Home » All » Fat Loss » Carb Cycling 101: A Quick Start Guide & 7 Day Plan
Fat Loss

Carb Cycling 101: A Quick Start Guide & 7 Day Plan

train like a celebrity

Chances are you’ve heard that carb, or carbohydrate, cycling is a new cutting-edge method to lose fat.

Once total calorie intake is accounted for, carb cycling helps you shred body fat while supporting your training, performance and recovery.

It facilitates this process by maximizing carbohydrate absorption when it’s needed but then limiting it when it’s unnecessary. This enhances muscle tone and strength, while simultaneously reducing fat storage and aiding fat loss.

In this article, I’ll discuss what carb cycling is, why you’d even consider using it and lastly, how you can implement it into your routine to optimize your physique.

Energy Balance and Carbohydrates

Before getting into the specifics of carbohydrate cycling, we first need to explain the concept of energy balance and how this relates to the timing and amount of carbohydrates that you should be consuming based on your goals.

Let’s clarify this now as there are numerous different misconceptions existing around carbohydrates and how they relate to weight gain.

The theory of energy balance postulates that losing or gaining weight is largely based on the amount of calories you are consuming relative to the amount of calories you are expending (1).

In essence, if you expend more calories than you consume through calorie restriction, extra movement or both, then you’ll lose weight. Alternatively if you consume more than you expend, you’ll gain weight.

Unfortunately, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap due to people not really understanding how energy balance works. In reality, carbohydrates, which contain calories, only become an issue when they are consumed in excess of what the body needs.

So, carbohydrates really only contribute to weight gain when they are over consumed, causing an excess of calorie intake, relative to your activity level.

In any sense, maintaining a negative energy balance (expending more calories than you consume) is the number one factor in weight loss. Once this has been achieved, you can begin cycling your carbohydrates depending on your activity level to take your body transformation to the next level.

How Carb Cycling Works

The basics of carb cycling is really fairly simple when you follow this guide.

In short, you tailor your carb intake to match exercise expenditure and exercise protocols that day.

For instance, if you have one day lifting weights or performing a boot camp and the next day is a complete rest day, it would make sense to eat more carbs on the exercise day and less carbs on the rest day, right?

Essentially, while accounting for your total calorie intake, you can manipulate the amount of carbohydrates you consume on a daily basis, based on how much activity you are involved in. Higher activity days require more carbohydrates while low activity days require less.

In short, carb cycling is simply a way to ensure that you aren’t overconsuming carbohydrates and also allowing for other key nutrients, such as healthy fats, to optimize your hormones.

This basically gives you the best of both worlds, providing carbs to fuel your workouts and optimize muscle growth or muscle tone, while not providing too many carbs on a daily basis that can lead to fat gain and insulin resistance or diabetes.

Why It Makes Sense To Cycle Your Carbohydrates

As mentioned already, cycling your carbohydrates gives you the best parts of both a low carb and high carb diet, hence why it’s so effective and is quickly becoming one of the biggest dieting trends this decade.

This advanced strategy is an additional tool to manipulate your diet and potentially improve your body composition, taking your current results and physique to the next level (you can see some carb cycling results here).

Additionally, the benefits of carb cycling have a lot to do with the theory of nutrient timing and partitioning that has been researched for over 30 years (2).

This theory revolves around the idea that carbohydrates will be stored in the muscle rather than transformed into body fat, if consumed at times when “needed.”

To give an example: before, during and after a workout you have improved carbohydrate metabolism. This means you will utilize those carbs (or that cake) more effectively to fuel the workout, recover or add muscle, rather than storing it as body fat which may occur if you consume too much while sat on the sofa all day (3, 4).

This occurs because your insulin (the key hormone that handles carbohydrate metabolism) is more effective around or post workout.

Because of this mechanism, carb cycling provides a layer of protection, especially if you usually struggle with carbs and so, prior to reading this, thought you needed to eliminate them entirely (which isn’t true, of course).

Just like anything in life, it simply makes sense to provide fuel (carbs) when you are going to burn it and then reduce it when you don’t need it so it’s not stored (which, for humans, means it is stored in body fat), right?

Carb Cycling Simplified & Carb Cycling Meal Plan

Creating your own basic carb cycling plan is fairly straightforward.

Although an advanced carb cycling plan is a little more complex than this, here’s a basic overview to help you get started.

Firstly, you must understand that on days of high intensity or exercise duration you will consume the highest amount of carbs.

In contrast, on days when little activity occurs, you should consume less carbs and prioritize more protein, and a moderate intake of healthy fats, to support your general health, hormone production and skin/hair.

Here’s my super simple, yet effective, 3 step overview: 

  1. High Volume and Intensity Days: High Carbohydrates
  2. Moderate Volume Days: Moderate Carbohydrates
  3. Low Volume / Rest Days: Low Carbohydrate

 Example 7-Day Carb Cycling Approach:

 Day 1: No Workout (Rest Day)

  • Low Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 40% Protein / 30% Carbohydrate / 30% Fat

Day 2: Leg Day (High Volume)

  • High Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 35% Protein / 50% Carbohydrate / 15% Fat

Day 3: No Workout (Rest Day)

  • Low Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 40% Protein / 30% Carbohydrate / 30% Fat

Day 4: Upper Body (Strength Day)

  • Moderate Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 40% Protein / 35% Carbohydrate / 25% Fat

Day 5: No Workout (Rest Day)

  • Low Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 40% Protein / 30% Carbohydrate / 30% Fat

Day 6: Leg Day + HIIT (High Volume/Intensity)

  • High Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 30% Protein / 55% Carbohydrate / 15% Fat

Day 7: Upper Body (Bodybuilding/High Volume)

  • High Carbohydrate Day
  • Macros: 35% Protein / 50% Carbohydrate / 15% Fat

 

 

 References

  1. Spiegelman, B. M., & Flier, J. S. (2001). Obesity and the regulation of energy balance. Cell, 104(4), 531-543.
  2. Mitsumoto, Y., Burdett, E., Grant, A., & Klip, A. (1991). Differential expression of the GLUT1 and GLUT4 glucose transporters during differentiation of L6 muscle cells. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 175(2), 652-659.
  3. Gollnick, P. D., Piehl, K., & Saltin, B. (1974). Selective glycogen depletion pattern in human muscle fibres after exercise of varying intensity and at varying pedalling rates. The Journal of physiology, 241(1), 45-57.
  4. VØLLESTAD, N. K., & BLOM, P. C. S. (1985). Effect of varying exercise intensity on glycogen depletion in human muscle fibres. Acta Physiologica, 125(3), 395-405.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

View all Articles by Rudy »

Follow Rudy on Facebook >>

Follow Rudy on Instagram >>