What Is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a process in which you reduce the carb intake that has been fueling your weight gain and then slowly increase it again after a few weeks. Carb cycling can help with weight loss by reducing carbs for days or even weeks, and you’ll experience fewer cravings and less hunger, as well as a jump-star in fat loss if done correctly.


Perhaps you’ve heard that your metabolism is similar to fire: if you feed “the fire” the correct foods, it will continue to burn hotter. But, on the other side, if you don’t add enough fuel for a long time, the fire will weaken and eventually go out.

Carb cycling, or eating more carbohydrates on certain days of the week, is said to be one of the greatest diet plans for losing weight quickly and gaining muscle because it activates various digestive and metabolic activities that help with weight management. When you consume enough carbs at the proper moment, your body’s “metabolic thermostat” is reset, alerting your body to produce enough beneficial chemicals (such as leptin and thyroid hormones) to keep your hunger under control and your metabolism high. However, as we all know, eating too many carbohydrates may lead to weight gain.

What distinguishes a carb cycling diet from other weight-loss plans? Carb cycling involves increasing carbohydrate (and sometimes calorie) consumption properly and in the right proportions. While other long-term diet programs may seem too restricted, difficult, and stressful, many people find that a carb cycling diet is simple to follow and fits into even the busiest of schedules.

What Is Carb Cycling and How Does It Work?

Carb cycling is a diet plan that includes eating more carbohydrates on some days of the week and reducing carbs extremely low on other days to lose weight more quickly.

To put it another way, following a carb cycling diet plan entails eating enough quantities of carbohydrates (preferably unprocessed and nutrient-dense carbs) every other day or every few days, depending on your personal objectives. Depending on one’s objectives, it’s also feasible to vary carb consumption weekly or monthly.

For decades, bodybuilders, fitness models, and some sorts of sports have followed carb cycling diets. So what is it about carbohydrates that makes them so special? First, carbohydrates are the body’s initial fuel source since they can readily be converted into glucose and glycogen, which feed your cells and aid in producing ATP (energy).

Your metabolism rises and falls in response to the calories and macronutrients you consume, including carbs. Furthermore, appropriate carbohydrate consumption has been shown to boost performance in several trials in lengthy, low-intensity, and brief, high-intensity activities. Carbohydrates in the appropriate proportions may also help you regulate your appetite, promote fullness, and avoid long-term feelings of deprivation.

Although each carb cycling diet plan is unique and must be tailored depending on whether the main aim is weight reduction or muscle growth, most carb cycling diets include one to three days per week when you may eat more carb-heavy items (like potatoes or grains).

What do you consume when you’re not trying to increase your carb intake? Non-starchy vegetables, grass-fed meats, eggs, and healthy fats form the foundation of your meals on low-carb days.

Some carb cycling diet regimens include a “cheat day” when you may indulge in some rich meals guilt-free to reward yourself for your dedication.

Is Carb Cycling Good for Women?

Women with hormonal imbalances, thyroid diseases, persons who are already underweight, and certain highly athletic people may not be a good match for very low-carb diets, particularly when followed for a prolonged length of time.

Given that women’s hormones are more susceptible to most dietary and lifestyle changes, some wonder if it’s a good idea for women to adopt low-carb diets, including the keto diet. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis, which reacts to stress, including calorie/carb restriction, is sensitive to this.

Low-carb diets and carb cycling, on the other hand, have been shown to assist women, particularly those in perimenopause or menopause, losing weight, improving blood sugar management, sleeping better, and minimizing menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats when done correctly.

Carb cycling may assist women by preventing hormonal disorders linked to low leptin levels and low-calorie consumption, such as reduced estrogen production and thyroid difficulties like hypothyroidism. In addition, according to certain research, cyclical eating may also assist women in avoiding long-term declines in resting energy expenditure.

Working toward a diet that incorporates eating low carb (perhaps while also undergoing intermittent fasting) on 2–3 nonconsecutive days per week (e.g., Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) is one recommendation for women. To avoid feeling weary or hungry on low-carb and fasting days, limit yourself to gentle exercise or yoga, saving higher-intensity activities for non-fasting days. Because the objective isn’t to eat “exactly” all of the time, this method allows for greater dietary and lifestyle “moderation.”

