Carb cycling for hypertrophy is slightly different. With fat loss the main goal behind cycling carbs is to prevent the thyroid from slowing down by implementing carb re-feed’s at specific times. For hypertrophy our goal is to utilize the anabolic properties of insulin.
Insulin is one of the most important anabolic hormones in the body. It directly influences the amount of amino acid and glucose transported into the muscle cell. Increased amino acid and glucose uptake will lead to increased cell hydration and drive protein synthesis. Insulin opens the door to the building blocks of muscles and prevents the mobilization of these nutrients as energy. Insulin also curbs the catabolic affects of glucagon (the demolition team); Insulin’s antagonistic hormone. Glucagon promotes a catabolic state through mobilization and utilization of glycogen and amino acids from the muscle cells.
Planning your carb cycling routine
A well-planned carb cycling routine can aid with increased lean mass by optimally utilizing the anabolic effects of insulin and decrease excess fat gain by varying the amounts of carbs and calories ingested according to a needs basis.
To optimally utilize insulin during carb cycling, the leaner someone is (10% body fat or below) the better. Being as lean as possible before starting a carb cycling routine for hypertrophy is advantageous for two reasons;
1) Increased insulin sensitivity – An individuals body fat percentage and insulin sensitivity are not directly correlated but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that being lean will definitely help optimal utilization of insulin.
2) While in a pure hypertrophy phase, due to the caloric surplus needed a small increase in body fat percentage is tolerated thus the leaner you are the longer you can stay within an acceptable body fat percentage range.
To start carb cycling for hypertrophy it’s best to have a training split or training routine that works well for you. From that routine select a high carb day, medium carb day and low carb day. The way you choose your high, medium and low carb days can be based on overall training volume, priority workouts (weaker body parts), or muscle groups worked. A basic example would be;
Legs – High carbs
Chest and Back – Medium carbs
Arms/Rest day – Low carbs
Timing of carbs
You do not need to stick to the order of high, medium and low. This is a variable that you can manipulate as you become more familiar with carb cycling and the response it has on your body. Another variable that can be manipulated is the timing of your carb days, for some it may be advantageous to have a high carb day before a specific work out such as legs. Don’t be afraid to manipulate these variables until you find something that is most optimal for you.
Once your carb cycling structure is established, the next step is to determine carb quantities. There is no golden ratio that will give you exact numbers for this. This is where you will have to experiment until you find what works for you. The quantity of carbs will be greatly dictated by an individual’s body fat percentage, caloric expenditure, insulin sensitivity and tolerance to carbs. A good starting point is between 1-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. An example structure would be;
High day- 250g
Medium day – 150g
Low day – 50g
The next step is to select the type of carbs. I should not have to say this but it is important to note that the quality of your carbs will affect the quality of your gains. Opting for processed refined carbs over natural complex carbs will inevitably lead to increased fat gain and is detrimental to your hypertrophy goals. Overall I would recommend consuming low GI complex carbs for most of your carb meals. An exception to this would be the post work out window where a high GI carb will be beneficial in neutralizing the catabolic affect of the work out.
The final step in a carb cycling plan is monitoring! It is important that your diet is in line with your goals. If you begin to gain fat to fast or gain weight to slowly then you may need to re adjust your carb/calorie quantities accordingly.
In conclusion carb cycling is not as complicated as some make it out to be. The concept is very simple; the tricky part is experimenting with the variables with in carb cycling (timing, quantities and type of carbs) until you find a routine that is most optimal for your body and your goals.