Your Complete Carb Cycling Guide

carb cycling

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation in the health and fitness world. They’ve been blamed for everything from weight gain to contributing to causing diabetes. Many fad diets have been created that eliminate or greatly reduce carbohydrates from the diet. But sugar isn’t the enemy, and eating a variety of nutritious foods is necessary for ensuring your overall health. You need to balance the energy you consume (your food) with the energy you expend (burned calories).

Every single weight loss study shows us that losing weight requires eating less energy than you burn in order to create a calorie deficit – in other words, to create a negative energy balance. When you eat more energy than your body burns, then you gain weight.

Understanding Macronutrients and Their Role in Weight Loss

macronutrientsFoods provide calories. They also provide protein, fats, and carbohydrates – which are called macronutrients. When you’re talking about your body fat percentage and lean mass, the only things that matter are calories and macronutrients and how the energy from the calories are broken down into protein, fat, and carbohydrates [1].

So, while many low-carb diets have scientific evidence that cutting out carbs will result in weight loss, it’s also important to note that when you cut down on carbs, you increase protein. And the increased protein may play a role in the weight loss efforts as well. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University tells us that weight loss happens with a reduced calorie diet regardless of the carbohydrate intake [2].  So as long as you maintain a negative energy balance, or a calorie deficit, then you will lose weight.

Don’t fall for the fad diets. You can eat carbs and still lose weight, and you’ll probably have better luck maintaining the weight loss long term if you aren’t trying to completely eliminate a category of foods (that you probably love).

Now, many researchers have discovered that starving yourself will result in rapid weight loss. But you aren’t looking to watch the numbers on the scale go down if it means losing muscle, right? For most of us, preserving our muscle, and even increasing our muscle, is the priority when trying to lose body fat because if you don’t focus on this type of weight loss while maintaining muscle – you’ll end up skinny fat – and nobody wants to be skinny fat!

One of the best ways to get into shape, if you want to lose body fat and increase lean muscle mass is a carb cycling diet that focuses on your total macronutrients, not just on your carbohydrate intake.

What is Carbohydrate Cycling?

When you are following a carb cycling diet, you have periods of moderate carbohydrate intake followed by periods of high carbohydrate intake, followed by a period of extremely low carbohydrates. Carb cycling allows you to benefit from the hormonal impact associated with macronutrient timing and balance. To be an effective weight loss method, you still need to reduce your daily caloric intake but it offers more flexibility and many more benefits compared to a basic restricted calorie diet [3].

So, since we know that reducing calories is the key to losing weight, but eating the right balance of macronutrients is necessary to losing fat while maintaining or building lean muscle – you need to start thinking about your meal planning in terms of macronutrient balance. It’s not as simple as just counting calories or counting carbohydrates – you want to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to provide you with energy, burn calories, lose body fat, and increase muscle.

And, the best advice I can give you is to plan your meals in general. Don’t wait until you’re starving to think about what you’re eating next or you’ll be more likely to grab whatever is closest to you instead of making a healthy decision.  Plan out your meals for a week at a time, go to the grocery store to make sure you have everything you need to follow the plan successfully, and even take the time to pre-wash and cut vegetables. Do whatever it takes to make it easy to follow, even when you’re busy with “life”.

Dietary considerations:

·      Eating too little protein will result in muscle loss [4]

·      Eating too little carbohydrates will result in less energy to work out and difficulty building muscle [5]

·      Eating too much fat results in the need to reduce protein and carbohydrates drastically or you’ll gain weight

When you get your macronutrient balance correct, you will have no problems losing weight and gaining muscle. Seriously. It’s all about the balance.

To gain lean muscle mass while reducing body fat and improving your overall body composition- follow this carb cycling guide for maximum results.

Reduce Body Fat with Carb Cycling

If you are motivated to lose as much body fat as possible within a short period of time, then you’ll want to follow this section of the carb cycling guide. Using this method results in the most fat reduction, but it may also compromise some of your lean muscle mass because it is low calorie and fairly low protein. So if you’re looking to both build lean muscle while reducing body fat, skip to the next section for your carb cycling guidelines.

Because of the intensity of this particular carb cycling program, it is not recommended to follow this for more than thirty days at a time without a break in between. So follow it for thirty days and then eat normally for a week or two before returning to the carb cycling (if you want to do it more than once).

Here’s what you do:

4 Days – Do not eat carbohydrates. This includes the so-called “good carbs” like sweet potatoes and brown rice. Skip all fruit, breads, crackers, and sugars. Your goal is to get your carbohydrate intake below 30 grams per day, and the carbohydrates you are consuming should all come from your vegetables. Eat about .8 grams of fat per pound of body weight and about 1.5 grams per pound of body weight of protein each day.

1 Day – Eat 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. For this day in the carb cycle you will decrease your protein to 1 gram per pound of body weight and minimize the amount of fat you consume as much as possible. This high carbohydrate day is also your maximum intensity gym day. Consume your carbs after your work out to ensure your body’s fat cells are used as energy during your work out rather than the carbohydrates you’re eating on this day. (Carbohydrates are used for energy first).

