Carb Cycling For Fat Loss & Muscle Gain

Carb Cycling For Fat Loss

Carb Cycling For Fat Loss & Muscle Gain

You might’ve heard of carb cycling and wondered if it’s better for fat loss.

One of my friends recently asked me what I thought so I decided it would be a great topic for this article.

Before I explain how you can set it up, let’s answer some common questions about carb cycling for fat loss and muscle gain.


Carb Cycling For Fat Loss & Muscle Gain



Carb cycling is where you eat more carbs on certain days and less carbs on others.

It’s common to set higher carbs on workout days and lower carbs on rest days. But you could set it up the opposite way too.

Carb cycling is essentially calorie cycling.

On high carb days you’ll have higher calories and on low carb days you’ll have low calories.

It’s not because carbs are bad or that you need to lower them to lose fat.

It’s simply how it works out since carbs are non-essential to the body.

You have a set amount of protein and fat that you need to eat each day, since protein and fat are essential to the body. If you want to have higher carb and lower carb days, then calories will change too since protein and fat will be fixed. 



There are a few potential benefits of carb cycling:

  • Adherence

Sticking to a calorie deficit for fat loss is hard. 

You’ll get hungry. There will be days where your calorie budget feels restrictive.

You may find yourself going over your calorie deficit every weekend. If you give yourself some higher calorie days over the weekend, you’ll have more room to fit in foods you want to eat without feeling like you’re going off track.

The psychological benefits of carb cycling are real.

It feels good to be able to stay consistent with hitting your targets.

It can also help you to power through on your lower calorie days when you know you have a higher calorie “break” coming up.

Having this break scheduled in, rather than just having a break, is better because you can account for it. That way you’ll be less likely to go off track completely. It’ll also stop you from having more breaks than you realise- you won’t be in that “I’ll just get back to it on Monday” mentality every week. 


  • Metabolism

When you eat in a calorie deficit for weight loss, your body responds by adapting to the lower food intake. Your BMR and NEAT levels will drop to try to help you conserve energy. You’ll use less energy when you exercise too.

This is why you’ll eventually plateau on the calorie target that used to work. To continue losing weight, calories will have to drop further.

It’s thought that carb cycling can help to mitigate some of this metabolic adaptation. Having higher carb days mixed in with lower carb days may allow you to continue to lose weight for longer without having to keep restricting calories further.

It’s also thought that higher carb days can help to regulate some of the hormones associated with fat loss. One of these hormones called leptin results in increased hunger and appetite when it drops. Carbs can help increase leptin levels and may help with hunger when dieting.


  • Better Workouts

Your energy levels will start to suck when eating in a calorie deficit. This will impact your performance in the gym.

Calorie cycling can help with this by giving you an energy boost on the days you need it. You’ll be able to put more into your training and get better results from it. 


  • Lean Bulking

In terms of muscle gain, carb cycling may help optimise building muscle without gaining fat or in some cases whilst losing fat.

It’s thought that by eating higher carbs on workout days you spike insulin which helps with muscle growth and recovery. Then when you eat lower carbs on rest days you’ll improve your insulin sensitivity which means your body will respond even better to the higher carb days.


Carb Cycling For Fat Loss


How To Set Up Carb Cycling 

Generally you’ll have 1 of 3 goals:

  1. Losing fat and weight
  2. Losing fat but maintaining weight/building muscle (body recomposition)
  3. Building muscle (with minimal fat gain)

The first step in setting up carb cycling is to determine which one of these is your real goal.

Many of you think you need to lose weight, when in reality you need to lose body fat. You can likely get to your dream body even if the scale doesn’t change too much. I would suggest that if you have less than 5kg to lose then you should focus on body recomposition for now.

Once you’ve got your goal you need to calculate your TDEE. You can learn how to do that here.

Your TDEE is your maintenance calorie intake. For the rest of this article I’m going to pretend you’ve worked that out to be 2000 calories.

Now the next step depends on whether you are carb cycling for fat loss or muscle gain.



There are two different situations here:

  1. Losing fat and weight
  2. Losing fat but maintaining weight (body recomposition)

I’ve already explained how to use carb cycling for body recomposition in this article here.

In terms of setting up carb cycling for fat loss with weight loss, you need to make sure that by the end of the week you end up in a calorie deficit.

Rather than being in a calorie deficit every day of the week, you’re going to spend some days at maintenance.

