More often than not, carbs are up for discussion in any fat loss diet plan.  Some say carbs are not an essential macronutrient.  Others say they are necessary.  While the majority believe and act on ‘everything in moderation’.  The fact is; carbs can help you achieve your fat loss goals, but there is also an argument to say that carb cycling reaps the best rewards.

In this article we’ll explore the basics of carb cycling; what it is, how to do it, why it works for fat loss and finally; which carbs are recommended.

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling is a dieting method most commonly used to lose body fat.

The objective is to rotate your carb intake so that carbs are consumed at optimum times.  This is simply a matter of consuming carbs when needed and avoiding them when they are not needed.

You should know that carb intake can be alternated by day, week, month or phase.  

Examples of carb cycling

In phases

Some prefer to carb cycle in phases according to their aesthetic goals.  For example; carbs are reduced in a cutting phase and reintroduced in the bulking phase.

See: Bulking and Cutting for Women

Depending on workout schedule

In this instance the carb cycler will increase their carb intake on training days (with carbs eaten soon after the workout).  While avoiding carbs altogether on non-training days.

Planned carb loading

People plan on loading up their carb intake for a number of reasons.  It could be in preparation for a physical event/competition.  Or it could be a scheduled re-feed after a prolonged phase of dieting.

General carb cycling

In this instance carbs are cycled in a more general way, such as having 2 high carb days, 2 moderate carb days and 3 low carb days across the week. 

How many carbs

Ultimately your carb intake when carb cycling will be unique to you.  Generally we are seeing a recommendation of 1.5g of carbs per pound of body weight for high carb days. 

This is not a foregone conclusion, because your body weight doesn’t take your body composition into consideration.  Nor does it consider your body’s unique response to carbs in general.  However, this is still a good place to start.  Just keep in mind you’ll need to tweak these numbers as you go.

On your lower carb days your intake should sit between 10g-30g of carbs and a moderate day of carbs should be between 30g-100g.

Long term this will be a process of trial and error for you.  Start at the recommended 1.5g per pound and monitor your body’s response from there. 

Don’t add more than 1.5g to your carb loaded days, but do consider if you need to drop to 1.25g or even 1g per pound.  

Avoid taking your moderate carb days below 30g but if you want to take your low carb days down to 0g you can.  Just keep in mind that the carbs are helping your fat loss, this is explained in more detail further down.

Carb cycling sample

To give you an idea, here are two carb cycling examples:

Example 1

Monday – Heavy lifting – High carb

Tuesday – Heavy lifting – High carb

Wednesday – Cardio – Moderate carb

Thursday – Rest – Low carb

Friday – Lighter lifting – Low carb

Saturday – Heavy lifting – High carb

Sunday – Rest – Low carb

Example 2

Week 1-4 – Low carb - Week 5 – High carb

Week 6-9 – Low carb - Week 10 – High carb

Carb cycling for fat loss

Many people swear by carb cycling for fat loss and it’s for good reason.  Not only does reducing carb intake help you lose fat, it also increases insulin sensitivity.

Insulin sensitivity is a matter of how your body responds to insulin.  Higher insulin means your body will use blood glucose more efficiently.

We don’t claim to be scientific experts around here, so check out this more detailed explanation of insulin sensitivity and how you can improve yours: Natural ways to improve insulin sensitivity

To elaborate on the point of fat loss; on your higher carb days you will naturally burn more calories as well as increase your bodies production on leptin.  Leptin is a protein made in your fat cells and an increased production will keep you satiated.  Which in turn will help you to burn more fat.

You can read the facts about leptin here.

Recommended carbs

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘all calories are not equal’ and the same applies to carbs while carb cycling.

As a rule of thumb; processed and junk foods should be avoided.  This is good advice in general, sure ‘everything in moderation’ is a thing, but if you’re serious about your long term health and diet goals, processed and junk foods should feature very rarely in your diet – if at all.

Below are some recommended carbs for your high carb days:

  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Cous cous
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Buck wheat
  • Rye bread
  • Brown rice
  • Corn
  • Vegetables (including starchy carbs – e.g; sweet potatoes/white potatoes)
  • Beans & pulses
  • Fresh whole fruit

Carb cycling concluded

While we don’t give direct diet advice here at Lipstick Lifters, we are of the opinion that carb cycling is a more sustainable approach than cutting carbs altogether.  If you want to take control of your diet, then carb cycling is a good way to get you used to tracking and monitoring what you eat.

Note that this does not cancel out the need for a caloric deficit in order to lose fat.  So pay close attention to your protein and fat intakes also.  Remember that it is the protein and fat in your diet that keep you satiated.