Nutrition & Supplements
Build Muscle—Not Fat—with Carb Cycling
Cut, bump and blitz your carb intake to build lean muscle without the fat.
By Steven Stiefel
If you want to encourage muscle growth yet still stay lean, you have to step outside some of the more common bodybuilding nutrition strategies. Many standard plans used by bodybuilders combine the task of building new muscle mass with increasing bodyfat levels significantly. Then, you diet off the fat you’ve subsequently added, retain the gained muscle and are thus left more muscular and leaner. It may be an ideal approach for guys who want to compete on bodybuilding stages but who don’t mind looking a little sloppy in the offseason, but what if you want to avoid the yo-yo effect and look good year-round?
We’re happy to report that you can, in fact, increase muscle mass and stay lean at the same time. You just need to learn how to use mini-cycles of growth and cutting. By implementing a carb-cycling strategy, you cut carbs quite low most days of the week, then you bump — or seriously blitz — them on other key days to restock glycogen stores to keep your muscle growing while allowing you to stay lean and ripped throughout. Furthermore, unlike a lot of diet plans out there that are designed around perfect meals and have you cooking and preparing 24/7, the “Cut, Bump and Blitz” program is practical. We’ve provided breakfast, lunch and dinner sample meals (for each day of the carb cycling), to demonstrate the macronutrient counts you should be striving for. Using the sample meals as a guideline, you can then construct your own meals, without having to worry that you need to eat exactly what’s listed in the chart. Eating for mass while also staying lean is possible … and it’s easier than you think.
Five days a week, you’ll consume only about 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight. Almost all of your carbs should be consumed in the form of vegetables and fruits, or in the form of sugar (glucose or dextrose) before and after your workouts. Your main M.O. is to keep carb intake quite low on these days, but you also want to support muscle growth and recovery by providing your body with sugars around your workouts that help drive amino acids and other nutrients to the muscles you’ve trained.
Daily Carb Breakdown: A 180-pound bodybuilder should take in about 90 grams of carbs per day. Get in about 25 grams of sugar preworkout and 25 grams post-workout. The other 40 grams should be consumed in the form of fruits and vegetables. Note that an average-sized piece of fruit (an orange, apple or a peach) contains about 15–20 grams of carbs.
Lean-Muscle Factors: Take in at least 1–1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight on Cut Carbs days. The remaining balance of calories should come from healthy dietary fats to ensure you keep growing.
One day a week, you’ll increase carbs to moderate or “normal” levels. The reason you need this moderate day is that too many days on a low-carb plan will force your body into a state of depletion. Your leptin levels drop and your metabolic rate stalls, so you’ll actually begin to lose muscle mass.
To prevent any negative impact, you should take in about 2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight one day a week. In this plan, we’ve targeted Wednesday as your Bump Carbs day (see “Cut, Bump and Blitz: The Weekly Plan” on pg. XXX). You should notice an improvement in your strength levels in the gym on the day after Bump Carbs, so you might want to train a large muscle group such as back or legs on that day.
Daily Carb Breakdown: A 180-pound bodybuilder should take in about 360 grams of carbs on Bump Carbs day, once a week. The specific breakdown on these days should look something like this: four servings of fruits and vegetables (equaling about 100 grams of carbs). Before and after training, 100 grams of carbs in sugar form, split relatively evenly. The other 160 grams of carbs should be consumed in the form of slow-digesting complex carbs such as brown rice, oatmeal and yams, or starchy carbs such as whole-grain pastas or breads. These carbs should be eaten earlier in the day to prevent them from being stored as bodyfat.
Lean-Muscle Factors: Make sure you still get in 1–1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Beyond that, your increase in carbs should help ensure you reach your daily calorie needs to promote lean growth.
In addition to staying lean, your main goal is to grow, which is the precise function the Blitz Carb days fulfill. On these days, you’ll refill your body’s glycogen stores, rev up your metabolism and provide the raw materials your muscles need for big-time lean-muscle growth. On blitz days, you’ll consume 4 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.
We’ve scheduled your high-carb day on Saturday, as many bodybuilders like to use a weekend day to have a cheat meal. On this weekly Blitz Carbs day, you can take in a much greater amount of carbs and calories, refeeding your body, in a way, for the week to come. Your next workout, whether on Sunday or Monday, should take advantage of your replenished state by focusing on a large bodypart such as legs or back.
Daily Carb Breakdown: A 180-pound bodybuilder should consume about 720 grams of carbs on Blitz Carbs days, once a week. The specific allotment on these days should look something like this: five servings of fruits and vegetables (equaling about 125 grams of carbs). Before and after workouts, ingest 100 grams of carbs in sugar form, split relatively evenly. Take in the rest of the 500 or so grams of carbs fairly evenly throughout the day. Early in the day focus on slow-burning carbs such as brown rice, oatmeal and yams, or on starchy carbs such as whole-grain pastas and breads. You can, however, also add in some “cheat” carbs earlier in the day. Strive to get in 200–300 grams of carbs during the meals before dinner from these sources. The remaining balance of carbs can then be consumed in any form you prefer at dinner and your late-night snack. Therefore you can — and should — consume 300–400 grams of carbs before you hit the sack.
Lean-Muscle Factors: Try to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, but don’t scrutinize over it too much. Just make sure you get in all the carbs and total calories recommended to help drive muscle growth for the next few days. Restocking glycogen is important not only for your sanity, but for adding quality mass as well.
The Bottom Line: Opt for fat sources over carb foods on Cut Carb days. Always make certain you consume plenty of protein each and every day when you’re following this Cut, Bump and Blitz program.