In other words, you’re going to “cycle” days where you eat at maintenance and days where you eat in a deficit.

The number of days you eat at maintenance will depend on your situation.

Ideally you want to spend 2-3 days at maintenance and then the other days in a deficit. If you spend any more days at maintenance, then you’ll have to make your calories even lower on your diet days which may not be feasible.

Your maintenance days should support your training. If you feel that having less food on workout days means your performance suffers then you should make sure some of your maintenance days are on workout days. If eating in a deficit doesn’t really impact your performance too much then you can have your maintenance days on rest days or workout days.

Let’s say you decide to eat at maintenance for 3 days per week and have 4 dieting days. Your TDEE is 2000 calories. You could set it up like this:

  1.  Get your total weekly maintenance calories
    2000 x 7 = 14000 calories
  2. Take off 15-25% to get your total weekly calories for weight loss (your weekly calorie deficit)
    14000 x 20% = 2800
    14000 – 2800 = 11200 calories
  3. Split those calories over the 7 days of the week, with 3 maintenance days then the rest with whatever is left
    2000 x 3 = 6000 maintenance day calories used
    11200 – 6000 = 5200 remaining calories
  4. Now split 5200 over 4 days
    5200 / 4 = 1300 calories

So your weekly calorie intake could look like this:

Monday (workout day) = 2000 calories

Tuesday (rest day) = 1300 calories

Wednesday (workout day) = 2000 calories

Thursday (workout day) = 2000 calories

Friday (rest day) = 1300 calories

Saturday (rest day) = 1300 calories

Sunday (rest day) = 1300 calories




If your problem is with consistency over the weekends then you can make sure your higher calorie days fall over the weekend. You can set it up like this:

Monday (workout day) = 1300 calories

Tuesday (rest day) = 1300 calories

Wednesday (workout day) = 1300 calories

Thursday (workout day) = 1300 calories

Friday (rest day) = 2000 calories

Saturday (rest day) = 2000 calories

Sunday (rest day) = 2000 calories




You might not want to workout on weekends when your calories are higher but it’s a sacrifice that you’ll have to make. If consistency is a big problem for you, work on this first because it ultimately matters the most.



Setting up carb cycling for muscle gain with minimal fat gain is similar.

This time though you want to make sure that by the end of the week your total calorie intake is equal to your maintenance calories or in some cases slightly higher. You also want to make sure that you’re in a small calorie surplus (5-10%) on workout days. This is very similar to how you’d set up carb cycling for body recomposition.

Let’s say you want to build muscle and are already lean. You have room to gain some weight but want you don’t want to get fat either. How I’d set up calorie cycling in this case is to put you in a very small surplus by the end of the week. This will result in very slow weight gain with most of it being muscle (and not fat) if you’re training correctly.

Say your maintenance calorie intake is 2000 calories. You workout 4 days per week.

Your total weekly maintenance calories would be = 14000

A slight surplus of 5% would bring your total weekly calories to = 147000

So you have an extra 700 calories to split up over your 4 workout days (to make sure you’re in a surplus on these days).

Your weekly calorie intake could look like this:

Monday (workout day) = 2175 calories

Tuesday (rest day) = 2000 calories

Wednesday (workout day) = 2175 calories

Thursday (workout day) = 2175 calories

Friday (rest day) = 2000 calories

Saturday (rest day) = 2000 calories

Sunday (rest day) = 2000 calories




There are benefits to setting up your higher calorie days on rest days instead. That means you’ll eat less on your training days. If that’s the case, make sure you have a decent amount of carbs before and after your workout to support training and recovery.



Carb cycling fat fat loss and muscle gain isn’t for everyone.

If you’ve never tracked macros before, or if you haven’t figured out how to hit your macros, then you need to work on this before you make things more complicated.

Say you find tracking easy and consistently hit your targets most days but have issues over the weekend. It could be beneficial to try carb cycling.

If you’re already quite lean or have a goal to build muscle without gaining fat, you could see if it works for you.

From my experience using carb cycling myself and with clients, I like it mostly for the positive psychological impact. Although there is limited scientific evidence, I also think it works well for leaner individuals.

Carb cycling alone isn’t going to get you results though- the basics will. Nail these first. Then, carb cycling is something you can consider to optimise your journey.

Note that there are various ways to set this up and it depends on a number of factors especially your starting position (current body fat percentage, training experience etc).

If you’d like some help with your fat loss journey, feel free to reach out here.