Carb cycling for fat loss has become a popular new diet method in the fitness industry over the past 3 or 4 years. Carb cycling consists of planning on having specific days (usually your heavy workout days) when you consume higher amounts of carbohydrates while mixing in days when you consume lower amounts of carbohydrates in order to drop body fat without suffering consequences that usually come with low carbohydrate diets such as; deprivation, fatigue, cravings and a slowed metabolism. Because there are days when somewhat high levels of carbs can be mixed in, it seems to be easier and more sustainable or enjoyable for some folks. It can be ideal for those who want to maintain their performance in the gym and avoid a fat loss plateau. Regardless, it will take more mental effort (time) meal planning, (time) and food tracking (time) on your part in order to reap the benefits. For those that want to learn more about this style of feeding the lean, so to speak, I have outlined the basics of 2 options below.

Just note there a few things that you should know ahead of time if you wish to try carb cycling.

  1. The high carb days should be on your heavy workout days where you do a lot of volume of work such as a leg day or full body workout or a day when you do both weight training and cardio training. This is simply because you want to fuel your body so that you can perform during your workouts and aid in recovery and carbs are essential for this and put to good use (less likely to be stored as body fat) on these high volume days.
  2. You might feel puffier on the high carb days because of some extra water weight that comes with eating more carbs. Approximately, for every gram of carbohydrates you take in you can store up to four grams of water. This is why people drop water weight quickly when they dramatically cut their carb intake. If you are fairly lean already and/or this would bother you psychologically, you might not want to try carb cycling.  
  3. This involves a great deal of time and mental effort in the form of planning and tracking your meals. It is not necessary for fat loss, however, it can be beneficial and a great learning experience for someone who enjoys being able to perform at the gym but has reached a fat loss plateau.  
  4. If you don’t already know what your caloric “maintenance level” is currently, you may need to track your food intake using a food journal for a few days before you try carb cycling. Make sure that you track at least 3 weekdays and 1 weekend day to get a more accurate picture of your weekly total caloric intake and then you can figure out how you have been maintaining your current weight by getting an idea of what your average daily intake of calories has been. 

Option One- Basic Carb Cycling: High and Low Days

Set your protein at 1g per pound of bodyweight, and set your fat anywhere between .25-.45g per pound (fat intake should be lower on workout days you have higher carbs, and higher on days when you have lower carbs). On training days, set your carbs at 1.25-1.5g per pound of bodyweight. On rest days, set your carbs at .5g per pound and increase fat by .10g/pound.

Ex: 130-pound woman with a maintenance level of 1,700 calories, you get the following.

  • Training Days: 130g Protein, 195g Carbs, 58.5g Fat ( 1826 calories)
  • Rest Days: 130 Protein, 65g Carbs, 71.5 Fat (1590 calories)

Option 2- Three Day Carb Cycling: High, Medium, and Low Days

This is more for the advanced person, who’s already fit or trains more than 4 days per week. It’s also useful for growing muscle, because there is at least one day with calories above maintenance level.

Pick one “high carb” day to throw in some more carbs if you train moderately to heavy up to 4 times per week. Choose two “high carb” days if you train moderately to heavy 5 or more times per week.

Let’s use the same example from above with the 1,700 calorie maintenance level shooting for fat loss. The calculations for low and medium days are the same as above. For the high days, keep fat low at .35g per pound, and simply increase carbs to 2g per pound of bodyweight. The new calculations look like this:

  • Low Days: 130g Protein, 65g Carbs, 58.5g Fat (1,590 calories)
  • Medium Days: 130g Protein, 195g Carbs, 65g Fat (1,826 calories)
  • High Days: 130g Protein, 260g Carbs, 45.5g Fat (1,969 calories)

If you decide to try carb cycling I would love to hear how you do with it. Be sure to drop me an email and tell me about your experience. If I can answer any questions or be of any help, please know that you can email me at any time.