How Many Carbs Should I Eat While Carb Cycling
To determine just how many carbs you should eat on your highest day on the plan, start with 1-1.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Begin using 1.5 grams and adjust according to your results.
Some tweaking will probably be necessary, as some of us are a bit more “carb sensitive” than others. Activity level, training intensity, age, and even sex, will determine how many carbs you need, but as a general rule a maximum of 200 grams of carbs per day is a good place to start.
May Support Your Keto Diet Goals
Carb cycling involves moving between periods where you eat high amounts of carbs and low amounts of carbs. A given cycle could last anywhere from one week to one year.
Carb cycling is popular among athletes and those following a low-carbohydrate diet. People motivated to try carb cycling are usually looking to boost athletic performance, improve body composition, or breakthrough a weight loss plateau.
The cyclical keto diet is one form of carb cycling, where keto dieters eat high amounts of carbs for 1-2 days per week. For more information on whether the CKD might be right for you, check out this comprehensive guide on the cyclical keto diet and how to follow it.
Your Complete Carb Cycling Meal Plan
The potential weight gain effects and blood sugar/insulin problems associated with a high intake of simple carbohydrates has popularized low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, Atkins diet, and South Beach diet.
Although making the switch to a low-carb diet can be really difficult at first, particularly if you are accustomed to eating a lot of starchy foods and simple sugars, many people find that a low-carb diet does help them lose weight.
However, carbohydrates are also a key macronutrient for fueling exercise and are a major source of energy for many people.
Moreover, giving them up almost entirely, or scaling them back so significantly on a low-carb diet like the keto diet, can be emotionally difficult. This can make it hard to stick with your diet long term, which can certainly compromise your weight loss results.
For this reason, rather than exclude or restrict carbohydrates altogether, a carb cycling meal plan allows you to vary your carbohydrate intake from day to day.
In this guide, we will discuss carb cycling diet for weight loss and then present a sample complete carb cycling meal plan.
We will cover:
- Is Carb Cycling Good for Runners or Athletes?
- Complete Carb Cycling Meal Plan
Lets get started!
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Your Carb Cycling Week
Want to give carb cycling for weight loss a try? Follow this week-long carb-cycling meal plan, courtesy of Fear.
On higher-carb days , perform high-intensity or long-duration workouts. Options include interval training, sprints, lifting, or long runs.
On lower-carb days , rest or perform lower-intensity workouts like yoga, barre, or light jogging. You should feel satisfied, but not stuffed, after each meal. If you aren’t, increase your portion sizes or add a snack.
MONDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY
Breakfast: 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats cooked with 1 cup 1% milk, an apple or banana, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts.
Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 4 ounces deli turkey, 1/5 medium avocado, and mustard. 3 ounces raw carrots and 2 tablespoons hummus as a side.
Dinner: 2 ounces whole-wheat pasta tossed with tomato-basil sauce, sliced zucchini, and 4 ounces lean ground beef. 1/2 ounce dark chocolate for dessert.
TOTAL: 1,489 cals, 177 g carbs, 83 g protein, 58 g fat
Optional snack: 2 whole grain crispbreads with 2 The Laughing Cow Swiss cheese wedges
TUESDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY
Breakfast: 2 egg whites plus 2 eggs scrambled with one handful baby spinach, and topped with one slice mozzarella cheese. 1 cup strawberries as a side.
Lunch: Spinach salad topped with 4 ounces cooked wild salmon, low-starch veggies , 2 teaspoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar. 6 ounces Greek yogurt as a side.
TOTAL: 1,028 calories, 63 g carbs, 102 g protein, 32 g fat
Foods To Eat While Carb Cycling
While carb cycling, youre not focused on daily calories as much as on making sure your diet is filled with healthy complex carbs and the right amount of healthy fats and protein. If weight loss is your primary goal, then you might want to factor your daily calories into the mix, and you certainly dont want to go overboard, especially on high-carb days. Still, the focus should be mainly on eating the right macro-nutrient balance of delicious and nutritious whole foods.
The important thing to remember when choosing which food to eat while carb cycling is that the high-carb foods you choose to enjoy should be complex carbs that are nutrient-dense and ideally packed with fiber. A few examples include:
- Whole grains, like brown rice, oats, and quinoa
- Legumes are packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients as well as carbs
- A variety of mixed vegetables with every meal you dont have to shy away from carbs!
- Yes, you can even eat potatoes of all varieties.
On average, before adjusting for personal needs and goals, your healthy fats and protein intake on low-carb days should account for about 65-80% of the daily calories consumed. On days when you eat high carbs, you want to keep the protein and fat intake more balanced at around 40-50% of calories consumed. Remember, these are just estimates, and you might have to experiment a little to find the right balance of macronutrients for you.
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Carb Cycling: Bottom Line
Carb cycling can be a good regime to try if you want to optimize your diet. No strong research support this eating regime yet, so it is safe to assume that a good balance between low and high carbs are requested to maintain a healthy body.
