Is a Carb Cycling Diet Good for You? Here’s How to Start

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We have all heard of the many benefits that a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet provides. Research shows restricting our carbs can help balance blood sugar, control insulin levels, and increase weight loss — but is it healthy and sustainable long term?

What Is Carb Cycling?

Essentially, carb cycling provides the best of a low carb lifestyle with the perk of periodically indulging in the yummy stuff — carbs!

When carb cycling, protein and fat intake remain essentially the same, but the amount of carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, potatoes, fruit, etc.) fluctuates over time.

Many people choose to limit carbs in this way when they want to lose weight while preserving lean muscle mass.

Generally, the timing of the carbohydrate fluctuation is based on workout and activity levels — meaning more carbs on more active days. This is typically done to provide the many benefits of carbohydrates (yes, carbs have benefits too!) without causing blood sugar imbalances or excessive weight gain.

Benefits of a Carb Cycling Diet (High Carbs vs. Low Carbs)

New research emerges every second. One second a high carb, low fat is the ideal diet. The next high fat, low carb is the only healthy way to live. It’s impossible to keep up!

Here is the breakdown explaining the benefits of each option:

Benefits of a Carbohydrate-rich Diet

Although they’re often demonized, our bodies need carbs to:

Keep in mind, the source of carbohydrates matters! Processed, simple carbohydrates tend to cause more inflammation in the body preventing health benefits. Read this post to learn more about the difference between simple and complex carbs.

Benefits of a Low Carb Diet

On the flip side, let’s consider the benefits of a low carb diet:

  • Decreases in insulin levels preventing fat storage
  • Balances blood sugar and prevents a blood sugar roller coaster
  • Regulates appetite
  • Speeds weight loss
  • May help to balance sex hormones if due to imbalanced blood sugar
  • Improves mental clarity
  • Reduces oxidative stress

Sounds pretty good as well!

Striking a Balance

So, if there are benefits to both a high carb and a low carb diet, how do we get the best of both worlds? You guessed it, carb cycling! Alternating carbohydrate loads throughout the week allows the body to have its (gluten-free) cake and actually eat it too.

Carb cycling is simple enough to fit into any busy lifestyle. It provides the flexibility needed when planning meals. It makes it easier to build muscle strength and improve energy levels. It also means no more diets that eliminate a full food group making it impossible to maintain long term.

Risks of Long-Term Low Carb Diets

You may be wondering — so why is it so easy to lose weight on a low carb or ketogenic diet? The reason that weight loss is so fast and easy on a low carb diet boils down to body chemistry. Low carbohydrate diets cause a decrease in insulin production. Sodium follows insulin. When insulin declines, sodium levels fall, causing our bodies to release a good amount of water. Hence, quick weight loss (but also carb flu!).

Eventually, the water loss will stop and weight will plateau until fat begins to break down but at a much slower pace.

In the long term, low carb diets can take a toll on the body in other ways.

First, studies have shown that eating low carb for extended periods of time, especially at a caloric deficit, will cause multiple hormone levels relating to metabolism and reproduction to decline. For example, active T3, a thyroid hormone that plays a major role in energy production, fat-burning, and muscle gain, will decline when not enough cellular energy is available over time.

Also, a low carb diet can affect our leptin, the hormone that helps the brain regulate appetite. A decrease in leptin means a decrease in hormone production signaling — not great for us moms and moms to be!

How to Carb Cycle

If you’re convinced that carbs have a place in your life, it’s time to make a plan. Like most things in health, this plan won’t look the same for everyone! Carbohydrate intake varies depending on the individual’s genetics, lifestyle, and activity level.

First, I would suggest tracking your nutrient intake for a few weeks using a logging app or journal. This will give you a baseline for your average amount of calories and percentage of carbohydrates consumed each day.

From there, you will create a plan based on your goals.

Carb Cycling Plan for Weight Loss

If weight loss and optimizing overall health is the main goal, follow these macronutrient percentages. The percentages are based on daily caloric intake:

Low Carb Days

  • Protein: 45%
  • Carbs: 20%
  • Fat: 35%

High Carb Days

  • Protein: 30%
  • Carbs: 60%
  • Fat: 10%

Feel free to change the percentages slightly if needed. For example, on high carb days you may want to have 40% of your total calorie load from protein, 50% from carbs, and 10% from fat. However, experts do not recommend more than a 5-10% transfer between each.

