Optimizing nutrition through carb cycling: the most important questions and answers

Ernährung optimieren durch Carb Cycling: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

In the field of bodybuilding and competitive sports, carb cycling has long been a household name. (1,2) However, this special form of nutrition is now attracting more and more attention outside of these groups. It is questionable whether this form of nutrition is also worthwhile for the average athlete and whether it can be implemented in everyday life.

Cycling carbohydrate amounts is said to be the best way to balance nutrition and growth. This makes the carbohydrate cycle very effective, but also difficult to implement.

Because a successful application of carb cycling requires time-consuming planning of the weekly meals and training and meticulous calculation and weighing of the calorie requirement. In this article, we will introduce carb cycling in more detail and discuss the advantages as well as the difficulties.

the essentials in brief

  • Carb cycling translates to carb cycling. This is a special form of nutrition that is adapted to the training. The week is divided into high-carb, medium-carb and low-carb days. This alternation should ensure that the body is optimally equipped with the nutrients that are required for the respective training sessions. On low-carb days, a calorie deficit should also be achieved, which leads to fat loss.
  • In this diet, you vary the amount and proportion of carbohydrates that you eat every day. On days with strenuous training, a comparatively high proportion of carbohydrates is consumed. On moderate training days then correspondingly little.
  • However, the prerequisite for the successful implementation of carb cycling is the willingness for detailed planning and calculation. You not only have to know your own calorie requirements, but also calculate and coordinate the nutritional values ​​of the individual dishes and the calorie consumption from the various training units.

Optimizing nutrition through carb cycling: What you should know

Below we address the most important questions that arise when it comes to carb cycling. Here we explain what it is, how the diet should work and uncover the difficulties with carb cycling.

What is carb cycling?

Carb cycling means a cyclic intake of carbohydrates. Correspondingly, days with a high proportion of carbohydrates in the dishes and days with a low proportion. In between are days when the carbohydrate intake does not go to extremes, but normally covers the daily requirement. The training plan is adjusted to this cycle, so that the most intensive training sessions will take place on high-carb days and vice versa.

The aim is to ensure that the proportion of carbohydrates in the diet is really tailored to daily use.

The idea is that by strategically thinking about when and how you're consuming carbs (your body's preferred fuel), you can increase your training efficiency and achieve better performance and body composition results.(8)

It is up to each individual how long the period of time in which to use carb cycling. This can be done on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. So you could have a low carbohydrate diet for three weeks and then increase it in one week. The longer the period, the earlier in advance diet and exercise must be planned.

How does the body react to carb cycling?

First of all, it should be noted that the state of research in this area is still very low. (3.4"> Claims of benefits from carb cycling cannot be backed up by many scientific studies. Potential benefits of carb cycling include fat loss, overcoming a weight loss plateau, and maintaining physical fitness while following a diet.

Low carb dish

On low-carb days, proteins and fats make up the majority of calories. (Image Source: Brooke Lark / Unsplash)

High-carb days should be used to replenish the carbohydrate stores in the muscle. (5,6) This allows you to perform better during training and prevents muscle breakdown. Low-carb days, on the other hand, are supposed to help with fat loss, since the body gets its energy for training from fat on these days. This should improve fat burning in the long term.

Why is the focus on carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are not inherently bad or the cause of weight gain. On the contrary, they're an important part of a healthy diet as they fuel the brain and body - especially when you're trying to do muscle-building workouts.(13)

Carbohydrates are a category of macronutrients along with proteins and fats.

However, it's true that excess carbs contribute to fat storage and extra pounds.(9) Especially when it comes to simple carbs.

Who is carb cycling suitable for?

Carb cycling can only be successful if you take the time to calculate your exact calorie needs, the nutrient percentages of each meal, and the calorie burn from exercise.

With this form of nutrition you should keep an eye on your individual goals, training plans and circumstances in everyday life.

Especially with regard to the individual goals, there are different values ​​depending on whether weight loss, weight maintenance and definition of the body or muscle building are being promoted. Since this is quite challenging and disciplined, it works best for those who are highly motivated: amateur and elite athletes, bodybuilders.

In addition, people who agree with the following descriptions should tend to avoid carb cycling or only use a very mild form:

  • Pregnant or lactating women
  • people who are underweight
  • Coping with a current or past experience with eating disorders
  • People with adrenal problems

Carb cycling is not a form of nutrition for beginners, but requires an intensive examination of nutrition and one's own body.

