Guest Post by Nate Miyaki, Author of Feast Your Fat Away
About a year ago, I was hanging out with a colleague and friend of mine. We were downtown around lunchtime.
In between intermittent deep thoughts about important nutrition topics, we were trying to look down the shirts and up the skirts of some fine looking women in their business attire.
Now here’s what I don’t get.
I had just returned from Hawaii, a place where women walking around in bikinis is the norm. I wasn’t going to see anything different hiding under those work clothes than what was in plain sight on the beach, just a few days back.
But it didn’t matter. I was still trying to sneak a peak.
I guess its just natural, biological instinct right? If there is even the slightest shot of getting a glimpse at a panty party, as guys, we’re going to look.
Do I speak the truth, or am I way off base on this one?
I think you should ponder this thoroughly. Yes, your People’s Nutrition Educator is also a worldly philosopher indeed. Can you smell what The Miyaki is cooking?
But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. We were two G’s talking about a carb thang, baby.
The Carb Cycling Catch
My buddy is a strength coach, but he also is a rep for a few fitness companies. Basically, he needs a plan that allows him to stay very close to peak shape, year-round.
To accomplish this, he had been following various carb cycling protocols. Although he was getting results, he admitted to me that he hated his current plan with a passion.
On his high carb days, he struggled to get in all of the food necessary. He felt bloated, tired, and lethargic for most of the day.
But even worse, on the low carb days, he felt like shit – low energy, irritable, and hungry. He couldn’t sleep on those nights. It was basically a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.
He even felt like his training was suffering. He lacked energy for his workouts that followed his low carb days. But he just assumed that was the price he had to pay for his awesome physique.
My deep empathy for his predicament was interrupted by a small shot of turquoise lace. My Sherlock-like suspicion was that it was a thong. Ah man, that is my all-time favorite. It makes me mental.
But I couldn’t leave my good friend hanging despite my desire to venture off in to fantasyland, so I asked, “Well why the hell are you following that damn plan then?”
He went on to say its because that’s what was popular right now, and what he had been reading about on different websites and forums. Apparently it is the ONLY way to stay in shape year-round.
“So you’re going to live a miserable life based on fitness industry trends and proclamations instead of finding what works for you? Fuck that, man.”
Or as my crazy Irish Mom would say if she were alive right now, “if everyone, including you, told me I needed to stop smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking Irish coffees at 11am, would I do it? No. Fuck off Nathaniel Jude”.
Ah, Ol’ Patty definitely was a Renegade.
The Old Method Of “Cycling” Carbs
I knew what my buddy was talking about because I had experienced some of the same on various carb cycling plans. He asked, “What do you do now? You seem to be in good shape year-round. And you’re definitely the most non-miserable fitness guy I know”.
For the second point, I told him to read some Bruce Lee and be like water baby.
For the first, I told him I had switched back to what I had done for competitions in the past, and what most people I competed against had done, and even what a lot of physique coaches used to recommend back in the day before carb-cycling protocols became the rage.
The basic plan is to spend most of the week in a slight calorie deficit, yet, and here is the major distinction, with the same amount of daily carbs to support training sessions, and even more importantly, just normal daily functioning.
Honestly, it works great for me as a sustainable, year-round plan. I feel a good percentage of people also do better with eating relatively the same calories and carbs every day, rather than extreme swings (350g one day, next to nothing the next was one of his plans).
Then I have a cheat day, carb re-feed, or whatever else you crazy kids call it these days on the weekend, when my daily schedule and eating routine are different from the structured work week anyways. It provides a little boost in carbs for physiological benefits, along with some sanity and social flexibility.
Again, the key point is keeping some carbs in the diet, even on off days. And I believe that’s important for 5 main reasons.
Reason #1 – Baseline Brain Function
This would need a whole separate article, but for now, I think ketogenic diets as a long-term strategy suck big floppy donkey dick for anyone interested in performance, fitness, or physique enhancement.
