The Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

How Carb Cycling Works In carb cycling, your week is..

The Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

How Carb Cycling Works

In carb cycling, your week is divided among three types of days: no carb days, low-carb days and high-carb days.

NO CARB DAYS:

On these, you eat high-fiber vegetables such as leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, onions, peppers and mushrooms freely, along with lean protein and a serving or two of good fats. Refrain from starchy carbs such as potatoes, rice, cereals and oats. These include starchier veggies such as beans, zucchini, squash, and pumpkin. Total carb intake should be less than 25 grams per day – all from fibrous veggies.

LOW CARB DAYS:

Here, the goal is to stay below 75 grams of carbs. Once again, fibrous veggies can be eaten freely, but add in two to three servings of starch from clean sources such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, starchy veggies and fruit. “Clean” carbs are hypoallergenic ones — free of gluten, soy and dairy. For best results, having starchy carbs post-workout on these days is recommended.

HIGH CARB DAYS:

The total amount of carbs will vary based on your size and activity level. Women will consume between 150 and 200 grams while men can get away with up to 300 grams. Most of these should come from clean sources. But if you are going to enjoy a cheat meal, it is advantageous to have it on a high-carb day.

Don’t forget to continue to eat plenty of lean protein and a serving or two of healthy fats. A high-carb day is not an excuse to binge eat; it’s a systematic way to reset muscle-building and fat-burning hormones.

Using these three daily eating protocols, it’s possible to alter the body’s hormonal environment to maximize fat loss and muscle gain throughout the week.

A sample week of carb cycling looks like this:

1st Day : No carb

2nd Day : Low carb

3rd Day : High carb

4th Day : No carb

5th Day : No carb

6th Day : Low carb

7th Day : High carb

Since carb cycling employs high carb days, it’s psychologically satisfying, curbing cravings and making it easier to adhere to the program.

But when we do two or more higher carb days in a row, fat storage momentum can build.

That’s why no-carb days follow high-carb days — it minimizes the potential for fat storage and keeps your body insulin-sensitive.

Insulin? What does that have to do with anything? , you might be asking. As it turns out, quite a bit.

Why Carb Cycling Works

Cycling carbs is more of a hormonal strategy than a caloric one. Varying carb intake influences several hormones that determine body composition. For starters…

Insulin: The fat-storing and muscle-building hormone

When we consume carbs, insulin is released into the bloodstream to help the metabolic machinery shuffle carbs into the liver for use as fuel later, or to muscle cells for storage.

These storage depots for carbs are finite. When they become full, as they do when we eat too many carbs, they are metabolized and stored as fat.

The key to carb consumption, as far as insulin is concerned, is to eat to the point of satiety and having enough fuel for workouts and energy balance, but not consuming so much that we get spillover into fat storage.

Insulin release varies based on type and amount of carb consumed. Carb cycling manipulates insulin to minimize fat storage and maximize muscle synthesis.

Low-carb and no-carb days help us stay sensitive to insulin, and push fat burning. High-carb days maximize muscle growth and replenish carb storage to enhance exercise intensity.

Leptin: A hunger hormone

Produced mostly by the fat cells, leptin is a regulatory hormone for hunger and satiety. It is released in response to “refeeding,” defined as a time of 12 to 24 hours of increased carbohydrate and caloric intake.

Unlike insulin, leptin does not increase significantly as a result of a single meal. Instead, it creeps over a sustained period of increased carbohydrate consumption.

Leptin acts as a feedback mechanism in the hypothalamus to signal satiety. In addition, through secondary hormones, leptin also signals to the body to speed metabolism.

In those who eat a high-carbohydrate, high-calorie diet, leptin remains high.

This can result in leptin resistance, where the hypothalamus is no longer able to “hear” leptin. When this happens, we cannot feel full — a dangerous outcome for those trying to lose weight.

However, very low levels of leptin, which occur on a low calorie and low carbohydrate diet, give the body the opposite message: be hungry, eat, conserve, slow down.

In carb cycling, when leptin begins to recede to the point of drastically increasing hunger and slowing the metabolism, a high-carb day is in place to help reset it. This way, we stay leptin-sensitive.

