Carb Cycling for Weight Loss - A Beginner's Guide

by Lumen Editorial Desk · March 01, 2023 · 6 minute read

Carbs aren't your enemy. They are actually a necessary friend for weight loss

Many people have that love-hate relationship with carbs, enjoying their delicious taste but feeling guilty about consuming them. As a controversial topic when it comes to weight loss and overall health, it's not the carbs themselves that are the problem, but rather the quantity and quality of carbs consumed and how they impact on our metabolism.

While we know that consuming too many refined carbs, such as white bread, pasta, and sugary snacks, can lead to weight gain, slow metabolism, and other health problems. Most of us are guilty of this. In fact, according to this study, low-quality carbs still account for 42% of daily calories, while high-quality carbs — such as whole grains and fruits — only account for 9%.

But, there are ways you can 'carb' in a beneficial way! Let's dive in

What Does Carb Cycling Mean?

Carbs are one of the three macronutrients, along with protein and fat, that the body needs for energy. They provide fuel for the brain and muscles, so they are essential for overall health and well-being.

For this reason, people choose to vary their carbohydrate intake either from day to day or strategically time their intake around activities (like exercise) where they need them, AKA carb cycling. As a result, the body becomes more efficient at using carbs for energy, and the metabolism speeds up.

As one of the most effective ways to burn fat, boost your metabolism, and reach your weight-loss goals, there are also several other potential benefits of this diet. With a personalized nutrition plan that can tie your dietary needs to your metabolism - you will be able to determine when your body needs a low, medium, or high-carb day.

Carb cycling is a way to eat that alternates between high-carb and low-carb days. It's not a diet but rather a way of eating.

Doing this helps keep your body guessing, making it easier to lose weight and keep it off long-term.

The idea behind carb cycling is to give the body the carbohydrates it needs on high-carb days to fuel workouts and replenish glycogen stores, while on low-carb days, the body relies on stored fat for energy. This strongly correlates with your metabolism - the process by which your body converts food into energy.

How It Affects Your Metabolism 

The term "carb cycling" may sound intimidating, but it's actually a simple way to lose weight and boost your metabolism. Carb cycling is about balancing your blood sugar levels, which helps you burn fat and keep it off long-term. Your body becomes more efficient at using carbs for energy and, as a result, optimizes your metabolism.

There’s evidence that a low-carb diet may help with weight loss and that it helps speed up the metabolism. On the contrary, experts believe that a healthy high-carb diet may be beneficial in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and intestinal cancer. 

Carb cycling helps you lose weight by:

Balancing blood sugar levels. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into glucose (blood sugar) in your body. Glucose triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas, which then allows cells to use that energy source as fuel for their daily activities. 

If there is too much glucose circulating in your bloodstream at once due to excessive carb intake, then some will be stored as fat rather than burned off as energy because there isn't enough space left in our cell's storage facilities (called "mitochondria").

Lumen experts explain that carb cycling balances out these peaks and valleys of insulin release so that more fat can be used instead of being stored away!

Carb cycling is a great way to lose weight and gain muscle. It can also help improve your health, endurance, athletic performance, and mental focus.

It's important to note that carb cycling is not the same thing as low-carb diets or ketogenic diets (which are both very different from carb cycling). These other types of diets have their own benefits but may not be right for everyone who wants to try carb cycling.

How the Body Responds to a High-Carb Diet

The body responds to a high-carb diet by producing insulin, which is a hormone that tells your cells to take up sugar from your blood. This process is called "glucose disposal." When you eat a surplus of carbs, your muscles and liver store the excess glucose as glycogen (a type of energy storage molecule).

When you reduce your carb intake, your body has to find another way to burn fat for energy rather than using sugar from carbohydrates or even protein. To do this, it needs more time between meals so that it can break down stored fat into ketone bodies instead of burning glucose straight away for energy--this process is called ketosis. 

How to Structure a Carb Cycling Schedule 

You can structure your carb cycling in a number of ways. The most common method is to alternate between high-carb days and low-carb days, but you can also alternate between high and low weeks. This means that you'll consume a high amount of carbs one week, then very few the next. When you take your morning breath measurement, your personalized nutritional plan will adjust to what food your metabolism needs in real-time.

“Measure your metabolic status when you wake up. Your morning breath is the most important indicator of your day and will recommend what your body needs in order to work efficiently with the carbs you consume”

Abigail Markman,

The amount of carbohydrates you're eating each day or week depends on what your goal is: if you're trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss (a "fat burner"), then your daily intake should be at a caloric deficit.

If your goal is muscle growth ("gainer"), then you will want to eat a surplus of overall macros per day, but make sure to balance the carbs and allow them to fit into your low and high-carb days.

Those who just want their body composition balanced or to maintain their weight may find themselves somewhere in between these two extremes – that is, eating enough protein to make sure you maintain muscle while losing body fat. It may take some trial and error for a couple of weeks, but using a personalized nutritional plan that gives you accurate biofeedback on your metabolism will remove the guesswork of understanding what your body needs in order to achieve your goals. 

Top tips from our Lumen experts:

  • Try consume your carbs earlier in the day, and opt for a lighter dinner. This will help you digest better and sleep better.

