Your Guide To Carb Cycling For Weight Loss


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By Kirstin Dold; Photograph by

Plus, a 7-day meal plan to fuel your results.

Here’s the ish with carbs: You need them to power through muscle-building workouts, but eating too many can contribute to fat storage and excess kilos.

That’s why some experts say that carb cycling for weight loss, or boosting your carb intake on some days and cutting back on others, might be the happy medium we’ve all been looking for. Here, we delve into whether this trendy way of eating can actually help you drop pounds without giving up the best food group.

What Carb Cycling Means

There are a lot of carb-cycling regimens out there. For example, some serious athletes, like bodybuilders, who know exactly when and how long they’ll work out each day follow a weekly pattern, says Brian Murray, an A.C.E.-certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist. That might include a high-carb day followed by three days of eating very little carbohydrates. For these kinds of plans, dieters keep track of each gram of carbs they consume, says Murray.

The exact amount of carbohydrates they eat totally depends on their weight, muscle mass, goals, and activity levels, he says. But for the average active woman looking to lose weight, the best way to take on carb cycling is on a day-to-day basis, says Murray.

Watch: Here’s What You Need To Know About Counting Net Carbs To Lose Weight

How It Works

On days when you’re crushing it at the gym or training for a race, carbs are your BFF. Your body burns through them (along with fat) for energy instead of protein. That allows the muscle-building nutrient to focus on doing its job.

But on days when you don’t leave the couch, eating extra carbs could encourage your body to store that unused glucose in your fat cells. By eating less carbs on a rest day, your body turns to fat for energy instead of the sugary and starchy foods it usually gobbles up, says Georgie Fear, author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss.

Can It Help You Lose Weight?

For those days when you’re playing desk jockey or couch potato, there are definite weight loss benefits to chowing on fewer carbs. “You don’t need to be hoarding all these extra kilojoules if they’re not going to be used,” says Fear. “Unlike your fat and protein intake, your carb needs vary from one day to the next.” Also, when you swap carbs for protein and veggies, it becomes trickier to overeat (most of us don’t binge on broccoli and chicken), so that helps your waistline.

Watch: 3 Signs You Need To Incorporate More Carbs In Your Diet

Should You Try It?

While there’s nothing dangerous about switching up the way you consume carbs, “measuring things down to the gram puts you in a restrictive mindset, which can leave you craving those foods you’re missing out on,” says Fear.

Carb cycling without a set of gram guidelines seems like it would be less effective (especially compared to the plans bodybuilders follow). But since everyone’s needs are different, sticking to a one-size fits all plan isn’t the best method for meeting your weight-loss goals, says Fear.

With that being said, Fear outlines how to make a carb-cycling diet work for you.

What a High-Carb Day Looks Like

On an average day, around 60 percent of your kilojoules should come from complex carbs. That’s about 3,765 kilojoules if you’re eating 6,276 kilojoules a day.

On high-carb days, when you’ve planned a high-energy workout, like metabolic conditioning, interval training, sprints, or a long-distance run, add an extra serving or two of whole grains, fruits, or legumes. “If you’re gassed 10 minutes into your workout, you should try adding another serving,” says Fear.

Watch: How To Quit Your Low-Carb Diet Without Gaining Back All The Weight

What a Low-Carb Day Looks Like

On days when you don’t work out at all or do something low-key, like jogging for 30 minutes or taking a hatha yoga class, try swapping a serving or two of your regular carb intake with leafy veggies, lean protein, or healthy fats. For example, if you normally have a whole-wheat turkey sandwich for lunch, try a turkey and spinach salad with cheese instead, says Fear.

The bottom line: It’s important to avoid a transactional mindset about food, says Fear. Thoughts like, “I ran an extra kilometre, so I can eat this,” are a slippery slope to an unhealthy relationship with food.

That said, “having higher carbs on some days and lower carbs on other days is how the body naturally regulates itself,” says Fear. “So there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of some of the benefits of reducing carbs.”

Your Carb-Cycling Meal Plan

Want to give carb cycling for weight loss a try? Follow this week-long carb-cycling meal plan, courtesy of Fear. On higher-carb days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday), perform high-intensity or long-duration workouts. Options include interval training, sprints, lifting, or long runs. On lower-carb days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), rest or perform lower-intensity workouts like yoga, barre, or light jogging. You should feel satisfied, but not stuffed, after each meal. If you aren’t, increase your portion sizes or add a snack.

