How to Use Carb Cycling to Burn Fat & Build Lean Muscle

Low carb diets are all the rage. But, the truth is, they’re not easy for people living in the real world.

In reality, most of us want an alteranative to the keto craze and extreme no-carb diets.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Carb cycling is a flexible way to lose fat, build lean muscle, and enjoy carbs!

In this article you’ll learn:

  • What is carb cycling exactly?

  • 5 Awesome Benefits of Carb Cycling

  • How to Use Carb Cycling In Your Diet

What is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is alternating daily carbohydrate intake with the goal of burning fat while toning or gaining muscle.

Most often, a carb cycle includes low, medium, and high carb days. Low days promote fat burning, medium days fuel workouts, and high days rev up your metabolism.

5 Carb Cycling Benefits

1. Burn Fat More Efficiently

It’s no secret that eating fewer carbs is effective for fat loss. Basically, your body uses fat for energy when carbs aren’t available. So low carb days tap into this fat burning power.

However, it’s important to realize that your metabolism slows down with consistent low carb/calorie dieting. In order to sustain fat loss, it’s imperative to support your metabolism.

2. Boost Metabolism

Sometimes it’s necessary to break the prolonged calorie deficit with a high carb day. Also called a refeed day.

How a Refeed Day Can Help You Lose More Weight

carb cycling refeed day

Like stoking a fire, a high carb day feeds your metabolism. As a result, you maintain your metabolic rate and burn more calories.

3. Build Lean Muscle Faster

Carbohydrates help you build muscle in two ways. First, they provide fuel for intense workouts. And second, carbs trigger the recovery process.

In fact, studies show that eating carbs before and after your workout increases both fat loss and muscle gain.

7 Reasons Why “When” You Eat Matters

4. Increase Metabolic Flexibility

Just as a hybrid car runs on gas or electricity, your body can run on carbs or fat. By continually alternating energy sources, you get better at burning both carbs and fat for fuel.

In this way, carb cycling promotes metabolic flexibility.

5. Enjoy Carbs Guilt Free!

Low carb diets leave little room for deviation. Whereas carb cycling allows you to plan your high carb days around social events. So you don’t have to feel guilty about moderate indulgences.

How to Use Carb Cycling

The cool thing is there’s no right or wrong way to use carb cycling. It all depends on your goals and how your body responds.

For example, you can increase the number of low carb days to burn more fat. Or you can add another high carb day to boost metabolism and keep cravings at bay.

In general though, it’s best to coordinate your carb cycle with your workout schedule.

carb cycling plan

Low Carb Days

Usually, low carb days coincide with lower activity. Like days you don’t workout.

On a low carb day, you should get less than 20% of your calories from carbs.

As an example, let’s say you’re on a 2,000 calorie diet. And you want to find out how many grams of carbs to eat.

Example:

 First, to find calories: 2,000 x 0.2 = 400 calories from carbs.

Now, to find grams: 400 ÷ 4* = 100 grams of carbs.

*there are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrate

Keep in mind the grams of carbs you eat on low days will vary depending on your body and goal. But generally, your carbs will be 50-150 grams per day.

Find Your Carb Cycling Macros

Medium Carb Days

On the other hand, you burn more calories and carbs when you workout. Especially with resistance training and other high intensity exercise.

On medium carb days you should get roughly 40% of your calories from carbs.

Continuing the example:

2,000 x 0.4 = 800 calories from carbs

800 ÷ 4 = 200 grams of carbs

Again, your personal target will vary depending on your body and workouts. So try the carb cycling calculator to find your ideal target.

Also, it’s beneficial eat most of your carbs around your workout.

High Carb Days

During a prolonged calorie restricted diet, it’s absolutely necessary to include a periodic high carb day. Even if it feels counterintuitive.

On a high carb day, you should bump up your calories. And get about 50% of your calories from carbs.

Continuing the example:

2,400* x 0.5 = 1,200 calories from carbs

1,200 ÷ 4 = 300 grams of carbs

*notice we bumped up calories

It’s important to remember the purpose of a high carb day is to increase carbs and calories above your energy expenditure. Which has been shown to increase hormones like leptin, that stimulate your metabolism.

Why Calorie Restricted Diets Fail – And How to Lose Weight the Right Way

High Carb Day vs. Cheat Day

A cheat day is when you overindulge in junk foods that aren’t part of your diet. Whereas a refeed day is a strategic high calorie day with mostly healthy foods.

Find Your Carb Cycling Macros

Now you have a good idea of how to find your carbs for low, medium, and high days. But what about fat and protein?

To find all your carb cycling macros, try my easy carb cycling calculator!

carb cycling calculator
Find Your Carb Cycling Macros

Get a Carb Cycling Meal Plan

carb cycling meal plan

If you want a plan that does everything for you, this is it! Your custom carb cycling plan includes:

  • Carb cycle based on your actual schedule

  • Daily menu for high, medium, and low days

  • Recipes formulated to fit your macros

Learn More

About the Author

Jeremy Fox  –  Founder of Nutritioneering, Engineer, CPT, Bodybuilder, Coach

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