Serotonin: The sanity hormone

A “feel good” brain chemical, serotonin, boosts mood and is often used in pharmaceuticals to treat depression. Carbs boost serotonin production, so eating carbs boosts mood.

Low serotonin, as would occur as a result of a low-carb diet, is associated with increased cravings for sugar and chocolate.

Many diets fail because low serotonin makes dieters feel depressed. Carb cycling regulates serotonin levels and as a result, curbs cravings. From a psychological perspective, carb cycling as a protocol is easier to sustain than other diets because serotonin never drops off completely.

Cortisol: A catabolic hormone

Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it breaks down molecules to be used as fuel. It can be both beneficial and detrimental, as it doesn’t discriminate between breaking down muscle and fat for fuel. However, there is plenty of research to show that eating protein can help maintain muscle even in a catabolic state.

Eating a meal containing carbohydrates essentially shuts off cortisol production; this is why many bodybuilders will eat a meal containing carbs and protein immediately upon waking. By carb cycling, excess cortisol production (and muscle catabolism) is avoided.

At just about the time that cortisol production begins to become excessively catabolic following no- and low-carb days, a high-carb day is in place to reset this hormone to avoid muscle loss.

Working out Carb Cycling Macros:

Carb cycling works by giving your body the fuel it needs to increase your metabolism and create a calorie deficit to increase fat loss. There are typically three types of days when carb cycling:

  • High Carb
  • Low/moderate Carb
  • No/low Carb Days

Generally, if you do three days the three days are rotated, or cycled, equally, but there are many ways people set up a carb cycle. You can also do low/high or low moderate high.

Example: 

4 low days and then a high, 2 low no carb days and 1 high, 2 low 1 moderate and 1 high, etc. This type of diet should be tweaked, based on the individual’s goals.

Generally the most common carb cycling approach used is where you will place higher carbohydrate days on your heaviest training days and then lower carb days on off/low-intensity training days. Protein is the foundation of a carb cycling diet.

Example:

If you are taking in 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, a 200-pound male should eat at least 40 grams of protein at each and every meal.

Keep dietary fats consistent throughout your plan. You will raise your fats on your low carb days and lower them on high carb days.

To figure out the calorie consumption you will take the number and multiply it times 4 for both protein and carbs and times 9 for fat.

Carbohydrate Cycling Program Macronutrient Recommendations:

Men:

Day Protein Carbohydrates Fat
High Carb 1.25g 2.0g 0.30g
Low Carb/Moderate 1.5g 0.8g 0.35g

** All recommendations shown in grams per pound of bodyweight

Carb Cycling Diet Plan (4 week plan)

We are going to use the figures from the carb cycling section above to work out your macros, we have created a table below with different weights in there if you see yours then great if not use the figures above to work out your macros, it’s really simple and will take 5 mins.

If you have any problems with this send us a tweet or Facebook message.

Here is the list of foods below use these to work out your carb cycling plan and use this website to calculate the nutritional data. Protein/fat/carbs. Click here.

My FitnessPal:

There are many free calorie counting apps out there but the best one we have used is my fitness pal, to edit to your specific goals rather than inserting your targets on to the app, jot them down, and have your calorie target as ZERO, that way, you have a better reading if your targets are macro based, rather than calorie and I find it easier to work out what I have remaining throughout the day this way.

The great part is, it is all broken down for you once logged. Protein, carbs and fats are then split out, along with total calories consumed. All calories burnt through exercise will be added to your daily calorie target to make sure you’re getting the calories needed to reach your goals.

It’s also possible to track your progress via the app by being able to log measurements and weight, which can be entered daily and show you a graph over a period of time with the changes you have achieved. You can even scan the barcodes on foods which will make it even easier for you.

