What is ‘carb cycling’ and is it suitable for triathletes?

We explain how this fat-loss technique works, and if you should use it in triathlon training

Brown rice

Carb cycling is a fat-loss dietary technique that crops up in the media from time to time. There’s very little research on carb cycling, especially with regards to its effectiveness in fuelling triathlon training.

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Carb cycling hails from the bodybuilding world, where a person rotates through high-carb, moderate-carb, and low/no-carb days. But all days require a high protein intake. The very fact that its roots lie in the sport of bodybuilding should immediately place a question mark over whether it’s suitable for tri/endurance training.

Bodybuilders train very differently to triathletes, and invariably ‘cycle’ hard strength workouts with longer periods of rest. They also tend to need less carbohydrate and more protein than endurance athletes. Triathletes, on the other hand, are training daily and therefore need constant refuelling with a higher percentage of their total calorie intake coming from carbohydrates.

I’m sure you can begin to see why carb cycling is not altogether suited to triathlon training, and neither is it necessary to use as a method to lose body fat. Fat loss for triathletes centres around eating a diet that focuses primarily on low GI, natural carbs such as oats, brown rice, and quinoa, with copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, balanced with quality proteins and topped off with healthy fats. 

I’d focus more on optimising the types and quality of carbs and really sticking with the known and effective principles of tri nutrition.

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(Main image: GST HBK)