Carb Cycling: Meal Planning for Beginners

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Do you want to lose weight and build muscle at the same time? Carb cycling is a dynamic nutritional approach that is designed to do both. A growing number of people are attracted to the idea for the physical and hormonal benefits, and because they can still enjoy many of their favorite foods and get the results they want.

Initially used by bodybuilders, this approach has been embraced by people from all walks of life for its many benefits and proven results. Understanding how carb cycling works, the advantages of this approach to nutrition, and how to plan your meals can help you get the greatest benefit.

An Introduction to Carb Cycling

Carb cycling involves varying your carbohydrate intake throughout the week. Some days are designated as high carb and low fat days and other days are low carb and high fat days. The fluctuation created by carb cycling helps to optimize your ability to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle. This approach can be used to lose fat, increase lean muscle, or change your body composition, while maintaining your normal weight.

There are two basic ways to implement this approach. You can alternate your high carb and low carb days throughout the week. For example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday could be designated as high carb days, while Tuesday and Thursday are low carb days. The weekends are usually reserved as low carb days, regardless of how you choose to assign the weekdays. Some people make Saturday a low carb day and allow their cheat day on Sunday, but you can adjust this to meet your unique needs.

The other way to do carb cycling is to have three or four high carb days in a row and make the rest of the week low carb days. For example, you could have Monday through either Wednesday or Thursday as high carb days and the remainder of the days reserved as low carb days. Keep in mind that it requires more discipline to stick to the regimen when you do it this way.

There are benefits to both methods. Alternating high and low carb on a daily basis is the best way for you to stay on track and stick to carb cycling. On the other hand, splitting the week into half high carb followed by several low carb days may be more effective for fat loss because you are in fat burning mode for three days in a row. Ultimately, the method that works best depends on the needs of the individual. Is fat loss most important or are you concerned with sticking to it?

The Benefits of Carb Cycling

There are a variety of advantages to this nutritional approach, which explains its rapid growth in popularity. Carb cycling offers a broad range of benefits for weight loss, building lean muscle, and even regulating certain hormones.

FAT BURNING

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Most of your fat burning happens on your low carb days. On the days that you eliminate carbs from your diet, your body goes into fat burning mode. The low carb days decrease the number of overall calories consumed in a given week, which helps you burn fat and meet your weight loss goals.  

MUSCLE BUILDING

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On high carb days, you increase your caloric intake and the carbs provide the energy and strength you need, both to meet your daily responsibilities and for working out. When you are trying to build muscle, make your high carb days your strength training days. This allows your body to use the carbs and extra calories to build muscle, rather than storing additional fat.

FLEXIBILITY

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One thing that can hinder your ability to stick to a nutrition plan is the complexity of the system. If you have to spend a lot of time planning specific meals that are different from the rest of your family, measuring foods, counting calories, and denying yourself all your favorite foods, it can be too difficult to maintain. This approach allows you to make one meal for the entire family, and just leave the carbs off your plate on the low carb days.

REDUCED CRAVINGS

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Carb cycling offers great flexibility in food choices and allows you to satisfy your craving for carbs on your high carb days, so you won’t be restricting your diet too much. Because you do have the opportunity to enjoy your favorite foods and treats on your cheat days, you will be more likely to stay with the program.

THE ADVANTAGES OF LOW CARB WITHOUT THE SIDE EFFECTS

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This is probably the biggest advantage of carb cycling. Low carb diets, such as Atkins, paleo, or keto do produce fat burning and weight loss benefits, but they have negative side effects and health effects. Long term low carb dieting can cause brain fog, fatigue, lack of energy, and may increase your risk of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Carb cycling allows you to reach your weight loss and fitness goals without the negative effects associated with going completely carb-free.

HORMONAL BENEFITS

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Carb cycling offers a few key hormonal benefits. One significant advantages of this approach is improving your insulin balance and how your body processes insulin. The low carb days are key for keeping your insulin levels low and improving insulin sensitivity. This helps your body processes the sugar in your bloodstream from the carbs more effectively, allowing them to be easily converted to fuel for energy.

The hormone leptin is essential for metabolism and triggering feelings of satiety, which helps you avoid overeating. When you have more leptin in the body, your metabolism will be faster, but low levels of the hormone can slow your metabolism, sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Leptin production is triggered by an increase in

Carb Cycling: Meal Planning for Beginners

Meal planning with carb cycling is actually easier than with many other diets and nutritional approaches, since you won’t have to worry about measuring, weighing, or counting calories. When you first start, it can be easier to maintain your typical diet, but just adjust your carb intake. For example, if you normally eat about half carbs and half protein in a single meal, enjoy your normal foods, just eliminate the carbs on your low carb days and increase your protein and vegetables.

