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Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Strategy

If you’re looking for a great way to re-kick start¬†fat loss after reaching a plateau, the Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Strategy can be an¬†extremely effective method.¬† I want to make sure I preface this post though with a word of caution¬†as this¬†is an advanced dieting strategy.

It’s not recommended for someone just starting a weight loss program or for individuals with high energy requirements like runners, swimmers, cyclists and other endurance athletes.

Before You Read Further…

My advice is to always start any weight loss program with a supportive nutrition strategy by eating 4-5 small meals a day from primarily whole, natural foods with a good balance of carbs, protein, and fat.

In the beginning of any weight loss program I’ve just found it’s best that you don’t get hung up on¬†meticulous counting of grams and calories. This just increases the chances that you’ll overwhelm yourself and derail your program completely.

Simply clean up all the junk from your diet, eat primal the majority of the time, and progress with your exercise routines. This alone will typically provide you with the first phase of initial weight loss.


It’s only after you’ve hit a plateau after 4-6 weeks of combined strength training, cardio, and a supportive nutrition diet that you’ll want to consider doing a Carb Cycling Diet Strategy.

I will also tell you right up front, this is not an easy diet strategy to follow. It requires some phases of carbohydrate and caloric restriction (although brief) that can be downright challenging to follow. Make sure the current affairs of your life will make it conducive to following this diet strategy before starting.

Do NOT Start This Diet Strategy If You’re Under High Stress Levels

If you’re under a high degree of stress and you’re currently a¬†little¬†overwhelmed, I’d strongly recommend you put this on the back burner and¬†wait until things settle down.

Not only will this strategy not be effective in times of stress (due to adrenal hormone balances) but you also have to factor in the considerations of careful meal planning, calorie counting, and measuring.

Having said all that, I would remiss if I didn’t share with you this highly effective fat loss strategy. So without further ado let’s dig in…

The Main Problem With Traditional Diets

Traditional diets tend to focus entirely on calorie restriction to lose fat.¬† This strategy may work for a short period of time but as everyone knows who has ever gone on a traditional diet, you simply can’t maintain the weight loss. Eventually the weight loss¬†stops, then you regain it, and¬†all too often it comes with¬†a few more pounds to boot!

The problem is you can’t trick your body for very long. If you restrict calories you’ll lose some weight but then your body senses what’s going on and adjusts accordingly. Remember its job is always to strive¬†for a¬†state of homeostasis or balance.

If you¬†pull back calories low enough and for¬†long enough, your body responds by lowering hormone levels thus decreasing metabolism. This is simply a survial mechanism and something I won’t get into extensive detail on now¬†as I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before.

The Difference Of A Carb Cycling Strategy

The difference of a Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Strategy is you can tap into fat loss with caloric/carbohydrate restriction but since you don’t stay in restriction for too long you can side step the extreme hormonal shifts that come from traditional diets.

Instead of just picking a caloric intake below your maintenance levels and eating that every day (like with a traditional diet), your carbohydrate and caloric intake will fluctuate from day to day.

Before I get into the mechanics of this strategy there’s one more¬†pretty important factor we need to discuss first.

Knowing Your Maintenance Calorie Levels

The first piece of information you need for this diet strategy to be effective is what your maintenance calorie requirements are. This is simply how many calories your body needs to maintain at your current weight.

There are numerous on-line resources and websites that will give you a caloric range for maintenance calories based on your age, height, and weight. From my experience these charts and calculators can be very inaccurate.

The problem is they lump everyone together without taking into consideration a person’s unique bioindividuality with things like muscle mass, genetics, and the¬†other factors that can affect a person’s metabolism.

Because of this I highly recommend you find out what your unique caloric needs are for your metabolism with a resting metabolic rate test. We provide this test at Shaping Concepts and you can learn more by clicking on the attached link I just provided.


Alright, having said that let’s get into how this strategy works…

The Carb Cycling Diet Strategy Mechanics

There are actually several ways to work a cyclical diet, but for this post I’m going to try and keep it simple. I’ll share with you the most commonly used strategy that’s been around in the bodybuilding community for decades.

In the basic Carb Cycling Diet Strategy what we’re going to be doing is simply manipulating carbohydrate levels (and thus calorie levels as well) from day to day.  Carbohydrates are simply energy for the body, and what we want to do is force the body to give up some of its stored energy (fat) without losing muscle along with it.

The Importance Of A¬†”Re-Feed” For Adjusting Hormonal Balances

If you go on a low-carb diet for an extended period of time the body will respond by lowering its metabolism and thus bringing fat loss to a plateau.¬† We‚Äôre avoiding this by depriving the body of carbs and calories for only short periods of time to force the body to burn stored fuel (fat) but then “re-feeding” with carbs and calories in a slight excess to create a surge in fat burning hormones and thus resetting your metabolism.

Protein: The Primary Nutrient Of Your Diet

The primary nutrient in this diet strategy from day to day is going to be protein. Your goal is going to be to try and consume approximately 85-90% of your bodyweight (in pounds) and equate that to grams of protein per day.

For example if you weight 150 pounds you would multiply your bodyweight 150 x .85 and .90 respectively. This would give you 127-135 grams of protein as your goal to consume daily. Ideally, this would be spread out somewhat equally over five small meals, resulting in approximately 20-30 grams per meal.

You don’t have to exact with this, just try and get in the ballpark. If you go over on any of your totals for the day it best that it comes from protein, since your less likely to store body fat from a moderate excess in protein.

Basic Guidelines For The Carb Cycling Diet Strategy

1) Try and eat every 3-4 hours.

This usually means you’ll eat a small meal about five times per day.  Simply take your target calories and macronutrient totals and divide them by five to get your numbers to shoot for with each meal.