This is roughly what I followed for my own weight loss plan, with higher protein ratios based on my genetic testing and individual health factors.

Carb Cycling Plan for Increased Muscle Mass & Strength

If your goals are to increase muscle mass and strength gains, an increase in calories on high carb days is recommended.

Here is an example:

Low Carb Days

  • Protein: 45%
  • Carbs: 20%
  • Fat: 35%

High Carb Days

  • Protein: 35%
  • Carbs: 65%
  • Fat: 10%

As always, be sure to check with your doctor for the best plan for you, especially if you are breastfeeding, pregnant, or menopausal.

How to Do a Carb Cycling Diet

There are multiple ways to make carb cycling fit our lifestyles–especially as a busy mom!

Here are a few examples of carb cycling methods:

Weekly Carb Cycling Plan

Option 1: Three higher carb days followed by two lower carb days

  • Monday: Higher Carb Day
  • Tuesday: Higher Carb Day
  • Wednesday: Higher Carb Day
  • Thursday: Lower Carb Day
  • Friday: Lower Carb Day
  • Saturday: Higher Carb Day
  • Sunday: Higher Carb Day

Option 2: Two higher carb days, three moderate carb days, four lower carb days

  • Monday: Higher Carb Day
  • Tuesday: Higher Carb Day
  • Wednesday: Moderate Carb Day
  • Thursday: Moderate Carb Day
  • Friday: Lower Carb Day
  • Saturday: Lower Carb Day
  • Sunday: Lower Carb Day

Option 3: One higher carb day, one lower carb day, one higher carb day, two lower carb days

  • Monday: Higher Carb Day
  • Tuesday: Lower Carb Day
  • Wednesday: Higher Carb Day
  • Thursday: Lower Carb Day
  • Friday: Lower Carb Day
  • Saturday: Higher Carb Day
  • Sunday: Lower Carb Day

Long Term Carb Cycling Plan

Option 1:

  • Days 1-11: Lower Carb Days (30-60g)
  • Days 12-14: Higher Carb Day (150-400g)

Option 2:

  • Weeks 1-4: Lower Carb Days (30-60g)
  • Week 5: Higher Carb Days (150-400g)

What Does a High Carb Day Look Like?

A good high carb day consists of meals with a fairly equal ratio of protein and complex carb intake (if not slightly higher in carbs) and a good dose of fat primarily following a workout.

Breakfast: Eggs, berries, gluten-free oatmeal, sweet potato hash

Lunch: Ground turkey cooked in coconut oil with brown rice, hummus, and starchy vegetables

Dinner: Spaghetti squash pasta with chicken and olive oil

Other sources of healthy carbs:

  • Sweet potato and other root vegetables
  • Squash
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Legumes (beans)
  • Chickpeas (hummus)
  • Oats
  • Fruit and plantains
  • Vegetables

What Does a Low Carb Day Look Like?

The lower carb days should have a focus on healthy fat and protein intake. Here is an example of a low carb day meal plan.

Breakfast: Coconut Flour Pancakes: Top with butter or an almond butter spread! Delicious! Serve with a tasty protein shake.

Lunch: Chicken salad wrapped in lettuce with red onion, celery, mayo

Dinner: Grass-fed beef burger topped with guacamole and broccoli cooked in coconut oil, grass-fed butter, or ghee

Bottom Line: Keep It Simple and Mix It Up!

Experiment with what feels best for your body (and work with your doctor!) I make sure to keep a health journal when carb cycling to keep track of the outcomes.

As always, what matters the most is following the healthiest diet for you as an individual and focusing on whole foods sources. I also am convinced it’s more important to get variety in your diet than to eat the “perfect” diet consistently for the rest of your life.

All food groups can have their place in a healthy diet (low carb, high carb, carb cycling, etc.) as long as it is all rooted in real food!

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Walker, an internal medicine physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.