On your high carb days, the quality of the carbohydrates is important. Most of your carbs should be complex carbohydrates, such as fruit, legumes, and whole grains to provide the energy you need without disrupting your weight loss or fitness goals. You can make a few easy modifications to enjoy healthy carbs on your high carb days. For example, skip the white bread in favor of whole grain and use whole wheat pasta in place of regular spaghetti.

Try not to eat much sugar, even on your high carb days. This doesn’t mean you have to completely give up treats. It’s fine to enjoy a piece of cake or a couple cookies on a cheat day, as long as you aren’t doing this on all your high carb days. On your low carb days, pay attention to the quality of your protein. Choose chicken, lean beef, fish, eggs, and tofu for protein. Pair protein at each meal with vegetables, but stay away from starchy vegetables. Most vegetables are fine on your low carb days, except corn, peas, and potatoes.

Planning Your Daily Meals

Regardless of the day, eating breakfast soon after waking is recommended. On both low carb and high carb days, you should eat four to six small meals throughout the day, rather than going many hours without eating at all.

Start off your low carb days with eggs scrambled with bell pepper, or eggs with bacon for breakfast. Good snacks for low carb days include a protein shake, berries, almonds, or deli turkey and cheese rollups with avocado. Lunch and dinner should include protein, such as chicken, fish, or beef, with a non-starchy vegetable.

On high carb days, oatmeal with nuts and berries or eggs with whole wheat toast are good options. Snacks can include an apple with peanut butter, quinoa and bean salad, Greek yogurt, or fruit. Lunch and dinner can include the same foods as low carb days, but you can add some healthy carbs. Enjoy a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread for lunch and pasta, rice, or a starchy vegetable with your protein for dinner.

Conclusion

Carb cycling is among the most flexible approaches for burning fat and increasing lean muscle at the same time. Provided that you remain strict with your food choices on your high carb and low carb days and make healthy food choices, you will see noticeable results without a lot of extra effort.

The flexibility of this diet approach makes meal planning easy. You can enjoy the foods you love, just watch your portions, eliminate the carbs on your low carb days, and make sure you pick healthy proteins and carbohydrates.  

How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle

January 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Build Muscle, Weight Lifting

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If you've ever asked yourself "How much protein do I need?" as you were starting a new fitness program to increase your muscle mass, the answer could lie in increasing both the level and type of protein in your diet. Your ability to Increase muscle will rest, largely, on your personal genetics, experience as a bodybuilder, and your diet.

Many people ask, "How much protein do I need?" when they want to gain muscle mass. This article reviews current opinions on amounts of protein needed per day to increase muscle mass and key factors to consider when creating individual meal plans. We also review different sources of protein and how to maintain muscle mass once you've achieved your ideal weight.  

Although our key focus is increasing your protein intake by eating protein rich food and drinking protein drinks, this article also considers the importance of specific types protein, the regularity of meals, and how other factors such as age and genetics affect your ability to build muscle.  

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Diet for Muscle Gain - How Much Protein Do I Need?

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To increase muscle mass, it's critical to eat, every day, more calories than you need. Although the amount of calories a person needs every day is debatable as dieticians and experts argue it's different for each person due to individual metabolic rates and genetic factors, most people need to eat over 1,200 calories a day, to put on weight.

To improve muscle mass, we know you need to increase the amount of protein you eat. However, answering the question, "How much protein do I need?" is a little more complex. Protein breaks down into amino acids the body uses to build new muscle and for a range of other essential functions. Therefore, we recommend a protein level of 2.5 to 3.3 grams per kilogram of total body weight, or of your ideal body weight, for someone who works out and wants to increase muscle mass.

When increasing muscle mass, it is not only essential to increase the amount of protein in your diet, it is also important to know which type of protein will assist you the most in your goal to increase muscle mass.

Different foods have a different NPU or Net Protein Utilization, which shows the amount of protein the body can use. For example whey powder has a 90% NPU and a high level of essential amino acids making it the top supplement for bodybuilders. It is easy for the body to absorb and its amino acids assist in building muscle. Beef protein also has an NPU of 79-80% and the body digests it quickly. So a better question than "How much protein do I need?" might be "What kind of protein can my body absorb the best?"