 

 Macro Example

  Low Carb Day Low Carb Macro

split

High Carb Day High Carb Macro split
 

143 (Lbs)

65KG

Protein: 214.5g

Carbs: 114g

Fat: 50g

Calories: 1764

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 27%

Fat: 25%

 

Protein: 178g

Carbs: 286g

Fat: 43g

Calories: 2243

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

165 (Lbs)

75KG

Protein: 247g

Carbs: 132g

Fat: 82.5g

Calories: 2037

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 26%

Fat: 26%

 

Protein: 206g

Carbs: 330g

Fat: 49.5g

Calories: 2589

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

176 (Lbs)

80KG

Protein: 264g

Carbs: 140g

Fat: 61g

Calories: 2173

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 26%

Fat: 26%

 

Protein: 220g

Carbs: 352g

Fat: 52g

Calories: 2763

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

187 (Lbs)

85KG

Protein: 280g

Carbs: 149g

Fat: 65g

Calories: 2305

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 27%

Fat: 25%

 

Protein: 233g

Carbs: 374g

Fat: 56g

Calories: 2932

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

198 (Lbs)

90KG

Protein: 297g

Carbs: 158g

Fat: 69g

Calories: 2441

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 27%

Fat: 25%

 

Protein: 247g

Carbs: 396g

Fat: 59g

Calories: 3106

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

209 (Lbs)

95KG

Protein: 313g

Carbs: 167g

Fat: 73g

Calories: 2578

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 27%

Fat: 25%

 

Protein: 261g

Carbs: 418g

Fat: 62g

Calories: 3280

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

 

231 (Lbs)

105KG

Protein: 346g

Carbs: 184g

Fat: 80g

Calories: 2840

Protein: 48%

Carbs: 27%

Fat: 25%

 

Protein: 288g

Carbs: 462g

Fat: 80g

Calories: 3720

Protein: 32%

Carbs: 51%

Fat: 17%

 

Carb Cycling plan (4 week plan)

You will be following this routine:

Monday: Low Carb

Tuesday: Low Carb

Wednesday: Low Carb

Thursday: High Carb (Make sure this is a training day)

Friday: Low Carb

Saturday: Low Carb

Sunday: Low Carb

Note: If you are hungry try hydrating if it persists then add a 50-100 calorie snack fresh fruit etc.

85kg – Typical Low Carb Day (Rest/Cardio/Workout day):

 

Time Meal Macros Example meal
07:30-0800 Protein: 51.7g

Fat: 16.5g

Carb: 4.6g

Egg whites (8ozs)

Whey (1 Scoop)

Flax seeds (1 tbs)

12:00-13:00 Protein: 67g

Fat: 7g

Carb: 46g

Chicken Breast (7 ozs or 200g)

Frozen mixed veg (200g)

Sweet Potatoes (100g)

16:00-17:00 Protein: 51.7g

Fat: 15g

Carb: 70g

Large lean steak, spinach,

Broccoli, beetroot,

(100g) Quinoa.

20:00 Protein: 67g

Fat: 7g

Carb: 26g

Chicken Breast (7 ozs or 200g)

Frozen mixed veg (200g)

22:00 Protein: 53.8g

Fat: 14g

Carb: 11g

1 tbsp peanut butter

Whey (2 scoop)

85kg – High Carb Day (Cardio/Workout Day):

Time Meal Macros Example meal
07:30-0800 Protein: 51.7g

Fat: 16.5g

Carb: 70g

Egg whites (8ozs)

Whey (1 Scoop)

Flax seeds (1 tbs)

Instant Oats (100g)

12:00-13:00 Protein: 70g

Fat: 7g

Carb: 174g

Chicken Breast (7ozs or 200g)

Quinoa (250g)

16:00-17:00 Protein: 51.7g

Fat: 15g

Carb: 50g

Large lean steak, spinach,

Broccoli, beetroot.

Brown Rice (200g)

20:00 Protein: 33.8g

Fat: 3.6g

Carb: 50g

Chicken Breast (3.5ozs or 100g)

Brown Rice (200g)

22:00 Protein: 53.8g

Fat: 14g

Carb: 11g

1 tbsp peanut butter

Whey (2 scoop)

Nutrition plan Banner1


Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT
Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

We eat clean, are always motivated and helpout beginners in need. We sell guides on Cutting, Bulking and Muscle Building. Checkout our website!

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