Focusing on alkalizing, nutrient-dense meals like avocado, dark leafy greens, other non-starchy vegetables, fermented foods, clean protein sources, and so on may help women enhance their carb cycling outcomes. An alkaline diet consists of entire foods that reduce acidity and positively influence blood and urine pH levels. Weight reduction, detoxification, heart health, stronger bones, lower inflammation, and vitamin inadequacies are all advantages of a low-carb alkaline diet for women.

Carb Cycling for Keto: Is It Possible?

  • As some people refer to it, the keto diet is an extremely low-carb or “no-carb” diet. This is because people who follow a keto diet plan start burning fat instead of energy carbs. This occurs when a person enters nutritional ketosis, a metabolic condition in which the body creates ketone bodies as an alternative energy source.
  • Most keto diets limit net carbohydrates to 30 to 50 grams per day or fewer. This is beneficial for lowering appetite, eliminating bad carbs, slimming down, and even lessening symptoms of numerous inflammatory disorders (like cancer and diabetes). In addition, according to several research, athletes who follow a ketogenic diet see an increase in energy and performance.
  • If you find it difficult to keep to a very low-carb diet every day, particularly for months at a time, a carb-cycling diet, also known as a cyclical ketogenic diet, may be a better option. To assist alleviate negative effects, a cyclical ketogenic diet boosts carbohydrate consumption (and perhaps calories in general) roughly 1–2 times each week (such as on weekends).
  • Is it feasible to remain in ketosis when carb cycling? Following a cyclical plan will cause you to go in and out of ketosis, which isn’t always negative. Since it enhances eating flexibility, it has metabolic advantages and may be psychologically satisfying.
  • When following a cyclical keto diet, some experts recommend monitoring your urine ketone levels (using ketone strips) and aiming for positive ketones three times per week.

Low-Carb vs. Keto vs. Carb Cycling

  • Getting fewer than 30% of daily calories from carbohydrate food sources (about 130 g/day) is considered a carbohydrate-restrictive diet.
  • Is it best to eat low carb or carb cycles? Again, it boils down to personal taste since both may be useful.
  • Keeping carbohydrates in your diet sometimes may help balance the negative effects of a low-carb diet, while it’s conceivable that this will also slow down weight reduction. The keto diet may be your best choice if you’re searching for quick benefits in terms of weight loss, inflammation reduction, and more. On the other hand, a cyclical diet is a good choice if you’re looking for a low-carb diet that you can stick to for a long time.
  • In the 1990s, high-protein, low-carb diets (such as the Atkins diet) were more popular due to their reputation for facilitating quick weight reduction. While low-carb diets are normally efficient in promoting fat loss, the largest downside is that they may be difficult to maintain for some people, meaning that weight loss may return as soon as they return to their former eating habits. In addition, some low-carb diets might create digestive issues, particularly if the plan does not place a strong emphasis on eating a nutritious diet with enough high-fiber foods.
  • One potential benefit of a carb cycling diet over low-carb or ketogenic diets is that “going extremely low carb” may cause weariness and irritability in some individuals, a side effect dubbed “the carb flu.” However, this is frequently the case when carbohydrate intake is reduced to less than 5% to 10% of total calories.

Health Advantages

Why would someone opt for a carb cycle rather than just dieting the traditional way? The following are some of the benefits of a carb cycling diet:

  • Avoiding muscle wasting and retaining muscular mass
  • Assisting with muscle recovery after workouts
  • Accelerating weight reduction or lowering body fat
  • Increasing leptin levels to avoid a drop in metabolic rate; one research found that a three-day carbohydrate overfeeding strategy increased leptin and 24-hour energy expenditure, whereas a three-day fat overfeeding plan did not.
  • Includes adaptability and a wide range of nutritious meals
  • Enabling you to continue eating your favorite foods as part of your diet
  • Providing you with greater energy
  • Avoiding acute hunger or exhaustion
  • Assisting in the prevention of hormonal abnormalities

Here are some of the most important advantages of adopting a carb cycling diet:

1. Assists in the development and maintenance of lean muscle mass

Resistance training and other kinds of resistance exercise tear down muscle tissue, only to rebuild it stronger. It takes a lot of energy to create and repair muscle tissue, and your body needs part of its major food source (carbs) to do it. The post-workout anabolic window is what it’s called.

