Have you heard of carb cycling? It’s an eating approach that lately has gained popularity among athletes and fitness buffs who want to drop body fat and get more muscle mass. The idea is to alternate between high and low carbohydrate intake to match the body’s changing energy needs, help with weight management, and boost performance. Carb cycling is becoming well-known among people who want to kick-start weight loss, even though a lot of the weight you may lose would come from water.

Would you like to learn more about it, including how to do it and the science behind it? Let’s dive in.

The Science Behind Carb Cycling

Carb cycling is an effective tactic for achieving your desired outcome by alternating between high, moderate, and low carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are sugars that come in two forms – simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides and disaccharides, while complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides such as starch. Simple carbs break down easier and contain sugars, while complex carbs contain starch and fiber.

The process of converting carbohydrates to glycogen is called glycogenesis. Your body creates glycogen from glucose through this process. Glycogen is broken through glycogenolysis and used for energy with the help of several different enzymes.

Another research has demonstrated[1] that training when glycogen is low can stimulate the expression of genes associated with the creation of mitochondria. This can also help bodybuilders and powerlifters who may benefit from increased mitochondrial density and fat burning.

How Does Carb Cycling Work?

Carb cycling manipulates insulin levels to aid fat loss and boost physical performance. An effective way to do this is to plan increases and decreases in your carb intake, usually on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. On days when you’re less active, you eat fewer carbs, and on days when you’re more active, you eat more. This helps regulate your insulin levels and can lead to better fat loss and improved performance. It’s important to note that “high carb” doesn’t necessarily mean an all-carb diet but instead just eating a healthier version of what you usually eat.

How To Do Carb Cycling?

For those new to this type of dietary approach, there are several suggestions for starting with a low-carb diet on certain days and a higher-carb diet on others.

On low-card days, the focus should be placed primarily on lean proteins such as fish or chicken breast along with non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, which contain few carbs but plenty of fiber for satiety purposes. Another ideal choice is healthy fats such as olive oil, which can help keep hunger at bay during these meals without adding too many additional carbohydrates to your daily intake.

On high-carb it is recommended to incorporate more complex carbohydrates from sources like sweet potatoes or brown rice to add some variety back into the meal plans that have been restricted due largely to cutting out grains from regular consumption patterns during lower-carb periods.

Doing so will provide needed energy throughout the week and ensure that essential vitamins and minerals in whole grain products remain part of the overall nutrition program. In addition, finding the balance between both types of diets is key when trying to adapt to any lifestyle changes over a long period.

Who Should Try Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling may be a suitable dietary approach for those who want to improve their athletic performance, increase muscle mass, or reduce body fat. However, it’s important to note that carb cycling is not for everyone. It may not be appropriate for individuals with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or disordered eating, or pregnant or nursing women.

It is possible to become undernourished on a carb cycling plan if not done correctly since the nutrients you get from food when carbohydrates are limited. For these reasons, we suggest you speak with a healthcare professional before starting any new dietary approach, including carb cycling, to ensure it is safe and appropriate for you.

What Are The Benefits Of Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is an attempt to match your body’s need for calories or glucose and could help you lose weight when coupled with a calorie deficit. A few potential carb cycling benefits are improved insulin sensitivity, enhanced fat-burning and cholesterol levels, and advanced metabolic health. Periodic bursts of high-carb consumption may even benefit the performance of leptin and ghrelin, the hormones responsible for managing weight and hunger. High-carb periods could also reduce inflammation and help your body use iron. In addition, this approach can help optimize performance, improve metabolic flexibility, prevent over-restriction, and fit into any lifestyle. It’s also important to note that a moderately low-carb diet with healthy protein and fat sources can benefit heart health, as it may increase good cholesterol levels, decrease blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and successfully help people lose weight. However, the long-term effects of carb cycling are unknown, but it’s generally safe to do for a short time.

Can Carb Cycling Help You Lose Weight?

