.
- On days you don’t work out, you consume your maintenance calories or eat at a caloric deficit to maximize fat loss while eating enough to support muscle growth.
- People with busy schedules on certain days can have those days off and thus not obsess so much about getting their calories in. This gives people more freedom and sustainability.
Cons of calorie cycling
- Requires more calculations rather than eating the same number of calories every day.
- Still needs some planning since your caloric intake will constantly change.
- You will need to adjust your macronutrient intake according to your different days (calorie wise).
Is calorie cycling necessary? Nope.
Intermittent fasting has been all the rage recently. Intermittent fasting basically includes having an eating window every day while fasting for the remaining hours. For example, if you wake up at 9am and sleep at 12 pm, you would then fast for 16 hours starting at 11pm till 3pm. And then from 3pm until 11 pm (8 hours) you would eat all your calories that you are supposed to eat that day. Intermittent fasting is, in my modest opinion, one of the most powerful dietary weapons one could have. Intermittent fasting has also been associated with biological benefits such as: increased testosterone levels, increase growth hormone levels and better insulin sensitivity. Sweet! These benefits are all true, however, the boost you get will not be severely significant to yield superior results. You will get improved results, though. The reason I’m fond of intermittent fasting is not merely because of associated increases in hormones, but it’s mainly for the flexibility it provides. You don’t have to worry about getting your meals at certain times or planning ahead, you just eat A LOT during your eating window and most likely you will enjoy every single bite and won’t exceed your caloric intake by much, if any. Intermittent fasting is also suitable for religious individuals who still want to improve their body composition and practice their religious beliefs. So, for instance, intermittent fasting would be a powerful tool during the month of Ramadan for Muslims although Muslims could be credited for first doing intermittent fasting ha! For more information about intermittent fasting, its benefits and how it can help you achieve your goals while enjoying life, feel free to visit leangains.com by shredded fellow Martin Berkhan who is considered to be one of the main pioneers of the concept of intermittent fasting and using it to improve body composition. Another excellent resource for intermittent fasting related information is kinobody.com by fellow aesthetic blogger Greg o’Ghallager. Greetings to both of you guys!
Pros of intermittent fasting
- You have more time to focus on doing what you have to do rather than eating your meals at certain times.
- Improved insulin sensitivity and thus nutrient partitioning.
- Improve hormone levels.
- More diet flexibility.
- Enjoyable, sustainable and satiating.
- Suitable for religious trainees during special holidays.
Cons of intermittent fasting
- Some people can find it hard to fast for so many hours. Thus, hunger perception can be higher.
- Some people will take advantage of their eating windows and not count their calories/macros. This could work if done properly, however, you should at least learn how to count/estimate your calories and macros first to not ruin the whole concept of intermittent fasting and sabotage your results.
Is intermittent fasting necessary? Nope, but it’s a powerful tool.
The next and last step to address is a very crucial component of a successful and healthy diet plan, dietary fiber!