Insulin controls the entrance of amino acids and glucose into muscle cells after a high-carbohydrate meal, which has anabolic effects. Carbs assist in replenishing energy and feed muscles with glucose for rebuilding or glycogen to be stored for future energy, according to data from a 2013 research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. However, when dietary carbohydrate intake is limited, ketones may be used as a fuel source, which may be beneficial to certain athletes – which is why cycling is so popular.

You may “starve” your muscles of the nourishment they need to develop larger and stronger if you don’t take enough calories and carbs after resistance exercise. As a result, many individuals who are trying to gain muscle prefer to have higher carb days following intense exercises. According to several research, eating at least modest levels of carbohydrates may aid with physical performance in the long run.

Simply limiting calories and increasing exercise might tax your metabolism and sometimes have the opposite impact of what you want, leaving you weaker, exhausted, and unable to eat as many calories without gaining weight. Changing days of higher vs. lower carb consumption, particularly when scheduled around exercises, is advantageous for reducing body fat percentage while maintaining muscle mass. Preserve in mind that you want to keep as much muscle mass as possible since this is what keeps you burning calories at a healthy pace even as you get older.

2. May assist in preventing the slowing of your metabolic rate

The resting metabolic rate of 74 people who followed a “calorie shifting diet” (in which carbohydrates rose and decreased) for six weeks tended to stay the same. However, they also had lower levels of plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and triacylglycerol. In addition, those who followed the calorie-shifting plan had less hunger and greater pleasure than those who followed the “traditional calorie restriction diet.”

3. Assists in maintaining a healthy weight

Is carb cycling a healthy way to lose weight? It most definitely is. One of the most important advantages of a carb cycling diet is that it promotes and, in some cases, accelerates weight reduction while retaining and even increasing lean muscle mass. This is the gold standard for optimizing body composition since it keeps your metabolism functioning smoothly and helps you to maintain your weight more readily over time.

When you’re in a “carb deficit,” which means you’re eating fewer carbohydrates than your body requires, you’ll lose weight because your body will start using stored fat for energy. Many individuals find that cutting carbohydrates to a very low level and following regimens like the ketogenic diet or Atkins may help them improve their health and attain a healthy weight. However, it is difficult to maintain for others and, when followed long-term, might actually slow down the metabolism due to hormonal changes.

Carb cycling for weight reduction may be helpful in the short term (providing you immediate results and energy) as well as the long term (preventing weight return and lost desire).

4. Inspires you to consume more plant-based foods

Carbohydrates are the most common kind of macronutrient present in most plant foods, while the amount of carbohydrates found in each type varies. Therefore, whole meals with more carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, beans/legumes, and fruit, are often recommended on higher carb days.

Some of the world’s healthiest foods, including leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, artichokes, asparagus, sea vegetables, herbs, and spices, are really low in carbs and acceptable for both high-carb and low-carb days.

These meals also include a lot of dietary fiber and antioxidants, which is a plus. Fiber offers several advantages, including assisting in the feeling of fullness and satisfaction, while antioxidants combat free radical damage and reduce the aging process. A healthy carb cycle diet plan teaches you how to include important nutrients into your meals in ways you appreciate.

5. Aids in the long-term maintenance of a healthy diet

While various diet regimens that limit total calories may help you lose weight, many people find that carb cycling works better and leaves them feeling less deprived.

Because grains, fruit, and legumes are included at least one to three times per week (often with a “cheat meal”), a carb cycling diet offers more flexibility than other diets, which may motivate individuals to remain with it.

6. Hormonal Fluctuations and Blood Sugar Swings Can Be Helped

According to a lot of data, a low-carb diet, which is a useful strategy for individuals with type 2 diabetes, may be part of a natural diabetes treatment plan. In certain studies, eating a low-carbohydrate diet has been proven to help improve blood glucose levels more than low-fat diets and help manage blood lipids BMI and reduce insulin dosages in diabetic patients.

