Advanced Carb and Calorie Cycling Strategies
Diet cycling or switching between various nutritional strategies can make it easier to achieve your goals and keep your results. Here are 4 advanced strategies to consider
#1 Macro Cycling Between Muscle Building And Fat Loss
A classic bodybuilding strategy is to cycle between macro muscle building phases and fat loss phases. A pro bodybuilder usually spends 7 to 8 months in “muscle building mode” and then spends 3-5 months in “fat loss mode” to get ready for a competition. This was Wade’s process for almost two decades.
Your body is a homeostasis machine. Homeostasis means the body is in balance. It wants to be safe and stable. Extreme changes are seen as a threat. The evolutionary programming is: Too much weight loss and the body might starve… Too much weight gain and predators might get us. Any changes you make will cause your body to adjust in order to reach homeostasis.
This is why people on fat loss programs who are in caloric deficit will get less fat loss results over time, unless they do refeeds or reverse diet.
On the other hand, skinny people attempting to gain muscle also make the mistake in the other direction. When you eat more, your body adapts by burning more calories with more body heat and fidgeting. As a result, not taking breaks and pushing through these adaptations means they need to gorge on even more food in order to make the same progress with their muscle gain. Many ectomorphs (people with fast metabolisms) eventually hit the wall and can’t keep up the amount of food they need to eat and give up.
Cycling your diet and calories allows you to bypass some of these homeostatic adaptations. You can minimize the activation of your anti-starvation survival response during dieting and minimize fat gain during muscle-building cycles.
A study involved 36 obese men who received either a continuous 16 weeks of 33% caloric deficit or 8 x 2-week blocks of caloric restriction alternating with 8 x 2-week blocks of energy balance (30 weeks in total). The 17 men who did diet cycling had more fat mass loss than the 19 who did continuous caloric restriction.
Lean muscle mass loss was not significantly different between groups. However, resting energy expenditure decreased significantly more in the continuous diet group. In other words, cycling in maintenance calories reduced the metabolic adaptation and resulted in more fat loss. This is why calorie cycling is vital for extended weight loss journeys.
During extended weight loss cycles, you will lose some lean muscle mass. When you increase calories again, it’s normal to quickly regain that lost muscle tissue.
#2 Fat Loss Sprints
Layne Norton coined the term “fat loss sprints”. The idea is short fat loss cycles of 2-4 weeks with a 1-2 week diet break (eating at maintenance). This is something Wade has done for many years. Here’s an example of a fat loss sprint Wade did in 2020.
Wade’s 28-Day Fat Loss Sprint
“On September 8th, 2020, I started out at 20.6% body fat and 203.8 lbs. I had 41.9 lbs of fat tissue and 153.9 lbs of lean tissue.
I did 3-weeks of alternate-day fasting, which dropped my body fat to 17.7% and weight to 189 lbs. However, my fat dropped to 33.6lbs. So I lost almost 8 lbs of fat. My lean mass also went down to 147.9.
Then one week after, I did a refeed when I was 209 lbs at 17.8% body fat. So, my body fat only went up 0.1%, my fat tissue went up 2.1 lbs, and my lean mass went up to 157.3 lbs. This was essentially almost 10 lbs of muscle gain from the bottom up. It was 3.4 lbs of lean mass gain with 7.7 lbs of fat loss, although I did gain back 1.7. So net was 6.2 lbs of fat, and 3.4 lb of muscle gain.”
|Weight (lbs)||Body fat (%)||Fat mass (lbs)||Muscle mass (lbs)|
|After 3 weeks alternate day fast||189||17.7||33.6||147.9|
|After 1 week refeed||209||17.8||35.7||157.3|
It also didn’t put his body into extreme starvation mode, unlike after the 11-month insanity diet that he did to prepare for Mr. Universe. After that competition, he developed severe gut, skin, and water retention issues, along with 40 lbs of major rebound weight gain. It took him 2 years working with multiple practitioners to get his health and metabolism back.
In hindsight, if Wade could do it all over again, he would have zig-zagged in preparation for the show.
#3 Cycling Between Keto/Carnivore And Plant-Based
One of the originators of cyclical ketogenic diets was former Mr. Universe Competitor, Vince Gironda. He was the first guy who showed up at Mr. Universe absolutely ripped. In fact, he didn’t win because the judges didn’t know what to do with a guy that lean.
He would have clients eat a diet of cream and raw eggs while using a lot of glandular and supplements to maximize anabolism without any carbs. They’d have a serving of carbs every 3-4 days if their training energy really tanked, but that didn’t happen often.
Then, at the end of the 21-day carnivore cycle, he’d switch them to a completely plant-based diet. They’d do cleanses to optimize their digestion and clean out the system. After 10 days, he’d do another cycle of the 21-day carnivore followed by 10-day plant-based cycles.
It was a radical idea at the time, but he was well-known for getting Hollywood elites in shape in record time. This approach was lightyears ahead of his time.
#4 Metabolic Flexibility: Cycling From Ketones to Glucose
Metabolic flexibility is the ability to shift your fuel source back and forth from carbs and fats. This means you can go from eating keto to a carb-based diet and back to keto without suffering any negative consequences. It’s great for virtually anyone to develop and become fat-adapted and reap the benefits of a ketogenic diet).
When you get keto-adapted, you build up your lipolytic (fat breakdown into ketones) pathways. Once you build it, you don’t really lose it. The longer you stay on keto or the more times you cycle back and forth, the easier it becomes.
Matt, and most of his clients, have found that the first time getting into ketosis is the hardest. Then the second time’s a fraction as hard. After that, most people will have no trouble getting back to burning fat.
Currently, Matt continues to be in ketosis (over 0.5 mmol) even when he’s eating 250 grams of carbs a day. While he has strong ketogenesis genes, he believes that many can achieve the same level of metabolic flexibility once they get sufficiently keto-adapted. It probably takes following a ketogenic diet for more than 1 year to achieve this result.
Matt believes that even for people who want to be keto, that it’s important to do carb refeeds. Otherwise, the glycolytic pathways (carb burning capabilities) get very weak. Many people report that their SHBG (sex hormone binding globulins) become very elevated during extended keto cycles which means less free testosterone.
- Byrne NM, Sainsbury A, King NA, Hills AP, Wood RE. Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2018;42(2):129-138. doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.206