Carbs Cycling|Does It Work For Fat Loss And Muscle Gain?

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Carbohydrate cycling means rotating the intake of carbohydrates in your diet. It has been used by competitive athletes not only to lose fat but to gain muscle and strength at the same time. 

Carbohydrate cycling can be defined as a planned alteration of carbohydrate intake in order to prevent a fat loss plateau and maintain metabolism along with workout performance.  

The best part is that unlike a long term low carb diet or a keto diet, which can be quite difficult to practice & sustain, short term deprivation, as in carb cycling, is easily manageable, and quite sustainable in the long run. 

Carbohydrate cycling is not a new concept, certainly not in the muscle world. Bodybuilders have been cycling carbohydrates since decades to get the shredded look during the competitive season and now many models and actors are riding high on this bandwagon. 

Carbs have been wrongly termed as evil at many places, simply because it’s a double edged sword. Too much of it would lead to fat storage, but a right amount would fuel your workout and create an anabolic environment. 

So carb cycling basically provide your body with carbs when they are needed the most, and eliminate/reduce them when not needed. 

There are many variations to carb cycling, with people practicing programs on a weekly, or monthly basis. However, we are going to discuss a weekly carb cycling plan. 

Carbohydrate cycling has the following types, which are rotated depending on the individual needs: 

  • Very low carbohydrates/No Carbohydrates: Under 10% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs. A day I don’t personally recommend. 
  • Low carbohydrates: Under 26% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs. Make sure the protein intake is between 1.6-2gm/kg body weight. 
  • Moderate carbohydrates: Between 27–44% of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs. Keep the protein intake between 1.5-1.8gm/kg body weight.
  • High carbohydrate: 45% or more of a person’s daily calories will come from carbs. Keep the protein intake as 1.4-1.5gm/kg body weight. 

When we talk about carbohydrate cycling it is not just rotation or changes in carbohydrate intake but the cycling of other macronutrients i.e. proteins and fats too, in such a way that during practice days you get the required stamina and strength for a hard workout and when on rest, your fat burn enhances. 

We often overeat on rest days in the name of recovery and as a result hinder the fat burn process and collect a lot of unwanted body fat despite of the hard training. 

Common sense says that during our hardest workout we would require more carbohydrates for energy i.e. for most of us it is the leg day. Leg workouts are brutal and take a lot out of a person. At this time, your body needs huge amount of carbohydrates for energy and adequate proteins to repair the damage.


However, during training days, when your workout is not so brutal, the carbohydrate intake will reduce to a moderate level. However, in none of the cases protein intake reduces.

On days when you are resting or doing only cardio, you need low carbohydrates so that the fat burn process is enhanced. 

On a high carbohydrate day

Proteins – min 1.5 gm/kg of body weight 

On a low carbohydrate day

Proteins – 1.6-2.0 gm/kg of body weight

Fat intake in all cases would remain low to moderate. 

The effect of this process will vary from person to person. If you are already lean muscular and need to lose fat here and there, then you may have to be stricter with yourself. An obese person would simply see results just by eating clean initially.

On a high carbohydrate day all meals will have decent amount of carbohydrates. But keep the carbohydrate source clean. You can have rice, whole grains, vegetables, fruits etc.

A moderate to high carbohydrate day, doesn’t just provide the necessary fuel for an intense workout, but also helps the body replenish its supply of muscle glycogen, which may improve performance and reduce muscle breakdown. 

Strategic high carb periods may also improve the function of the weight- and appetite-regulating hormones leptin & ghrelin. High carb refeeds may have positive effects on hormones during a diet, including thyroid hormones, testosterone, and leptin. 

Leptin is one of the reasons you feel so hungry when you consistently eat less. Leptin is also considered the “master controller” of other hormones, meaning that when leptin drops, so do thyroid and reproductive hormones.

On a low carbohydrate day,the strategy is not to go no carbs but eat less carbs only when your body needs them i.e. before and after workouts. It helps the body burn the stored fat as fuel, and helps improve insulin sensitivity. 

Acc. to a source, “one of the major components of carb cycling is that you’ll perform some workouts in a glycogen-depleted state. Training in a glycogen-depleted state has been shown to enhance the expression of genes that promote the creation of mitochondria. Increasing mitochondrial density in the muscle cell can improve the energy efficiency of the muscle cell, increase fat oxidation, and improve endurance performance”.

However, try and keep a short intense workout, for a low carbohydrate day. And consume most of your carbs around the workout. 

The no carbohydrate dayas the name suggests is the most challenging day of the week. So no fruits, grains, oats, dairy etc. but plenty of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, sprouts, peas and green vegetables. On a no carbohydrate day, you won’t have any workouts except light/moderate cardio. Even the duration of cardio is to be limited to 45min to an hour not more.

However, you I won’t suggest a no carb day in most cases, as if you are working out with higher intensities 4-5 days/week, your body is virtually always in a recovery mode. And having lower carbs few times in a week will do the trick. 

Now what is challenging is to divide these carb cycling days in a week. Let me give you an amazing double body part split:

  1. Monday – let’s take it as a Chest & Calves day. Calf muscles is most often neglected or just taken as a non-significant exercise, at the end of the day. But it is one of the major and most neglected muscle of the body. This would be a moderate carb day. 
  2. Tuesday – it would be advisable to keep your leg workout days as a high carb day. You can keep one more day as high carb day but the gap between the 2 should be minimum 2-3 days of low carb days. 
  3. Wednesday – the body will need the fuel to recover from previous days leg workout, and you have to workout on Wednesday too, so it should be a moderate carb day. You can plan your Shoulder & Traps workout on this day. 
  4. Thursday – should be a low carb day, where you can plan a short intense workout session, or purely an endurance workout session, or even take a break if you want. 
  5. Friday – can again be a moderate carb day, where you plan your complete back workout. 
  6. Saturday – is your arms day, where you can plan a low to moderate carb day. 

So let’s take a sample carb cycling week: 

Monday – Chest & Calves – Moderate Carbs

Tuesday – Legs – High Carbs

Wednesday – Shoulder & Traps – Moderate Carbs

Thursday – Endurance or Break – Low Carbs

Friday – Back workout – Moderate Carbs

Saturday – Arms – Low to Moderate Carbs 

Sunday – Break – Low to No Carbs

This was a sample workout schedule and carb distribution pattern. However, the carb intake will vary for individuals, due to their different workout schedules.

Does carb cycling lead to weight loss? 

It may or may not. As weight loss depends on total calorie balance, than just cycling carbs. But if done properly, it would be much easier to lose fat on carb cycling. In fact, it’s a great way to break your fat loss plateau. 

Is there is any scientific research on carb cycling as such ?

No, not at this point of time. However carb cycling is not a diet pattern, but a way of cycling carbs, to maintain balance.