Should You Try Carb Cycling? Decoding The Facts: HealthifyMe

Carbohydrates, along with protein and fat, are vital macronutrients that give the body energy for overall health. While too many refined carbs can cause weight gain and health issues, the problem is not the carbs themselves but how much and what kind you eat. That’s why carb cycling, a new dietary approach, involves alternating between high and low-carb intake days instead of completely eliminating carbs.

While low-carb and ketogenic diets are effective for fat loss, they might be hard to maintain in the long term. That’s where carb cycling comes in, providing an alternative approach. Carb cycling involves customising carbohydrate intake based on personal dietary needs and fitness goals. In this way, you can determine when your body needs low, medium, or high-carb days. 

Keep reading to learn more about this approach and decide whether it suits your preferences and goals.

What is Carb Cycling?

Carb cycling is a dietary approach that alternates between higher and lower carbohydrate intake days. The basic principle is to tailor carb consumption to meet changing needs over weeks, months, or a year. Initially favoured by bodybuilders and athletes, carb cycling is now gaining popularity among those interested in the ketogenic diet.

Aligning with one’s training schedule, carb cycling involves consuming more carbs on intense workout days and fewer on less demanding days. This strategy ensures the body receives necessary carbohydrates on high-carb days to fuel workouts and replenish glycogen stores. On low-carb days, the body depends on stored fat for energy. As a result, carb cycling creates cycles of high, medium, and low-carb days throughout the week.

People practising carb cycling also engage in calorie cycling as well. It involves consuming fewer calories on “low-carb days” and more calories on “high-carb days.” Additionally, some people choose to cycle their carbs within a single day. For example, one can concentrate on eating high-carb foods around their workout time while opting for low-carb foods during the rest of the day.


Carb cycling, alternating between higher and lower carbohydrate intake days, tailors consumption to changing needs over weeks. This strategy ensures the body receives necessary carbohydrates for fuel and glycogen replenishment on high-carb days, relying on stored fat for energy on low-carb days. People also engage in calorie cycling, adjusting intake based on carb days, with some opting for intra-day carb cycling, focusing high-carb foods around workouts.

Benefits of Carb Cycling

Cycling between low-carb days and high-carb days feels less restrictive and easier than maintaining a consistently low-carb diet. This approach also provides additional benefits, including:

Promote Metabolism

The core principle of carb cycling is to optimise carbohydrates for energy and recovery on active days while promoting fat utilisation on less active days. This strategy enhances metabolism by keeping it active and adaptable. High-carb days stimulate metabolism through the thermic effect of food, while low-carb days prompt fat metabolism, facilitating weight loss and efficient metabolic function. 

Promotes Insulin Sensitivity

High-carb eating patterns often lead to spikes in blood sugar. Eating smaller, regular portions of carbs throughout the day supplies the body with less sugar at each meal, facilitating insulin’s function and enhancing insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, low-carb days prompt the body’s ability to utilise stored fats by improving insulin sensitivity. 

Supports Weight Loss

Carb cycling achieves a balanced insulin release, levelling blood glucose and controlling cravings. This balance contributes to reduced caloric intake, supporting weight loss and overcoming plateaus. 

Strategic limitation of carb intake on specific days further regulates overall carb and calorie consumption, which is crucial for effective weight management. As carb cycling is not recommended for long-term weight management, individuals should consider it only after exploring more sustainable nutritional strategies.

Improve Athletic Performance

Carb cycling is widely adopted by bodybuilders and athletes, especially during the cutting diet phase of physique competitions. By strategically incorporating low or no-carb days, competitors exploit the water-weight-reducing effect of depleting glycogen, altering muscle appearance on stage. On the other hand, increasing carbohydrate intake creates an energy surplus and promotes muscle gain. 

Athletes employing carb cycling aim to optimise muscle gain and minimise fat accumulation. However, one needs to strictly follow precise daily menu planning that is aligned with energy expenditure and body composition.


Cycling between low-carb and high-carb days feels less restrictive and more sustainable than maintaining a consistently low-carb diet. This approach offers additional benefits, promoting metabolism by optimising carbohydrates for energy and recovery on active days while encouraging fat utilisation on less active days. It enhances insulin sensitivity, controls blood sugar spikes, and supports weight loss by achieving a balanced insulin release. Athletes use carb cycling strategically to improve performance, exploiting glycogen depletion for a leaner appearance on stage and optimising muscle gain. 

Who Should Try Carb Cycling?

If you’re into endurance sports or follow a low-carb diet, carb cycling might work well for you. For endurance athletes like runners and cyclists, adjusting carbs, especially reducing them during intense training, can boost muscle glycogen. There is a rise in performance when carbs are reintroduced. Some find a lower-carb diet helpful for weight maintenance and overall health.

