Carb cycling: What is it and how to do it?

  • By: srtmorar
  • Date: January 16, 2024
  • Time to read: 4 min.


Carb cycling is a diet where the consumption of carbohydrates is alternated with proteins and fats to help you lose weight. Read on to know more!

Be it the ketogenic diet or any other FAD diet that you decide to follow, the first thing they ask you to cut down on is carbohydrates! However, we know that all micro and macronutrients are equally important when it comes to a healthy balanced diet for optimum nutrition and preventing deficiencies. So, what if we told you that there was a way to eat carbs and lose weight? One such way is carb cycling.

Carb cycling is a diet where the intake of carbs is alternated with other nutrition groups to help you lose weight. Health Shots got in touch with dietician Sweedal Trinidade to understand what is carb cycling and how can one do carb cycling in order to lose weight.

What is carb cycling?

Carbohydrate cycling is a process in which the dietary intake of carbohydrate is alternated with proteins and fats in variable quantities. “Carb cycling is followed for a month or more, and during this time, the body shifts its fuel source from carbohydrate to fats. Unlike other FAD diets, carbohydrate cycling has to be done with precision so as to maintain optimum protein intake,” says Dr Trinidale.

A woman eating bread.
Healthy carbs such as multigrain bread must be preferred rather than processed foods. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the factors you need to consider while following carb cycling?

Your carbohydrate intake may be based on various factors while following carb cycling.

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1. Reducing body fat percentage

A high carbohydrate diet may trigger the body to make higher amounts of insulin, gradually developing insulin resistance and dyslipidaemia, which is the imbalance of lipids such as cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, etc. “Therefore one must take a break from a high carbohydrate diet to deplete stores of glycogen and burn body fat to desired amount,” she explains.

2. Balance between physical activity and carbohydrate intake

It is best to match carbohydrate intake with physical activity like cardio activity, weight training and rest day for optimum utilisation of energy thereby preventing undesirable storage.

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3. Planned carbohydrate refeeds

Ideal carbohydrate cycling involves intervals of refeeding to balance the hormone leptin which is responsible for satiety and hunger. “Leptin levels decline in periods of starvation that tells your body there is a drop in fat stores and you need to eat,” says Dr Trinidale.

4. Marathons and sports activity

Carbohydrate loading pre-event is recommended to prevent hypoglycemia and metabolic stress during extreme activity.

What is the science behind carb cycling?

Alternating the source of energy from carbohydrate or carbohydrate cycling enables the body to use carbohydrate as fuel in times of intense activity only. “The body uses fat in times of rest by modulating the carbohydrate content in diet consumed i.e high carbohydrates in times of work out and low in times of rest, thus reducing glycogen stores and reducing body fat percentage,” says Dr Trinidale.

How does carb cycling help you lose weight?

In carb cycling, the body uses carbs for energy, as well as recovery on days where one is eating carbs. And, on days when one is low on carbs, the body uses fat for energy. Carbohydrate loading is known to improve athletic performance and muscle recovery post work out. Carbohydrate cycling in the long run reduces body fat percentage, adequate physical activity conserves muscle mass and thus helps in losing weight. This study, published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, suggests that this type of diet cycling proves effective in weight loss.

In an ideal scenario, carb cycling must be accompanied with a calorie-deficit diet as well. A study, published in Journal of Obesity and Metabolic syndrome, suggests that diets which help you eat less than what your body burns help you lose weight.

Benefits of carb cycling

Besides losing weight, there are other benefits of carb cycling that you should know about:

1. Prevents dyslipidaemia

Dyslipidaemia refers to the imbalance of lipids in the body. A well-planned diet with carbohydrate cycling may improve the lipid profile.

2. Reduces insulin resistance risk

Insulin sensitivity over the period of time enhances fat burning and maintaining high metabolic rate. This can happen with carb cycling.

Also Read: 5 expert-recommended healthy diets for sustainable weight loss

A picture of healthy carbs
Healthy carbohydrates such as legumes and fruits must be consumed. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to do carb cycling?

Carb cycling has some variations that can be followed while on this kind of diet. However, there are some things that need to be kept in mind.

1. Get the right guidance

Carbohydrate cycling should be done under professional guidance to prevent events of hypoglycemia and metabolic stress.

2. Go for a customised plan

The care plan had to be customised to suit the individual’s activity, health status, hormonal profile, presence of comorbidities and present weight.

Here is a simple way of following carb cycling.

Day 1: Weight training

Here the carbohydrate intake needs to be high and the fat intake needs to be low.

Day 2: Cardio

On day two, the carbohydrate and fat intake needs to be moderate.

Day 3: Rest

On the day you plan to rest, go low on carbs and high on fat.

Day 4: Weight training

Here, you need to have a high carbohydrate intake and a low fat intake.

On carbohydrate days, go for healthy carbs and avoid processed foods with sugar. You can eat whole grains such as brown rice and oats. Besides this, make sure to load up on veggies and different kinds of whole fruits. Legumes and tubers such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are also good options.


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