My Diet, Part I

My approach has been a kind of carb cycling--a technique that's growing in popularity among bodybuilders and athletes who need to make certain weight classes. (We've got an article on it coming up in the August issue.)
Basically, it means I rotate my carb intake daily depending on the kind of training I'm doing.
Bodybuilders in the 50s and 60s pioneered the idea of the low-carb diet long before Dr. Atkins brought it to the mainstream. They found that if they cut out rice, potatoes, bread, and other sugars and starches, they could drop fat quickly without shedding muscle mass along with it. Fewer carbs in your system means lower blood sugar, and in turn lower insulin levels. You see, a starchy food like a white potato raises your blood sugar quickly, making your body release insulin to bring it back down. During that process, your body gets the signal to store fat (the calories from whatever you're eating). By cutting the carbs, you don't experience insulin spikes, and the body is free to burn fat all day long. Carbs are also known to cause water retention, so you look leaner within days of restricting them.
Why not cut fat? Well, fat does have a lot of calories (nine per gram), and eating less of it certainly would make it easier to reach a caloric deficit. However, fat is satiating, and it also supports hormones like testosterone (a big deal for building muscle). My guess is that, through trial and error, these bodybuilders found they got smaller and softer if they cut too much fat from their diet. They probably also felt hungry all the time, making the whole experience of dieting that much more agonizing.
What about protein? While I agree with the camp that says protein is overrated for muscle growth, it's hard to argue reducing your intake sharply, especially when dieting. Protein is the mortar of muscle mass (people always say it's "the building block of muscle", but I'm tired of that cliche so I'm starting a new one). If you want to retain size and strength while dropping your calories, you probably shouldn't lose the chicken breasts and tuna.
To be fair, I've heard compelling arguments for dismissing pretty much everything I said above. But, as is the case with most things in life, there is no "one truth". The kind of nutrition that works well for one person may be useless or even dangerous for another, beyond the basic tenets like eating fruits and vegetables. I'm simply following the dogma that most performance nutrition gurus have recommended for the past several decades, and, honestly, you'd be hard pressed to find a bodybuilder or other athlete with a great physique who doesn't follow this thinking.
So these bodybuilders found that the lack of carbs yielded results pretty fast. The trouble is, loss of muscle mass was still a problem, especially as the weeks of low-carb dieting piled up. Going a long time without carbs lowers your energy, and that impairs your workouts. And since carbs are stored in part in muscle tissue, the muscles tend to "flatten out" and look smaller without them. The question then becomes, "What if we eat carbs some of the time?"
And that's what I've been doing. When I started this diet, I was eating an average of 3,500 to 4,000 calories daily. Jason (my training adviser I discussed in my last post) advised me to cut the number to 3,000 calories daily to create a deficit. On days I don't lift, I eat very few carbs. Lifting days I eat more. And one day a week--my hardest workout (the Saturday squat and deadlift sessions)--I eat carbs all day.
Here's how it looks:
Lifting and cardio
150 grams carbs
50 grams carbs
Light cardio
50 grams or fewer carbs
Lifting and cardio
150 grams carbs
50 grams carbs
Lifting and cardio
300 grams carbs
Light cardio
50 grams carbs
As you can see, for the most part the carbs are low. Very low. This encourages fat loss. On the lifting days, I need to eat more carbs so I have the energy to train and recover from the session. Since I generally train in the morning before I embark for the MF office, I get most of my carbs in before mid day. (Some say this is optimal, and that eating carbs late at night leads to more fat storage, but I won't examine the pros and cons of that argument now.) One day a week I gorge on carbs to refill my glycogen stores (the carbs that are stored in the muscles).
In my next entry, I'll discuss the foods I'm eating, protein, my weight loss so far, and how the whole experience has made me feel.

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