People with underlying metabolic issues or digestive issues might experience bloating and fatigue after consuming large amounts of carbohydrates. Therefore, this group can effectively benefit from carb cycling. Concentrating the majority of their carbohydrate intake around workouts could be advantageous for them.

Many who follow keto-like, high-fat, low-carb diets commonly use carb cycling. However, a high-fat diet is not a requirement to reap its benefits. You can successfully cycle your carbs with any kind of diet.


For endurance athletes or those on a low-carb diet, carb cycling suits well. It can help with enhancing muscle glycogen and performance upon carb reintroduction. Some find a lower-carb diet aids in weight maintenance and overall health. People with metabolic or digestive issues can effectively benefit from carb cycling by concentrating carb intake around workouts. While popular among keto-like, high-fat, low-carb dieters, carb cycling is not exclusive to high-fat diets.

How to Start Carb Cycling?

To start carb cycling, track your macros through an app or food journal. Determining daily carb grams is highly individualised, considering factors like body weight, age, sex, workout intensity, and listening to your body’s hunger cues. You must emphasise personalised approaches for optimal results.

On high-carb days, about 60% of calories come from complex carbs, while on low-carb days, some carbs are swapped for healthy fats. Alternatively, use 50 grams of carbs per day as a starting point for low-carb days, considering it a baseline for reaching ketosis. Customise the plan according to individual preferences and how your body responds.

If you are considering a carb cycle, a weekly plan could look like this:

  • Day 1: 50 grams carbs (Least intense training day)
  • Day 2: 100 grams carbs
  • Day 3: 150 grams carbs
  • Day 4: 200 grams carbs (High intense training day)
  • Day 5: 125 grams carbs

After day 5, you can cycle back to day one. Maintain consistent protein levels while modifying fat in alignment with carb adjustments. If carb intake rises, reduce fat consumption to balance the calorie shift. This approach better suits those aiming to achieve weight or body fat loss.


High-carb days should consist of around 60% calories from complex carbs, while on low-carb days, swap some carbs for healthy fats. Alternatively, start with 50 grams of carbs as a baseline for ketosis on low-carb days. Customise the plan based on personal preferences and body responses. A sample weekly plan might involve gradually increasing carbs from 50 to 200 grams, aligning with workout intensity. Also, maintain consistent protein intake while adjusting fat to balance calories for weight or body fat loss.

Is Carb Cycling Better Than Eating No Carbs?

Carbohydrates are vital nutrients, yet diets like keto and Atkins recommend cutting them drastically. While these diets aid short-term, quick weight loss, long-term zero-carb plans have drawbacks. It can lead to health issues like low blood pressure, kidney stones, and nutritional deficiencies. Therefore, carb cycling, alternating between high and low-carb periods, is seen as a better option. But, neither complete carb avoidance nor carb cycling is considered the best long-term health strategy.

The ideal carb cycling diet plan varies based on individual needs, considering activity levels and personal goals. If considering carb cycling, consult with a HealthifyMe nutritionist to plan changes in a balanced way, ensuring your body receives essential macro and micro nutrients without compromise or deprivation. 

HealthifyMe aids in achieving a balanced carb cycling plan with smart meal plans personalised by expert nutritionists and customised workout plans from certified fitness coaches. Their calorie counter covers regional foods, and the exercise tracker logs physical activities. The app displays protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fibre counts, ensuring a well-rounded approach to nutrition and fitness.


Prolonged zero-carb plans have drawbacks, leading to health issues. Therefore, carb cycling, alternating between high and low-carb periods, is considered a better option. However, neither carb cycling nor complete carb avoidance is the best long-term health strategy. It is better to follow balanced macro and micronutrient intake without compromise or deprivation.

Precautions to Take with Carb Cycling

On low-carb days, focus on high-fibre carbs. In any low-carb eating plan, make sure you get enough fibre. For example, whole-grain carbs are a great source. Fibre helps with feeling full, controlling cholesterol, and supporting your microbiome.

Quality is key. Avoid loading up high-carb days with burgers, pizza and fries. Choose healthier options like brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain bread/pasta over sugary choices.

The long-term effects of carb cycling remain unknown, so experts advise trying it for short periods. Additionally, it demands a lot of planning, prep, and tracking to do it right, making it challenging to stick with in the long run. It is advisable to approach carb cycling cautiously, primarily for short-term goals, rather than adopting it as a long-term lifestyle choice.

Carb cycling may or may not suit your needs. Therefore, treating it as an experiment is crucial until its compatibility with your lifestyle is evident. People with diabetes, hypertension, and other medical conditions should avoid drastic changes in carbohydrate intake, as it may disrupt bodily functions and insulin levels. Generally, experts advise against this diet for pregnant and breastfeeding women, those underweight, or those with eating disorders.


