I have been following Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple for years. If you haven’t heard of him, he is pretty big in the “paleo, primal” world. His methods fall into the consistent low-carb lifestyle for most people. For maintenance, stay low-carb at least 80% of the time. For weight loss, very low-carb initially and low-carb pretty much all of the time. As far as workouts, he encourages mostly body weight exercises and sprinting occasionally.
This will work… but it takes a lot of patience and sticking to it without falling off the rocker. How many of us can say we are patient? How many of us get frustrated if you don’t see results right away? Unfortunately, we live in a society where we just can’t wait. If we are working hard for something we want fast results.
A healthy body is not one that weighs less. You need to have a good body composition which takes into consideration body fat percentage AND lean muscle. More muscle will make you weigh more, so looking at the scale is not the way to go. Muscle is more dense than fat. It takes up less space than fat.
More importantly, the more lean muscle you have the better your metabolism is. This helps your body burn more calories. The more muscle you have, the stronger you are and the healthier you will be as you age. We aren’t getting younger. More lean muscle supports your joints and bones and puts you at lower risk for injury.
In my opinion, the best and most efficient way (for us impatient people) to maximize fat loss while building lean muscle is to combine nutrition with exercise. Could you lose fat without exercise, yes! It is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise, stress, sleep and other factors. But to target the stubborn fat or accelerate fat loss, you need to burn the fat. To gain lean muscle, you have to hit the weights. Plain and simple? Not really.
Your nutrition needs to support your activity. You can’t go low-carb all the time and spend 5-6 days doing high intensity workouts. Your body can’t take it. You will push your body to the limit. If you do not have enough fuel for your muscles and you will put your body into too much stress. Stress will increase your cortisol levels and will put you in fat storage mode and not fat burning mode. It happened to me, and it will happen to you.
The answer? Exercise enough to build muscle and burn fat without activating your body’s stress response AND eating enough to support fat burn and muscle gain. To do this, you carb-cycle.
With carb-cycling, on cardio days and rest days you eat a diet lower in carbs, higher in fat and enough protein. We want to deplete our glycogen storage tanks and force our body to go to fat for energy and not carbs for energy therefore, burning fat.
On strength days, you eat a diet higher in carbs, lower in fat and enough protein. We want to give our muscles enough glucose (carbs) and protein to build lean muscle. On the other hand, we do not want to eat too much because then we end up storing these carbs as fat. We also have to watch the fat intake on these days, because if you eat higher in carbs AND higher in fat, you will store more in fat. The carbs you eat on strength days, especially within a few hours of your workout, will be sucked up immediately by your muscles and work for you, not against you.
Higher carb days are also great for our spirit. Eating low carb all the time doesn’t allow us to enjoy some of the foods we like. There is no fun in feeling like you are depriving yourself of things you enjoy. This leads to frustration and failure to stick a program for the long haul. Carb-cycling allows you to occasionally enjoy foods that are higher in carbs and having those carbs work for you, not against you.
I am really glad Mark Sisson recently addressed this issue with his followers with this article. So many eat low-carb all the time and workout way too much. This will mess with your hormones and puts too much stress on your body and causes your body to store fat not burn it… the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. I don’t encourage the high intense, CrossFit type of workouts all the time, because they are a good source of injury and quite frankly, you don’t have to work out that hard.
My clients do some effective cardio 2 times a week with 2-3 strength workouts per week. These workouts in conjunction with carb-cycling target fat loss (even the stubborn fat around your midsection) and allows you to gain that muscle that is so good for your health!
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