Carb Cycling: Meal Planning for Beginners

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Do you want to lose weight and build muscle at the same time? Carb cycling is a dynamic nutritional approach that is designed to do both. A growing number of people are attracted to the idea for the physical and hormonal benefits, and because they can still enjoy many of their favorite foods and get the results they want.

Initially used by bodybuilders, this approach has been embraced by people from all walks of life for its many benefits and proven results. Understanding how carb cycling works, the advantages of this approach to nutrition, and how to plan your meals can help you get the greatest benefit.

An Introduction to Carb Cycling

Carb cycling involves varying your carbohydrate intake throughout the week. Some days are designated as high carb and low fat days and other days are low carb and high fat days. The fluctuation created by carb cycling helps to optimize your ability to lose weight, burn fat, and build muscle. This approach can be used to lose fat, increase lean muscle, or change your body composition, while maintaining your normal weight.

There are two basic ways to implement this approach. You can alternate your high carb and low carb days throughout the week. For example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday could be designated as high carb days, while Tuesday and Thursday are low carb days. The weekends are usually reserved as low carb days, regardless of how you choose to assign the weekdays. Some people make Saturday a low carb day and allow their cheat day on Sunday, but you can adjust this to meet your unique needs.

The other way to do carb cycling is to have three or four high carb days in a row and make the rest of the week low carb days. For example, you could have Monday through either Wednesday or Thursday as high carb days and the remainder of the days reserved as low carb days. Keep in mind that it requires more discipline to stick to the regimen when you do it this way.

There are benefits to both methods. Alternating high and low carb on a daily basis is the best way for you to stay on track and stick to carb cycling. On the other hand, splitting the week into half high carb followed by several low carb days may be more effective for fat loss because you are in fat burning mode for three days in a row. Ultimately, the method that works best depends on the needs of the individual. Is fat loss most important or are you concerned with sticking to it?

The Benefits of Carb Cycling

There are a variety of advantages to this nutritional approach, which explains its rapid growth in popularity. Carb cycling offers a broad range of benefits for weight loss, building lean muscle, and even regulating certain hormones.


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Most of your fat burning happens on your low carb days. On the days that you eliminate carbs from your diet, your body goes into fat burning mode. The low carb days decrease the number of overall calories consumed in a given week, which helps you burn fat and meet your weight loss goals.  


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On high carb days, you increase your caloric intake and the carbs provide the energy and strength you need, both to meet your daily responsibilities and for working out. When you are trying to build muscle, make your high carb days your strength training days. This allows your body to use the carbs and extra calories to build muscle, rather than storing additional fat.


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One thing that can hinder your ability to stick to a nutrition plan is the complexity of the system. If you have to spend a lot of time planning specific meals that are different from the rest of your family, measuring foods, counting calories, and denying yourself all your favorite foods, it can be too difficult to maintain. This approach allows you to make one meal for the entire family, and just leave the carbs off your plate on the low carb days.


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Carb cycling offers great flexibility in food choices and allows you to satisfy your craving for carbs on your high carb days, so you won’t be restricting your diet too much. Because you do have the opportunity to enjoy your favorite foods and treats on your cheat days, you will be more likely to stay with the program.


no side effect

This is probably the biggest advantage of carb cycling. Low carb diets, such as Atkins, paleo, or keto do produce fat burning and weight loss benefits, but they have negative side effects and health effects. Long term low carb dieting can cause brain fog, fatigue, lack of energy, and may increase your risk of health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Carb cycling allows you to reach your weight loss and fitness goals without the negative effects associated with going completely carb-free.


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Carb cycling offers a few key hormonal benefits. One significant advantages of this approach is improving your insulin balance and how your body processes insulin. The low carb days are key for keeping your insulin levels low and improving insulin sensitivity. This helps your body processes the sugar in your bloodstream from the carbs more effectively, allowing them to be easily converted to fuel for energy.

The hormone leptin is essential for metabolism and triggering feelings of satiety, which helps you avoid overeating. When you have more leptin in the body, your metabolism will be faster, but low levels of the hormone can slow your metabolism, sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Leptin production is triggered by an increase in

Carb Cycling: Meal Planning for Beginners

Meal planning with carb cycling is actually easier than with many other diets and nutritional approaches, since you won’t have to worry about measuring, weighing, or counting calories. When you first start, it can be easier to maintain your typical diet, but just adjust your carb intake. For example, if you normally eat about half carbs and half protein in a single meal, enjoy your normal foods, just eliminate the carbs on your low carb days and increase your protein and vegetables.

On your high carb days, the quality of the carbohydrates is important. Most of your carbs should be complex carbohydrates, such as fruit, legumes, and whole grains to provide the energy you need without disrupting your weight loss or fitness goals. You can make a few easy modifications to enjoy healthy carbs on your high carb days. For example, skip the white bread in favor of whole grain and use whole wheat pasta in place of regular spaghetti.

Try not to eat much sugar, even on your high carb days. This doesn’t mean you have to completely give up treats. It’s fine to enjoy a piece of cake or a couple cookies on a cheat day, as long as you aren’t doing this on all your high carb days. On your low carb days, pay attention to the quality of your protein. Choose chicken, lean beef, fish, eggs, and tofu for protein. Pair protein at each meal with vegetables, but stay away from starchy vegetables. Most vegetables are fine on your low carb days, except corn, peas, and potatoes.

Planning Your Daily Meals

Regardless of the day, eating breakfast soon after waking is recommended. On both low carb and high carb days, you should eat four to six small meals throughout the day, rather than going many hours without eating at all.

Start off your low carb days with eggs scrambled with bell pepper, or eggs with bacon for breakfast. Good snacks for low carb days include a protein shake, berries, almonds, or deli turkey and cheese rollups with avocado. Lunch and dinner should include protein, such as chicken, fish, or beef, with a non-starchy vegetable.

On high carb days, oatmeal with nuts and berries or eggs with whole wheat toast are good options. Snacks can include an apple with peanut butter, quinoa and bean salad, Greek yogurt, or fruit. Lunch and dinner can include the same foods as low carb days, but you can add some healthy carbs. Enjoy a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread for lunch and pasta, rice, or a starchy vegetable with your protein for dinner.


Carb cycling is among the most flexible approaches for burning fat and increasing lean muscle at the same time. Provided that you remain strict with your food choices on your high carb and low carb days and make healthy food choices, you will see noticeable results without a lot of extra effort.

The flexibility of this diet approach makes meal planning easy. You can enjoy the foods you love, just watch your portions, eliminate the carbs on your low carb days, and make sure you pick healthy proteins and carbohydrates.  

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