How about you? Have you tried a carb cycling diet?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


25 responses to “Is a Carb Cycling Diet Good for You? Here’s How to Start”

  1. Elena Avatar

    Great article! I got introduced to carb cycling (& feast/famine intermittent fasting) from Dr. Pompa. I would just love a carb cycling cookbook. Does your offer something like that?

  2. Jacqueline Muscha Avatar
    Jacqueline Muscha

    Are there any good books or experts on this topic? I think that would help with all the questions and hopefully provide meal plans for those interested. I am interested in this type of eating plan. I didn’t realize all the benefits it offered. Sounds so much more doable then other options out there today. Thanks.

  3. Nicole Avatar

    I have been doing a vegetarian form of keto for 2 months now and I get intense hot flashes more than 1 times a day Otherwise I feel better than I ever have. Any suggestions on this?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      It could be a metabolism adjustment but I would personally check with a doctor just to be safe. Are you adding carbs in at any point? And how much protein are you getting?

  4. Dee Avatar

    I am starting carb cycling on Monday. I was thinking about doing Julia Michael’s 30 day shred and strength training. I’m confused, should I only do this on High carb days? Because I am trying to cut fat and maintain/ build muscle. I am 5’3 170 lbs but I don’t look like it maybe do to the weight lifting last year before & during my pregnancy. However I’m trying to get back to pre-pregnancy body but better. Any suggestions ?

  5. Tania Avatar

    Just got around to reading this now. Its rather confusing. What would be helpful is a week long workout and eating plan. Can this be provided?

  6. Michelle Avatar

    I do my strength workouts after work from about 4-6 pm. Therefore, sometimes I don’t get home and to dinner until around 7. Is there any issues with carb cycling this late in the day?

  7. Emily Linger Avatar
    Emily Linger

    So much great info here. Thanks for sharing! I’m gonna try to get started with the carb cycling!

  8. Louise Urquhart Avatar
    Louise Urquhart

    Hi I have recently lost alot of weight (80+)on a ketogenic diet and started to do some interval training but I am still eating a low carb diet for weight maintenance. My trainer wants me to add in carbs before I train but I am nervous that this will mess up weight maintenance as low carb seems to help me eat to hunger and nit gain. What would your advice be and can you point me to any research that might help me clarify my thinking.
    Thanks in advance

  9. Tanya Magrimo Avatar
    Tanya Magrimo

    Hi i have lost 20kgs on a low carb diet. i would like to start toning now, however i workout early in the morning so would like to know if carb cycling would still work in my case?

  10. Grace Avatar

    Hi. I am 28 years old and I have been without a menstrual cycle for several months now, and I wonder if it is due to my diet/lifestyle?? I am trying to lose the last 10-15lbs, and I have already lost 15lbs doing very low carb. I eat very primal/paleo with very very occasional dairy and grains(never gluten due to my severe intolerance). I limit my fruit to 1-1 1/2 servings per day in the morning. I train very intense anywhere from 4-6 days per week. I usually consume around 1200calories a day; although a month ago I started uping my fats thinking that if I raised my calories my hormonal issues would balance out, but still nothing has. I have also started incorporating vegetable juicing hoping that would help balance hormones that is if this issue is due to a lack of carbs. I don’t juice daily, due to the time it takes and only juice 12oz because I am still wanting to lose weight.
    Is it bad that I am without a period? Will my body adjust once I get to my desired weight and body fat? Or will the lack of cause problems in the long run?
    Thank you for your time

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Personally, I’d back off the weight loss issues for a while. Hormones are the key to so many things in the body, and losing your cycle means that your hormones need some TLC. I’d guess that you aren’t eating enough, especially for how much you are working out. Even with carb cycling, you have to re-feed a lot of carbs to keep hormones from dropping. I’d focus on eating a lot of healthy fats and a lot more calories and work on getting your cycle back and hormones figured out before trying to drop any more weight…

    2. Lorna Avatar

      Intense exercise combined with very low carb diet is very stressful on the body, you also imply that it’s not only been low carb but also low fat and this would contribute is likely the cause of your amenorrhea. You have to consider your height, weight, percentage body fat, and how long you’ve been doing this diet for… if you’ve been doing it for a while and only now brought higher fat in then probably a month for your body to readjust isn’t long enough. Be patient, be consistent with the fat and consider the carb cycling to rebalance your body.

