Carb cycling is a highly restrictive diet program popular with people who want to jump-start an effective weight loss journey. If you are an athlete or a committed bodybuilder who wants to lose weight, increase muscle mass, or acquire more carbohydrates for an intense workout, this diet is the one you’re looking for. 

This article will carefully discuss what Carb cycling diet is all about—what comprises this dietary program, its benefits, side effects, and more. So if you’re interested in knowing more about this amazing diet, feel free to read further into this write-up.

What is Carb Cycling Diet?

Carb Cycling Diet

Our bodies require carbohydrates to function properly. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during digestion, and the glucose is what our body uses as fuel to do our daily tasks. To put it plainly, the carbs you consume get converted to sugar in your digestive system and are used as your body’s fuel.

And so, for most of the population, carbohydrates are a crucial source of energy and calories for the body. And what the Carb cycling diet does is it helps people modify their carb intake according to their specific needs.

By taking on the Carb cycling diet, you will plan out how much carbohydrates you consume on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. For instance, some might follow a diet that comprises food rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. If you’re planning on engaging in a vigorous exercise, you will typically be consuming more carbs, and vice versa. [1]

Aside from going back and forth between low-carb and high-carb days, part of the Carb cycling diet also includes times when you will not consume any carbs at all.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carb Cycling Diet

If you can still remember, there are actually two kinds of carbohydrates—the simple and complex. And what sets them apart from each other is that the complex carbohydrates like those found in cereals, beans, and potatoes have three or more sugar molecules. While the simple carbs (i.e., brown sugar, corn syrup, and fruit concentrates) only have one or two. 

Carbs come in various forms, and they can either be good or bad for you if consumed without moderation. Healthy or good carbohydrates come from natural foods, like whole grains and dairy products, fruits, beans, legumes, and vegetables. 

Examples of bad carbs, on the other hand, are starchy foods, sugars, white rice, and refined grains devoid of bran, nutrients, and fiber. [2]

The Benefits of Carb Cycling Diet

Carb Cycling Diet

Carb cycling can be an extremely effective way for triathletes, marathoners, and serious athletes to train their bodies and get lean. Why? This is because, in the athletic world, higher active performance means more carbohydrate consumption. 

Therefore, if you’re an athlete, your body tends to be more productive due to the constant intense body workouts, and at the same time, your metabolism is also pretty high. So to compensate for the higher energy output, you’ll need extra fuel to make up for everything. 

Here are all the benefits of the Carb cycling diet explained:

Increases Fat Burning Efficiency

It’s no secret that eating lesser amounts of carbs can help you lose weight. And this is where the low-carb days in your carb cycling diet comes in. So basically, what happens is that when your body doesn’t have enough carbs available, it turns to fat as an alternative energy source. [3]

However, opting for a low-carb only diet will not be enough to pull this feat. Since a consistent low-carb dieting also slows down your metabolism. And we shouldn’t forget that keeping an eye on our metabolism is an essential step for maintaining a good weight loss plan.

Helps Boost Metabolism

To perfectly balance things out, it is important to occasionally break some low-carb days with days where you consume high levels of carbohydrates. A high-carb day greatly fuels your metabolism, which as a result, helps keep your muscles lean.

Helps Build Lean Muscle More Rapidly

According to some supporters of the keto diet, carbohydrates are not necessary for the process of muscular growth. Although this could actually be true, there is no doubt that carbs can be a huge contributor to speeding up the whole process.

In fact, multiple studies have demonstrated that consuming carbohydrates before and after exercise helps promote muscle growth. This is because carbs can trigger the start of the healing process. [4]

Additionally, if you’ve ever tried to run a sprint or lift weights without eating any foods rich in carbohydrates, you can notice how poorly you perform. This is due to our body being built to burn carbs during muscle-building (or anaerobic) exercises primarily.

Boosts Metabolic Adaptability

Your body can run on either carbs or fat, much like how a hybrid automobile can run on electricity or gas. So by consistently switching up your energy sources, you can improve your ability to burn both fats and carbohydrates for fuel. A Carb cycling diet improves metabolic adaptability in this way. 

And if you practice the cycle properly, whatever food you consume won’t ever become an obstacle to your weight loss journey.

Takes Away the Guilt of Eating Carbs

Low-carbohydrate diets are very restrictive and might feel stifling. Especially when you’re undergoing a Keto diet—which basically strips you from enjoying all the nice things in life. And you get those desires that you just can’t avoid.

But on the contrary, practicing carb cycling adds variety to what once was a very monotonous lifestyle due to restrictive diets. Carb cycling enables you to indulge in modest excesses completely free of guilt, so you don’t have to become a killjoy during social occasions. Honestly, whatever floats your boat, it’s all part of the strategy!

How to Pull Off Carb Cycling Diet

Carb Cycling Diet

Carb cycling is great because there’s no proper way to go about it. Everything depends on your objectives and your body’s reaction regarding the whole process. For instance, to burn more fat, you can either decide to increase the frequency of your low-carb days. Or you can choose to enhance your metabolism by adding more high-carb days to your schedule. 

