After last week’s discussion about fat, it makes sense to address another major macronutrient group that many people fear – carbohydrates.
Unless I’m doing a huge events session, there is no difference in my carbohydrate intake regardless of whether I’m training or not. At the moment, I am currently hitting around 180g of protein, 300g of carbs and 110g of fat per day (I’m on the lower end of calories as I’m trying to see if I could possibly drop a weight class without actively trying).
Given I am training primarily for performance, it doesn’t make sense for me to drop my carbs or calories on rest days, as I know I will need the energy the next day. However, most people are seeking some kind of physical result and can therefore benefit from reducing carbohydrates on rest days.
Note that I said reducing carbohydrates and NOT reducing calories. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I often recommend keeping the total caloric intake the exact same (or at the very most, no more than 200 calories difference) on a rest day as on a training day. Carbohydrate intake can be reduced, and fat intake increased. This is the approach I employ with the majority of my clients.
For example, if someone is in a caloric deficit to lose body fat, they may be consuming 1800 calories per day. On a training day, their macronutrient count may be 140g protein, 175g carbohydrate and 60g fat. This gives a macro split of approximately 31% protein, 39% carbohydrate and 30% fat.
If someone is employing a carb-cycling strategy in order to lose fat, their caloric intake could remain at 1800, but they could change the balance between carbohydrate and fat. Protein could remain the same at 140g or 31% of the daily caloric intake, but carbohydrate could be reduced to (just an example) 120g, or 26%, while fat is increased to 86g, or 43%. For a ramped up form of fat loss, you could slightly reduce both carbohydrate and fat intake to 100g (24%) and 75g (41%) respectively, while keeping protein at 140g (34%) giving you a total caloric intake of 1635 on rest days.
The reason to drop your carbohydrate intake on rest days is to encourage your body to use fat as fuel. As your need for carbohydrates is reduced on rest days as you are performing less activity, you can afford to rely on fat as a fuel source.
I have previously written about a more intense form of carb cycling here, where you vary your carbohydrate intake between low, medium and high depending on what body part you are training. This is a more extreme form of fat loss, as you will be able to cut carbs almost completely on low carb/rest days. I would not recommend doing this for an extended period of time, and it is a strategy best employed by competitive bodybuilders or those preparing for photo shoots.
In terms of what carbohydrates you should be consuming, on training days you can get away with eating more simple sources of carbs. Quick-digesting forms of carbs such as white rice, fruit and even foods such as cake and ice cream are best consumed post-workout, as your body will use the energy quickly. The rest of the time it is best to stick to slower-releasing forms of carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato and squash.
I really don’t recommend ever dropping carbs below 100g a day, or it will make you cranky and lead to binges. Carbs are your friend!
One final point is that it is entirely possible to consume a large amount of carbs while following a (mostly) Paleo diet. The days I tend to falter are days like yesterday, where I need more than 300g. I had my first individual training session with my coach since December, so I wanted to carb up for extra energy. For breakfast, I had a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes (oh yeah!) and a banana, for lunch I had about a cup of rice and half a butternut squash, and pre-workout I had a sandwich, fries and a juice… A lot of carbs, and most of it was not Paleo. When I have to eat a lot in a short period of time, I find it easier on my digestion to not be strict Paleo. I’m willing to take a hit to my hormones in order to have a more productive training session 😉
If you are worried about increasing your carbohydrates on rest days, the best advice I can give you is to just try it! What enabled me to cross the mental barrier of eating more in general was giving it an honest shot for four weeks. There was no commitment: if I gained weight after four weeks, I could cut my carbs back and lose the weight quite simply. As soon as I realised that I didn’t in fact blow up by eating carbs on rest days – and after 6pm for that matter! – I had the confidence to continue increasing my caloric and carbohydrate intake.
Do you carb cycle?