In a previous post, I discussed the basic benefits of carb cycling. This popular diet is easy to perform, flexible and can work for anyone who is looking to burn off fat and add on some lean muscle. If you read the last post, you understand the basic principles of why a carb cycle works, but one thing that wasn’t covered off was exactly how to carb cycle. Use the following step-by-step guide to make carb cycling work for you.

3 Easy Steps to Carb Cycling

Step 1: Determine Your Calories

To get started on a Carb Cycle Diet, the first step is to determine how many calories and macronutrients you should be taking in for both low and high carb days, as determined by your current weight and activity level.

As a starting point, multiply your bodyweight by 10 to 12 to determine your daily target calories, if your goal is weight loss. If you have a slower metabolism or aren’t very active, this number should be lower (10 x your weight). If you are very active and/or have less fat to lose, target the higher number (12 x your weight). (That said, this is just a starting point. See the end of the article about what to do if you are losing to quickly or not at all.)

For example, if you are 135 lbs, fairly active and want to drop a few pounds, multiply 135 x 12 = 1620 calories as your starting point.

Step 2: Determine Your Macros

Once you have determined your calories, the next step will be to take that number and break it into the appropriate macronutrient ratios of protein, carbs and fats for both your high carb and low carb days. Use this breakdown as a guide:

Protein Carbs Fat
Low Carb Days 40 to 50% 20% 40%
High Carb Days 20 to 30% 50 to 60% 20 to 30%

For the example provided, the breakdown would be as follows:

Low Carb Days:

Calories: 1620
Protein: 162 g or 324 calories
Carbs: 81 g or 324 calories
Fat: 72 g or 648 calories

High Carb Days:

Calories: 1620
Protein: 101 g or 405 calories
Carbs: 220 g or 891 calories
Fat: 36 g or 324 calories

NOTE: Determine your protein and carb calories first, the remaining calories will be comprised of fat. Count your fat grams from all foods, including from meat protein. If you still need more fat, get it from good for you fats like Olive Oil, Flax Oil, Nuts or Avocados. Remember protein and carbs are 4g/cal and fats are 9 g/cal.

Step 3: Set Your Carb Cycle Frequency

How much weight you have to lose and how active you are will determine the frequency of your cycle. Every 4-weeks, if you have lost weight, feel like your metabolism is increasing and are feeling hungrier and more energy depleted, be sure to increase your carb cycle frequency! Use the following as a guide.

Weeks 1 to 4: Have one high carb day every 4 to 7 days
Weeks 5 to 8: Have one high carb day every 3 to 5 days
Weeks 9 to 12: Have one high carb day every 2 to 4 days

Carb Cycle Diet Example

Low Carb Day
High Carb Day
Meal 1
3/4 cup of Egg Whites, 1 whole egg, 1/2 cup of Oatmeal ¾ cup of Egg Whites, 1 cup of Oatmeal
Meal 2
4 oz Grilled Chicken Breast, Spinach Salad with 1 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar 3 oz of Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Sweet Potato
Meal 3 4 oz Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Broccoli, ½ cup Brown Rice 3 oz of Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Brown Rice, 1 cup of Broccoli
Meal 4 4 oz of Grilled Tuna, 1 cup of Asparagus, ¼ Avocado, 1 tbsp Olive Oil 3 oz of Grilled Turkey Breast, ½ cup of Sweet Potato, 1 cup Asparagus
Meal 5 4 oz Grilled Chicken Breast, 1 cup of Broccoli, 1 tbsp of Flax Oil 3 oz of Grilled Tuna, 1 cup of Green Beans, 1 tbsp Flax
Meal 6 1 Scoop of Protein Powder Blended with 1 tbsp Natural Peanut Butter 1 cup of Egg Whites, ½ Avocado, 1 tbsp Olive Oil, mixed with Salsa

Final Thoughts On Carb Cycling

Remember the dieting steps laid out here are only a starting point, dependent on your own unique metabolism and activity level, you may require more or less calories. The biggest factor in any diet is calories in versus calories out; your total calories will determine if you lose or gain weight. Eating too many calories will lead to fat gain, but if you don’t eat enough calories, you will not be able to change your body composition, burn off body fat or build muscle.

If after 2 weeks, you have not dropped any weight at your selected calorie start point, drop down your total calories by 250 calories; if after 1 more week you still have not progressed, drop down by another 250 calories. Total drop in calories should not exceed 500 kcal per day and should not put you below 1200 calories—500 calorie drop each day, 
over one week time, equals 3500 calories or 1 pound of fat!

If you are losing weight too fast (greater than 2 pounds per week), add 250 calories per day; if after 1 more week, you have not stopped losing at a rapid rate, add another 250 calories.