Carb Cycling 101

I get asked about Carb Cycling all the time, and it’s one of my favourite nutritional strategies for creating Fat Loss. But, it sounds a whole lot sexier than it actually is. Should you use Carb Cycling for Weight Loss? Read on to find out…

What is Carb Cycling ?

Carb-Cycling is a really useful strategy for structuring your diet to suit your lifestyle, while working toward your goal. Carb Cycling involves raising or lowering your Carb intake across the week, to create a calorie deficit or surplus. It can be useful for losing fat, or gaining muscle.bnW1TuTV2YGcoh1HyWNQ_IMG_0207

Starting Out

As a gentle intro to Fat-Loss dieting, you could try lowering your carb intake on just 1 day a week. It helps massively with adherence, while also teaching you how to actually manipulate and mange carb source foods. Win-win.

Plus, you know the end is in sight, the next day you can return to your maintenance diet.

From here, once you’re comfortable with manipulating Carb intake, you can bump it up to 2-3 days.

The Maintenance Diet

The days that don’t have an adjusted intake are back at calorie maintenance, meaning you’re eating a diet that’s gonna add plenty of nutrient to your body, help you recover (physically & mentally), and help you develop control over your food intake. Maintenance days are not an excuse for a massacre.

Establishing your maintenance dietary intake is actually one of the most useful things you could ever do as far as dieting goes. If you know what nutrient intake your body needs to stay where it is now, it makes it very easy to manipulate your diet to create a positive change.

Track your food & nutrient intake for 7-10 days (yes, really), while tracking your weight & measurements. If everything is consistent, it’s a good bet that you’re at calorie maintenance. If your weight (and other measurements) is slowly dropping, your current diet may have you in a calorie deficit.

photo-1449339854873-750e6913301bStructuring the Carb Cycle

Another advantage to cycling your food intake is that you can lower your Carb intake on whatever day suits you! There is no perfect day of the week, it always comes back to the days that will be help you become more consistent.

If you were ever planning a low-carb day, and then you get caught off-guard with a surprise dinner/night-out; no harm, just do it another day.

You could adjust your intake to suit activity levels too. If you’re more active on certain days of the week, you could include a little extra Carbohydrate to support your body. OR, you could even do the opposite bump up your intake on Rest days, because your body needs carbohydrate to recover.

There’s a strategy to suit everyone. This is how a sample Carb Cycling week may look.

  Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
Carb Intake
Training X X O O X X O

The days you choose to go low/train are completely flexible, and specific to you.

How Much Carb Will I Remove?

Calculate your Maintenance Calorie & Macronutrient requirements as a first step. There’s a complete run through in my Flexible Dieting Guide

Using a 70Kg person, with low-to-moderate activity levels., these would be Maintenance Calorie & Macronutrient intake. Which means that consuming this balance of nutrients should leave their body where it is.

  • Calories: 2000kcal
  • Protein: 169g
  • Carb: 181g
  • Fat: 67gphoto-1444952483853-7c36e902e722

Apply a 10-25% calorie deficit to the total calorie intake. With a bigger deficit, side-effects can be more severe, and the diet itself can be much harder to adhere to. Respect your body, and your experience level; if you find a 20% deficit difficult to manage, simply drop back to a 10/15% deficit.

Let’s assume we’re using a 20% deficit on Low Days, meaning we need to reduce total Calorie intake by 20%.

2000 x 20% = 400Kcal

From here, we need to figure out how many grams of Carb make up 400kcal. There are 4Kcal in 1g of Carb.

400Kcal ÷ 4 (Kcal per gram) = 100g

100g of Carbohydrate needs to be removed on Low Carb Days. The recommended nutrient intake on Low Days would be;

  • Calories: 1600Kcal
  • Protein: 169g
  • Carb: 81g
  • Fat: 67g

Again, I have to emphasise that you don’t need to jump straight in with a 20% deficit x3 time per week. If you want to start out with a 10% deficit, once a week; you’re still making progress. Successful dieting is about long-term gains, not short term gratification.


photo-1441633980922-d18ca151ee64I Want to Use Carb Cycling to Gain Muscle!

If you’re looking to gain Lean Mass using this approach, rather than taking 20% away from your maintenance intake, you do the opposite.

Add a 10-20% surplus on top of your maintenance calorie intake. All of the steps are the exact same; except we add the required grams of Carb, instead of removing them.