Lower-carb diets may help decrease the risk of diabetes complications and associated risk factors, including obesity and heart disease, by reducing overeating, particularly empty calories and junk foods.

Why can reducing carbohydrate intake on some days enhance blood sugar and hormone levels? Low-carbohydrate diets help manage blood pressure, postprandial glycemia, and insulin production, as well as dyslipidemia, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Increasing carbohydrate consumption and calorie intake, in general, may help to prevent the decline of other important hormones, including thyroid hormone, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones are necessary for maintaining your metabolic rate and a variety of other tasks. In addition, dieting/calorie restriction has been demonstrated to reduce the production of certain hormones in some persons more than others, indicating that some people are more vulnerable to diet-induced hormonal alterations due to variables such as heredity.

How to Cycle Carbs

So, now that you know why you should attempt a carb cycle diet, how do you go about doing it?

You alternate lower-carb days with higher-carb days due to the variance in your carb consumption throughout the week. Remember that eating more carbohydrates and calories boosts your metabolism, but eating fewer carbs and calories slow it down. Cutting carbohydrates and calories on certain days, on the other hand, is what allows for weight reduction.

Many individuals choose to include precise meal timing in their carb cycling diet regimens. Some people prefer to eat more often (four to six times per day) since it makes it easier to keep to their diet programs and may provide metabolic benefits. Others choose to include features of intermittent fasting, such as simply eating twice a day (skipping breakfast totally) to achieve faster results.

Carb Cycling Routine

Here’s an example of a common carb cycling diet meal plan, with an opportunity for customization:

  • Monday is a carb-heavy day.
  • Tuesday is a low-carb day.
  • Wednesday is a carb-heavy day.
  • Thursday is a no-carb day.
  • Friday is a low-carb day.
  • Saturday is a higher-carb day/optional reward day where you may eat anything you want “off-plan.”
  • Sunday is a low-carb day.

*Think about increasing carb consumption on training/exercise days and decreasing carb intake on rest days.

A weekly “re-feed” day, or a deliberate increase in calorie intake that lasts roughly 8–12 hours, is another technique to carb-cycle. A significant increase in carbohydrate intake frequently marks Re-feed days. They’re usually done once a week and occasionally just once or twice a month.

Meal Plan for Carb Cycling

  • On high-carb days, how many carbohydrates and calories should you strive for? This is determined by your body type, gender, age, amount of exercise, and objectives. During the week, women generally consume between 1,500 and 2,300 calories, while males consume between 1,500 and 3,000 calories. If you’re somewhat active, try not to consume fewer than 1,500 calories each day. This might cause a significant metabolic slowdown, leaving you feeling ravenous and lethargic.
  • Your carb cycling outcomes will be determined by how frequently you “cheat” and how many calories you consume regularly. For example, Carb cycling may be easier to maintain if you just add or subtract 400—600 calories between high-carb and low-carb days.
  • On higher-carb days, 200—300 grams of carbs may be consumed, whereas, on lower-carb days, 75—150 grams may be consumed (sometimes even as little as 50). Men who are larger and more active need more calories and carbohydrates than smaller women.
  • According to research on the impact of diet on body composition changes, your protein consumption in grams should be around the same on both days, but your fat intake will likely rise or decrease. When you eat many carbs, fat may only account for 15% to 25% of your total calories.
  • How do you figure out your macros while carb cycling? A gram of protein and a gram of carbs each have around 4 calories in them, but a gram of fat has about 9. So to calculate how much carbohydrates you need, multiply the total amount of calories you want to consume by 4 to obtain the number of grams of carbs you should consume each day.
  • Always eat breakfast, including some protein and fiber, to satisfy you.
  • No matter what sort of carb day it is, eat a lot of high-volume, nutrient-dense meals. Fill up on satisfying, healthful meals such as leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil.
  • Drinking calories is not a good idea, particularly if you want to lose weight. Instead, drink a lot of plain water, herbal tea, unsweetened coffee, and other similar beverages.