Watch: 3 Diets You Should Try If You’re A Total Carb Lover

MONDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats cooked with 1 cup 1% milk, an apple or banana, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts. (1,853 kjs, 67 g carbs, 16 g protein, 15 g fat)

Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 4 ounces deli turkey, 1/5 medium avocado, and mustard. 85 grams raw carrots and 2 tablespoons hummus as a side. (1,610 kjs, 53 g carbs, 26 g protein, 11 g fat)

Dinner: 56 grams whole-wheat pasta tossed with tomato-basil sauce, sliced zucchini, and 113 grams lean ground beef. 14 grams dark chocolate for dessert. (2,765 kjs, 57 g carbs, 41 g protein, 32 g fat)

TOTAL: 6,229 kjs, 177 g carbs, 83 g protein, 58 g fat

Optional snack: 2 whole grain crispbreads with 2 The Laughing Cow Swiss cheese wedges (585 kjs, 12 g carbs, 5 g protein, 8 g fat)​

TUESDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 2 egg whites 2 eggs scrambled with one handful baby spinach, and topped with one slice mozzarella cheese. 1 cup strawberries as a side. (1,326 kjs, 20 g carbs, 27 g of protein, 14 g fat)

Lunch: Spinach salad topped with 4 ounces cooked wild salmon, low-starch veggies (tomatoes, cucumber, peppers), 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar. 6 ounces Greek yogurt (light or plain low-fat, without added sugars) as a side. (388 cals, 19 g carbs, 42 g protein, 7 g fat)

Dinner: 113 grams grilled chicken breast with 1 1/2 cups roasted asparagus and 1 cup butternut squash, cooked with 2 teaspoons olive oil. (1,350 kjs, 24 g carbs, 33 g protein, 11 g fat)

TOTAL: 4,301 kjs, 63 g carbs, 102 g protein, 32 g fat

Optional snack: 1 hard-boiled egg. (71 cals, 0 g carbs, 6 g protein, 5 g fat)

WEDNESDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Parfait of 170 grams low or nonfat greek yogurt, 1/4 cup granola, 1 chopped pear, 2 tablespoons raisins, and 1 tablespoon grated coconut flakes. (1,414 kjs, 57 g carbs, 20 g protein, 4 g fat)

Lunch: Large whole-wheat tortilla filled with 1/2 cup refried beans, 28 grams grated cheese, and salsa, lettuce, onion and tomatoes. 1 cup grapes as a side. (2,217 kjs, 71 g carbs, 19 g protein, 19 g fat)

Dinner: 113-gram grilled pork chop with 1/2 cup applesauce, 3/4 cup cooked brown rice, and 1 1/2 cups steamed broccoli with lemon pepper and 1 teaspoon butter. Side: half a banana smeared with 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter. (2,418 kjs, 70 g carbs, 44 g protein, 14 g fat)

TOTAL: 6,050 kjs, 198 carbs, 83 g protein, 37 g fat

Optional snack: 2 thin rice cakes topped with 28 gram avocado, fresh basil, and salt. (414 kjs, 17 g carbs, 1 g protein, 4 g fat)​

THURSDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 1 egg and 1 egg white scrambled with 2 slices lean bacon (chopped) and 1/2 cup bell peppers and onions. On the side: 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon all-fruit preserves. (1,359 kjs, 19 g carbs, 31 g protein, 14 g fat)

Lunch: 2 cups vegetable soup with 2 cups side salad (spinach, 1 cup tomatoes, 3/4 cup cucumber, 5 Kalamata olives, 21 grams crumbled feta, and balsamic vinegar). (1,497 kjs, 56 g carbs, 14 g protein, 10 g fat)

Dinner: 170 grams baked cod with tomatoes and oregano, 1 cup roasted green beans with 2 teaspoon olive oil, and 1/2 sweet potato with 1 teaspoon butter. (1,594 kjs, 31 g carbs, 41 g protein, 14 g fat)

TOTAL: 4,451 kjs, 106 g carbs, 86 g protein, 38 g fat

Optional snack: 170ml low-fat Greek yogurt. (418 kjs, 17 g protein, 6 g carb, 1 g fat)

FRIDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Whole-wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons almond butter and 1 sliced banana (1,753 kjs, 56 g carbs, 13 g protein, 19 g fat)

Lunch: 2 cups lentil soup with a side salad (2 cups greens, tomatoes, and peppers with 1 chopped apple, 28 grams grated cheddar, and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette). (2,217 kjs, 77 g carbs, 27 g protein, 14 g fat)

