Nutrition: A Review of Carb Cycling


What is Carb Cycling?

I’m sure you have an idea about what carb-cycling is just by looking at the name. You simply cycle your carbs. Ok, so what does that mean and what is it useful for? Basically you alter the amount of carbohydrates that you eat day to day. Carb cycling can be used to shed fat fast or even build lean mass.  Sounds pretty cool right? It’s actually a very simple diet and works great. So where’s the problem? It’s a bit tedious and makes you a slave to your kitchen. If you are the type of person who enjoys a very structured regiment though, this may be the diet for you.

How to Cycle

The premise is quite easy; you have high, medium, and low carbohydrate days.  On a “heavy” workout day like legs, you will consume the largest amount of carbs, this is your “high” day. On your other workout days you have your “medium” carbohydrate intake day. And not surprisingly, your low days are generally for your off days. Of course there are numerous ways to set it up but that’s a general outline. Now depending on the person, their goals, and their metabolism you can play with how many high/med/low days you have. If you are trying to gain weight you would have 2-3 high days per week and monitor your progress. If you are gaining more fat than you like then you drop one of the high days and replace it with either a medium or low day. If you are trying to lose weight you can still have 2 high days per week but if weight loss stalls you will have to drop it down to 1.

How I’d set I up

As I stated earlier it’s hard to give concrete numbers because it will depend on the person. For protein intake I think it’s best to keep it around 1-1.5g x body weight (this is regardless of carb-cycling or not). On “low” carbohydrate days you can consume between 0-60g of carbs (again this varies person to person). Medium carbohydrate days are around 100-200g and High carbohydrate days 350-450g. These are general guidelines, if you can handle 600g of carbs on your high days and 150g on your low days then god bless you! It’s also important to know your daily caloric goal because as carbs go up you will adjust protein and fat intake to make sure you stay within your caloric limit.  On high carbohydrate days protein is lowered (carbs are protein sparing) and fat is lowered. On your low days you would obviously do the opposite.

Give me a damn template!

Here is a sample carb-cycling diet for a 200-210lb male

High Days : 455g of carbohydrates, 245g of protein, Fat kept as low as possible, 3g fish oil

Medium Days: 150g of carbohydrates, 300g of protein, 50g of fat

Low Days: 60g of carbohydrates, 300g protein, 80g of fat

Depending on your training schedule you could rotate these in a few ways. I like to start with as many high days as you can get away with. Let’s say you workout 3 days on and 1 day off. I’d start with High, medium, medium, low, then repeat.  You then can change how many high, med, or low days and even how many carbs on those days as you progress in the diet.

The Good and The Bad of Cycling

There’s no doubt in my mind that carb cycling works, though any diet that you follow that’s well thought out and reasonable will work. However, I don’t use it anymore because it’s a pain in the ass to perfectly count your carbs, protein, fat for each specific day. Not to mention I HATE having to carry Tupperware everywhere I go and not being able to eat at a restaurant. You become a slave to your kitchen and the “numbers” of macronutrients you are trying to hit. I also don’t like the wide fluctuations in carbohydrate intake from day to day. We know that carbohydrates cause an increase in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating learning, mood, sleep, vasoconstriction etc.  There is research that says serotonin also plays a role in anxiety, migraines, and appetite as well. I didn’t particularly love the ups and downs of carb cycling but not everyone notices it.

I’m also a big proponent of fasting and while a typical carb cycling diet doesn’t use fasting that doesn’t mean that you can’t work it in. Just realize that you will be seriously cramming carbs in a limited number of meals.  I like the general ideas behind carb cycling; carbs should be higher on training days and lower on workout days, regardless of diet or goals. Carbs are fuel for your workout so why the hell would you be eating 400g of carbs on a day where you spend 20-22 hours sitting or laying down? I also find that people have no problems stuffing themselves with carbs on high carb days but then they can’t handle the low days and end up eating more carbs than they are allotted. This obviously defeats the purpose. I also don’t love the idea of super high days (600g) one day and then back to 50g the next. These wild fluctuations will be tough for maintaining stable blood glucose levels as well. Instead I like using the premise of carb cycling but not to the same extreme. I agree with rotating your carbs on workout vs non-workout days; but I feel better having carbs daily and just altering nutrient TIMING to reach body composition goals.

Grade For Carb-Cycling : B+

It’s a great way to diet but it’s also a full time job. If you have the time, patience, and love structure, this will work great for you.

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