While carb cycling may benefit weight loss, it’s important not to forget about overall health when trying this approach. Eating limited carbohydrates can negatively affect blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, if done without proper care or supervision from medical professionals or nutritionists specialized in this area of expertise. But, according to scientific studies, carb cycling can help with weight loss. In addition, a study[2] conducted by Amy Goss and Barbara Gower found that participants who followed a carb-cycling diet for eight weeks had higher reductions in body fat percentage than those following a traditional low-carbohydrate diet.

Example Meal Plans

Are you interested in what an actual meal plan would look like? Here are some examples of carb-cycling meal plans to help you achieve your goals more effectively.

1. High Carb Plan

A high-carb meal plan can provide a great way to fuel your body for energy and optimal health. To start, you’ll need to identify the right balance of carbs, proteins, and fats. The ideal ratio is 50-60% carbs, 20-30% protein, and 20-30% fat.

  • For breakfast, try oatmeal with berries and almond milk or Greek yogurt with granola and fruit. Add a side of avocado toast for extra sustenance.
  • For lunch, opt for a grain bowl with brown rice, roasted vegetables, and beans or lentils.
  • Snack on trail mix or a piece of fresh fruit.
  • For dinner, go with a classic like roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies or try something new like quinoa and roasted vegetable salad.
  • Consider a piece of fruit or a few squares of dark chocolate for dessert.

2. Moderate Carb Meal Plan

A moderate-carb meal plan is a great way to get your body’s essential nutrients while maintaining and controlling your carbohydrate intake. It follows a similar ratio as the high-carb meal plan – around 50% carbs, 20-30% protein, and 20-30% fat.

  • For breakfast, try scrambled eggs with spinach, mushrooms, and peppers. Add a slice of whole wheat toast to round out the meal.
  • For lunch, go for a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, and salsa. Add some sliced avocado for an extra boost.
  • Enjoy a handful of almonds, a banana, or a small bowl of air-popped popcorn as a snack.
  • Grilled salmon with roasted root vegetables and a side salad for dinner.
  • For dessert, top Greek yogurt with berries and chopped nuts.

3. Low Carb Meal Plan

Low Carb Meal Plan

A low-carb meal plan can help you control your carb intake while providing your body with essential nutrients. The goal is to keep your carb intake between 20-30% of your total calorie intake, with the remainder made up of lean proteins and healthy fats.

  • For breakfast, try an egg scramble with spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Add a side of sliced avocado and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.
  • Make a wrap with lettuce, grilled chicken, and hummus for lunch. Enjoy some baby carrots on the side.
  • Snack on an apple with peanut butter or celery with cream cheese.
  • For dinner, enjoy grilled chicken with steamed broccoli and cauliflower.
  • End the day with a cup of herbal tea.

Carb Cycling For Muscle Growth And Sports Performance

Carbohydrates are essential for providing energy during physical activity, and carb cycling allows athletes or bodybuilders to adjust their carbohydrate intake according to their goals or needs. It can also be used to optimize muscle growth and sports performance. For example, on days when they want more energy for intense workouts, they may increase their carb intake while reducing it on rest days to prevent fat storage from excessive calories consumed. The role of carbohydrates in providing fuel for physical activity cannot be overstated. They help replenish glycogen stores after a workout so you can recover quickly from fatigue caused by intense exercise sessions. When it comes to muscle growth and sports performance, carb cycling can help to boost training intensity, favorably influence hormones related to muscle protein synthesis and metabolism, and temporarily elevate insulin levels to preserve muscle tissue and increase muscle growth.

Is Carb Cycling Ketogenic?

Carb Cycling Ketogenic

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat approach that aims to reduce the body’s reliance on glucose for energy by encouraging it to burn fat instead. This is achieved by drastically reducing carbohydrate intake while increasing healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados. In contrast with the ketogenic diet, carb cycling allows for more flexibility in food choices by reintroducing carbohydrates periodically without influencing progress toward goals like weight loss or improved performance in sports activities.