As applied ot the example above, the new Macronutrient intake would be;

  • Calories: 1600Kcal
  • Protein: 169g
  • Carb: 281g
  • Fat: 67g

How Does Carb Cycling Work?

 Just one little caveat with the information above; it’s not the carbohydrate that causes an effect on fat loss directly; it’s the calorie content that carbohydrate provides.

Carb cycling should really be called; ‘Calorie cycling through manipulation of Carbohydrate’, but Carb cycling sounds much sexier right?photo-1424847651672-bf20a4b0982b

It’s just as effective cycling calories by manipulating Fat intake, you can wave whichever one suits you best. Carb dense foods just tend to be a little easier to manipulate.

In a nutshell,  the biggest benefit of Carb cycling, is that it may suit your lifestyle really well. The easier a dietary strategy is to do, the more consistent we can be. When we introduce more consistency, we see better results.

Rather than focusing on how we should change our lifestyle to stick to a certain diet;  we should focus on how we can change the diet to fit in with our lifestyle (whether it’s Carb cycling or any other strategy).

If you’re looking for a little more info on how Carbs affect weight loss, skim through my Blog post here

Other Nutrients

Protein intake should stay consistent across the entire week, no matter what the dietary approach. Our bodies need Protein for so many reasons, and it’s one of the most important nutrients for successful long-term dieting. If you’re looking for more info on whether you’re eating enough, check out my free guide here

Fat intake should also stay consistent while cycling Carbohydrate. If Fat Loss is the goal, you need to create a calorie deficit. Expending more energy than we consume is what creates the fat loss effect. If we increase Fat intake while decrease carbohydrate, we’re not creating a calorie deficit, we’re just shifting our energy sources around.

On the other side, fat intake ideally wouldn’t drop either. Fat provide plenty of vitamins & essential nutrients, plus it tastes good. We need it in our diet balanced with everything else.

photo-1441122365457-1ae2aba6235cAdvanced Carb Cycling

‘Advanced’ Carb Cycling is the exact same in principle, but with a larger Calorie Deficit applied to the diet.

Rather than switching between Low-Maintenance, a dieter could switch between Low-Lower-Maintenance. The Lower day simply uses a bigger Calorie deficit applied to Carb intake.

I would only recommend using a more Advanced Strategy after getting plenty of practice with a simpler diet. Advanced and complicated method do not lead to better results; consistency does. Do what suits your lifestyle.


Are There Any Side-Effects?

Carbohydrate is our main fuel source in High Intensity activities (Weight Training, Sprinting, Running, HIIT etc). When we drop Carbohydrate in our Diet, it can affect performance in these activities. So if you have a 10Km race coming up at the weekend, or if you’re entering a Powerlifting competition; it’s probably best to give the Low Carb days a miss.

Carbohydrate affects all of us very differently; some of us thrive without large amounts, and others are ready to punch anyone who looks at them funny. Mood-disturbance can be common. You may feel grumpy, or irritable if you’re not used to being strict with your Carb intake, but generally after 3-4 attempts at Low Carb days, your body will adapt.

Varying Carb intake can also significantly affect Water weight…….

My Weight is like a Yo-Yo! Help!

Another word of warning with manipulating Carb

When Carbohydrate is stored in the muscle & liver, it gets stored along with 3-4g of water. This isn’t a bad thing, and it can actually help us look leaner. But, you will notice that across the week your weight may vary day-to-day. Differences should only be anything up to 2Kg, which is very common for anyone who depletes Carb stores.

If Weight Loss (and specifically Fat Loss) is the goal, we are looking for changes in weight over weeks and months; not day-to-day. If there’s one thing I can guarantee with this dietary strategy, it’s that you will see your weight jump up and down across the week; but it’s important you know it’s not necessarily Fat Mass :)

Final Comments

Carb cycling isn’t a magic dieting strategy that will automatically provide results; BUT, it does help us fit a Fat Loss diet in with our lifestyle. Any diet that helps you become more consistent will create results; and that’s really where the magic is.

The success of any Fat Loss diet always comes back to total calorie intake, and total nutrient intake. The timing end of nutrition mostly helps us put a calorie deficit in place.

Hopefully I’ve revealed the smoke & mirrors behind Carb Cycling, but if you do have any other questions, I’d love to hear from you! Shoot me an email at , or leave a comment on Facebook

Happy cycling!