Pasta with mushrooms

Carbohydrates are important nutrients because they provide the body with energy. (Image Source: Eaters Collective/Unsplash)

Is carb cycling suitable as a pure diet form?

Fat loss and muscle building go hand in hand with carb cycling. It is therefore suitable for people who pursue these two goals. In the following table we want to show you the advantages and disadvantages of carb cycling as a diet:

Advantages Disadvantages
No macronutrient is severely reduced over time: this balance can help with diet compliance The hassle of creating a carb cycling plan
You counteract the problem that low carbohydrate intake reduces the performance of high-intensity training: intensive training sessions can still be completed(10) You have to stick to your training plan with great discipline

If you plan to use carb cycling primarily for fat loss, you should also make sure your protein intake is adequate and you are in a calorie deficit.

As already mentioned, carb cycling is a demanding form of nutrition. For those who only have weight loss as their primary goal, there might be more suitable forms of nutrition for them. Nevertheless, it offers some advantages.

How does carb cycling work in the context of a keto diet?

People on a ketogenic diet want to minimize carbohydrate intake while increasing fat intake.(11) They eat very small amounts of carbohydrates. This contradicts the structure of carb cycling, since there are high-carb days where comparatively higher amounts of carbohydrates are consumed.

However, there is a variant of a cyclic ketogenic diet, which is basically a form of carb cycling. The carbohydrate intake is minimized on five days and a higher amount is consumed on two days.

What should you consider if you want to use carb cycling?

On the one hand, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the carbohydrates. If you resort to "empty" carbohydrates here, then you will only be able to achieve the desired results much more difficult. Get good products here that will fill you up and provide you with energy for a longer period of time. In the following we have summarized a few examples of “good” carbohydrates for you:

  • Whole Grains : Whole grains are healthy and are associated with many health benefits. These include: brown rice, oats and quinoa.
  • Vegetables : Each vegetable has a different vitamin and mineral content. Eat a variety of different colored vegetables to get a good balance.
  • Unprocessed Fruits : As with vegetables, each fruit is unique, especially berries with their high antioxidant content.
  • Legumes : A variety of slow-digesting carbohydrates rich in fiber and minerals. These include: lentils, peas, beans.
  • Tubers : Tubers have a very high nutritional value and contain many valuable ingredients. These include: potatoes, carrots, radishes, celeriac, kohlrabi and beetroot.

In addition, it is crucial to observe the calorie intake over the entire cycle. Many people think of a week as their carb cycling cycle. It should therefore be ensured that the calorie requirement is balanced over the period of a week.

In the following we have shown the use of carb cycling for a period of one week as an example. These values ​​are selected as examples. This means that it is extremely important that you create an accurate plan based on your individual needs.

weekday amount of carbohydrates
Monday 40 grams
Tuesday 60 grams
Wednesday 80 grams
Thursday 120 grams
Friday 150 grams
Saturday 95 grams
Sunday 25 grams

According to this exemplary plan, the most intensive training would be planned for Friday and very light training or no training on Sunday, and accordingly the intensity of the physical activity would be adjusted to the amount of carbohydrates. The days with medium carbohydrate proportions reflect the so-called medium-carb days. On these days you give your body a break. Particular attention should be paid to a balanced calorie and carbohydrate balance.

What are the difficulties in implementation?

Carb cycling is associated with an immense computational effort. First, the normal calorie requirement must be calculated. In addition, the various training units must be analyzed for their calorie consumption.

In addition, with regard to food intake, it must then be calculated how many calories may be consumed on high and low carb days and how high the carbohydrate quantity is.(14)

week planner

The big challenge of carb cycling is the time-consuming planning and calculation of the data. (Image Source: Debby Hudson / Unsplash)

It therefore requires permanent, detailed planning and calculation of the required data. In addition, it is necessary to stick to your training plan, since the calorie consumption and physical exertion in training is directly related to nutrition.

What alternatives are there to carb cycling to lose weight?