For some individuals looking for a nutritional plan that offers both structure and flexibility, combining elements from both approaches could potentially provide them with higher success than either one alone would offer individually over time.

Is Carb Cycling Safe?

Carb cycling includes careful planning and tracking since it involves purposely manipulating carb intake. The overall diet should be healthy to keep blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels under control. It is important to note that carb cycling is not suitable for everyone and should be avoided by those with diabetes, heart disease, eating disorders, pregnant or nursing women, or other medical conditions. For these people, sticking to a healthy and balanced diet without cycling would be more beneficial. In addition, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional before starting to try carb cycling to ensure its suitability for you.

Does Carb Cycling Have Any Other Benefits?

Despite the obvious and primary benefits of weight loss and hormone regulation, carb cycling may also have a few other positive benefits.

  • Improved mental clarity and focus by regulating blood sugar levels. Carb cycling can help prevent energy crashes and brain fog resulting from high carbohydrate intake.
  • Increased nutrient uptake. Alternating between high and low-carb intake periods can help optimize the absorption of nutrients.
  • Improved sleep quality. Some people find that carb cycling helps improve sleep quality, possibly due to the impact of stable blood sugar levels on the body’s melatonin production.
  • Increased satiety. By incorporating various carbohydrate sources in your diet, carb cycling can help keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals.
  • Improved gut health. By including various carb sources, carb cycling can help promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which is vital for overall health and well-being.

Recommended Carbohydrate Food Sources

Looking to add some healthy carbs to your carb-cycling diet? Here are some healthy carbohydrate sources to include in your carb-cycling diet:

  • Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, oranges, pears, pineapple, etc.
  • Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, etc.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas.

Incorporating these carbs into your diet is easy! You could add berries to your morning oatmeal, include a serving of brown rice with your lunchtime stir-fry, or enjoy a sweet potato as a side dish with dinner. Legumes are great in soups, salads, and grain bowls, and vegetables can be enjoyed roasted, sautéed, or as a component of a healthy smoothie. Just be sure to pay attention to portion sizes and choose unprocessed, whole-food sources of carbs whenever possible.

Drawbacks Of Carb Cycling

While carb cycling can be an effective way to lose fat and regulate hormones, it requires careful planning and tracking of your carbohydrate intake to ensure your body is getting enough fuel while still eating a balanced diet. For starters, a complicated diet can be difficult to maintain. As with other calorie restriction methods, carb cycling can be challenging to stick with over time and has the potential for adverse health outcomes if done incorrectly or without proper monitoring from a healthcare professional. It’s also unclear whether any potential benefits will be long-lasting. Plus, there isn’t enough evidence to know whether carb cycling is safe for your health over time.


The main thing to remember regarding carb cycling and weight loss is that it's not necessarily a "magic bullet." It may be an effective tool for some people, but it still requires careful planning and tracking of your diet to ensure you're eating the right types and amounts of carbohydrates.

There is no set duration for carb cycling, and the appropriate length will depend on your individual goals and needs.

Ultimately, it comes down to individual preferences and which lifestyle best fits your needs. Some people may find that keto works better, while others prefer carb cycling.

If you're new to carb cycling, it can be helpful to start by following a low-carb diet on certain days of the week and gradually increasing your carb intake on other days. It's also important to pay attention to portion sizes and choose whole, unprocessed food sources of carbohydrates whenever possible.

It is generally safe to consume coffee while carb cycling. Check for the added ingredients, like sugar or cream, that may affect your carbohydrate intake.

Intermittent fasting appears compatible when paired with carbohydrate cycling. Research suggests that this approach may offer improved insulin sensitivity, increased metabolism, reduced inflammation, and better appetite control.

Bottom Line

To sum up, carb cycling is a nutritional approach that involves varying your carbohydrate intake on different days. It may potentially benefit muscle growth, sports performance, and weight management. Still, it’s important to be aware of the potential drawbacks, including the need for careful planning and tracking and the lack of scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting any new diet or fitness program.