How to Get Big and Stay Lean

Carb Cycling for Athletes

As I promised in a previous article, I will now talk about the method I recommend for increasing lean muscle mass while maintaining body fat. Please note that this method is highly effective and should be used by lifters that are already pretty lean. If you need to loose a lot of weight, you should diet down first. If you need to gain a lot of weight (greater than 15 lbs), you should focus on taking in more calories. This approach is perfect for the trainee who is looking to critique their physique while making steady progression. So how is it possible to add muscle mass and not put on any fat? The answer is carb cycling.

Carb Cycling is an approach to eating that manipulates the amount of carbohydrates consumed on a given day. “By fluctuating macronutrients on a daily basis, we can ensure that performance and muscle building can be optimized on the days when it’s most important, while burning fat on the other days”(Starnes). The three possible days that we will utilize include “high carb” days, “medium carb” days and “low carb” days.

“High carb “days are utilized during the hardest training days. On these days, you want to feed your body a ton of carbs in order to put it in a highly anabolic state.

“Medium carb” days are utilized on training days that are less taxing on the body. On these days, the goal is to give your body just enough carbs to fuel your workout but not enough to put your body in a highly anabolic state. These days are maintenance days.

“Lower carb” days are utilized on your off days or days you are performing cardio or light conditioning. On these days, your primary goal is to burn fat. Since you are performing minimal activity, your body will not need carbohydrates. These days are fat burning days.

Now that we understand what carb cycling is and what variables must be manipulated, we need to know how many carbs we should put in our bodies on given days. Since we are varying our carbohydrates on certain days, our fat and protein intake will also vary. Here is an easy chart to follow. Please note that these numbers are based on grams per pound of body weight.

High day

Fat: minimal fat

Carbs: 2-3 grams

Protein: 1-1.25

Medium and low days

Fat: 0.15-0.35

Carbs: 0.5-1.5

Protein: 1.25-1.5

While I recommend you evenly spread out your carbohydrates, proteins and fats over the course of 5-8 meals, in the “real world” most people don’t have the time to count calories. NO WORRIES! If you follow these rules, you will not have to worry about counting calories.

-Have a complete breakfast everyday.

-Always eat veggies/fruit and lean protein with each meal.

-With the exception of breakfast, only eat starches (oatmeal, brown rice, baked potato, whole grain pasta, etc…) on medium and high carb days. Starches are your main source of carbohydrates and thus if you manipulate your starch intake you will manipulate your carbohydrate intake. To understand this fully please see the chart below:

Low Days- No starches! Only exception would be post workout shake after cardio or conditioning.

Medium Days- You will eat starches during your meal before your training session, during and post training, and than your first two meals following your training.

High Days- Eat starches with every meal. While this may seem like a lot of carbs, remember that these are your highly anabolic days. Check this out. If you weigh 200 lbs and you are suppose to take in 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight; that equals 400-600 carbs that day! The only feasible way to get in the necessary amount of carbohydrates is to constantly feed your body starches throughout the day.

In addition to bulking up, please note that carb cycling is a great approach for shedding body fat. While the principles remain the same, you will need to vary how many high days you have vs. low days. Obviously, bulking up will require more high days than if you were cutting. For newbie’s to carb cycling, I recommend you start with 3 high days a week, 2-3 moderate and 1-2 low days. After a couple weeks, you can critique these numbers depending on your goals and what works best for you. The benefit of using carb cycling during a cutting phase is that it allows you to decrease body fat without loosing any size.

Now that you know the secret to putting on lean muscle while maintaining body fat, it is time to take action! For those of you that are still confused, don’t worry about the macronutrient breakdown on high, low and medium days. Instead, focus on your starch intake. Lastly, remember to follow my 8 rules for getting the body you want. Stay tuned for my next article, as I will discuss optimal food selection.


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