Focus on high-fibre foods on low-carb days for satiety, cholesterol control, and microbiome support. Ensure adequate fibre in any low-carb plan, utilising whole-grain carbs. However, carb cycling’s compatibility varies. Therefore, people with diabetes or hypertension should avoid extreme changes in carb intake. Experts generally discourage carb cycling for pregnant, breastfeeding, underweight, or those with eating disorders.

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Here are some suggestions to help you choose the most healthy carbohydrates to eat: Choose fibre-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose low-fat milk, cheese, yoghurt, and other dairy products. Stock up on legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas. Consume plenty of whole grains. Avoid refined carbs, added sugars, and highly processed foods. Protein consumption should be consistent throughout the day. Low-carb days should be strategically arranged alongside days off from the gym or easy training days. Low-carb days can help the body adjust to burning fat for fuel, whereas high-carb days replenish energy reserves and alleviate feelings of deprivation.

The Final Word

Carb cycling offers a flexible approach to managing carbohydrate intake, providing potential benefits for weight loss, muscle gain, and overall metabolic function. By alternating between high and low-carb days, individuals can tailor their nutrition to meet changing needs. However, it is essential to approach carb cycling cautiously, considering present health conditions and long-term sustainability. 

The effectiveness of this approach relies on personalised planning, tracking, and consistency. While carb cycling may suit some individuals, it is not recommended as a long-term solution. Therefore, always consult with healthcare professionals or nutritionists before making significant changes to your diet.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Research Sources

1. The Effect of Carbohydrate Intake on Strength and Resistance Training Performance: A Systematic Review

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is carb cycling?

A: The Carb cycling approach is to consume fewer carbohydrates on some days and more on others. This method helps sustain a lower-carb eating style without exerting yourself too much. For those following keto, this is known as a cyclical ketogenic diet, where they cycle between periods of low and higher carbohydrate intake.

Q: Is carb cycling better than keto?

A: While low-carb and ketogenic diets can be effective for fat loss, many struggle to maintain them long-term. Carb cycling offers a potential solution by making it easier to follow a low-carbohydrate diet. It could be an excellent fit for you if it aligns with your eating preferences and lifestyle, providing an easier approach to achieving your health and weight loss goals.

Q: Is carb cycling effective?

A: Carb cycling may not suit everyone, but it can be effective for certain individuals. If you aim to control your daily carbohydrate intake, transitioning to carb cycling might work well for you. It’s especially beneficial if you’re looking to lose weight or alter your physique for competition, making it a potentially helpful approach for achieving specific fitness goals.

Q: Is carb cycling safe?

A: The long-term effects of carb cycling are unknown, which is why experts suggest trying it for short periods only. Also, it demands a lot of planning, prep, and tracking to do it right, making it challenging to stick with in the long run. It’s recommended to use carb cycling cautiously and mainly for short-term goals rather than as a long-term lifestyle choice.

Q: How to carb cycle?

A: Begin by establishing your low-carb days as a baseline for calculating medium- and high-carb days. For instance, if aiming for ketosis typically requires around 50 grams of carbs per day, start your low-carb day with this amount. Gradually increase your carb intake, capping it at a maximum of 200 grams per day as you progress. Always plan your carb cycling approach to your individual needs and goals.

Q: How does carb cycling help you lose weight?

A: Carb cycling is said to help with weight loss, muscle gain, and recovery. The idea is only to eat extra carbs when your body needs them during a workout or intense activity, making sure you use them effectively. This approach tailors carbohydrate intake to match your body’s demands during specific activities, aiming to improve results in weight management, muscle building, and overall recovery.

Q: Can you eat dairy while carb cycling?

A: Yes, you can include dairy in your diet while carb cycling. However, choose dairy options that align with the carb levels you aim to achieve on a particular day, whether it’s a low-carb or high-carb day.

Q: How does carb cycling burn fat?

A: High-carb days boost metabolism through the thermic effect of food, while low-carb days encourage fat metabolism, aiding in weight loss and efficient metabolic function. However, sustaining fat-loss benefits with carb cycling relies on pairing it with regular exercise. Like other low-carb diets, initial weight loss may be due to water weight reduction, emphasising the importance of long-term lifestyle changes for sustained results.

Q: What should be the gap between carb cycling?

A: The carb cycling schedule can be on a daily or weekly basis. For instance, someone engaging in intense activity every other day might choose to alternate between high-carb intake on exercise days and low-carb intake in between to enhance performance and support recovery. Customising the carb cycling approach based on personal needs and activity levels is crucial for optimal results.

Q: What type of workout to do while doing carb cycling?

A: On high-carb days, engage in intense activities like HIIT or weightlifting. On low-carb days, opt for moderate exercises such as walking or yoga. Medium-carb days allow a balanced workout routine. Consulting a fitness professional can offer personalised guidance.

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