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Anabolic Diet vs. Carb Cycling

By Gryphon Adams ; Updated July 18, 2017

In theory, an anabolic diet helps to build and maintain muscle by supporting the production and use of anabolic hormones: testosterone, insulin and human growth hormone. Carb cycling refers to a diet strategy intended to load carbohydrates for training and restrict carbs for reducing body fat. The authors of these diets aimed them at bodybuilders. As with any diet, talk to your doctor before trying an anabolic diet or carb cycling.

Bodybuilding and Diet

Bodybuilders need to build muscle mass and then become "cut" -- attain an unusually low level of body fat -- to show their muscles for competition. Diets intended for bodybuilders aren't generally a good fit for an average person. Weightlifters have higher needs for calories and protein. A person with lower muscle mass and lower physical activity levels doesn't need the amount of protein suggested in these diets. The body stores excess calories, even when they come from quality food sources such as lean protein and low-carbohydrate vegetables, as fat.

Anabolic Diet

"The Anabolic Diet" by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale calls for a high 55 to 60 percent fat intake and 30 to 35 percent of daily calories from protein with 30 grams or less of carbs per day. Weekends have a high carb intake. The anabolic diet is intended as a muscle-building diet. In Di Pasquale's updated metabolic diet, you can go as low as 30 percent fat intake -- in keeping with general guidelines for healthy eating. Di Pasquale promotes his diets as an alternative to using anabolic steroids. The theory is that higher fat levels help to support anabolic hormones and reduce the risk of muscle loss during dieting, but it would be easy to consume excessively high amounts of unhealthy saturated fat on this diet.

Carb Cycling

"The Carb Cycling Diet" by Roman Malkov, M.D. alternates between reduced carb and regular carb days. Malkov encourages eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables and avoiding refined carbohydrates such as sugars and white flour, a more balanced strategy than the protein-heavy and high-fat anabolic diet. Its carb levels don't go as high as the carb-loading weekends on the anabolic diet, and it isn't as high in fat as the original anabolic diet. The theory behind carb cycling is that changing the amount of carbohydrates you consume can support your workouts and help to reduce body fat. The theory behind reduced carb days is to increase fat-burning, the same principle behind other reduced carb diets. The idea is that with carb cycling the dieter can avoid the low energy and deprivation of a continuous low-carb diet by alternating with normal carb days to fuel workouts and help to prevent plateaus in the fat-loss process.

Potential Benefits and Risks

Slightly higher levels of protein and lower levels of carbohydrate can result in improved body composition in healthy young men, according to researchers from the University of Florida who published their results in the February 2006 "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The study involved healthy, young men.

The more restrictive levels of carbs in the carb cycling diet compared to the anabolic diet are difficult for many people to manage, and can result in loss of energy. Consuming very low levels of carbohydrate can result in irritability and poor concentration. Although these diets have gained adherents in the general population, they may have risks if engaged in beyond short-term use, and may be unsuitable for people who don't have an athlete's level of muscle or physical activity. Variations on carb cycling exist, and not all of them involve such low carb levels.

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