Argh! The dreaded low carb diet. To be honest, before my first contest, my only other experience of a “low carb” diet was a very, very bad one where I felt low on energy and like I was having a weird “out of body” experience..So, I was really apprehensive about starting a low carb diet…
Some of you may know that for my first ever contest prep on April 1st of this year (2012), I decided to utilise the Carb Cycling method to get shredded for the stage.
If you don’t know, Carb Cycling is a method where by you are on a low carb diet for as little as 2 days in a row all the way up to 5 days in a row (I went as low as 50-80 grams of carbs a day). These low carb days are then followed by a “refeed” day of moderate to high carbs and then back on to your low carb days..
Here’s what I learned :
1 – Your Energy Levels Actually Get BETTER
This was a strange revelation to me. As I metioned, the last time I utilised a low carb diet was not a good experience at all. But then again, I too was way less experienced and knew less about nutrition than I do now.
I remember it was a member of my team when I used to be a gym manager handing out a “challenge” which was his crazy “Zero Carb – 1000 calorie” method of dieting for a week.
As I had a vacation coming up, I thought I’d take him up on it. I am also one competitive mofo by nature 😉
Now, I had got shredded before on a fairly moderate carb diet that also included grains, pasta etc. (Those “experts” and gurus who tell you that you can’t get ripped on grains/bread/pasta are talking S%&*!)
Anyway, after 2 days of this low carb and low calorie diet, I started trembling and feeling like absolute death so I sacked off this crazy and, in hindsight, very stupid diet. So, deciding to use carb cycling for my pre-contest diet, I was very fearful the same thing would happen.
I had nothing to fear and neither do you!
My energy levels were stable, my mind was totally clear (I didn’t have that “foggy” feeling you get when you’re on crazy-high carbs) – The thing with carb cycling is that it isn’t a “super low” calorie diet.
You’ll still have energy from the good fats that you’ll be consuming and in the absence of plentiful carbs, your body will re-route that energy from fats and protein. Our bodies are smarter and more adaptive than we give them credit for.
2 – WAY more focus in the gym!
Another really strange effect I wasn’t expecting. When I have a big carb meal pre and intra workout like many of the literature in my certifications and fitness experts recommend, I always found myself yawning through my workout!
Not so with Carb Cycling! On my low carb days, my focus was laser-like! No unnecesary rest periods or moping around. I had a mission and that mission was to get the workout DONE as quickly, as intensely as humanly possible and GTFO of the gym to recover!
I always try to train like this anyway but the mental clarity I got from being on low carbohydrates made achieving this a whole lot easier.
3 – NO muscle loss
This is what everybody is fearful of. I just wish I would have started cutting fat earlier because I would have been in better shape on show day.
I left myself 12 weeks to cut down for contest shape and I got lean but not quite lean enough to place top 3. Just missed out on it by placing 4th out of 13, Not bad considering I had a 36.5 inch waist 12 weeks prior but there was no need for me to delay cutting fat..and there is no need for you to delay it either!
95% of the people I meet at the gym who ask me how I got so shredded for the contest are bigger than me and bigger than I was before I started cutting too BUT they are all too scared to start cutting because they don’t feel big enough..
I was exactly the same and my only advice to anybody who feels this way from my own experience is…Stop being such a P***y!!
Seriously, I barely lost any strength until depletion week (This is where you literally empty every last drop of your energy stores before the competition so that’s to be expected) and I didn’t lose any muscle.
My arms, which is what I always go by when measuring muscle loss because they are always first to go, were 16.25 when I started cutting. Contest day they were 16 inches. Factor in I lost a TON of water and fat..I’m pretty certain I lost zero muscle mass..and guess what?? 5 days after the show, my arms were back up to a solid 16.25 inches again and I was still pretty lean.
AWESOME – What more can you ask for? Having the same size muscles but your body is now leaner and fuller! What’s not to love?
Trust me, don’t be scared of losing muscle if you’re getting in enough protein and still keeping your intensity high in the gym. Don’t be one of those guys who are bulking for 8 years straight but never truly look in great shape.
4 – It’s NOT a very depriving or mentally challenging diet to follow
Low-Carb sounded like hell to me and I was preparing myself for the worst. I was mentally up for the challenge and was bracing myself to be super strong in that regard..Well, the challenge never really came.
Don’t get me wrong, if I had to stay low carb for the duration of the 12 weeks I probably would have cracked but the beauty about carb cycling is that you always have that carb day within reach.
That day, you get to stock up on your carbs and you’re off on your merry way. Easy peasy. At least, that’s what I found it to be.
Don’t get me wrong, you can DEFINITELY burn fat and get shredded whilst still giving carbs a place in your diet but my point is that it’s not as mentally challenging as most people think to go without them. This was just the method I used this time round.