There are so many drawbacks (low T, impaired thyroid production, muscle loss, etc.), with little upside.
And research has shown they are no more effective for fat loss than lower carb, but non-ketogenic diets.
So I’m assuming you are following a non-ketogenic diet approach here.
With that being said, you still need about 125g of carbs a day to support liver glycogen reserves, which in turn fuel the brain and central nervous system at rest.
It is true that once muscle glycogen stores are high, they will stay high until intense training is performed. But since liver glycogen is used to regulate normal blood sugar, it can become low/depleted on a daily basis even without training.
Thus, going no carb on off days can cause some to experience symptoms such as low energy, poor cognitive function, irritability, and foul mood. Perhaps that’s why there are so many dicks in fitness that seem to be miserable, pissed off, and emotionally disturbed all of the time?
Or maybe they need more glorious panty shots? Big Jay can probably hook you up with some of his freaks. Holla if you hear me.
Reason #2 – Continued Refueling
Glycogen restoration can take 24 hours or more. So on your rest days, you are still restocking glycogen stores that you depleted through your Renegade Approved workouts.
This is especially true if you are operating in a slight calorie deficit, and only eating a modest amount of daily carbs in order to slash fat, or maintain a ripped physique.
In a depleted state, carbs will be used to restock glycogen stores first before spilling over into fat stores. Yes, even on off days.
It’s like this. Lets say you drove your car around all day and hit “E” (an intense workout), yet only had enough cash to put ¼ tank of gas back in that night (moderate calorie and carb deficits).
The next day you don’t have to drive your car (off day), but the day after that, you have to take a road trip (another intense workout). At some point before that trip, you’ll have to hit the station again and put in a little more gas (some carbs on off days).
Even if you put in another ¼ or even ½ a tank of gas in on that off day, you’ll never hit “Full”, or have any spill over the sides (fat gain). Yet you’ll have enough gas to drive around every day (proper fuel for your workouts).
Fuck, I don’t know if that makes sense to you, but I’m doing my best. It makes sense to me, but I’m a little off.
Reason #3 – Pre-Workout Fuel For The Next Day’s Training
I never eat oatmeal in my life. I never eat breakfast as I was doing legs and abs every morning. But I eat a lot in the evening so I had enough calories to train during the morning. – Serge Nubret
With our intermittent fast and feast style of eating, your dinner is one of your pre-workout meals for the next day’s training session. If you train in the morning, it is your only pre-workout meal.
Like I said, it is true that once muscle glycogen stores are full, they will stay full until intense training is performed. So theoretically, you could reload your muscle glycogen stores after an intense workout, eat no carbs the next day or two off from the gym, and have plenty of muscle glycogen stores whenever you do hit it again.
However, depleted muscle glycogen stores are generally not the limiting factor in diets that include some carbs, either daily or in cycling style.
It is liver glycogen that normalizes blood sugar and provides fuel for the brain and central nervous system both at rest, and during activity. And the rate at which the body burns liver glycogen stores during intense training can increase up to 10x.
You don’t have to worry about da geek shit, but just realize that depleted liver glycogen stores are what generally cause symptoms of low blood sugar, full body and central nervous system fatigue, and impaired performance in the gym.
And again, since liver glycogen stores are small and are used even at rest, they can become depleted on a daily basis. So some carbs, even on off days, are necessary to restock liver glycogen stores, and provide proper fuel for your next day’s workouts.
Maybe smart guys can clarify it for ya:
Liver glycogenolysis primarily maintains normal blood glucose levels at rest and during exercise, usually at 100mg/dL-1 (5.5 mM). In prolonged, intense exercise, blood glucose eventually falls blow normal levels because liver glycogen depletes and active muscles continue to use the available blood glucose. Symptoms of an abnormally reduced blood glucose or hypoglycemia include weakness, hunger, and dizziness. Reduced blood glucose ultimately impairs exercise performance and partially explains “central” fatigue associated with prolonged exercise. — Sport and Exercise Nutrition, McArdle and Katch
Reason #4 – Preventing Muscle Loss
And even more important is this fact. Catabolic activity and the use of amino acids as fuel is greatest when trying to perform strength training or other forms of anaerobic training in a liver glycogen depleted state.
