Carb cycling: How Does it Work for Weight Loss?

Carb cycling is very popular with people who want to lose weight. It is basically a diet for people to consume more or fewer carbs on different days.

The best part? It helps increase your exercise performance and alleviate your chronic conditions. But how do you control carb cycling to get the best effect out of it? What should you be aware of while making your carb cycling schedule? Today’s article will discuss how to do it and the benefits of it, and expert advice while taking carb cycling.

What is Carb cycling?

Carbohydrates are important source for our body and there are two types of it, simple carbs and complex carbs.

simple carbs are like fruits and milk or yogurt that contain one or two sugar molecules. They can be digested easily and quickly.

Complex carbds contain more sugar molecules like cereals, legumes and potatoes.

So to put it simply, carb cycling is actually a dietary plan that asks people to take their carbs at a fixed frequency, whether daily, weekly or monthly. And each time their intake would vary. For instance, some may intake high carbs for a period of time, maybe two weeks, then change to a low fat diet for two weeks.

This is quite a balanced diet. However, what bothers us is that it takes self displine and asks for more planning.

What are the benefits?

It can definitely help with weight loss according to the 2013 study. But beyond that, carb cycling was found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

According to the research, all the participants were split into two groups and both of them were restricted to consume energy and carbohydrate at 2 days per week. However, one of them was allowed to have protein and fat but overall limited their consumption of energy and carbohydrates.

The result was expected that the group who were allowed to consume extra protein and fat had 5% or even greater weight loss. This found contributed to the benefits of a carb cycling diet. But scientists are still trying to explain why this is happening.

How does carb cycling work?

Even though there is no scientific proof of the effect of carb cycling, we see it generally works with people who want to reach their fitness goals by changing their carb intake during different days.

However, there are some explains for it. One of them is that people who follow a low carb diet usually consume more proteins and fats thereby making them feel full longer. And this helps decrease hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This means people, in return, get less hungry and burn more calories.

Consuming high-density, nutritious carbs also helps with type 2 diabetes. Such fiber rich carbs like vegetables and fruits contribute to insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol. The theory behind carb cycling is that when people alter from high and low carb diets, their body functions and mechanisms are trying to balance to a natural and healthy status, adjusting all the organs to work effectively.

Can Carb Cycling really Help You Lose Weight

In most cases, yes. However, we don’t have any scientific research based on the carb cycling that shows it is more or less effective compared to other diet plans or methods. Under certain conditions, yes, carb cycling meals work. For instance, if people consume calories scientifically, based on their body weight, and they need to be of moderate weight as well, or even have a calorie deficit while they have a high BMI, then this works in weight loss. So if you want to try the carb cycling strategy yourself, make sure you meet the above conditions and record and follow the diet plan and your weight. It usually works after 2 or 3 months of sticking to the carb cycling meal plan.

Research also found that there is no clear evidence of the power of different macronutrients, like protein and carbs, over others, in the weight loss carb cycling diet. But a customized food consumption diet is way better than a common carb cycling diet in wieght loss. The best part of the carb cycling diet is that it doesn’t refrain people’s food type thereby people can choose the food they need and want. This is also helpful with most people’s weight loss plans.

So if you want to control and calculate your consumed calories in your carb cycling diet, check out the form below

Body Weight Planner

Body Weight Planner


In order to maintain your current weight, you should eat:


To reach your goal you should eat:


To maintain your goal you should eat:


How to Carb Cycle on a daily basis

Your daily carbohydrate consumption can be categorized as very low, low, moderate, or high. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Very Low Carbohydrates: Carbs contribute to less than 10% of a person’s total daily calorie intake. If you’re consuming 2,000 calories a day, this means 200 calories or fewer come from carbs.
  2. Low Carbohydrates: Carbs make up less than 26% of your total daily caloric intake. In the context of a 2,000 calorie diet, this is up to 520 calories from carbs.
  3. Moderate Carbohydrates: Your carb intake will be between 26–44% of your daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this translates to 520 to 880 calories from carbohydrates.
  4. High Carbohydrate: 45% or more of your daily caloric intake is from carbs. For someone on a 2,000 calorie diet, this would mean at least 900 calories from carbs.

