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Carb Cycling Diet Plan For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

Carb Cycling Diet Plan For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

Tracking Your Nutrition Intake On A Carb Cycling Diet

In order to understand the carb cycling process better and track your nutrient intake accurately, you need to have some basic information about nutrients and their impact on the human body.

Nutrients can be grouped under two broad categories, namely macronutrients and micronutrients, which are required by the body to support life using various biological and chemical processes. Macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats are needed in relatively large quantities by the body, while micronutrients are needed only in small quantities. Micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins are necessary for energy production and a number of important bodily functions.

Macronutrients and Calories

Macronutrients make up the total calories in foods we consume on a daily basis. The three main categories of macronutrients are carbohydrate, protein and fat. Each macronutrient contains a specific amount of calories per gram as follows:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories
  • 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories
  • 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories (8.7–9.5)
  • 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories

Alcohol is not considered a macronutrient as it has no nutritional value in terms of vitamins or minerals. However, alcohol still contains calories, and you should track your alcohol consumption if you happen to drink it.

Number of Calories You Have to Cut to Lose One Pound

It is estimated that one has to burn about 3500 calories to lose 1 pound (0.454 kilogram). You can arrive at this figure as follows:

  • 1 pound equals 454 grams.
  • Pure fat contains about 9 calories per gram.
  • Body fat or adipose tissue is 87% fat with the rest composed of water and other non-fat solids like protein.

Given the above values, 454 grams of body fat tissue contains about 395 grams of fat (454 x 87% = 394.98). And 395 grams of fat corresponds to 3555 calories (395 x 9 = 3555). So, in principle, if you cut about 500 calories a day from your diet, you would lose about 1 pound a week. Similarly, if you cut about 1000 calories a day from your diet, you’ would lose about 2 pounds a week.

The principle behind this approach is that 3500 calories equal about one pound. So if you cut about 500 calories a day for seven days, you’ll end up with a 3500 (500 x 7 = 3500) calorie deficit beyond your body’s weight maintenance level and, in turn, lose one pound.

When it comes to calculating calories to lose weight, most nutrition apps work in a similar fashion. They first calculate the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight, and then they subtract 500 calories per day if you want to lose one pound per week.

Problems with This Approach

While it sounds simple, however, there are some problems with this approach. When you reduce the number of daily calories you consume to lose weight, you lose a combination of fat, muscle (lean tissue) and water. Also, as your metabolism slows down and burns fewer calories for the same amount of activity, if you continue reducing your caloric intake further to lose weight, you may get other side effects such as hunger, intense craving, irritability and mood changes.

Estimates made using this approach seems to work better in the short term when used for moderate weight loss plans in overweight and obese people. However, estimates seem to falls apart in the long term leading to failure and disappointment for dieters.

Finally, it is important to note that this approach is based on dated research data as some studies indicate that body fat tissue contains less than 87% fat. Also, different types of adipose tissue (body fat) may have varying amounts of fat.

You can get a more realistic assessment of your estimated weight loss using The Body Weight Planner, developed by the National Institute of Health. This tools provides calorie levels for both weight loss and weight maintenance.

How To Determine Your Calorie Needs For The Goals You Set

In order to find out the amount of daily calories your body will need for a different set of goals, first you have to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) in calories. This is the total number of calories your body expends in 24 hours, including all physical activities. This is also the total number of calories needed to maintain your current weight. Naturally, this will vary depending on your activity level and metabolic rate.

While the most accurate way to measure your Total Daily Energy Expenditure is to have your body fat measured and your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) measured at a health facility, however, you can use the following quick and easy approach to determine your TDEE and BMR:

STEP 1 – Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate

The calculation of Basal Metabolic Rate, which is the amount of calories you’ll need to fuel most basic bodily functions at rest, excluding physical activities, is somewhat complex and takes into account several variables such as age, sex, weight, height, activity level and lean body mass.