Remember that carbs are not all equals, and refined flour is to avoid even when carb cycling on high carbs days instead, use other sources to get your carbs, and make sure to pack your diet with other nutrients as well, to support your body and your mind.
If you can count your carbs and follow your meal plan, you can and will find success with carb cycling.
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May Develop An Unhealthy Relationship With Food
While carb cycling may be doable in the short term, maintaining this way of eating may be challenging in the long run. As with any diet, there’s also the risk of developing an unhealthy relationship with food. On low-carb days you might find yourself craving high-carb foods throughout the day, and then when your high-carb day comes around, there’s a risk that you may binge on them. Also, this diet doesn’t take an individual’s appetite into consideration. Some people find that on heavy training days, they don’t have as much appetite as on rest days. And trying to eat super-low-carb on a day when you have a larger appetite is not sustainable.
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History Of Carb Cycling
From what we can gather carb cycling as it is currently thought of is believed to have been created and implemented by Franco Carlotto in the late 1980s or early 1990s. It was a riff off of both the high carbohydrate diet ideas that pervaded the bodybuilding scene and the low-carb diets that were beginning to gain popularity in some of the dieting circles.
It was the first attempt to blend several ideas into one diet that might take advantage of the benefits of different dietary approaches that were being implemented during the Golden Era of Bodybuilding. More recently, it has, for all intents and purposes, been repackaged into the modern day Carb Nite and Carb Backloading diets.
What Are The Benefits Of Carb Cycling For Women
Women are ideal candidates for carb cycling for a few reasons.
First of all, many women struggle to lose extra body fat. With carb cycling, women can achieve a calorie deficit on their low-carb days without burning out on eating low carb.
With carb cycling, theres always a high-carb day on the horizon. On these low-carb days, blood sugar stays low and cravings are minimal. These days also help to optimize insulin sensitivity. When women time these low carb days with the correct phase of their menstrual cycle, they can really optimize the success and sustainability of their fat loss efforts.
Another great thing about carb cycling for women is that the high-carb days help to grow and maintain muscle mass. This muscle mass increases our insulin sensitivity, reducing risk of type 2 diabetes. This muscle mass also increases metabolism which further supports weight loss efforts.
Those high-carb days also support our weight loss efforts in another way: by regulating our cravings. Healthy carbs have been shown to release leptin, a hormone that signals to your body that youre full. With healthy carbs, women can hit a great workout and stay in control of energy intake with cravings at bay.
So, what days should women plan to eat moderate vs. low carb? There are certain phases of the menstrual cycle when women have higher estrogen and are best able to utilize carbohydrate.
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Your Macros Needs At Moderate Output
During moderate exercise, your body is still using mostly fat for energy but you start needing a bit more fuel more quickly. Fat metabolism is slow and requires plenty of oxygen.
As you start moving around, oxygen becomes less available and you need energy faster. Thus, it becomes harder for you to break down fatty acids and keep up, so you start using some carb stores.
If carb cycling, there is not much need to adjust your macros for moderate activity days.
Carb Cycling: Hows It Really Working For You
After youve been carb cycling for at least 2 weeks, use this assessment to decide if the eating strategy is working for you.
Think about your recent experiences with carb cycling. Then, choose the number that best matches how strongly you agree with the following statements.
On a scale of 1 to 10 , most of the time
1. When I eat this way, I feel pretty good in general.
2. Compared to how I was eating before, I feel better when carb cycling.
3. When I carb cycle, I have reliable, sustained energy without crashing.
4. Carb cycling feels doable, and fits into my everyday life.
5. When I carb cycle, I feel good mentally and emotionally.
6. I feel confident and capable cooking and preparing meals while carb cycling.
7. When I carb cycle, I feel I am consistently keeping up with the other nutrition, fitness, and health practices that make me feel my best.
8. When I carb cycle, I rarely struggle with food cravings or urges to overeat.
9. When I carb cycle, I digest my food well.
10. Im performing and recovering well while carb cycling.
11. On social occasions, such as going out with friends to a restaurant, I can almost always find something I enjoy and feel comfortable eating.
12. I feel calm and relaxed about my food choices. Its no big deal, just part of life.
13. Even if other people pressure me to do something differently, or my style of eating doesnt match others around me, Im able to follow my own cues or goals.
120 and above: Crushing it!
76 to 104: Mixed results.
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What Is Carb Cycling An Overview
Carb cycling is a diet trend involving low, medium and high-carb days. Carb cycling has gotten popular these past few years because many people attest that it is a quick and effective way to burn fat, control the appetite, curb cravings, and speed up weight loss results. What started as a nutrition technique for athletes and bodybuilders has now become more mainstream. This carb cycling diet has an excellent reputation because of many satisfied carb cyclers who lost pounds and inches. Anyone can readily do this, because the simple diet guidelines can be easily adopted by anyone who desires to lose weight and build lean muscle mass for a more toned appearance.