In order to successfully implement the carb cycling diet in everyday life, a great deal of discipline is required. You must be willing to spend time planning and calculating some data, and also stick to a training schedule. So if you have set yourself the goal of “only” losing weight , the following alternatives may be more suitable:(12)

  • Low-carb diet : As the name suggests, a low-carb diet is about keeping carbohydrate intake relatively low.
  • Mindful nutrition : In order to lose weight, it is fundamentally important to pay attention to your diet and to avoid or reduce consumption of certain foods.
  • Calorie Deficit : Being in a calorie deficit is arguably the easiest way to lose weight. If the body consumes more calories than it is supplied with, then the body grabs its own fat reserves.
  • Intermittent fasting : Intermittent fasting, also known as intermittent fasting, means abstaining from eating for specific, short periods of time.

Now we will go into the respective points in more detail and summarize them briefly:

low carb diet

Carb cycling focuses on carbohydrates because excess carbohydrates are stored in the body as fat deposits. That's why the low-carb diet has been enjoying supporters for a long time. Low-carb diets restrict carbohydrates, most of which are found in sugary foods, pasta, and bread. Instead of carbohydrates, whole foods that contain natural proteins, fats, and vegetables should be consumed.

mindful nutrition

It is fundamentally important to pay attention to your diet. Especially if you want to lose weight. This means that foods that are low in nutritional content are largely avoided. This includes sweets, sugary drinks and alcohol .

calorie deficit

The fact that you can lose weight through a calorie deficit is based on the following simple connection: If the body uses more calories through daily calorie consumption and exercise than it takes in through food, then it falls back on the body's own fat reserves.(7) However, a calorie deficit should from 300 to a maximum of 500 calories should not be exceeded in order to lose weight in a healthy way.

intermittent fasting

There are different methods for intermittent fasting . The most popular method is the "16:8 method". This is also recommended for athletes. They fast for 16 hours a day and eat normally for 8 hours a day.


In the field of competitive sports or bodybuilding, carb cycling has long proven its worth, as it allows you to optimize muscle building and fat loss by monitoring the nutritional values ​​​​in food and the calorie consumption. In order to optimally prepare for a sporting event, it can be quite helpful to circulate your carbohydrate intake for some time.

However, the success of this form of nutrition has not yet been scientifically researched. For those who want to achieve more moderate athletic goals, or whose primary goal is to lose weight, other approaches may be more appropriate.

Individual proofs(14)

  1. EF Coyle; Timing and method of increased carbohydrate intake to cope with heavy training, competition and recovery
  2. McConell G, Kloot K, Hargreaves M. Effect of carbohydrate intake timing on endurance exercise performance
  3. Volek JS, Noakes T, Phinney SD.; Rethink fat as fuel for endurance training
  4. Boden G, Sargrad K, Homko C, Mozzoli M, Stein TP.; Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes
  5. Ivy JL.; Glycogen resynthesis after exercise: effect of carbohydrate intake
  6. Borsheim E, Cree MG, Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Aarsland A, Wolfe RR.; Effect of carbohydrate intake on net muscle protein synthesis during resistance training recovery
  7. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, Smith SR, Ryan DH, Anton SD, McManus K, Champagne CM, Bishop LM, Laranjo N, Leboff MS, Rood JC, de Jonge L, Greenway FL, Loria CM, Obarzanek E, Williamson THERE.; Comparison of weight loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrates
  8. Pizza FX, Flynn MG, Duscha BD, Holden J, Kubitz ER.; Carbohydrate loading improves exercise performance at high intensity and short duration
  9. Volek JS, Phinney SD, Forsythe CE, Quann EE, Wood RJ, Puglisi MJ, Kraemer WJ, Bibus DM, Fernandez ML, Feinman RD.; Carbohydrate restriction has a more favorable impact on metabolic syndrome than a low-fat diet
  10. Hawley JA, Leckey JJ.; Carbohydrate dependence in prolonged, intense endurance training
  11. O'Neill B, Raggi P.; The ketogenic diet: pros and cons
  12. Astrup A.; Dietary approaches to reducing body weight
  13. Burke LM.; Combustion Strategies for Performance Optimization: Train High or Train Low?
  14. Mirtschin JG, Forbes SF, Cato LE, Heikura IA, Strobel N, Hall R, Burke LM.; Organization of nutritional control in a nutritional training intervention with periodic carbohydrate availability and ketogenic low-carbohydrate-high-fat diet
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