Carb Cycling: The Bodybuilder’s Diet Plan

Low-carb & high-carb diets rotate equally
Carb Cycling Was Originally Designed for Bodybuilding

Some follow a low-carb diet and some others follow a high-carb diet. If you are confused on deciding which diet to take up, here is the good news. There is yet another dietary approach called as carb cycling, which includes alternating between low-carb and high-carb diets six days a week and rewarding yourself with a ‘cheat’ meal on the seventh day.

Low-carb diet is said to help in weight loss (fat and water loss) and bringing in high-carb diets in between provides energy for high-intensity exercise on other days. It also increases metabolism to promote weight loss which might otherwise become stagnant. This diet plan was specifically designed for bodybuilders who wished to follow a low-carb diet just before an event in order to lean out (less water and glycogen stores in the muscle makes the athlete have a lean, cut look). Seeing the positive effects, other people also started following the carb cycling technique to benefit from weight loss as well as from the energy stores needed to workout.

Alternate Equally?

How you alternate between the two cycles depends on your requirement. Individuals wishing to lose weight must follow five days of low-carb foods and two days of high-carb foods. If gaining muscle mass is your aim, do the right opposite-include four or five high-carb days with two low-carb days. It all depends on your body’s reaction to the diet. Monitor the results and accommodate the changes required to facilitate fat loss without completely draining out energy stores.

Pros & Cons

Carb cycling too has its pros and cons just like any other diet plan. This diet plan works in favor of people who have failed to lose weight with every other diet plan. It is a great option for those who are self-discipled, able to count their macros and restrict themselves to certain foods every day or so.

Some carb cycling plans make supplements intake mandatory. They might even ask you to substitute an entire meal with a protein shake or so. Be aware of such advises and act smart. Also, endurance athletes need continuous energy and following low-carb diets on certain days can deprive their energy needs and prove counterproductive to training.

Numbers Don’t Always Matter

Numbers on the weighing scale are not everything in life. Subjective fitness gains such as a peaceful sleep, speedy recovery levels and high energy levels during a workout play a more prominent role than the figures on the scale.

Although carb cycling is more sustainable than other diets, is it practically possible to follow it with all your other commitments such as travel, work, vacation and holidays? Professional bodybuilders can stick to this diet all through the year as their career depends on it. But, for someone who is interested in losing a few kilograms of weight or for an individual who wants to lose weight just before a triathlon, it is not necessary to follow a strict diet nor to count the calories.

Don’t Mistake High-carb Foods for Processed Foods

Even during high-carb or cheat days, processed foods with added fats, sugar and sodium should constitute a minimal part of your diet. Processed carbs have a negative impact on blood-sugar regulation and may alter hormone levels. Such disturbed hormone levels increase the difficulty level of weight loss. Even on high-carb days, eat more of natural sugars, high-fiber and minimal processed foods.

Energy Expelled Must Equal Energy Consumed

Carb cycling is based on the basic principle of nutrition periodization which means that energy consumed must match the energy expenditure. Training during the competition season requires more energy than training during the off seasons.

A carb cycling skeleton plan typically looks like this:

  • Consume 50% of your calories as carbohydrates.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables, one-third with proteins and fats and less than one-quarter with starches, grains or fruits at each meal.
  • Every meal or snack should contain balanced quantities of protein, fiber and healthy fats.
  • Consume one or two high-energy carbohydrate meals or snack during workout days or even a day before/after high-intensity workout sessions. Homemade granola bars, fruit smoothie with protein, trail mix, oatmeal with nuts and dried fruits and an extra serving of starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas) or whole-grain starches are good options.

Despite any advantages, the best diet plans are the ones created by registered dietitian nutritionists that balance all food groups equally and provide the best combination of all nutrients along with adequate physical activity. Get in touch with RDNs at to customize a healthy diet plan for your weight loss goal.

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