Suggestions for Perseverance

  • Don’t take on more changes than you can manage at first. For example, once you’ve become used to cycling, you may want to try fasting once you’re more comfortable with the nutritional modifications you’re making.
  • Strength training should be included in your workout program to maintain muscle mass and increase your body’s capacity to utilize carbohydrates and calories. Every week, practice aerobic and strength exercise balance since both provide significant health benefits.
  • Consider taking these vitamins to keep your metabolism running smoothly and improve your digestive health. Omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation, probiotics to boost gut health, magnesium to aid recovery after workouts, adaptogen herbs to assist your body cope with stress, and a high-quality multivitamin to ensure you fulfill your nutritional requirements are all recommended.
  • Get adequate sleep and keep a handle on your everyday stress. Overeating, hormone imbalances, weight gain, and even impaired immunological function may all be linked to a lack of sleep or excessive levels of emotional stress.

Low-Carb/No-Carb, High-Protein Foods vs. High-Carb/No-Carb, High-Protein Foods

  • Sweet potatoes; ancient grains (preferably sprouted) such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and brown rice; whole fruits; beans and legumes; and natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, are the best higher-carb items to include in your meals.
  • Processed high-carb foods, such as those made with white flour or wheat flour products, added table sugar, conventional dairy, bread, and other processed grains like pasta, sweetened snacks like cookies and cakes, most boxed cereals, sweetened drinks, ice cream, and pizza, are best avoided because they’re loaded with junk, very high in calories, and essentially devoid of nutrients.
  • Vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, sea veggies, peppers, and other low-carbohydrate foods include mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, sea veggies, peppers, and other low-carbohydrate foods.
  • Grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, cage-free eggs, protein powder produced from bone broth, wild-caught fish, organ meats, and raw dairy products, such as raw goat cheese, are all high-protein, low-carb or no-carb options.
  • Olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, palm oil, nuts and seeds are examples of healthy fats that are also low-carb or no-carb.

Risks and Consequences

Expect your body (cravings, energy, fluid levels, etc.) to change if a carb cycling meal plan is drastically different from what you’re used to. When you start carb cycling, you may notice some of the following side effects, but don’t panic; most people believe them to be “normal” and will pass in one to two weeks:

  • I’m feeling a little more fatigued than normal.
  • At times, I need carbohydrates.
  • Water retention causes constipation or bloating (especially after higher carb days)
  • During exercises, you feel weaker
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Being unpleasant or moody

Carb cycling may not be a suitable match for you if these adverse effects linger more than one or two weeks. Everyone is different when it comes to how people respond to various eating programs. When following a low-carb diet, a person’s age, gender, amount of exercise, BMI, and genetic disposition all impact how they feel. Instead of blindly accepting someone else’s advice, always listen to your body and apply your best judgment.

Last Thoughts

  • What is carb cycling, and how does it work? Carb cycling is a diet in which lower-carb days are alternated with higher-carb days. Many carb cycling meal plans include increasing calorie consumption on higher-carb days and lowering calorie intake on lower-carb days (in other words, intermittent fasting may be involved).
  • Building or maintaining lean muscle mass, boosting exercise performance, promoting weight or fat reduction, giving you more energy, and averting weight loss plateaus owing to a slower metabolism are all advantages of carb cycling.
  • Is it best to eat low carb or carb cycles? This is dependent on your own preferences and way of living. Carb cycling may help you grow muscle, improve your physical performance, reduce low-carb side effects, and give you additional meal options, all of which make healthy eating seem more sustainable in the long run.
  • To get the most out of carb cycling, concentrate on eating a balanced diet first and foremost, eliminating unnecessary calories and packaged foods, and limiting your carbohydrate consumption to 75—150 grams of carbohydrates or fewer on three to four days each week.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does carb cycling help lose weight?

A: Carb cycling is a diet that divides the day into high-carb and low-carb days, where carbohydrates are eaten on high-carb days and fats are consumed on low-carb days. This way, it can be easier to maintain weight without constantly restricting or bingeing.

How long does carb cycling take to lose weight?

A: It is difficult to say how long it will take. However, you should be able to see a result within a month or two of carb cycling.

How long should your carb cycle be?

A: Your carb cycling should last anywhere from 12-24 weeks. There is a lot of variation based on your body weight, so you would need to find the appropriate amount for yourself with trial and error.

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