A much simpler approach to determine your Basal Metabolic Rate is to use an average metabolic factor which is based on your gender and total body weight as follows:

  • WOMEN – Take your weight in pounds and multiply by a metabolic factor of 11 to determine the approximate number of calories you’ll need per day at rest. For example, if you are a woman with a weight of 150 pounds, your BMR would be 1650 (150 x 11 = 1650), which means that your body burns 1650 calories to keep functioning at rest.
  • MEN – Take your weight in pounds and multiply by a metabolic factor of 12 to determine the approximate number of calories you’ll need per day at rest. For example, if you are a man with a weight of 190 pounds, your BMR would be 2280 (190 x 12 = 2280), which means that your body needs 2,280 calories to keep functioning at rest.

STEP 2 – Calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure

Even the most sedentary person requires additional calories to function beyond his or her Basal Metabolic Rate. Once you know your BMR, you can apply an activity factor to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure in calories. In this way, you can tell approximately how many calories you’ll need to burn per day to keep functioning at your current activity level.

To calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, multiply your BMR by an activity factor as follows:

  • Sedentary – BMR x 1.2 (little or no exercise)
  • Lightly active – BMR x 1.375 (light exercise, 20 minutes a day, 1-3 days a week)
  • Moderately active – BMR x 1.55 (moderate exercise, 30-60 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week)
  • Very active – BMR x 1.725 (heavy training, 60-90 minutes a day, 6-7 days a week)
  • Extra active – BMR x 1.9 (very heavy training, 2 or more times training a day for competition sports)

Once you know your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, you can easily determine the number of calories you’ll need to consume every day in order to maintain, lose or gain weight.

Weight maintenance example

If you are a lightly active woman with a weight of 150 pounds and a BMR of 1650, your activity factor would be 1.375. Then your Total Daily Energy Expenditure in calories would be 2268.75 (1,650 x 1.375 = 2268.75). This is the total number of calories you could consume everyday to maintain your current weight.

Weight loss example

If you want to lose weight, take the weight you want to be and calculate your Total Daily Energy Expenditure in calories. If you are a lightly active woman weighing 150 pounds and want to be 140 pounds, your BMR at your target weight would be 1540 (140 x 11 = 1540) and your TDEE would be 2117.5 (1540 x 1.375 = 2117.5) with a deficit of 151.25 (2268.75 – 2117.5 = 151.25) calories per day. So if you start following a diet at this calorie level until you have reached 140 pounds, you will have lost 10 pounds.

How Much Carbohydrate To Consume Each Day

Adjustment of your daily carb intake

When you are on a carb cycling diet, keep these two principles in mind when adjusting your daily carb intake:

  • You must maintain a caloric deficit for fat loss.
  • You have to be in a caloric surplus for muscle gain.

Determination of daily carb consumption

As for the question of how much carbohydrate you should consume each day, you can manage your carb intake as follows:

  • A high carb day requires eating 2 to 2.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.
  • A medium carb day requires less than 2 grams of carbohydrates and more than 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight.
  • A low carb day involves about 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
  • A no carb day calls for less than 30 grams of carbohydrates in total.

STEP 1 – Work out your daily calorie goal

As everybody has a different carb need, your first step should be to work out your individual daily calorie intake correctly from the very start.

You can use the following guidelines to come up with the right amount of carb intake depending on your dietary goal:

  • If you want to lose weight, multiply your weight in pounds by 12-13 to calculate the number of calories you should consume each day.
  • If you want to maintain your weight, multiply your weight in pounds by 15-16 to calculate the number of calories you’ll need to consume each day.
  • If you want to gain weight, multiply your weight in pounds by 18-19 to calculate the number of calories you’ll need to have each day.

While this is a simpler approach to determine the total number of calories required to reach your dietary goal than the one using BMR and TDEE concepts, however, you can still use it for comparative calorie calculations.

STEP 2 – Allocate your total calories among fat, protein and carbohydrates

During this step, you need to allocate those calories among the three macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Remember that carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, fat provides 9 calories per gram. When carb cycling, you should aim for about 1 gram of protein for each pound of your weight and the rest should consist of healthy fats.