  • For this diet to be effective, workouts, like lifting weights, need to be part of your routine. This type of exercise has been found to keep growth hormone levels elevated after exercise, which helps shift energy from carbs to fat-burn mode

How to Implement a Carb Cycling Diet

Because carb cycling is a diet strategy that alternates between high-carb days and low-carb days, on workout days, you'll need to eat a higher amount of carbohydrates than you normally would; on rest days, you'll consume fewer carbs than usual. The goal is to keep your body guessing, so it never gets used to any one way of eating--and that means you'll see better results

Here's How to Implement Carb Cycling:

First things first: use a macro diet tracker to calculate how many grams of moderate carbohydrates (or net carbs) you should eat based on your body weight. 

Again, be patient with yourself and know that you may need to stick to a consistent carb cycle for a couple of weeks before making changes to see what macros work for your body.

Related post: Healthy Eating Habits for Optimal Nutrition

Carb Cycling Recipes to Try

The recipes listed here are perfect for those who want to lose weight by eating clean meals that will keep you energized throughout the day. Each recipe has been designed with carb cycling and metabolic health in mind—allowing you to get the most out of this lifestyle change!

Low Carb Day Recipes 

Greek Chicken Salad


  • Chicken breasts, sliced into chunks or strips
  • Feta cheese, crumbled (or any other type of cheese you like)
  • Red onion, diced
  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Kalamata olives (optional)

Chop, dice and mix all the ingredients together and enjoy!

Garlic Salmon and Broccoli


  • Salmon
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Broccoli 
  • Salt, pepper

You can either air fry, bake or cook the broccoli on the stove with a drizzle of olive oil. Chop the garlic, add to a pan on the stovetop and saute. Spread a generous amount of salt and pepper on the salmon and add to the garlic pan. Cook for 4 minutes each side!

High Carb Day Recipes

Chicken Enchilada Bowls

Take a look at the recipe below, and then we'll break down how to make it.

  • 1 cup black beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded or cubed (we used rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 cup enchilada sauce (store-bought)
  • Toppings: sour cream or Greek yogurt; sliced avocado; chopped cilantro leaves; lime wedges for squeezing overtop
  • Teriyaki Rice Bowl 
  • Tofu or chicken 
  • Brown or jasmine rice 
  • Bell pepper
  • Green onion
  • Teriyaki sauce 

Saute all ingredients, cook rice (about 1 cup). Once the veggies and meat are cooked, add together in one pan and drizzle teriyaki sauce. Mix in one bowl with the rice and bon appetit!

"Lumen is great at discovering what works for you so you can use it to your advantage. We are all different, and this platform has all sorts of people fasting / eating 5 meals a day / keto / low-carb / athletes / vegan... So as someone who's been there and tried that, your weight loss journey can be done, and Lumen just gives you that extra help."
Joy, 46, Chicago,

Lumen User

Sleep and Carb Cycling! 

Who would have thought carb cycling could help impact the quality of sleep! But it does. By getting into the healthy habit of eating fewer carbs on days when your workouts are less intense and higher in carbs on days when they are more intense, you'll be able to get the energy boost needed during those intense workouts. You will also be able to manage blood sugar levels throughout the day, without experiencing any negative side effects like crashing! This is great news for optimizing your metabolism!

“Instead of a mid-day crash, you are now spreading out your carbohydrate intake throughout the day, causing your energy to slowly taper off as the day turns to night, winding your body down for a restful night's sleep.”

Noa Shani
Metabolic Coach

Carb cycling also causes you to become more aware of when you are eating your carbs so that you can pay closer attention to which days you have more energy and a more restful night's sleep!

"Snacking, or eating high-carb / high-sugar meals late at night, disrupts the body's natural fasting period. When we eat before bed, our body spends more time on digesting food than recovering."

Marine Melamed,

Stress and Carb Cycling 

Carbohydrates are often blamed for causing weight gain, but research shows that this isn't true! In fact, eating healthy carbohydrates can actually help relieve stress by increasing serotonin production, which improves mood control and decreases symptoms associated with depression or anxiety. The trick is to know how much energy you are burning and cycling in your high and low carb days to match that expenditure. 


By now, you should have a good idea of what carb cycling is and some of the benefits it can have on your body and your metabolism. Carb cycling is an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. It helps prevent insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and other diseases like cancer. It's also beneficial for those who are trying to lose weight but still want to enjoy some carbs. Having a structure for your own carb cycling plan will keep you on track, form a healthy habit with foods, and ensure that you’re eating the correct amount of macros for your specific goals - whether it's to gain muscle or lose fat!


Brian St. Pierre, M. S. (2022, June 24). Carb Cycling: Is this advanced fat loss strategy right for you? Precision Nutrition. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-carb-cycling 

Google. (n.d.). The Everything Guide to the carb cycling diet. Google Books. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=N33rDQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT25&dq=carb%2Bcycling&ots=6S5xB_eUqq&sig=BvrNYJEokLvit51V8VrTxG4c4kY#v=onepage&q=carb%20cycling&f=false

MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Carb cycling: Benefits, evidence, and how to do it. Medical News Today. Retrieved February 21, 2023, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/carb-cycling 

Our contributing team of in-house registered and certified nutritionists, dietitians, scientists, and researchers helping people become metabolically healthier

Lumen Editorial Desk

Our Lumen editorial desk includes an in-house team of certified and registered nutritionists and dietitians, scientists, researchers, and writers.