How to Carb Cycling to Lose Weight
Are you trying to lose weight, but are exhausted because you’re eating all protein or fat and no carbs for energy? Nearly 49% of adults have tried losing weight in the last 12 months, and while many fail, others find that carb cycling for weight loss is the key to their success.
Why would you cycle your carbs? What are the benefits of carb cycling? How do you even begin?
Let’s find out.
What Is Carb Cycling for Weight Loss?
The body uses carbohydrates as fuel. When your body needs energy, it relies on these carbs. However, when you have too many carbs, they get stored as fat. Carb cycling works to do a few things:
- Offers carbs when your body needs it
- Limit carbs when your body doesn’t need them
One of the key perks is that you can adjust your cycle to match your needs.
How Does Carb Cycling Work?
Versatility is crucial to sticking to any diet. Carb cycling for weight loss allows you to alternate days of high and low carb intake. Depending on your dietary and weight loss goals, you can cycle carbs:
It’s up to you.
How to Carb Cycling to Lose Weight
Carbs are beneficial on some days and not on others. For example, many professionals will load up on carbohydrates the night before a sporting match. The reason athletes eat so many carbs is that they need an immense amount of energy.
You may not be a professional athlete, but you may need more energy for:
- Workout days
- Cardio days
- Playing sports
In fact, studies show that if you ingest carbs too late or after exercise, insulin and plasma glucose both improve, yet performance does not. When trying to lose weight and build muscle or strength, the additional energy from carbs can help you push through your workout to achieve impressive results.
But how does carb cycling work for weight loss?
It allows you the energy you need to complete workouts and live an active lifestyle. With that said, the key to any weight loss is to maintain a caloric deficit. For example, you can go keto or go on the carnivore diet. While all of these diets are different, they all demand that you have a caloric deficit to lose weight.
On the days when you need more carbs, you’ll reduce your intake of fat or protein to maintain a caloric deficit necessary to lose weight.
Additionally, you can make up for the increase in carbs on these days by performing calorie-burning activities, such as weight training or cardio.
But low-carb diets also help people lose weight!
Yes, it’s true that many people lose weight rapidly with a low-carb diet. Unfortunately, however, most people gain the weight right back. The main issue is that, in the long term, it’s very difficult to avoid carbs.
Your body prefers carbs for energy.
When you cycle your carbs, you can be prepared for days of high activity and not feel the fatigue that you do with other diets. Bodybuilders, sports athletes and endurance athletes all cycle carbs to maintain peak performance.
Benefits of Carb Cycling
You can lose weight on any diet when you have a calorie deficit. However, carb cycling offers you other benefits that you won’t find in other diets, such as:
- Blood sugar. Carb cycling may have an impact on your insulin sensitivity. By cycling your carbohydrates, you’ll improve sensitivity, which has a direct impact on your blood sugar.
- Burn more fat. Carbs, when eaten in excess, are stored as fat in the body. Since you have low-carb days, the body will use fat for energy, which improves metabolic rate and fat burning rates.
- Reduce muscle breakdown. You refuel your muscles when you have high carb days, allowing more glycogen to enter them. Ultimately, a reduction in muscle breakdown occurs and overall muscle improvement exists. If you find other diets make you feel weak or drained, carb cycling provides you with the energy necessary to feel stronger.
- Weight loss. Most people carb cycle to lose weight, and one study found that even a small commitment of cutting calories two days a week and eating regularly the rest of the week led to a weight loss of around one pound a month. If exercise or more moderate caloric intake was introduced, these individuals would likely lose weight faster.
If you opt to cycle your carbs, it’s crucial to understand that the process is complex. Ideally, you’ll only have two days with very high carbs per week and then mix moderate and low carb days in for the rest of the five days of the week.
However, we’re going to cover a simple plan that you can use to start cycling properly.
But before we do that, it’s crucial to know that not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs are better than others to consume, and creating a food list is a good starting point.
Carb Cycling Food List
If you know anything about carbs, you know that simple carbs, such as sugar, are absorbed rapidly, and complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, are absorbed slowly. When cycling your carbs, consider using the food suggestions below as part of your food list:
Carbs You Can Vs. Can’t Eat on the Carb Cycling Meal Plan
Carbs You Should Eat
- Low-fat yogurt
- Low-fat cheese or milk
- Whole grains
Carbs You Should Avoid
- Processed foods
- Added, non-natural sugars
- Refined grains
- Soft drinks
Ideally, you’ll eat complex carbs to help slow the digestion of carbs and prevent storage. Simple carbs are only optimal when you’re trying to spike your glucose back up, such as immediately after intense weight training.