You can use the one of the following methods to allocate calories among the three main macronutrients in adjusting your carb intake:

  • On high carb days, raise your daily calorie intake by increasing your carb count while keeping the fat and protein intake the same. Align your high-carb days with workout days so you can get an energy boost for your workouts from the extra carbs. On low carb days, lower your daily calorie intake by reducing your carb count while maintaining the fat and protein intake the same.
  • You can also keep your protein intake the same but modify your fat intake depending on the carb adjustment you make. So if you increase your carb intake, decrease your fat intake to compensate for the shift in calories. This may be a better option if you are trying to lose weight.

Weekly Carb Cycling Meal Plan For Weight Loss

Carb cycling is based on the premise to match your body’s need for calories or glucose as fuel for energy. So it’s important to know what to eat during the week if you are planning to go on a carb cycling diet.

Here is a sample seven-day diet plan to make sure that you get all the essential nutrients when you are on a carb cycling diet. If you can adhere to this plan for the next four weeks, you should be able to shed some pounds.

Day 1 – A Low Carb Day

  • Breakfast: Almond and citrus fruit salad mixed with berries and yogurt.
  • Snack: An apple and a protein bar.
  • Lunch: Salad made with 50 grams of quinoa, 100 grams of peas and tomatoes and two hard-boiled eggs.
  • Snack: A banana and a scoop of walnuts.
  • Dinner: A sliced stir-fried chicken breast with sliced carrots, courgettes and green beans. Served with 70 grams of quinoa.
  • Snack: Two oatcakes.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs – 226 grams (4 x 226 = 904 calories)
  • Protein – 108 grams (4 x 108 = 432 calories)
  • Fat – 67 grams (9 x 67 = 603 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1939 calories

Day 2 – Low Carb Day

  • Breakfast: Seed and apple muesli made with two tablespoons of rolled oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Served with two tablespoons of natural yogurt and a small apple.
  • Snack: A banana and scoop of walnuts.
  • Lunch: A whole meal pitta stuffed with half an avocado, one tablespoon of cottage cheese and tuna.
  • Snack: A pear.
  • Dinner: A grilled salmon steak with half a sliced lime on top. Served with 100 grams broccoli, 70 grams of quinoa and 75 grams of peas.
  • Snack: An apple.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs– 170 grams (4 x 170 = 680 calories)
  • Protein– 131 grams (4 x 131 = 524 calories)
  • Fat – 81 grams (9 x 81 = 729 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1933 calories

Day 3 – High Carb Day

  • Breakfast: 60 grams of oats, soaked in water with 200 grams of berries. Served with a pot of natural yogurt and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds.
  • Snack: A peach.
  • Lunch: A baked potato stuffed with a tablespoon of hummus. Served with salad made from sliced cucumber, tomato, red pepper and mixed leaves. A banana.
  • Snack: A protein bar and an apple.
  • Dinner: A grilled cod fillet served with 250 grams of boiled potatoes, 100 grams of carrots and peas.
  • Snack: Three oatcakes.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs – 323 grams (4 x 323 = 1292 calories)
  • Protein– 78 grams (4 x 78 = 312 calories)
  • Fat– 40 grams (9 x 40 = 360 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1964 calories

Day 4 – Low Carb Day

  • Breakfast: Three eggs beaten with two tablespoons of natural yogurt. Add half a red pepper, half a courgette and half an onion as well as one tablespoon of peas. Cook in a pan.
  • Snack: An apple and a handful of pumpkin seeds.
  • Lunch: A can of salmon mixed with a can of butter beans. Serve with a lettuce salad, tomato, sugar snap peas, and onion.
  • Snack: A nectarine.
  • Dinner: A grilled turkey breast with grilled courgette, carrot, red pepper, and onion.
  • Snack: A banana and 80 grams of grapes.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs – 159 grams (4 x 159 = 636 calories)
  • Protein– 143 grams (4 x 143 = 572 calories)
  • Fat – 72 grams (9 x 72 = 648 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1856 calories

Day 5 – Low Carb Day

  • Breakfast: Two boiled eggs with two whole meal pitta slices spread with Marmite and butter.
  • Snack: An apple and a pear.
  • Lunch: Avocado and tuna mash served with salad leaves, cucumber, tomato, carrot, and courgette.
  • Snack: A peas and an oatcake topped with cucumber and cottage cheese.
  • Dinner: A can of salmon mixed with a can of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, carrot, red pepper, and courgettes. Simmered for 10 minutes and served.
  • Snack: A banana.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs– 165 grams (4 x 165 = 660 calories)
  • Protein – 124 grams (4 x 124 = 496 calories)
  • Fat – 77 grams (9 x 77 = 693 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1849 calories

