What You Need to Understand About Carb Cycling

May 7th 2016

Although carb cycling lets people reach their desired body shape without sacrificing their favorite meals, this option is not for everyone. Consult a doctor or dietitian before starting a new diet.

How Carb Cycling Works

Carb cycling involves a weekly regimen of high- and low-carb days. While high-carb days help promote muscle growth by replenishing glycogen stores and stimulating insulin response, low-carb days help promote fat loss while preventing weight gain as the body burns fat for fuel rather than dietary carbs.

Choosing Carbs

The focus on carbs rather than fats or proteins is due to their heavy influence on the body. For a fat-loss diet, on high-carb days, choose simple carbs that are high in glucose or complex carbs that break down into glucose. Starchy vegetables, whole grains and other complex carbs keep you feeling satisfied and energized for longer periods so you aren't tempted to overeat. Avoid fructose-based carbs such as high-fructose corn syrup that are not as easily stored in the muscles and are more likely to become fat.

When to Cycle

While the standard routine includes six alternating high- and low-carb days with one free day, you can lower the number of high-carb days for faster weight loss. For muscle gain, aim for a larger number of high-carb days. However, avoid putting two high-carb days back to back. The best days to load carbs are heavy training days, as the body is most in need of fuel during these workout periods.

Building a Meal Plan

Whatever carb-cycling routine you choose, it is important to stay within your weekly calorie goal for ideal weight loss. Distribute the allotted calories over each day, allowing a greater number on high-carb days. Eat plenty of protein, starchy vegetables and healthy fats on heavy workout days, and aim for lean protein and non-starchy vegetables on low-carb days. Some food options for high-carb days include oatmeal, whole-grain bread, rice, berries, quinoa and potatoes.

Water Weight Gain

On high-carb days, the body stores 4 grams of water for every 1 gram of carbs. Although this can cause temporary and sometimes visible weight gain, it is not fat and should not cause alarm. This water weight should begin to recede within a day.


A low-carbohydrate diet can help you lose weight, but it also lowers metabolic rate, decreases workout performance, increases hunger and takes a toll on concentration. Carb cycling is a healthier and more enjoyable alternative that includes eating carbs only on certain days of the week. Before starting a carb-cycling program, learn the facts about the diet trend.

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