Some people, such as those who follow the Keto or Atkins diet, may frown at the mention of eating carbs however, carbs are not the enemy. Carbs can be incorporated into a healthy diet. Truth be told, good carbs coming from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. When consumed correctly with proper timing, carbs can fuel your body and do wonders for your health. This is where carb cycling comes into play. Learn more about carb cycling and how it works below:
Is Carb Cycling Good For Fat Loss
Advocates of carb cycling argue that since it appears to regulate hormones, stimulate muscle growth, and help you recover quickly from workouts, you should, therefore, lose weight and excess fat.
Furthermore, the primary reason people lose weight when they change their diet is when theyre in a calorie deficit. When youre burning more calories than youre eating, weight loss is generally a result .
So, if carb cycling is paired with a calorie deficit, youre more likely to experience weight and fat loss from doing so.
But while there is anecdotal evidence of this theory, this has not been proven by science.
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What Should You Eat
Kate Patton says, The general principle to consume healthy carbs and avoid unhealthy ones also applies to carb cycling. Eat more complex, nutrient-dense carbohydrates to help stay active and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Good carbs are slow to digest and high in fiber. Additionally, they are frequently unprocessed, so they still include natural nutrients.
The following are some of the healthiest and good carbohydrate options if you are following a carb cycling schedule:
- Whole grain starches
- High fiber vegetables and fruits
- Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and other low-fat dairies
- Legumes, peas, lentils, and beans
Highly processed and low-fiber foods include bad carbohydrates. White wheat and sugar are frequently included in the “bad carb” foods list. You must stay away from things like white bread, sugary cereal, cakes, and cookies.
Carb Cycling May Or May Not Work For You
No matter what happens during your carb cycling experiment, remember this: Its all okay.
You might learn that you just cant stick to a carb cycling regimen.
Or that you feel terrible when carb cycling.
Or maybe you feel great.
Or perhaps you learn that carb cycling is your favorite way of eating.
Or that its just not worth all the effort.
Or something else.
Its all good.
The key is to keep an open mind and go with the best available evidence: your own personal experience .
Collect your data and then reflect on how things are going. If you stick to the facts, you cant go wrong.
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May Go Overboard With Carbs
A carb cycling diet is not easy, and some argue that it should be reserved for elite endurance athletes rather than just anyone trying to lose weight. That’s because it’s difficult to know how many carbohydrates to take in on low-, moderate- and high-carbohydrate days. Some low-carb days have about 2½ to 5 servings of carbs, while high-carb days have 10 to 20 servings. It’s also time-consuming because you have to track carbohydrates, protein and fat. You could fall off track if you do not track your carb intake carefully.
Carb Cycling Plan #: Use Post
Another approach is to put the bulk of a days carbohydrate intake in the meal that follows physical activity , while minimizing carbohydrates at other meals .
For a visual of what a Post-workout or Anytime meal could look like, see below.
An AT meal, as its name implies, can be eaten any time outside of exercise.
An AT meal:
- Has serving of lean protein
- Has a serving of healthy fats
- Fills out the remainder with non-starchy vegetables
An AT meal can also include a small portion of high-fiber, slow-digesting carbohydrates, such as beans, lentils, or fruit .
The PW plate is for meals that take place after physical activity. This meal type helps us take advantage of the bodys metabolic response to exercise, and the improved glucose tolerance that occurs during the post-exercise period .
A PW meal:
- Has a serving of lean protein
- Is lower in healthy fats
- Has a large serving of carbohydrates
On non-workout days choose one meal to be post-workout. Breakfast and dinner are the most common options.
Heres a sample schedule:
|Monday: workout day|
|Meal 4: Anytime|
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Who Should Try Carb Cycling
There are two main groups of people that carb cycling can be helpful for, according to Clark: endurance athletes and active people on low-carb diets.
For those who focus on endurance sports such as running, cycling, and swimming, “preliminary evidence suggests that varying carbohydrates throughout the year specifically lowering carbs during high volume, pre-season training may be helpful for increasing muscle glycogen stores and performance when carbs are reintroduced,” explains Clark. Basically, lowering your carb intake before you go into your main training season , may help your body to better utilize carbs when you reintroduce them right before you need to hit your peak performance level.
For those more interested in weight control or fat loss, carb cycling can also make sense. “For some individuals, consuming a lower-carb diet can be helpful for weight maintenance and optimal health,” says Clark. That’s probably why keto continues to be so popular. “That said, research indicates that carbohydrates are the predominant fuel for working muscles during high-intensity exercise, and consuming carbs before and after a tough sweat session is critical to get the most out of it.” It’s generally accepted that a low carb intake will reduce power output during high-intensity exercise, so carb cycling could help if you’re eating a low-carb diet but want to complete a HIIT or weightlifting workout, for example.