Sample Weekly Carb Cycling Plan

For someone who requires 2,000 calories daily, a carb cycling plan might look like:

  • Monday: High carbohydrate (e.g., 1,000 calories from carbs)
  • Tuesday: Moderate carbohydrate (e.g., 650 calories from carbs)
  • Wednesday: Low carbohydrate (e.g., 400 calories from carbs)
  • Thursday: Very low carbohydrate (e.g., 150 calories from carbs)
  • Friday: High carbohydrate (e.g., 1,000 calories from carbs)
  • Saturday: Moderate carbohydrate (e.g., 650 calories from carbs)
  • Sunday: Low carbohydrate (e.g., 400 calories from carbs)

Carb Cycling Meal Plans for a 2,000-Calorie Diet

Carb cycling is a flexible approach to eating, focusing on adjusting carbohydrate intake according to one’s goals. Regardless of the carb content, the meals should be balanced, nutritious, and should not exceed the designated carb count. Here’s a meal plan for those who need 2,000 calories a day:

High Carb Meal Plan

  • Breakfast
    • 1 cup of cooked oatmeal
    • Served with milk
    • 1 cup of halved strawberries
    • Total Carbs: 51g
  • Snack
    • 1 serving of roasted chickpeas
    • Total Carbs: 22g
  • Lunch
    • 6-inch wholemeal wrap
    • Half a cup of beans
    • 1 cup of raw peppers
    • Grated cheddar cheese
    • A medium apple
    • Total Carbs: 61g
  • Snack
    • A medium banana
    • Half a cup of skim milk
    • Total Carbs: 33.5g
  • Dinner
    • 1 cup of brown, long grain rice
    • 100g of mixed vegetables
    • 1 serving of chicken
    • Served with soy sauce
    • Total Carbs: 58g

Moderate Carb Meal Plan

  • Breakfast
    • 3 large eggs
    • 2 slices of brown bread
    • 2 thick slices of tomatoes
    • 2 slices of bacon
    • Served with butter
    • Total Carbs: 30.1g
  • Snack
    • 1 large apple
    • Total Carbs: 31g
  • Lunch
    • 3 ounces of salmon
    • Half a cup of potato
    • 3 florets of broccoli
    • Total Carbs: 14.8g
  • Snack
    • 1 medium banana
    • Total Carbs: 27g
  • Dinner
    • 1 portion of pasta
    • Pesto sauce
    • Total Carbs: 26.2g

Low Carb Meal Plan

  • Breakfast
    • 2 slices of bacon
    • 1 scrambled egg
    • Total Carbs: 1.2g
  • Snack
    • 1 large hard-boiled egg
    • 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
    • Total Carbs: 0.7g
  • Lunch
    • 1 cup of chopped or diced chicken
    • 50g of arugula
    • 1 cup red peppers
    • 1 cup of tomatoes
    • 1 cup onions
    • Olive oil dressing
    • Total Carbs: 20.9g
  • Dinner
    • 1 serving of shrimp
    • 1 cup of arugula salad
    • 1 serving of couscous
    • Salad dressing
    • Total Carbs: 25.4g

When planning meals, especially for carb cycling, always prioritize whole and minimally processed foods, ensuring a balance of macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s also essential to drink plenty of water throughout the day and consider individual factors like activity level, personal goals, and health status.

Recommended Sources of Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, often high in fiber, offer sustained energy, are more filling, and help regulate blood sugar levels. Here are some recommended sources of complex carbs that help your carb cycling plan.

