What is carbohydrate recycling?
Carbohydrate recycling is a dietary approach in which you rotate carbohydrate intake (reduce – medium – increase) daily, weekly, or monthly; it is commonly used for fat loss, maintaining physical performance during a diet, or overcoming a halt in weight loss. Some people adjust their carbohydrate intake daily, while others may take longer periods of low and medium carbohydrate diets. In short, the carbohydrate cycle aims to determine when carbohydrate intake is when it provides maximum benefit and to exclude carbohydrates when they are not needed.
You can program your carbohydrate intake based on a variety of factors, including:
Objectives of body composition:
Some will reduce carbohydrates during a diet, and then add them back during the “muscle building” or performance phase.
Training and rest days:
One common method is to eat more carbohydrates on training days and eat less carbohydrates on rest days.
Another common way is to take days or several days to eat very high amounts of carbohydrates to serve as “food” during a prolonged diet.
Special events or competitions:
‘Athletes’ often load carbohydrates before the event, and many fitness competitors will do the same before a bodybuilding show or photo session.
Individuals will customize the amount of carbohydrates depending on the intensity and duration of the specific training session; the longer or more intense the training, the more carbohydrate consumption and vice versa.
Body Fat Levels:
Many individuals cycle their carbohydrates based on their body fat level. The smaller they are, the higher the carbohydrate days.
The science behind carbohydrate recycling
Carbohydrate recycling is a relatively new diet.
Science is based primarily on the biological mechanisms behind carbohydrate manipulation; there are not many directly controlled studies that follow a carbohydrate recycling diet.
Carbohydrate recycling tries to meet your body’s calorie or glucose needs. For example, it provides carbohydrates around exercise or on intense training days; high-carb days are also available to fuel muscle glycogen, which may improve performance and reduce muscle breakdown.
Strategic high-carbohydrate periods may also help to improve hormone levels such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate weight and appetite.
Low-carbohydrate days are responsible for converting the body into a fat-based energy system, which may improve metabolic elasticity and the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel in the long run.
Another major component of carbohydrate recycling is insulin manipulation. Low-carb days and targeting carbohydrates around exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, a vital sign of health.
In theory, this approach maximizes the benefits offered by carbohydrates; although the mechanisms that support the use of carbohydrate recycling, they should be interpreted with caution since there is no direct research on the approach.
Can carbohydrate recycling help you lose fat?
The mechanisms behind carbohydrate recycling suggest that it can be beneficial for weight loss.
In theory, carbohydrate recycling may help maintain physical performance while providing some of the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet.
As with any diet, the main mechanism behind weight loss is a lack of calories, that is, eating less of your body’s calories over a long period of time.
If a carbohydrate recycling diet is applied next to a calorie deficit, you are likely to lose your weight.
However, its more complex nature may cause problems of commitment and confusion for beginners.
In contrast, many people may enjoy the flexibility of carbohydrate recycling. This can improve commitment and long-term success for some people.
Carbohydrate recycling for muscle growth and athletic performance
Many believe that carbohydrate recycling can be beneficial for muscle gain and physical performance.
Regular high-carbohydrate periods and targeted carbohydrate intake may help improve performance.
Carbohydrates around the exercise may also help in healing, delivering nutrients and replenishing muscle glycogen.
This may also promote muscle growth. However, some research suggests that carbohydrates are not necessary to build muscle if protein intake is sufficient.
While these mechanisms make sense in theory, direct research comparing carbohydrate recycling with other diets is necessary to provide an evidence-based answer.
Are there any other benefits of carbohydrate recycling?
As mentioned before, carbohydrate recycling has the potential to provide some benefits that other diets cannot do.
Through low and high carbohydrate periods, you may get many benefits offered by both diets, without some drawbacks.
The benefits of low-carbohydrate periods may include better insulin sensitivity, increased fat burning, improved cholesterol and improved metabolic health.
High carbohydrates may have a positive effect on hormones during a diet, including thyroid hormones, testosterone and leptin.
These factors may play an important role in the long-term success of the diet, as hormones play a key role in hunger, metabolism and exercise performance.
How to do carbohydrate recycling:
There are many options in carbohydrate recycling, including daily adjustments or longer periods of high and low carb cycles.
More than a regular diet, carbohydrate cycling may need to do a lot of adjustment along the way.
Try the number of high-carbohydrate days per week, as well as the amount of carbohydrates per day. Find the best way to your lifestyle, exercise and achieve goals.
As the table suggests, you can either re-supply carbohydrates every two weeks or do long periods such as a low-carb phase for 4 weeks, with a one-week replenishment.
You will also notice that the amount of carbohydrates per day can vary greatly – depending on the level of activity, muscle mass and tolerance to carbohydrates.
An athlete who trains 3 hours a day or a 250-pound bodybuilder may need the upper limit (or even more), while the average individual may only need to re-supply carbohydrates from 150 to 200 grams.
Finally, these examples are suggestions only. There is no proven formula or fixed percentage for carbohydrate recycling and you should design and try it yourself.
Summary of topic
Carbohydrate recycling may be a useful tool for those trying to improve their diet, physical performance and health.
The individual mechanisms behind carbohydrate recycling are supported by research. However, no direct research into a long-term diet for carbohydrate recycling has been achieved.
Instead of a low-carb or high-carb diet, a balance between the two may be beneficial from a physiological and psychological perspective.
If you use carbohydrate recycling for fat loss, make sure your protein intake is sufficient and that you are low in calories.
Always try the protocol and carbohydrate amounts to find what works best for you.
In the next topic we will illustrate examples of a menu for different days in carbohydrate recycling.