2) Drink lots of water.

This is extremely important for this strategy to work effectively. Take your bodyweight and multiply it by .55 to get a target for the number of ounces of water to try and consume daily. Once again, it’s not essential that you hit this number exactly. It’s simply giving you a target. Bottom line is you should simply look to increase your water intake to assist with the lipolysis or fat burning.

3) Look to increase your fiber intake.

Make sure you get lots of green, fibrous vegetables like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peppers, and cucumbers.  You don’t have to count them towards your carbohydrate totals, so they’re basically a free food.  Look for at least 30-40g of fiber per day. You may also look to add in a sugar-free fiber supplement (Advocare Fiber Drink is my favorite) on the Low and Very Low Carb Days.

5) Eat primal foods.

This diet strategy simply won’t work if you’re eating processed and refined foods. Look to consume primarily whole foods and avoid products that have artificial ingredients.


The Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Strategy: 7 Day Rotation

The carbohydrate cycling diet works by having days with different carbohydrate and calorie intake. There are several variations of this diet strategy but for simplicity I’ll be showing you the Very Low Carb Day, Low Carb Day, and High Carb Day rotation.

The seven-day schedule on this rotation will look something like this:

Monday:  Very Low Carb
Tuesday:  Low Carb
Wednesday:  High Carb
Thursday:  Very Low Carb
Friday:  Low Carb
Saturday:  High Carb
Sunday:  Low Carb

Low Carb Days:¬† Think of the Low Carb days as your “normal‚ÄĚ days.¬† The Low Carb Days are more like a¬†traditional supportive nutrition¬†‚Äúdiet‚ÄĚ in that they’re built around consuming protein, fat, and carbohydrate in balanced amounts.

Your carbohydrate intake for the day will be about 75% of your bodyweight (in pounds) in grams of carbohydrate.  For example if you weigh 150 pounds you would be looking at consuming approximately 112g of carbohydrates.

Your fat intake should be around 30-35% of your bodyweight (pounds) in grams. Once again using the example of a 150 pound individual this would equate to approximately 45-52g of fat per day.

Also, I recommend 4000-6000 mg (or 4-6 grams) minimum of quality omega 3 fatty acids daily that’s included in this fat gram total. My personal preference is with fish oil, flaxseed oil, or ground flax seed.

Example: Low Carb Days
150 pound individual
Target calories:  1500 calories
Fat grams:  50g = 450 calories (50 grams x 9 calories per gram)
Carb grams: 112g = 448 calories (112 grams x 4 calories per gram)
Protein grams: 135g = 540 calories (135 grams x 4 calories per gram)

Very Low Carb Days:¬† The Very Low Carb days are pretty simple, you restrict most all carbohydrates from¬†your diet¬†with the exception being fibrous green vegetables. This should keep you in the “very low” range of less than 50 grams per day.

These bulk of your fat loss will occur on these days.  Normally you wouldn’t want your caloric intake to be this low but we’re only doing it for a couple of days per week.

Example: Very Low Carb Days
150 pound individual
Calories:  1,200 calories
Fat grams: 50g = 450 calories (50 grams x 9 calories per gram)
Carb grams: 50g (max) = 200 calories (50 grams x 4 calories per gram)
Protein grams: 135g = 540 calories (135 grams x 4 calories per gram)

High Carb Days:You’ll welcome these days as a much needed relief and break from your dieting. On your High Carb Days I want you to focus on consuming protein grams¬†as normal or if anything a little higher.¬† Fat intake should be kept the same as your other days as well. The difference being I want your overall caloric intake to be approximately 400-500 calories above maintenance, so fill in the rest with extra¬†carbs.

Ideally, these should be healthy “starch carbohydrates” like brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain breads, oatmeal, etc. However, you can certainly splurge¬†a little on these days and have things like pasta, pizza, etc.

I know what you’re thinking…”pizza, are you serious Shane?” You’ll have to trust me on this one…you won’t gain fat during this short phase of taking in excess calories and carbs if done in moderation. It’s simply a “re-feed” that provides your body with a surge in the hormones that got suppressed during dieting. Think of it as a boost back to your metabolism. You won’t be taking in excess calories and carbs for long enough that your body will store fat.

What happens is when you restrict carbohydrates your body burns off the excess stored carbohydrate (called glycogen) and when you “re-feed” you’re simply replenishing those supplies stored in your liver and muscle cells.

Example High Carb Days:
150 pound individual
Calories: 2000 calories
Fat grams: 50g = 450 calories (50 grams x 9 calories per gram)
Carb grams: 240g = 960 calories (240 grams x 4 calories per gram)
Protein: 135g = 540 calories (135 grams x 4 calories per gram)

So there you have it…the Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Strategy in a nutshell. Remember the calorie totals I’ve provided in this post are for examples only. You’ll want to determine your specific caloric needs before starting this strategy to do it properly.

One last bit of advice regarding this strategy.

While this can be a very effective technique to re-kick start fat loss it won’t work indefinitely.

You’ll want to follow this strategy for no longer than about two weeks at a time before taking a break and going back to a supportive nutrition diet strategy with maintenance calories. Think of it as a metabolic trick you can employ occasionally but it’s certainly not a lifestyle plan.

Spend the majority of your time in a primal blueprint diet and simply eat a good balance of healthy carbs, lean protein, and unsaturated fats. That’s the lifestyle plan I recommend and personally follow.

This should go without saying but also make sure to remember that resistance training and cardio play an equally important role in any fat loss program. Combine these strategies properly and you’ll be on your way to seeing the results you’re looking for. Good luck!

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal training programs and experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself.

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Category: Fat Loss.