Carb Cycling For Weight Loss – A Beginner’s Guide

carb cycling for weight loss

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about carb cycling for weight loss. I guess it’s to be expected due to the popularity of the hit reality show “Extreme Makeover; Weight Loss Edition”. Chris Powell, the show’s star trainer, has had tons of success prescribing this carb cycling method to the clients. And of course, his story wouldn’t be complete without a book from Powell about his CC methods.

carb cycling for weight lossBTW…Don’t go out an buy it. Get it from your library first and if you like it enough, then you can go buy it.

What is Carb Cycling

Simply stated, carb cycling is a diet method in which you cycle high carb days with low carb days. Some even choose to include no carb days. It was developed by bodybuilders, to enable them to maintain their muscle mass while cutting bodyweight for contests. At some point, some genius realized that if it worked for them to cut fat then why not try it on obesity clients.

Bodybuilders use CC with great success. However, those muscle bound freaks of nature (except for the all natural ones) are extremely detailed and disciplined with every aspect of their diet. Their methods won’t work for everyday Jane’s and Joe’s that just want to lose some weight.

Why Focus on Carbs

Carbohydrates are your main energy source. They’re also very calories dense, and the food that has the lowest thermic effect. Carbs also hold water. For every gram of carbohydrate you consume, you’ll hold 3 grams of water.

That’s why folks that go on a low carb diet lose so much weight in the beginning. The weight they’re losing isn’t actually fat weight, but rather water weight. If you’re a fan of “The Biggest Loser”, this water weight stuff is why those contestants lose so much the first week and then have dismal numbers on the second.

When you eliminate carbs, you’re cutting out a huge portion of your daily calories. And for most of us, a huge piece of the joy of food!

But hey, we’re not suppose to eat for pleasure. We eat for performance (insert agressive trainer face here)!

The Complexities of Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

Pay special attention here. If you’re considering this type of weight loss method you need to understand it’s not going to be easy. At least not starting out. As with anything, it’ll get easier once you learn the ropes and find the pattern. But until that happens you’re gonna have to fight for it.

On EM-WLE, those contestants spend 1 full week at the health institute learning the ropes. Then they’ve got the added luxury of having Chris P live with them for 3 montths while they learn the do’s and don’ts, and how to integrate this diet into their lifestyle.

Not to mention everyone else in their family learning along with them. You don’t have that luxury.

To go full bore, sold out, carb cycling requires detailed journaling, calorie counting, macronutrient manipulation, and proper timing. Your focus is always on the diet, or the training, or the recovery. has put together a great couple articles if you want to get all the gory details. What you need to know about carbohydrate cycling p1 is very detailed and has a bodybuilding focus. Reading it may turn you away from CC forever.

If you’re like most, you don’t care about the specifics, you just want the weight loss info. The short, sweet, and simple version about how to make it happen.

The Simplicity of Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

It doesn’t have to be all work and no play. You can easily do a very modified and loose version of carb cycling and see results. All you have to do is eat very low carb one day and then eat as you normally would the following day.

There are 3 keys here to be mindful of.

First is that on your low carb days you must not replace the carb calories with anything else. You’ll just be eating less on that day.

Second is that you must eat as you normally would on the other days. You may be tempted to feast on the carbs you restricted on the day before, or be “so starved” that you over eat and end up wiping out the calorie deficit you created from the low carb day.

Third key is to make sure you’re consuming an average of 50g (women)/ 70g (men) of protein per day. Notice I said an average. You don’t have to be concerned about getting X amount per day or risk losing muscle. Our bodies aren’t that fragile. Just try to average that much over the course of a week.

It really is this simple, at least to try;

  • Day #1 – Eat low carb and low calorie
  • Day #2 – Normal eating routine
  • Day #3 – Rinse / Repeat

What Do You Consider Low Carb?

Good question. Sorta difficult to answer in such a general setting as this blog post. I’ll go with this as a guideline.
Men = 0.5 – 1.5 grams per pound of desired bodyweight
Women = 0.2 – 0.5 grams per pound of desired bodyweight.

Obviously that’s a huge range. You’ll have to discover for yourself the amount that works best for you. Begin at the upper end of the range and if you don’t see results after 2 weeks, then reduce. Continue this pattern until you’ve found the sweet spot.

Why is Carb Cycling so Effective for Weight Loss

Aside from the fact that reduced carbs prevent water retention, you’re reducing your calorie intake which will result in weight loss.

But the true benefit is the mental aspect. It’s much easier for everyday jane’s and joe’s to stick with. If you know that you only have to do without for today and you can have whatever it is you crave tomorrow, then most people can hold on to that thought and get themselves through that one sucky day.

Soon it turns into a way of life. And that, my friends, is the ultimate secret to lasting weight loss. Whatever it is, it must become a way of life.

You don’t have to go for days on end feeling like you’re “starved to death”.

Eating normally every other day allows for a mental break and it keeps your metabolism operating at normal levels instead of trying to down regulate to account for reduced calories.

Flexibility is plenty. You can increase your low/no carb days. You can do 2 low /no and then 1 normal. You can switch them around to account for events that involve food like birthday’s and holiday’s. Make adjustments that fit your lifestyle and then stick with ’em for several weeks until you can determine if it’s working. You may realize that you need to go to no carb days instead of low carb. You may need to eat less than normal on your normal days.

The bottom line is that you must have a calorie deficit at the end of each week.

Carb Cycling for Weight Loss Action Steps

I suggest implementing this with an exercise routine to help speed the process along. But it’s not absolutely necessary.

  • Plan which days will be your low carb and which will be high. If your workout routine has high intensity days then you should have your high/normal carb days on your high intensity workout days. Make it easy on yourself, if you know that Friday is date night then Friday should be a normal day. Get the idea?
  • Low intensity cardio on low/no carb days
  • Eat an average of 50g (women) 70g (men) of protein per day.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables.

That’s it. If you look around the interwebz you’ll find all sorts of information. That info, as good as it may be, will only add complexity and confusion to this process. You don’t need that.

I promise the more simple you keep this the easier and more successful you’ll be.

In the end, carb cycling can definitely be a great weight loss method. But it’s not for everyone. The basic plan here will get you started if you’re interested. Then if you have success, you can dig deeper for increased results. Or you can continue down this road.



    • Bryan says

      That will depend on your goals. If your goal is weight loss, then yes, there’s a limit. If your goal is size and strength, then not really. I’m sure this isn’t fully answering your question, but without specific knowledge of why you are carb cycling to begin with, it’s the best I can do.

      • says

        Again this is all palaver. Proteins are used by ALL cells to ruilbed the cell, in the event there isnt enough then the body will break down muscle. Muscle only shrinks (atrophy) from lack of exercise. You need 1-1.5 grams of protein per lean weight per day, thats 100 grams at most for all of you per day. Anything less and your muscles will simply shrink, and your metabolism will decrease. You do not NEED carbohydrates AT ALL, your brain can use ketones just fine.

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