Carbohydrates, like electricity, provide energy. But, as with electricity, if you stick your fork in with reckless abandon, you’re setting yourself up for failure. With carbs, it’s all about timing. Housing a giant serving of pasta, for example, at the wrong time of day won’t get you electrocuted, but it could short-circuit your weight-loss efforts. Time it right, on the other hand, and the results will shock you.
First popularized in the 1970s and ’80s by competitive bodybuilders, “carb cycling” is one of the simplest and fastest ways to get ripped while maintaining lean muscle mass. “It just makes sense,” says nutritionist and IFBB pro bodybuilder Shelby Starnes. “You need more carbs on heavy training days, and fewer on light or rest days.” The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that adults consume 45–65% of their total caloric intake in the form of carbohydrates. However, by simply adjusting the proportions of carbs you eat from day to day—cutting them on rest days and ramping them up on days when you work out—you can yield electrifying fat-loss and muscle-building results.
BUILD MUSCLE ON HIGH-CARB DAYS
High-carb days raise the body’s insulin levels, fill glycogen stores, keep your metabolism burning efficiently, and stave off muscle catabolism (breakdown). Although it’s often maligned as the hormone responsible for fat storage and sugar crashes, insulin also plays an important role in building muscle. After you eat, insulin is released into the bloodstream, where it triggers biochemical reactions in various tissues, including muscle fibers. Insulin molecules essentially unlock muscle cells and allow building-block compounds— glucose and amino acids—to enter and be stored there.