Dinner: medium whole-wheat cheese pizza with a side of carrots, celery, and 2 tablespoons hummus (2,004 kjs, 58 g carbs, 19 g protein, 20 g fat)

TOTAL: 5,974 kjs, 191 g carbs, 59 g protein, 53 g fat

Optional Snacks: 28 grams raisins. (117 kjs, 7 g carbs, 0 g protein, 0 g fat)​

SATURDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Protein pancakes topped with 1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter and 1/2 cup sliced strawberries. (1,506 kjs, 41 g carbs, 19 g protein, 15 g fat)

Lunch: 113 gram turkey burger topped with 1/5 medium avocado and 1 slice Swiss cheese, wrapped up in lettuce leaves. Side: an apple or banana. (1,987 kjs, 29 g carbs, 39 g protein, 23 g fat)

Dinner: 113 gram cajun chicken (chicken breast with cajun spices), 1/2 cup black beans, and 1 cup sautéed peppers and onions with 2 teaspoons olive oil (1,656 kjs, 27 g carbs, 41 g protein, 13 g fat)

TOTAL: 5,075 kjs, 97 g carbs, 99 g protein, 51 g fat

Optional snack: 8 almonds. (234 kjs, 2 g carbs, 2 g protein, 5 g fat)

SUNDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Breakfast burrito with 1 scrambled egg, 1/2 cup black beans, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1 slice pepper jack cheese, and fresh corriander wrapped in a large whole-wheat wrap. Side: 1 orange. (1,891 kjs, 50 g carb, 23 g protein, 17 g fat)

Lunch: Baked potato topped with shredded rotisserie chicken (113 grams), 1 cup cooked broccoli, and 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese. (2,016 kjs, 42 g carbs, 47 g protein, 13 g fat)

Dinner: 1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice, 2 cups mixed veggies, and 113 grams lean beef strips stir-fried in 1 teaspoon sesame oil. (2,820 kjs, 66 g carbs, 40 g protein, 28 g fat)

TOTAL: 6,727 kjs, 158 g carbs, 110 g protein, 58 g fat

Optional snack: 1 cup applesauce with cinnamon. (426 kjs, 27 g carbs, 0 g protein, 0 g fat)​

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MONDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats cooked with 1 cup 1% milk, an apple or banana, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts. (443 cals, 67 g carbs, 16 g protein, 15 g fat)


Lunch: Sandwich with 2 slices whole-wheat bread, 4 ounces deli turkey, 1/5 medium avocado, and mustard. 3 ounces raw carrots and 2 tablespoons hummus as a side. (385 cals, 53 g carbs, 26 g protein, 11 g fat)


Dinner: 2 ounces whole-wheat pasta tossed with tomato-basil sauce, sliced zucchini, and 4 ounces lean ground beef. 1/2 ounce dark chocolate for dessert. (661 cals, 57 g carbs, 41 g protein, 32 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,489 cals, 177 g carbs, 83 g protein, 58 g fat


Optional snack: 2 whole grain crispbreads with 2 The Laughing Cow Swiss cheese wedges (140 cals, 12 g carbs, 5 g protein, 8 g fat)​


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TUESDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 2 egg whites 2 eggs scrambled with one handful baby spinach, and topped with one slice mozzarella cheese. 1 cup strawberries as a side. (317 cals, 20 g carbs, 27 g of protein, 14 g fat)


Lunch: Spinach salad topped with 4 ounces cooked wild salmon, low-starch veggies (tomatoes, cucumber, peppers), 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar. 6 ounces Greek yogurt (light or plain low-fat, without added sugars) as a side. (388 cals, 19 g carbs, 42 g protein, 7 g fat)


Dinner: 4 ounces grilled chicken breast with 1 1/2 cups roasted asparagus and 1 cup butternut squash, cooked with 2 teaspoons olive oil. (323 calories, 24 g carbs, 33 g protein, 11 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,028 calories, 63 g carbs, 102 g protein, 32 g fat


Optional snack: 1 hard-boiled egg. (71 cals, 0 g carbs, 6 g protein, 5 g fat)

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WEDNESDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Parfait of 6 ounces low or nonfat greek yogurt, 1/4 cup granola, 1 chopped pear, 2 tablespoons raisins, and 1 tablespoon grated coconut flakes. (338 cals, 57 g carbs, 20 g protein, 4 g fat)