Foods to Include in Your Meal Plan:

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  • High protein meats: chicken and lean beefs also provide minerals and B vitamins
  • Fish: HIgh in omega-3 fatty acids which helps muscle protein and overall protein synthesis
  • Eggs: a complete protein high in vitamins and packed with amino acids
  • Tofu: A vegan option high in minerals calcium and iron
  • Legumes: Also high in carbohydrates and fiber
  • Milk: complete protein with minerals potassium, calcium and B vitamins
  • Whole grains: Oats and brown rice are high in magnesium
  • Nuts: unsalted and unsweetened almonds and walnuts are high in protein and healthy fats
  • Protein shakes: many unsweetened, additive-free options are available including soy protein isolate and hemp seed power
  • Meal Frequency

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    To maximize muscle mass increases, you need to eat 3 to 4 meals a day with snacks. There is medical evidence showing that the timing of meals affects muscle gain, and four 20g servings of protein a day can be more effective in building muscle than two large intakes of protein. Medical studies show that eating at least a 40g serving of protein before you go to sleep also significantly increases muscle strength.

    Most medical studies confirm that there are significant benefits to eating in the 30-45 minutes window after your workout as this will directly impact your muscles' ability to rebuild and repair.  

    There are no miracle short cuts to building muscle. It will take at least a month before you'll notice significant results, so see this as a long-term plan. If the changes to your diet do not lead to any increase in muscle mass, you need to consider the following factors:

    • Are you doing the right workout?
    • Are you eating enough carbs, proteins, and total calories?
    • Are you allowing muscles to rest and repair themselves for 48 hours between workouts?

    EXAMPLE MEAL PLAN

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    Build individual preferences into every meal and be realistic about how much preparation time you have during the week. Prepare to shop and to cook in advance. A good stock of frozen meat, carbs and protein shakes should be available to you at all times, and protein rich snacks such as nuts, and seeds so you never skip a meal. Reducing protein and total calorie intake for even one day will impact your muscle-gain program. An example meal plan could look like:

    • Breakfast: Oats or muesli with milk, seeds, nuts and a banana with high grain bread toast
    • Lunch: Chicken or turkey breast with steamed leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli or kale with brown rice or quinoa
    • Snacks: Protein shakes and almond or walnuts
    • Dinner: Grilled fish or beef with a large green salad, and dairy dessert of sweet rice or yogurt with fresh fruit

    Breakfast can also include high protein flour pancakes or breads made from quinoa, almond or amaranth flour. You can prepare sandwiches with large green salads for lunch when you have less time or opportunities to cook. Although newbies often wonder how much protein they need for each meal, most experts agree that the total amount of protein per day is a better focus. Online, you can find a wide range of recipes available to inspire your new meal plans.

    How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?

    As you increase your protein intake to build muscle your experience as a bodybuilder will also affect how much muscle you will build monthly.  An experienced bodybuilder could build 2 to 3 pounds a month while a novice may only build 0.5 lbs.

    Although genetics influence protein absorption, studies show there is no benefit to anyone eating more than 2g protein per day per kg of body weight to build muscle. Other studies show that a person weighing 57kg needs 125g-187g of protein a day to build muscle. Age is also a factor in how much protein the body needs to build muscle, and those aged over 50 will need more since they process protein less effectively.

    We know the body absorbs types of proteins more easily, and that whey protein is most effective for building lean muscle. With high amino acids levels that support protein synthesis, there are vegan alternatives available for people who don't consume whey. Pea flour, soy protein isolate, and casein isolate all have a high absorption rate.

    How Much Protein Do I Need to Maintain Muscle Mass?

    Once you have achieved your ideal muscle mass, you will need to maintain it through your diet and workouts. On average a 57kg person will need 125g-187g of protein a day to maintain their size. However, for overweight and obese bodybuilders the recommended daily protein intake is 68g to 85g.  Replacing carbohydrates and fats with protein as part of your daily calorie consumption will lead to more weight loss from workouts.

    Conclusion 

    It is not straightforward or easy to answer the question, "How much protein do I need?" for building muscle mass. Once you realize that genetics, age, and how much experience you have as a bodybuilder are all factors affecting the answer. Once you have weighed yourself and figured out how much protein you need to eat every day to achieve your target muscle mass increase, you can change your daily diet to move you closer to your goal.

    It is important to be realistic as there is no "quick fix" solution and a long term view is necessary if you are to stick to your plan to accomplish your goals. Maintaining your ideal body weight can prove more difficult for some as it requires constant vigilance on your daily protein intake and overall calorie consumption. However, since you already have displayed the discipline needed to stick to a regular workout program, a new meal plan will seem easy in comparison. Once started, meal planning will become second nature.

    Avoiding processed foods can be difficult, but the 80-20 rule works well for most people. This rule encourages you to eat healthily 80% of the time while allowing you to enjoy more decadent snacks and unhealthy treats occasionally, but not over 20% of the time. Once you train your body and your digestive system, you'll find you no longer have cravings for processed foods high in sugar and chemical additives, and you'll gravitate to healthy snacks and healthy food choices.