  11. MJ Avatar

    I’ve read here on Wellness Mama about how HIIT training kick starts the body’s production of human growth hormone (a very good thing) BUT  the consumption of ANY fructose causes this process to cease. And thoughts on that?  

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      From my research, that is true. They share the same receptors, so if fructose is consumed, the body will use the receptors to bind that and not the HGH…

  12. Bonnie Avatar

    Hi Marcus, 
    This is a great article, thank you! I have a lot to learn, so much of this I don’ t know how to apply to myself. I am attempting to gain weight (while eating a grain free, pretty much paleo diet) and working out at home. I generally do HIIT for about 15-20 minutes and have recently began adding some weighted exercises, but I am limited when it comes to equipment. I have a sandbag and an Olympic bar with plates. That’s pretty much it right now. I just started deadlifting and squatting with the bar. For upper body I mostly do body weight exercises.

    Do you have any suggestions for  how I can make this lifting and carbcycling approach work for me? I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find information on gaining weight, but most advice seems to be focused on cutting or loosing weight.  I’m not able to drink milk and I’m intolerant of potatoes, so a post workout meal for me is usually a green smoothie (with green leafy’s and banana and berries) as well as leftover protein from dinner or a few hard-boiled eggs and a salad.



    1. Marcus Avatar


      It is amazing that no body really cares about nutrition and fitness until they have to loose weight.  Now to answer your questions.

      I would keep a lookout for a good squat rack (preferred) or squat stands and eventually a bench; this will allow you actually squat with the amount your legs can handle and bench press.  This is all you would need to follow a typical RPT routine along with the weights you already have.  Until that point, however I would add overhead press and lunges to your barbell repertoire.  I assume you are already doing push-ups and pull-ups/chins (I recommend chins over pull-ups for your situation).

      Your nutrition sounds pretty good.  The banana and berries are perfect for inducing the insulin spike post workout.  The only thing I can think of is adding some more calories.  I would add another banana post workout.  Other than that, choose calorie dense foods to add (I am assuming here that you are full with the amount of food you are eating).  Try adding 200 calories extra for a week or two.  Assess if you put on weight and weather or not it was muscle or fat, and then either add more calories, maintain, or slightly cut the calories.

      I hope this helps.



    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      Unfortunately, no. I wasn’t able to get an answer from the company on which particular “like” they were counting for the win, so another blogger got it. Thanks so much for asking though!

  13. Allison Avatar

    Thanks for the post – this is really interesting.   I have been trying to have higher carb meals post-workout (usually butternut squash) but am wondering if it should be after EVERY workout or just intense ones?   I strength train 2-3 x per week, run 2-3 x (with one being intervals) and hike one day a week.   What are your thoughts on that?  

    1. Marcus Avatar


      There is no need to eat a high carbohydrate meal after non-intense workouts.  Your body is able to utilize fat oxidation as fuel during low level aerobic work, such as hiking.  It is only intense periods that your body switches to using glucose as its fuel source.  

      As long as the interval run is short (less than 10 minutes total) and the other two runs are slow enough that you can hold a conversation, I would only have the higher carbohydrate meal after strength training (this is what I do).  If you are trying to loose weight, I would advise to slowly work into doing the low- intensity workouts in the fasted state.  I have done that in the past, and it works really well for getting “the last few pounds” off.

      I hope this answered your question.  If not, just let me know. 



      1. Allison Avatar

        Thanks Marcus – I really appreciate the response.   I actually do all of my training fasted because I do it early in the morning and never eat before I exercise.  I appreciate the clarification and will try to do some carb cycling after strength training or when my intervals are long and intense.  My efforts to lose those last few pounds are a saga in and of themself.  I appreciate your detailed post and feedback.

        –   Allison

  14. Cathy Avatar

    Wow, lots of info…good stuff!  I’m going to have to reread it though, to make sure I “get it” all.  Really interested in doing more weight training but need to get equipment or maybe join a gym.

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