Day 6 – High Carb Day

  • Breakfast: 5 tablespoons of natural yogurt. Mix with 50 grams of rolled oats, 200 grams of berries, 1 tablespoon of honey and a sliced pear.
  • Snack: A whole meal pitta bread stuffed with a tomato and cottage cheese.
  • Lunch: A chickpea salad made with half a can of chickpeas.
  • Snack: Four oatcakes with sliced apple and peanut butter.
  • Dinner: A grilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli, 70g quinoa and 100g green beans.
  • Snack: A banana.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs – 249 grams (4 x 249 = 996 calories)
  • Protein – 122 grams (4 x 122 = 488 calories)
  • Fat – 44 grams (9 x 44 = 396 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1880 calories

Day 7 – Low Carb Day

  • Breakfast: Two poached eggs with two portobello mushrooms and two tomatoes.
  • Snack: A pot of natural yogurt, an orange and a peach.
  • Lunch: A pitta stuffed with cottage cheese, avocado, cucumber, tomato, lettuce, and peanut butter.
  • Snack: An apple with a handful of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
  • Dinner: Poached salmon with a courgette, 200 grams of tomatoes and sugar snap peas.
  • Snack: A banana and two oatcakes.

Nutritional Data

  • Carbs – 157 grams (4 x 157 = 628 calories)
  • Protein – 98 grams (4 x 98 = 392 calories)
  • Fat – 94 grams (9 x 94 = 846 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1866 calories

Carb Cycling Diet Programs For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain

If you want to use the following carb cycling diet programs to lose weight or gain muscle mass, you may have to adjust the nutritional data to suit your own needs along the guidelines presented here.

1. High Low Carb Cycling Program

This approach involves alternating a high carb day and a low carb day successively. Let’s imagine we’re planning a carb cycling program for a person with the following profile:

  • Age: 29
  • Sex: Male
  • Weight: 190 pounds
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches
  • Activity Level: Lightly active

The total number of calories he will need to maintain his weight is about 2845 (190 x 15 = 2845), estimated by multiplying his weight in pounds by 15.

Carb Cycling Plan For Fat Loss

For his carb cycling program for fat loss, he would have 3 high carb days with a calorie intake at his weight maintenance level and 4 low carb days at about 600 calories per day below his weight maintenance level. His three workout days would be his high carb days, while his rest days would be his low carb days.

According to the above scenario, his carb cycling program for fat loss would look like as follows:

High carb day nutritional data (workout day)

  • Carbohydrate – 375 grams (4 x 375 = 1500 calories)
  • Protein – 190 grams (4 x 190 = 760 calories)
  • Fat – 65 grams (9 x 65 = 585 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2845 calories

Low carb day nutritional data (rest day)

  • Carbohydrate – 100 grams (4 x 100 = 400 calories)
  • Protein – 190 grams (4 x 190 = 760 calories)
  • Fat – 120 grams (9 x 120 = 1080 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2240 calories

His total deficit of weekly calories would be 2420 calories (605 x 4 = 2420). This would make him to lose under 1 pound of fat every week. While this may not seem impressive, however, the more quickly you lose fat, you increase the risk of of losing muscle too, which defeats the purpose of carb cycling.

Carb Cycling Plan For Muscle Gain

For his carb cycling program for muscle gain loss, he would have 3 high carb days and 4 low carb days. In this case, his calorie intake needs to be adjusted up slightly. This will help him recover faster after working out and will also promote muscle growth. On his workout days, he will need to have a surplus of about 300 calories compared to his weight loss program. On his low carb days, he’ll stay at his recommended maintenance calorie intake.

