Carb cycling is a diet where you alternate between high and low-carb days throughout the week depending on your training schedule.
With this approach, it should be possible to build muscle and reduce fat at the same time. Are you wondering if this is really possible?
The beginning of the year is the time of resolutions and for many of us, these resolutions are related to diet or fitness.
The assumption in the fitness world has always been that you have to make a choice: lose muscle or lose fat. Always one at a time, but not at the same time.
But what if both are possible at the same time? This is exactly what should be possible by circulating carbohydrates.
Read in this article what exactly is behind this diet, how you should eat with carb cycling, and what your carb cycling plan could look like.
What Is Carb Cycling?
Carb cycling is a diet that allows you to eat different amounts of carbohydrates on different days.
“Carb” stands for “carbohydrates” and “cycling” can be translated as “change”. Low, medium, and high carb days alternate with this diet trend.
Carbs - What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates or carbs for short are one of the three macronutrients, along with proteins and fats. The main task of carbohydrates is to supply the body with energy.
So they are important for performance. Individual carbohydrates are made up of a chain of structures.
These chains are of different lengths and accordingly, it takes different amounts of time until they have been split by the body so that the energy is available.
Short chains, which provide fast energy are found in sugar, for example.
Potatoes, legumes, and whole-grain products, on the other hand, consist of long chains that are broken down more slowly.
If the body does not use the available energy it can store it and call it up when the opportunity arises.
One gram of carbohydrate provides the body with 4.1 kcal. How many carbohydrates you should eat every day depends on various factors.
This includes your height, your weight, your age, and your body composition, i.e. how many muscles you have and not only how much you train, but also what sport you do and what your goals are in terms of your form and performance.
The most important facts about carbohydrates at a glance:
- They are among the macronutrients
- A source of energy
- They are important for performance
- Like proteins, they provide 4.1 kcal per gram
- There are “fast” and “slow” carbohydrate sources
- The energy from carbohydrates can be stored and accessed when needed
How Does Carb Cycling Work?
Implementing this diet is easy. There are high-carb days, low-carb days, and moderate-carb days.
So so-called high-carb days, medium-carb days, and low-carb days.
It is also possible to switch between just high and low-carb days. A high carb day is usually followed by a low carb day.
However, the exact amount depends on your training plan.
High-intensity days have the most carbohydrates. Eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates on light training days and low-carb on non-training days.
The exact amounts depend on your individual needs and your individual goals.
About 50 percent of the calories should come from carbohydrates on high-carb days, about 20 percent on medium-carb days, and just 10 percent on low-carb days.
Individual adjustments and deviations are also possible here. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t eat indiscriminately, even on higher-carb days.
If you have ambitious goals, you can calculate your nutrient requirements with a carb cycling calculator.
Likewise, tracking macronutrients can help you stick to exact amounts.
What Do I Eat Instead Of Carbohydrates?
With this type of diet, not only does the amount of carbohydrates change from day to day but also the number of calories. The carbohydrates are not replaced but omitted.
On the low-carb days, i.e. the rest days, you leave out the carbohydrates and thus reduce your calorie intake.
With increasing training intensity, the number of allowed carbohydrates and thus the number of calories also increases.
Carb Cycling Plan
As already mentioned, the amount of carbohydrates varies depending on the training day.
Here you will find two sample plans with different training rhythms and training volumes.
Carb Cycling Plan At 5 Workouts Per Week
If you train ambitiously and only take a break for two days, you can use the following plan as a guide:
- Monday: high-carb (training day with high loads/large muscle groups)
- Tuesday: medium-carb (moderate-intensity training day/small muscle groups)
- Wednesday: high-carb (training day with high loads/large muscle groups)
- Thursday: low-carb (rest day)
- Friday: high-carb (training day with high loads/large muscle groups)
- Saturday: medium-carb (moderate-intensity training day/small muscle groups)
- Sunday: low-carb (rest day)
Carb Cycling Plan For Three Sessions A Week
If you have less time to train and only manage to exercise three times a week you can use the following plan as a guide:
- Monday: high- or medium-carb (training day with moderate to intensive effort)
- Tuesday: low-carb (rest day)
- Wednesday: high- or medium-carb day (training day with moderate to intensive exertion)
- Thursday: low-carb (rest day)
- Friday: high- or medium-carb (training day with moderate to intensive effort)
- Saturday: low-carb (rest day)
- Sunday: low-carb (rest day)
Who Is Carb Cycling Suitable For?
Carb cycling may be for you if you’re looking to lose fat but want to build muscle at the same time, or if you want to make sure your workout doesn’t suffer from dieting.
It can also be suitable as a long-term diet if you want to maintain your figure.
It is important to note, however, that there is currently little scientific evidence supporting this fairly new diet trend. So the rule is: try it out.
Pros And Cons Of Carb Cycling
The big benefit of this diet trend is that you don’t have to cut out carbohydrates completely.
As a result, it takes less willpower and it will be easier for you to implement your plan and to persevere for a longer period of time.
Those who constantly forbid themselves food tend to develop uncontrollable cravings and thereby endanger success.
This seems less likely if you eat carbs every other day. Another problem with many traditional diets, but not with carb cycling is that social life is restricted.
Those who do not do without carbohydrates for at least a few days a week are more flexible and can, for example, go out to eat with friends without having to have the dishes made in the restaurant.
Carb cycling can also be implemented well in everyday life, with a little effort.
Another advantage is that your training will not suffer on this diet. On training days you can eat carbohydrates and are therefore supplied with energy.
Whether you can actually achieve your goals with the carb cycling principle and at the same time build muscle and lose fat is still controversial.
Because it is a fairly new nutritional principle, science has not yet done much research on it, so there is hardly any scientific evidence.
You can only try it yourself and have to wait and see what happens.
What makes this diet trend a bit complicated is the exact calculation of carbohydrates.
If you want to be precise, you should definitely track your macronutrients as precisely as possible.
This means every component of the meals must be weighed and documented. For those unfamiliar with it, it will take a while to get familiar with it.
Whether and who the carb cycling diet can really help has not yet been clearly proven.
A big advantage of this diet is that it is much easier to implement than many other restrictive diets.
Depending on the training plan, you only have to do without carbohydrates a few days a week, which can prevent the typical cravings associated with dieting and easily maintain a social life.
If you’re planning a meal with friends, just put it on one of the other days when you’re not restricted.
This makes it more likely to continue this diet over the long term.
However, anyone who decides to do so must expect a significant amount of effort, since food should be weighed so that the macronutrients can be determined as precisely as possible.