Lunch: Large whole-wheat tortilla filled with 1/2 cup refried beans, 1 ounce grated cheese, and salsa, lettuce, onion and tomatoes. 1 cup grapes as a side. (530 calories, 71 g carbs, 19 g protein, 19 g fat)


Dinner: 4-ounce grilled pork chop with 1/2 cup applesauce, 3/4 cup cooked brown rice, and 1 1/2 cups steamed broccoli with lemon pepper and 1 teaspoon butter. Side: half a banana smeared with 1/2 tablespoon peanut butter. (578 calories, 70 g carbs, 44 g protein, 14 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,446 cals, 198 carbs, 83 g protein, 37 g fat


Optional snack: 2 thin rice cakes topped with 1 ounce avocado, fresh basil, and salt. (99 cals, 17 g carbs, 1 g protein, 4 g fat)​

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THURSDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: 1 egg and 1 egg white scrambled with 2 slices turkey bacon (chopped) and 1/2 cup bell peppers and onions. On the side: 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon all-fruit preserves. (325 calories, 19 g carbs, 31 g protein, 14 g fat)


Lunch: 2 cups vegetable soup with 2 cups side salad (spinach, 1 cup tomatoes, 3/4 cup cucumber, 5 Kalamata olives, 3/4 ounce crumbled feta, and balsamic vinegar). (358 calories, 56 g carbs, 14 g protein, 10 g fat)


Dinner: 6 ounces baked cod with tomatoes and oregano, 1 cup roasted green beans with 2 teaspoon olive oil, and 1/2 sweet potato with 1 teaspoon butter. (381 cals, 31 g carbs, 41 g protein, 14 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,064 cals, 106 g carbs, 86 g protein, 38 g fat


Optional snack: 6 ounces low-fat Greek yogurt. (100 cals, 17 g protein, 6 g carb, 1 g fat)

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FRIDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Whole-wheat English muffin with 2 tablespoons almond butter and 1 sliced banana (419 cals, 56 g carbs, 13 g protein, 19 g fat)


Lunch: 2 cups lentil soup with a side salad (2 cups greens, tomatoes, and peppers with 1 chopped apple, 1 ounce grated cheddar, and 2 tablespoons vinaigrette). (530 cals, 77 g carbs, 27 g protein, 14 g fat)


Dinner: 8-inch whole-wheat cheese pizza (try Amy's) with a side of carrots, celery, and 2 tablespoons hummus (479 calories, 58 g carbs, 19 g protein, 20 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,428 calories, 191 g carbs, 59 g protein, 53 g fat


Optional Snacks: 1 ounce raisins. (27 cals, 7 g carbs, 0 g protein, 0 g fat)​

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SATURDAY: LOWER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Protein pancakes (homemade or 1/2 cup Kodiak Cakes power cakes mix) topped with 1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter and 1/2 cup sliced strawberries. (360 calories, 41 g carbs, 19 g protein, 15 g fat)


Lunch: 4-ounce turkey burger topped with 1/5 medium avocado and 1 slice Swiss cheese, wrapped up in lettuce leaves. Side: an apple or banana. (457 calories, 29 g carbs, 39 g protein, 23 g fat)


Dinner: 4 ounces cajun chicken (chicken breast with cajun spices), 1/2 cup black beans, and 1 cup sautéed peppers and onions with 2 teaspoons olive oil (396 calories, 27 g carbs, 41 g protein, 13 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,213 calories, 97 g carbs, 99 g protein, 51 g fat


Optional snack: 8 almonds. (56 cals, 2 g carbs, 2 g protein, 5 g fat)

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SUNDAY: HIGHER-CARB DAY

Breakfast: Breakfast burrito with 1 scrambled egg, 1/2 cup black beans, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1 slice pepper jack cheese, and fresh cilantro wrapped in a large whole-wheat tortilla. Side: 1 orange. (452 cals, 50 g carb, 23 g protein, 17 g fat)


Lunch: Baked potato topped with shredded rotisserie chicken (4 ounces), 1 cup cooked broccoli, and 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese. (482 cals, 42 g carbs, 47 g protein, 13 g fat)


Dinner: 1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice, 2 cups mixed veggies, and 4 ounces lean beef strips stir-fried in 1 teaspoon sesame oil. (674 cals, 66 g carbs, 40 g protein, 28 g fat)


TOTAL: 1,608 cals, 158 g carbs, 110 g protein, 58 g fat


Optional snack: 1 cup applesauce with cinnamon. (102 cals, 27 g carbs, 0 g protein, 0 g fat)​

 

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