According to the above scenario, his carb cycling program for muscle gain would look like as follows:

High carb day nutritional data (workout day)

  • Carbohydrate – 440 grams (4 x 440= 1760 calories)
  • Protein – 190 grams (4 x 190 = 760 calories)
  • Fat – 70 grams (9 x 70 = 630 calories)
  • Calorie total – 3150 calories

Low carb day nutritional data (rest day)

  • Carbohydrate – 300 grams (4 x 300 = 1200 calories)
  • Protein – 190 grams (4 x 190 = 760 calories)
  • Fat – 100 grams (9 x 100 = 900 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2860 calories

Under this program, the person is cycling carbs but not as drastically as he would to lose weight. However, in order to maintain a net caloric surplus over the entire week, calorie intake must stay at the same level even on off days as the individual has a high energy expenditure. This also helps increase training performance.

2. High-Medium-Low Carb Cycling Program

This involves having a high carb day and then a medium carb day followed by a low carb day. The cycle will then repeat on a weekly basis. Let’s imagine we’re planning a carb cycling program for a person with the following profile:

  • Age: 31
  • Sex: Female
  • Weight: 150 pounds
  • Height: 5 feet 5 inches
  • Activity Level: Lightly active

With the above profile, the total number of calories she will need to maintain her weight will be about 2250 (150 x 15), estimated by multiplying his weight in pounds by 15.

Carb Cycling Plan For Fat Loss

This plan involves two days of high carb intake set at her weight maintenance level of 2250 calories. On her two medium carb days, her caloric intake will be 300 calories under her maintenance level. On her two low carb days, her caloric intake will be 600 calories under her maintenance level. Rather than aligning the high carb days with her workout days, her caloric intake is staggered. Workouts should be carried out on medium and high carb days but not on low carb days.

According to the above scenario, her carb cycling program for fat loss would look like as follows:

High carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 245 grams (4 x 245 = 980 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 75 grams (9 x 75 = 675 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2255 calories

Medium carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 80 grams (9 x 80 = 720 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1920 calories

Low carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 50 grams (4 x 50 = 200 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 95 grams (9 x 95 = 855 calories)
  • Calorie total – 1655 calories

Carb Cycling Plan For Muscle Gain

If the same person wanted to gain muscle through carb cycling, her plan would look different. She would need a caloric surplus of 200 calories on workout days for the growth of muscle tissue and recovery. On rest days, her caloric intake should remain at the weight maintenance level to ensure she is in a caloric surplus overall across the week.

According to the above scenario, her carb cycling program for muscle gain would look like as follows:

High carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 340 grams (4 x 340 = 1360 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 55 grams (9 x 55 = 495 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2455 calories

Medium carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 240 grams (4 x 240 = 960 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 100 grams (9 x 100 = 900 calories)
  • Calorie total – 2460 calories

Low carb day nutritional data

  • Carbohydrate – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Protein – 150 grams (4 x 150 = 600 calories)
  • Fat – 115 grams (9 x 115 = 1035 calories)
  • Calorie total –2235 calories

The carb intake on medium carb days is kept higher here as eating too much fat can lead to the accumulation of fat deposits in the body. Therefore, staying away from eating too much fat helps prevent fat gain. Carbs are vital in recovery and in replenishing muscle glycogen, which helps increase training performance.

In the above scenario, our subject is still carb cycling but not as drastically as she might on a fat loss diet program. Remember that the key nutrient for gaining muscle is protein, which doesn’t have to be very high. Ideally, you can consume about 1 gram of protein for each pound of your body weight. And fat and carb totals can be tailored to your energy needs and preferences.

Final Words

While carb cycling may help you with weight loss, muscle gain and health improvement, however, it isn’t an effort free diet. Many people start on this diet without realizing how much work is involved. You need to commit yourself to your goals to see it through. You’ll need to measure and keep track of macronutrients and calorie intake for each meal accurately during your carb cycling diet.

To achieve your dietary goals, you need to have a carefully prepared carb cycling diet plan which is compatible with your current fitness level and dietary goals. A qualified registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can create a well-balanced, personalized dietary plan to suit your needs. However, keep in mind that such a rigorous diet program may not be necessary to achieve the results you desire.

“The Ultimate Guide To Carb Cycling For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain”

  1. Carb Cycling – How It Works, Benefits and Side Effects
  2. How To Start A Carb Cycling Diet
  3. Carb Cycling Diet Plan For Fat Loss and Muscle Gain
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