The body’s number one priority at all times is to provide fuel for the brain and central nervous system, not to build or even maintain lean muscle mass.
If you perform anaerobic training with depleted liver glycogen stores, the body will still find a way to provide fuel for the brain. It will break down amino acids from muscle tissue and convert them to glucose. This is a catabolic activity that if repeated chronically, will lead to muscle loss.
So some carbs on your off days from training may prevent losing muscle during your next day’s training session.
The basic summary is if you’re training 3 or more days a week, everything that you eat matters, not just what you eat on training days. All meals are either part of your post-workout or pre-workout nutrition.
One more check in with Da Geeks (and as a fellow geek, I mean that with the highest respect):
Protein use for energy reaches its highest level during exercise in a glycogen-depleted state. This emphasizes the important role carbohydrate plays as a protein sparer. It further indicates that carbohydrate availability inhibits protein catabolism in exercise. — Sport and Exercise Nutrition, McCardle and Katch.
Reason #5 – Consistent Sleep
The Renegades party, they party hard. There is no doubt about that. When Jay rolled through my town, I experienced that first hand myself. He showed me my own city like I’ve never seen it before, and I’ve lived here 16 years.
But they also know the importance of proper recovery, and particularly restful sleep.
Carbs trigger serotonin release, which relaxes us, and induces sleep. Many athletes that train hard and try to cut carbs at night complain of insomnia.
One of the biggest complaints I consistently hear about more extreme carb cycling protocols is that on the “high” days, sleep is great. But on the “low” days, sleep sucks.
One day you’re wet dreaming and creaming, the next day its like you’re trying to avoid having a Nightmare on Elm Street.
Why not evenly distribute your carbs over 2 days so you can catch some solid sack time every night?
That’s what I recommended to my friend in the end. Instead of going 350g of carbs on training days and 0g on off days, I told him to try just eating 175g every day, with one cheat day on the weekend.
The numbers stayed the same, but the game plan changed.
As a sustainable method to a year-round ripped physique, my basic play call is to spend most of the week in a moderate calorie deficit (5-6 days a week), yet include some daily carbs to fuel training, prevent muscle loss, get solid sleep, and to not be a dick to everyone around you on your off days.
Then hit a calorie spike/re-feed/cheat night 1-2 days a week.
What is the end of our tale?
Unfortunately there were no more panty shots that day. Physics and angles were not so kind.
But my buddy decided to give this old school daily deficit and re-feed approach a try. He hasn’t looked back since. In the past year he’s won a few men’s physique competitions and has booked several fitness, and even mainstream modeling gigs. He’s even implemented the plan with a few of his more advanced clients, with positive results.
To be 100% honest, his physique results were similar on both plans. But he said the latter was so much easier and more enjoyable for him to follow. His mood, energy, performance, and sleep were way more stable. Thus, he saw it as a much more sustainable lifestyle plan.
It is my belief that, ultimately, it is your average total calories for the week that matter most. Maybe not in terms of statistical significance in a lab or forum debate, but definitely in terms of real world results in the mirror.
Extreme carb cycling can definitely work, and if you feel great on that plan, keep sticking to it. But I don’t think its necessary for optimum results. There are a variety of ways you can structure your diet and reach the same end goal, the key is finding what makes your plan the easiest to follow in the real world.
I’m a daily deficit and re-feed guy.
Try both approaches out man, and stick with whatever works best. I don’t really give a shit what you settle on as a plan. I just want you to find something that works great for you.
If you’d like to learn more about how I go about things, you can check out the new book Feast Your Fat Away.