However, most of our society loves their carbs too much and are too afraid to give them up, even for a little while. The discipline is lacking if you’re one of those that just can’t say “no” then that doesn’t bode well for my next point..
5 – You MUST be strict on Carb Cycling
There is no, “Oh I’m going to go out for a few drinks” on your low carb day. Or, it’s my best friends birthday so I’m just going to have a pizza and a Nando’s (“YOLO” and all that annoying cop-out shit!).
If you’re carb cycling, you need to stick to the program. This goes for any diet or program you’re following. If you can’t say “no” to getting drunk or “no” to a food binge, at the very least on your low carb days then carb cycling isn’t for you. Find a different type of lifestyle diet that will allow those things within it.
Heck, my birthday fell on my low carb day. We all went to a club and got a table filled with alcoholic drink and I just had sugar free Red Bull all night because I had a goal. I wasn’t about to stray from it regardless of what day it was.
This isn’t me getting on my high horse or insinuating that people who are strict are better than anyone or anything like that – I’m just saying that if you’ve made a choice, have the balls to stick to it and carry it through to the end! WHATEVER your chosen method is.
I hear people so many times saying “I’m on this diet” or “I’m doing this bikini body challenge” etc and their next Facebook picture update is a shot of an empty box of Krispy Kreme’s..Really??
“YOLO” I guess? *rolls eyes*
Anyway, Carb Cycling needs DISCIPLINE. If you ain’t got it, don’t do it.
6 – It burns fat, WELL – even WITHOUT cardio
Confession – I hate cardio, At least I hate standard, boring machine cardio. I put off cardio for as long as I could and I still burnt 4 inches of fat off of my waist in 8 weeks just by hitting my weight training hard and carb cycling.
The weight training was a VERY important factor in this fat being burned so if you’re licking your lips thinking “Awesome! I can burn fat on this diet without exercise” then you’re wrong..well, only half right.
You might burn a bit of fat but most of your loss will be muscle and water because your body will see no reason to hang on to your muscle if you’re not using them.
Which means your metabolism will slow right down because muscles burn calories..which means you’ll put the fat back on quicker than you lost it if you go back to your old eating ways. Fun, fun!
My rule I used for this was to keep measuring my waist weekly and when I stopped losing half an inch on my waist was the week I added cardio 3-4 x a week as well as my weight training 5-6 times a week.
This got the last 2 inches off my waist like a charm.
If you’re not competing and just want to be in great shape, I think you’ll be really impressed with the cardio time this diet saves you if you are weight training intensely.
7 – Meals Are TASTY!
When you’ve made a choice to use a diet that’s predominently low in carbs you have two options.
You can either dread it and hate every single meal that you struggle to get through
You can get your creative hat on and make some SERIOUSLY tasty meals to make carb cycling a joy!
Yeah, I said it..you can actually enjoy carb cycling.
I don’t confess to being the greatest cook but with a little effort I made some great tasting meals including chilli beef strips, lemon and herbed chicken with sweet potato mash and baked salmon with lemon and asparagus.
Get good with herbs, spices and vegetables. Learn which marinades are healthy like lemon, mustard, chilli paste, vinegarette etc.
Get to know what goes with what and you’ll actually look forward to your meals!
Here’s a free tip : Nando’s Medium or Hot Sauce – Almost calorie-free! Oh yeaaah 😉
(Don’t go crazy though..One or two teaspoons will suffice)
8 – Carb Cycling is a Maintainable Lifestyle
Following on from the last point – Due to the variety of tasty meal options you have at your disposal with a little creativity, it’s not that difficult to maintain your new lean, mean physique!
Once you’ve got to where you need to be, all that needs to happen if you wish to maintain is to simply use the minimal carb cycling protocol of 2 days low carb with 1 day of moderate carbs. This is achievable for most lifestyles with a bit of preparation.
I was very impressed with the Carb Cycling protocol for burning fat and if you haven’t tried it yet, I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot.
You’ll have great energy levels, feel more focused in your workouts without feeling deprived of your sanity and best of all? You’ll keep all of your hard earned muscle, strength and burn a boatload of unwanted fat.
Remember though, if carb cycling doesn’t appeal to you then simply choose another method of burning fat that suits your lifestyle better. There’s no point being miserable while you’re getting in great shape because fitness should be the culmination and wellbeing of all aspects of your life, including the mental aspect.
There were plenty of athletes who just progressively lowered their carbs weekly in preparation for the contest and I’m sure others used different methods too. Carb Cycling was just my weapon of choice and it did a great job of declaring war on my bodyfat levels!
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Til next time..