Today I want to talk about cycling.
No, not the sport Lance Armstrong was famous for.
I'm also not talking about the drugs Armstrong became infamous for.
Whenever committing yourself to any kind of diet, you need to consider its long-term effects on your health.
Eating all the food in your field of vision will give you the energy you need to build muscle, but you'll end up packing on pounds of fat too.
Starving yourself might work for a few days, but your metabolism would crash within a week. Even a moderate caloric deficit over the course of a few weeks can have negative consequences.
Even when bulking and cutting in the healthy ways I recommend on this website, you can't escape certain limitations. You could count calories as accurately as you want, but little fluctuations will show up over time.
For example, you might stay up an extra hour or 2 on certain nights (or much longer, if you're going to a bar or club). Though this is perfectly normal, you'll end up burning a bit more energy (you're body burns more energy while awake then it does while asleep).
Similarly, you might think you're only eating 2800 calories a day, but you're actually eating 2880 a day. Though this won't be apparent at first, it will show up over time on your waist (extra fat from bulking).
Or let's say you're trying to REALLY slim down. You think you've cut the calories down to 1700, but really they're around 1500. You might not notice it at first, but a severe calorie restriction could lead to muscle loss fast (don't be surprised if your gym strength falls).
So, what's a way to tweak these diet approaches to near-perfection?
Enter Calorie Cycling.
Cycling While Cutting
When cutting down, pick 1-2 days of the week where you eat caloric surplus (10-15%). Following this is essential for consistent fat loss. Here are some benefits to it:
Cutting for long periods of time can really screw up your metabolism. If you eat a caloric deficit for a month straight, your BMR will drop. Your weight loss will halt and your strength in the gym will drop.
If you're cutting to below 10% body fat, your metabolism may slow down in as little as 2 weeks.
Calorie cycling on a weekly basis can totally prevent this. By bulking once or twice a week, you recharge your body with much needed fuel.
One common complaint of cutting weight is that you end up losing some muscle along with the fat.
Calorie cycling can help prevent this.
Depending where you are in your fitness, you might find yourself getting STRONGER as you cut down through this method (especially if you're following an Upper/Lower split).
Cycling While Bulking
When bulking, pick 1-2 days of the week where you hit a caloric deficit (20-25%). This helps keep your bulk clean in the following ways:
Minimized fat gain
One issue with consistently bulking, even at a low surplus, is that eventually your body will put on a few pounds of fat. Whether this happens in a few weeks or a few months depends on how large your caloric surplus is.
By eating less food once or twice a week, you ensure that your body burns off any unseen fat gained during the other days.
Less body fat has hormonal benefits as well. When your body carries too much fat on it (generally over 18%) your estrogen levels increase while those of testosterone and growth hormone plummet. Burning this fat off and getting close to the 10-12% range will do wonders for you hormones, leading to better gains and recovery.
Break from eating
Frankly, bulking can be tiresome. Eating clean while consuming 3000+ calories a day (perhaps even higher if you have a fast metabolism) can be very tedious. In some ways, feeling stuffed all day is as bad as feeling hungry.
Depending on when I eat, I spend some cutting days hardly even experiencing hunger.
More than anything else, these cutting days reinforce your discipline. Pigging out constantly, even if it is clean, can lead to bad habits; restraining your appetite now and then will have carryovers to other aspects of both your life and training.
There you have it! A simple overview of the benefits and essentials of calorie cycling.
Now hop off the computer, mark off some days on your calendar, and prepare to see greater efficiency in your quest for fitness.