Carb Cycling Meal Plan for Weight Loss – 7 Days
Weight loss for you may be much different than for someone else due to age, weight, build, body fat and more. Creating a 7 day plan should be done based on your macros, or the breakdown of your:
If you remain within your calories and macros, you’ll maintain a caloric deficit. Most people recommend maintaining your daily protein level and adjusting carbs for fats. For example, 1 gram of fat has 9 calories and 1 gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories.
Based on these figures, 1 gram of fat equals 2.5 grams of carbs.
So, if you wanted to go from 30g of carbs to 100grams, you would need to reduce your fat intake by 70/2.5 = 28. Taking all of this into account, a 7-day plan may look something like this:
- Monday: 200g of carbs and weight training
- Tuesday: 100g of carbs and cardio training
- Wednesday: Rest, 30g of carbs
- Thursday: 200g of carbs and weight training
- Friday: 100g of carbs and cardio training
- Saturday: Rest, 30g of carbs
- Sunday: Rest, 30g of carbs
7 Days Carb-Cycling Meal Plan
Day 1 – High Carb
- Breakfast: Enjoy a satisfying breakfast with three eggs, two slices of whole wheat toast, and half a large grapefruit for a total of 427 calories, 28g protein, 42g carbohydrates, and 17g fat.
- Snack: Nibble on 6 ounces of 1% cottage cheese paired with a large peach, providing 190 calories, 23g protein, 21g carbohydrates, and 2g fat.
- Lunch: Fuel up with a lunch of 3 ounces of canned tuna, 1 tablespoon of mayo, 10 whole-grain crackers, celery, and a medium apple, totaling 500 calories, 26g protein, 59g carbohydrates, and 20g fat.
- Snack: Enjoy two cups of air-popped popcorn, a small box of seedless raisins, and 1 ounce of chocolate chips for a snack totaling 326 calories, 4g protein, 65g carbohydrates, and 9g fat.
- Dinner: Relish 8 ounces of grilled chicken breast, a cup of cooked brown rice, and steamed broccoli for a dinner totaling 608 calories, 75g protein, 57g carbohydrates, and 10g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 2,052 calories, 156g protein, 243g carbohydrates, and 58g fat.
Day 2 – High-Carb
- Breakfast: Savor a Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie with protein powder, frozen banana, oatmeal, peanut butter, and water/ice, reaching 461 calories, 35g protein, 46g carbohydrates, and 18g fat.
- Snack: Delight in hummus, pita chips, and grapes, combining for 433 calories, 14g protein, 64g carbohydrates, and 16g fat.
- Lunch: Relish a whole wheat wrap with deli turkey, provolone, tomato, and romaine, totaling 461 calories, 35g protein, 44g carbohydrates, and 15g fat.
- Snack: Indulge in Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola for 316 calories, 24g protein, 30g carbohydrates, and 11g fat.
- Dinner: Enjoy baked cod, baked potato, and mixed vegetables for dinner, amounting to 355 calories, 39g protein, 46g carbohydrates, and 2g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 2,026 calories, 147g protein, 230g carbohydrates, and 62g fat.
Day 3 – Low-Carb
- Breakfast: Begin the day with scrambled eggs, avocado, tomato, and grapefruit for 352 calories, 21g protein, 20g carbohydrates, and 22g fat.
- Snack: Snack on salted edamame and sliced carrots, contributing 175 calories, 5g protein, 25g carbohydrates, and 4g fat.
- Lunch: Relish a Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken for lunch, providing 430 calories, 40g protein, 13g carbohydrates, and 25g fat.
- Snack: Opt for whey protein powder mixed with water or coffee, accompanied by a medium banana, resulting in 218 calories, 26g protein, 29g carbohydrates, and 1g fat.
- Dinner: Indulge in baked salmon, sweet potato, and green beans for dinner, totaling 664 calories, 56g protein, 45g carbohydrates, and 29g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 1,900 calories, 147g protein, 155g carbohydrates, and 81g fat.
Day 4 – High-Carb
- Breakfast: Enjoy Healthy Cottage Cheese Waffles with maple syrup, blueberries, and protein powder, for 509 calories, 51g protein, 53g carbohydrates, and 11g fat.
- Snack: Snack on hard-boiled eggs, sliced carrots, and mini pretzel twists, totaling 359 calories, 18g protein, 45g carbohydrates, and 12g fat.
