Health and Fitness

What is Carb Cycling?

In 2022, a new type of eating hit the newsstands and meta feeds- carb cycling. This type of diet alternates between high and low carbs each day. The theory is that it confuses your body and forces it work at maximum capacity to burn as many calories as possible. Avid dieters have experienced the effects of this for years, throwing in a “cheat day” when their weight loss plateaus. Now, however, we have the science to explain why it actually works.

The Science

Foods are made up of three macronutrients- protein, carbohydrates, and fat. All three of these are needed in order for our bodies to function efficiently and should be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, protein provides 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. Most nutritionists recommend that we get 50-55% of our daily calories from carbs, 10-25% from proteins, and less than 20-30% from fats.

When calories are restricted for a long period, our bodies will slow our metabolism, or the burning of calories, to make sure it has enough energy. This is something that our ancestors needed as they gathered and hunted for their food. As our calorie intake decreases, so does our metabolism.

When our metabolism slows, so does the production of our thyroid hormones and leptin. While this response is ideal in order for us to conserve energy and prevent starvation, it is not ideal for someone trying to lose weight. Cycling carbohydrates is a way to kick start the production of those hormones again, telling our bodies that we are not starving and encouraging it to burn more calories and fat stores.

In essence, carb-cycling confuses our body and, as a result, it heightens our metabolism. When combined with a caloric deficit, individuals have seen weight loss results.

High, Medium, Low, and No- The Days on a Carb-Cycle Diet

Carb-cycling consists of 2-4 varying level days per week, depending on the specific outcomes and diet plan of the individual. Carbs are specified in percentages, because everyone’s daily caloric intake varies. So if someone is to eat 50% macros of carbs, that means that 50% of their calories for the day should come from carbohydrates.

No-Carb Day

No-Carb Days actually allow a little wiggle room, however this is the most strict no-carb plan. Since some carbohydrates are found in vegetables or fat sources, it is virtually impossible to consume zero macros of carbs. Therefore, an individual on a no-carb day typically aims to consume 5% or less of their total calorie intake from carbs. Some carb-cycling plans do not include “no-carb” days due to the extreme carb restrictions.

Low-Carb Day

Low-Carb Days should aim to consume 10-20% of their total caloric intake in the form of carbohydrates. Some individuals find that they have better results staying around 10%, while others see results at 20%.

Medium-Carb Day

Medium-Carb Days should aim to consume 25-35% of their total caloric intake in the form of carbohydrates.

High-Carb Days

High-Carb Days should aim to consume 40-50% of their total caloric intake in the form of carbohydrates.

Putting Together a Plan

Carb-cycling plans can vary depending on the goals of the individual and the specific plan they are following. Some plans leave out the no-carb days, while others may leave out the high-carb day. Most plans consist of 2-3 rotating days per week.

It is important to keep your energy demands in mind when designing your weekly plan. Demanding workouts or high-energy engagements should fall on a higher carb day, while lighter workouts or rest days should fall on a lower carb day.

Example 1


Example 2


Example 3

Low-Low-Cheat Day- Low-Low-Cheat Day-Low

Carb-Cycling Tips

Here are some tips if you’re thinking about trying a carb-cycling diet:

  • Figure out how many calories per day your body needs
    • Search online for a free calorie calculator, where you enter your age, gender, height, weight, and activity level
  • Download a free calorie tracker app or find one online that allows you to track both calories and macros
    • It is very helpful to get one with a barcode scanner
    • Some paid subscriptions allow you to set a carb-cycling plan within in the app
  • Look for recipe ideas that list servings per recipe and the carb, protein, and fat macros per serving
    • Check out your local thrift store for old cookbooks that may have this information
  • Give yourself grace
    • It takes a while to get the hang of carb-cycling- keep in mind that if your are consistently sticking to a caloric deficit you will likely still lose weight






**Consult a doctor before beginning any new diet, exercise, or weight loss program.**

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