But generally speaking, Carb cycling works best if you synchronize your diet with the structure of your exercise routine.

Low Carb Days

Days with fewer carbohydrates typically include less physical activity, like days when you don’t exercise. You should consume fewer than 20% of your total calories from carbohydrates on a low-carb day. 

So, let’s say you want to know how much carbs you consume on a low-carb day. We’re going to use a diet of 2,000 calories for reference. To start, multiply 2,000 by 0.2 to get 400 calories from carbohydrates.

Now to calculate the carbs in grams: 

400/4* = 100 grams of carbohydrates

* Since every gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.

Remember that your specific calorie target will determine how many grams of carbohydrates you consume on low-carb days. And typically, a low day contains 25–150 grams of carbohydrates.

Medium Carb Days

When you exercise, you burn more carbohydrates and calories. Particularly when combined with weight training and other vigorous workouts. So consequently, on medium days, you should only consume about 40% of calories from carbohydrates.

We’re going to follow the same computation format as before. 2,000 multiplied by 0.4 equals 800 calories from carbohydrates.

To calculate the carbs in grams:

800/4 = 200 grams of carbohydrates

Like earlier, your individual goal depends on your physical condition and exercise regimen. It’s also advantageous to consume most of your carbs just before a workout. Consider it the supply and demand of energy.

High Carb Days

A recurring high-carb day must be included in a long-term calorie-restricted diet, even if it may seem illogical.

You should increase your calories on a high-carb day. During these days, you have to obtain roughly half the amount of the carbohydrates you’ve consumed into calories.

Still following the same format, we get 1,200 calories from 2,400* x 0.5 of carbs.

To calculate the carbs in grams:

1,200/4 = 300 grams of carbohydrates

* Notice the additional calories.

It’s necessary to remember that the goal of a high-carb day is to consume more calories and carbs than you really need. This practice has been shown to enhance hormones that promote your metabolism, such as leptin. [5]

On days when you consume a lot of carbohydrates, you shouldn’t overdo it, since doing so can prevent you from progressing. Therefore, it’s crucial to distinguish between a high-carb day and what most would call a “cheat” day. 

A cheat day is when you consume too much unhealthy food that isn’t part of your diet. On the other hand, a high-carb day is a planned day where you eat a lot of calories and primarily healthful foods.


To fully understand how effective carb cycling is for fat loss, it needs to be studied more thoroughly. But the reality is that many of us live unhealthy lifestyles and don’t need large amounts of carbohydrates to survive. 

Most of us consume the wrong kinds of carbohydrates far too frequently. We stuff ourselves with sugary, processed meals rather than those that are high in nutrients. The key to changing your life may therefore lie in understanding how to modify the way you eat.

Therefore, in addition to controlling your carb intake, you should also concentrate on developing long-term proper eating habits by consuming nutrient-rich meals. And as always, consult your doctor or nutritionist before making a final decision.

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.

Editorial References And Fact-Checking

  • Ivy J. L. (1999). Role of carbohydrate in physical activity. Clinics in sports medicine18(3), 469–v.
  • Bhardwaj, B., O’Keefe, E. L., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2016). Death by Carbs: Added Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates Cause Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in Asian Indians. Missouri medicine113(5), 395–400.
  • Cai, L., Yin, J., Ma, X., Mo, Y., Li, C., Lu, W., Bao, Y., Zhou, J., & Jia, W. (2021). Low-carbohydrate diets lead to greater weight loss and better glucose homeostasis than exercise: a randomized clinical trial. Frontiers of medicine15(3), 460–471.
  • Costill D. L. (1985). Carbohydrate nutrition before, during, and after exercise. Federation proceedings44(2), 364–368.
  • Kolaczynski, J. W., Nyce, M. R., Considine, R. V., Boden, G., Nolan, J. J., Henry, R., Mudaliar, S. R., Olefsky, J., & Caro, J. F. (1996, May 1). Acute and Chronic Effect of Insulin on Leptin Production in Humans: Studies In Vivo and In Vitro. Diabetes, 45(5), 699–701.


  • Elijah Redoble

    Elijah enjoys creating content that educates and entertains at the same time. During the health-content writing process, Elijah takes extra care and precaution to craft research-backed articles that are helpful, educational, and relatable to readers from various walks of life. LinkedIn

  • Kim Monasterial, BSN

    Kim is a Registered Nurse and has been a medical freelance writer for more than six years. Starting off as a writer, Kim moved to proofreading and editing all the articles posted on HealthPlugged. She’s an enthusiast for health and wellness, being one to keep herself fit and adventurous for outdoor activities. LinkedIn


Elijah enjoys creating content that educates and entertains at the same time. During the health-content writing process, Elijah takes extra care and precaution to craft research-backed articles that are helpful, educational, and relatable to readers from various walks of life. LinkedIn