- Lunch: Have lentil soup and sunflower seeds for lunch, providing 452 calories, 25g protein, 45g carbohydrates, and 21g fat.
- Snack: Opt for Greek yogurt with raspberries for a snack, contributing 162 calories, 20g protein, 12g carbohydrates, and 4g fat.
- Dinner: Enjoy a lean ground beef burger, whole wheat bun, ketchup, and corn for dinner, totaling 592 calories, 42g protein, 55g carbohydrates, and 24g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 2,075 calories, 156g protein, 210g carbohydrates, and 72g fat.
Day 5 – High-Carb
- Breakfast: Start the day with scrambled eggs, oatmeal, raisins, and a dash of cinnamon, providing 405 calories, 19g protein, 57g carbohydrates, and 12g fat.
- Snack: Delight in roasted chickpeas, mozzarella cheese, and grapes for a snack totaling 367 calories, 17g protein, 57g carbohydrates, and 9g fat.
- Lunch: Savor a whole wheat pita with grilled chicken, romaine, tomato, and Caesar dressing for lunch, amounting to 513 calories, 41g protein, 40g carbohydrates, and 23g fat.
- Snack: Enjoy an apple with almond butter for a snack, contributing 291 calories, 7g protein, 31g carbohydrates, and 18g fat.
- Dinner: Relish grilled chicken, whole wheat pasta, marinara sauce, and broccoli for dinner, reaching 580 calories, 66g protein, 57g carbohydrates, and 11g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 1,978 calories, 150g protein, 242g carbohydrates, and 73g fat.
Day 6 – Low-Carb
- Breakfast: Enjoy a Quick and Easy Egg McMuffin Style Sandwich for breakfast, totaling 381 calories, 20g protein, 37g carbohydrates, and 18g fat.
- Snack: Snack on cottage cheese, blackberries, and cashews for 300 calories, 26g protein, 17g carbohydrates, and 15g fat.
- Lunch: Relish a salad with grilled chicken, chickpeas, strawberries, walnuts, and dressing, contributing 737 calories, 63g protein, 29g carbohydrates, and 42g fat.
- Snack: Opt for whey protein powder with low-fat milk for a snack, amounting to 215 calories, 33g protein, 14g carbohydrates, and 2g fat.
- Dinner: Enjoy Low Carb Turkey Tetrazzini for dinner, providing 235 calories, 20g protein, 11g carbohydrates, and 13g fat.
- Daily Totals: Reach 1,869 calories, 162g protein, 108g carbohydrates, and 91g fat.
Day 7 – Low-Carb
- Breakfast: Savor a Green Strawberry Smoothie with vanilla protein powder, low-fat milk, frozen strawberries, and frozen spinach, totaling 359 calories, 54g protein, 30g carbohydrates, and 5g fat.
- Snack: Indulge in Greek yogurt
Carb Cycling for Weight Loss Results
How much weight will you lose by carb cycling? It depends on your level of activity and caloric deficit. If you have a deficit of 500 calories per day, you’ll lose one pound per week, four pounds a month and 52 pounds throughout the year.
However, many people that follow carb cycling diets share their results online, with people stating:
- One person on Reddit lost 8 pounds in 3 months
- Another person cycled greatly from 60 – 300grams of carbs, depending on the day, and lost over 12 pounds in a month
- Another person lost 1 to 1.5 pounds a week using carb cycling
What really stands out in all of these accounts is that people were leaner and often cycled to reach their body goals. Some dieters wanted to lose weight for a wedding, while others cycled their carbs for bodybuilding competitions.
You can even cycle on a keto diet and see great results.
Carb Cycling Keto
Keto is a common diet, and it’s one that many people follow. The idea is that you eat larger quantities of fat, low carbs and train your body to switch to fat for fuel. When you opt for this type of diet, your body sheds more fat.
However, if you want to cycle your carbs and follow the keto diet, you can with what’s known as the cyclical ketogenic diet.
What is this diet?
In essence, you’ll eat regular keto at least five days per week and then higher carbs for one or two days per week. These days are considered “refeeding” days, and they’re designed to restore glucose reserves.
Note: On these days, when you eat higher carbohydrates than usual, you’ll be out of ketosis, so you’ll burn less fat during these periods.
Carb Cycling Planner
Do you want to give carb cycling a try for yourself? Download our Printable Meal Planner Template to quickly and easily plan out your carbs.
Carb cycling for weight loss works, but you must be consistent to see results. If you mix cycling in with a rigorous exercise regimen, you’ll have the energy you need on your workout days to push your limits and can limit carb intake on your days off.