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Carb cycling and cardio are both powerful weapons in any bodybuilder's arsenal. Even if you're not concerned with building big muscles and getting ripped, both can help you on your quest for fat loss and a leaner, healthier physique. While combining these methods might sound complex, it's actually fairly simple to implement both into your routine to break through plateaus and boost your results.
Carb cycling involves changing the amount of carbohydrates you eat on a daily basis. Carbs are a double-edged sword. On the one hand they provide energy and are muscle-sparing, but eating too many carbs raises levels of blood sugar and insulin, which can prevent fat loss, writes nutritional scientist Dr. Layne Norton. By changing your carbohydrate intake from low to high, you preserve muscle mass, while still getting the fat-burning effects of a low-carb diet. Consume 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight on your high-carb days and 0.5 to 1.5 grams of carbs on low-carb days, advises nutritionist and bodybuilding coach Shelby Starnes.
Cardio is well-known to be a highly efficient way of burning calories and aiding weight loss. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults should partake in at least 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, although for best results those guidelines rise to 150 and 300 minutes, respectively. Switch between moderate-intensity steady state cardio and high-intensity interval training, where you perform short bursts of maximal work, interspersed by longer periods of low-intensity work, advises Norton.
The best approach is to have your high-carb diet on days when you do cardio and stick to lower carbs when you don't. Starnes recommends two high-carb days per week, with the other five low to moderate. Assuming you're doing four cardio sessions each week -- two high-intensity interval workouts and two moderate-intensity steady state sessions -- a good approach would be high carbs for your interval days, medium carbs for your steady state sessions and low carbs on noncardio days.
While carb cycling diets combined with a tough cardio plan can certainly shed the pounds, it won't do much at all if your calories aren't on track. To lose a pound of fat per week you need to create a calorie deficit of 500 per day, according to the Mayo Clinic. Subtract 500 calories from your current daily intake to start with and adjust it based on your progress. Focus on nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, starchy and green vegetables, whole grains and beans for your carbs, and fill the rest of your calories with lean meat and fish, low-fat dairy products and small amounts of healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado and oils.