1 Day – Do not eat carbohydrates again.

1 Day – Consume 1 gram of carbohydrate and 1 gram of protein for every 1 pound of body weight. Try to keep your fat intake for the day as close to .2 grams per pound of body weight as you can.

Repeat this cycle in exactly this order for a total of four weeks. Don’t switch the days around. Make sure you lift weights about three or four times each week during this carb cycle, even when it falls on a no carbohydrate day. The one day of high carbohydrate consumption is included in the cycle to help restart your metabolism, increase the fat loss hormone, leptin, and restore the glycogen levels in your muscles.

Gain Lean Muscle and Reduce Body Fat with Carb Cycling

carb cycling calendarFor those of us looking to both reduce excess body fat and build lean muscle, this is the carb cycling plan you will want to follow for the next 8 weeks [6].

4 Days – Moderate carbohydrates and weight lifting. Your daily macros should be about 1 grams of protein per pound of body weight, .25 grams of fat per pound of body weight, and 1.25 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. You need to plan your carbohydrate consumption so that you are consuming 80% of your daily carbohydrates before, during, and after your weight lifting workout.  When you consume carbohydrates prior to weight lifting, you will give your muscles the glycogen they need to train at their maximum intensity levels. If you consume carbohydrates while lifting weights, you can halt the production of cortisol to create an anabolic atmosphere in your body which will prevent insulin release. And finally, consuming carbohydrates right after your workout extends the anabolic atmosphere to help aid your body in workout recovery. The carb, along with a high protein meal, will also help carry nutrients to your cells. Choose slow digesting carbohydrates rather than bread; things like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, lentils, fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal are great for giving you long-term energy resources.

1 Day – Do not eat carbohydrates. This includes the so-called “good carbs” like sweet potatoes and brown rice. Skip all fruit, breads, crackers, and sugars. Your goal is to get your carbohydrate intake below 30 grams per day, and the carbohydrates you are consuming should all come from your vegetables. Eat about .8 grams of fat per pound of body weight and about 1.5 grams per pound of body weight of protein each day. You will probably feel a little more lethargic on your no carbohydrate day. Make this first no carb day a rest day in terms of your workouts.

1 Day:  Consume 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Give your muscles the glycogen they need to recover, boost the leptin hormone to stimulate weight loss, and reset your metabolism. Your other macros should be 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, and .1 gram of fat per pound of bodyweight.

1 Day: No carbohydrates. Follow your high carb day with a no carb day, consuming only carbohydrates found in vegetables and keeping it under 30 grams for the day.

Carb Cycling Example Meal Plans

To help you get started, we’ll provide the following example meal plans for carb cycling. Please note you do not have to follow these to be effective, it is just a starting point for you in case you aren’t sure what to eat on which days.

Meals for days when you are avoiding carbohydrates (except for those found in vegetables):

·      Two scrambled eggs with ½ red bell pepper

·      3 ounces grilled chicken, 1 cup Brussel sprouts, broccoli, or asparagus

·      10 almonds

·      Tossed salad with cucumber, hard boiled egg

·      3 ounces steak and 2 cups steamed cauliflower

Meals for days when you are eating two grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight:

·      ½ cup oatmeal with berries and walnuts

·      Apple slices with two tablespoons peanut butter (or almond butter)

·      Sliced turkey with one slice whole wheat bread

·      1 cup of quinoa with chickpeas, green beans, and black beans

·      3 ounces grilled chicken with one cup whole-wheat pasta and pesto sauce

When to Eat

You should time your meals around your workouts whenever possible. Eating one hour before a workout and within an hour after a workout is ideal for fat burning, energy, and recovery. To preserve muscle mass, it’s been found in multiple studies that eating frequent, smaller meals throughout the day is better than eating fewer, larger meals. If reducing calories to lose weight, spreading out your meals throughout the day helps you sustain your energy, avoid cravings, and avoid overeating because you allowed yourself to get too hungry in between meals.

Water Weight Gain on High Carb Days

One thing to keep in mind is that you may experience water weight gain on your moderate to high carb days. For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, your body will store about four grams of water. This can add up fairly quickly and show an increase on the scale. But don’t freak out, it’s just water weight and will go away when you follow it with a low or no carb day.

Comprehensive Benefits of Carb Cycling

While you probably go into carb cycling to lose weight, there are a variety of health benefits associated with carb cycling diets [7], including:

  • Burning fat
  • Building lean muscle
  • Increasing receptiveness to insulin
  • Focusing on healthier carbs that improve your macronutrient balance and eliminating some of the not-so-healthy carbs

Track Your Results

Carb cycling is effective, but it’s not for everyone. Some people are able to stick to a plan that remains constant every day better than they can handle changing their eating plan each day. If you want to see if carb cycling works for you, you should commit to the plan for at least 21 days and track your results. Get on the scale. Measure your body. Consider using body fat calipers to get as accurate a reading of your body fat as possible. After a minimum of 21 days, get on the scale, take measurements and check your body fat again to see if it has the results you are looking for.

We want to know if this works for you! Leave us a comment below or hit us up on social media with your carb cycling stories – tell us the good, bad, the ugly! Your experiences will help someone else and vice versa. So come on – tell us what’s going on your world and if carb cycling has made a difference in your weight loss goals while preserving or building lean muscle.


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