  1. Whole Wheat Cereals: These are made from whole wheat grains and thus retain most of their nutrients and fiber, which aid in digestion and provide a steady release of energy.
  2. Whole Grain Cereals and Grains:
    • Brown Rice: Unlike white rice, brown rice has not had its bran and germ removed, which means it’s richer in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
    • Quinoa: This is a complete protein grain, meaning it provides all the essential amino acids.
    • Barley and Oats: Both are high in fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
  3. Wholemeal Bread: Made from whole grains, wholemeal bread retains the bran, which is rich in dietary fiber, aiding in digestion and promoting satiety.
  4. Potatoes: While often viewed as a starchy carb, potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. Opt for baked, roasted, or boiled preparations over fried.
  5. Pulses:
    • Beans: Examples include black beans, kidney beans, and navy beans. They are rich in protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.
    • Lentils: Available in various colors, lentils are a protein powerhouse and are excellent sources of iron and folate.
    • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans): These can be roasted, added to salads, or used to make hummus. They are rich in protein and fiber.
  6. Vegetables: Almost all vegetables are beneficial sources of carbs, fiber, and a plethora of vitamins and minerals. Examples include broccoli, spinach, carrots, and Brussels sprouts.
  7. Fresh Fruit: While they contain simple sugars, fruits also provide essential nutrients and fiber. Berries, apples, pears, oranges, and bananas are all excellent choices.

When incorporating these carb sources into your carb cycling diet, always remember to watch portion sizes and pair them with good protein and fat sources to create a balanced carb cycling meal. Consuming these complex carbs can help maintain steady energy levels, promote good digestive health, and provide essential nutrients.

Side-Effects and Precautions of Carb Cycling

Carb cycling manipulates carbohydrate intake to optimize energy, muscle growth, and fat loss. However, such dietary alterations can lead to certain side effects, especially if your body is accustomed to a consistent carbohydrate intake.

Potential Side-Effects of Carb Cycling:

  1. Sleep Disturbances: Altering your carb intake can impact sleep quality. Carbohydrates can influence the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and sleep.
  2. Tiredness or Lack of Energy: Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Cutting them can lead to feeling fatigued or sluggish, especially during the initial phase.
  3. Constipation: Lower carb intake might mean reduced fiber intake, which can lead to constipation.
  4. Headaches: As the body adjusts to burning fat instead of carbs for energy, it can cause a headache in some individuals.
  5. Bloating: Changing the carbohydrate intake can influence gut bacteria and digestion, potentially leading to bloating.
  6. Mood Swings or Bad Temper: The body’s glucose levels can impact mood, so fluctuating carb intake can cause mood changes in some people.
  7. Bad Breath: When the body enters a state of ketosis (burning fat for energy instead of carbs), it produces ketones, which can cause a distinct type of bad breath.

Who Should Avoid Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is not appropriate for everyone. Here are some individuals who should think twice or consult with healthcare professionals before trying this approach:

  1. Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: They require a steady and balanced intake of nutrients for the health of both the mother and the baby.
  2. Underweight Individuals: Carb cycling might not provide enough calories for those who are already underweight.
  3. People with Adrenal Gland Issues: Altering carbohydrate consumption can stress the adrenal glands, which regulate stress hormones.
  4. Individuals with Eating Disorders (Past or Present): Carb cycling can potentially trigger unhealthy eating patterns or obsessions with food.

Always consult with a healthcare professional or nutritionist before making significant changes to your diet. They can provide guidance tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

The Bottom Line on Carb Cycling

Carb cycling is a strategic diet approach, often adopted by endurance athletes and bodybuilders, to match carbohydrate intake with the demands of their training sessions. By aligning carb consumption with workout intensity and duration, it allows for optimal performance and recovery. While it’s particularly beneficial for those in rigorous training, everyday individuals aiming for fat loss—yet wishing to remain active—can also employ this method.

However, if you’re considering carb cycling, it’s essential to collaborate with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to tailor the diet to your specific training regimen and nutritional needs. This ensures you receive the right amount of carbohydrates to fuel your activities without over or under-eating.

It’s also important to note that while carb cycling has its proponents, comprehensive research on its long-term effects and benefits is still limited. As with any diet, it’s vital to stay informed, listen to your body, and seek professional guidance when needed.


a 35-year-old web developer and cycling coach based in Boulder, Colorado. Over the past ten years, my passion for cycling has transformed from a casual hobby into a way of life. As a lover of all things cycling, I am thrilled to share my journey with others who share the same enthusiasm for this incredible sport.