Carb Cycling Meal Plan: Beginner’s Guide

If you’re starting carb cycling it’s important to have a carb cycling meal plan. This can provide you with different levels of carbohydrates for strength-training , cardio, and rest days.

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Are you making your first carb cycling meal plan? Fun Fact: Dietary recommendations for the average American range from 45% to 65% of total calories. This is quite high versus low-carb diets that put carbs at under 10% of total calories. In recent years, low-carb diets have been trending. However, there are some question marks about certain aspects. For example, if you’re doing high-intensity workouts, for example, the main energy source is carbs. You’ll also need fewer carbs for cardio, and even fewer for rest days. This is basically what carb cycling is all about. It provides you with the amount of carbs you need based on a day’s physical activity level.   

When doing meal planning it’s important to prepare for different carb needs during the week. For example, on rest days you could go low/no carb. Then on cardio days, carbs could be moderate. High carb days could be saved for strength training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) days. Both types of exercises require high amounts of carbs for immediate energy. It’s critical to go high-carb on these days to make sure you have enough energy for workouts that involve barbells/dumbbells, kettlebells or bodyweight. Cardio also requires carbs but less than strength training.  

What Exactly Is Carb Cycling?

In recent years, low-carb diets like Keto and Atkins have been trending. In fact, Keto was the most searched trending diet in 2018, and last year Keto Ultra was still ranked among Google’s top 10 searched diets. This version uses supplements to get into ketosis or burn more fat while in the state.

However, it’s worth noting that many health experts argue that the ketogenic diet isn’t a healthy method for weight loss. In fact, it was originally designed to treat health conditions like epilepsy and diabetes. While some experts agree it can help to lose weight, many don’t think it’s safe to maintain long-term diets that require carbs to be 10% of total calories and fat to be 70%.  

There’s also the issue of getting enough carbs during workouts. Some modified Keto programs allow extra some fast-absorbing carbs as a pre-workout food/meal. However, the body requires more carbs for exercises like high-intensity cardio and weight-resistance.

This is where carb cycling can help. This dietary method tweaks carb intake based on your particular needs for the day. Usually, there are low, moderate, and high-carb days. You’ll still have low carb days like rest days in which you don’t need lots of calories.

However, there are other days when you’ll need higher amounts of glucose (blood sugar). It’s important to note that carbs are actually the body’s first choice for energy. This is especially true when you’re doing high-intensity workouts.

You can certainly get energy from fat stores if necessary. However, this process is different from getting energy from carbs. So in cases when you need immediate energy, carbs are a better choice.

Carb cycling can still help to lose weight. For example, while carbs can provide energy for weightlifting or cardio, you’ll be burning those carbs then burning fat. You can also burn more fat by going low-carb on rest days.

Carb Cycling Meal Plan

Low carb days

  • Breakfast: 3 eggs and 3 slices of bacon, mixed veggies,
  • Lunch: Salmon salad with olive oil
  • Snack: Mixed nuts with turkey slice
  • Dinner: Steak, mixed veggies, and ½ avocado

While some meals might seem “heavy” it’s important to note that 3 eggs/bacon is high-protein and low-carb, for example. There’s also a good amount of healthy fat from the bacon, olive oil, avocado, etc. Meanwhile, every meal and snack are low-carb. When picking veggies make sure to avoid root vegetables since they’re high-carb.

The best way to go low-carb on this day is to boost protein and fats. This will help to make carbs lower since the ratio will be higher for protein/fat.

Moderate carb-day

  • Breakfast: High-protein yogurt, mixed berries, and seed mix
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with potatoes cubes
  • Pre-Cardio Workout: Whey protein shake with one banana
  • Dinner: Lean beef, sweet potato fries, kidney beans, and mixed veggies

These meals are similar to low-carb diets but they add some items that aren’t allowed on Keto/Atkins. They include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beans. These are high-carb foods. However, they’re also healthy and can provide instant energy that you’ll need for cardio days, for example.

The key is to pick “good” carbs. Potatoes, beans, and bananas are loaded with nutrients even though they aren’t Keto-friendly foods.

High-carb day

  • Breakfast: 3 eggs (boiled), 3 slices multi-grain bread, mushrooms, tomatoes, and mixed fruit
  • Lunch: Lean meat/fish, sweet potato, and mixed veggies
  • Pre-Strength Training Workout: Oatmeal, berries, whey protein, and almond milk
  • Dinner: Lean chicken, brown rice, kidney beans, and mixed veggies

These meals definitely include items that aren’t allowed on low-carb diets. They include ones like multi-grain bread, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, and kidney beans. In fact, if you go with Ezekiel bread it contains 4 grains and 2 beans. This makes it a complete protein that’s loaded with nutrients.

Top Benefits of Carb Cycling

Prevents fatigue

Low-calorie diets tend to cause fatigue because you don’t have enough energy when you need it. Carb cycling is different. Since you get more carbs when you need it, this can help to prevent fatigue. Does this mean you’ll never get tired? If you don’t get tired when doing high-intensity workouts you’re doing it right.

Cheat meals

Health experts often recommend cheat meals instead of cheat days. This is a way to reward yourself for staying on track while enjoying some items that are part of the joy of eating. It’s best to do cheat meals on your high-carb days.

It’s generally advisable not to go overboard unless you’re burning tons of calories for bodybuilding or powerlifting, for example. It’s usually enough to have a cheat meal with some unhealthy stuff you normally wouldn’t eat.

Boosts energy level

The energy isn’t from calories but you’ll get energy from carbs when you need it. This approach helps to balance insulin levels, which in turn helps to balance energy levels. You’ll have more blood sugar available on the days you need it for cardio or strength training. This differs from low-carb diets when you’re always getting energy from protein/fat instead of carbs.

Workout recovery

Protein, in particular, is critical for post-workout recovery. This helps to soothe muscle tissues, which can help to build lean muscle mass. You’ll be getting extra carbs for workouts. So afterward you can focus on getting more protein for muscle recovery.

Maintains high metabolism

One benefit of carb cycling is it helps to maintain your metabolic rate. This is due to providing enough carbs based on your activity level. This, in turn, can help to shed calories and burn fat. Consuming more carbs on workout days, for example, can fuel your body so you can keep turning food into energy through a carb cycling meal plan.

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