It's wintertime and you're faced with the yearly seasonal conundrum: do I go on a mass building cycle and say goodbye to my abs until the spring, or can I possibly keep my abs while bulking up?
Building Mass while keeping your abs.
That's the holy grail of bodybuilding, isn't it? Everyone wants to get huge but stay lean, but getting lean is damn hard work for most people.
For natural physique enthusiasts the old paradigm of bulking over the winter and leaning out for the summer can be a recipe for disaster as too much fat is laid down during the winter, often causing your muscular definition to suffer so you end up looking like a "fat guy with big forearms." Let me save you from that fate.
Adopting a cyclic approach to your nutritional plan is a surefire way to keep you lean but get you big. When using a cyclic approach to dieting, the two most common variables that are manipulated are time of the cycle and nutrients being cycled.
In regards to carb cycling, the cycles are usually a couple of days long and carbohydrates and calories are cycled. When cycling your carbs/calories you usually intersperse higher carb days into your week based on when you train. These higher carb days are also higher calorie days.
I believe this cycling of carbohydrates in relation to your training is a good idea and should be structured into most of your nutritional plans. (I'll outline specific plans later.)
When To Cycle?
If you need to lose a lot of weight, then carb cycling isn't for you.
If you need to put on a large amount of muscle (>15-20 pounds), then carb cycling isn't for you.
Carb cycling is for someone who's lean already and who wants to pack on more muscle at a slow and steady pace. If you have a lot of weight to lose, then you're better off dieting down first. If you have a lot of muscle to pack on your frame, then focus on taking in lots of calories.
Focus solely on one as you'll get faster results than if you try to carb cycle your way to a massive (or lean) physique. Carb cycling should be thought of as fine-tuning.
Carb Cycling for Mathematicians
Now that we've laid out the basic structure and pin pointed the people that'll benefit the most, let's get into the details. This would normally be the part of the article in which I give you very specific gram/pound body weight recommendations for carbohydrates on the various low/moderate/high carb days...but I'm not going to.
This is Carb Cycling for Idiots, remember? Not Carb Cycling for Mathematicians. I deal with a lot of real world people: business professionals, college students, people with families, etc. These people don't have the time to figure out that on Monday they need to eat 0.5g of carbs per pound and on Tuesday they need to eat 0.75g of carbs per pound, etc. They don't have that kind of time.
Practicality trumps everything for these people. People need to be focused on results, not how much time they can spend making a meal plan to get those results. It's important to remember that counting calories and being very specific about which nutrients cross your lips doesn't make you advanced. Results are what matters.
The best way to elicit a desired nutritional result without having to worry about counting calories is to focus on food selections. In this case, I'm talking about starchy carbohydrates — rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, etc, etc. These foods are high in carbohydrates and calorically dense compared to their vegetable counterparts.
We're going to exploit this difference to allow you to keep your six-pack while you pile on so much beef onto your frame you'll need to turn sideways to walk though a doorway.
Here's the plan (and it is so simple you can start tomorrow). You're going to consume protein and fruits/vegetables every meal. Your fat intake is going to be inversely proportional to your starch intake, meaning if you eat lots of starches at a meal then your fat intake should lower. If you don't eat any starches then your fat intake is higher.
As I mentioned above, ability to cycle carbohydrate intake is going to be purely dependent on your starch intake. There are 4 types of days in this model
- No Starch — This is obvious, you just don't eat any starches. Your carbohydrate intake will be entirely made up of fruits and vegetables.
- Low Starch — You'll have starches during your workouts and in the first meal following your workout.
- Moderate Starch — You'll have workout starches and starches at your first two meals following your workout.
- High Starch — Breakfast starches, workout starches, and starches at your first two meal post workout.
Now if you use the "starch cycling" approach, your weekly nutrition plan will look like the following, depending on whether you're doing full body training or some kind of upper/lower split training:
Full Body Training
Sunday: Off — No Starches
Monday: Full Body — High Starch
Tuesday: Off — No Starches
Wednesday: Full Body — High Starch
Thursday: Off — No Starches
Friday: Full Body — High Starch
Upper/Lower Split Training
Sunday: Off — No Starch
Monday: Upper Body — Moderate Starch
Tuesday: Lower Body — High Starch
Wednesday: Off — No Starch
Thursday: Upper Body — Moderate Starch
Friday: Lower Body — High Starch
Saturday: Off — No Starch
The upper days are allocated moderate carbs, but if you want to focus on improving the muscles of your upper body then allocate the high carb days to your upper body workout days and moderate carb days to your lower body workout days.
If you're using body part splits, then use the Low Starch days for smaller muscle groups (e.g. arms). A shoulder day would warrant moderate starch while chest, back, or legs need to be on high starch.
As you can see the starch cycling plan that I've outlined is extremely simple in that you don't need a calculator, you don't need to count calories, and you can start tomorrow. It's so simple even a caveman could do it.