The Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

The Beginner’s Guide to Carb Cycling for Weight Loss

Do you want to know what carb cycling is, how it works, and if it can help you lose weight faster than traditional dieting? Then you want to read this article.

If you’re looking for that “one weird trick” to melt belly fat…

Or those special exercises that will unlock unlimited gains…

Or that exotic pill or powder that will transform your physique…

Then you’re not going to like this article because you’ll find none of that here.

No hacks. No shortcuts. No nonsense.

Instead, you’re going to learn what science actually says about carb cycling and how well it may or may not help you lose weight.

You’re also going to learn why the real “secret” to getting into the best shape of your life is simply understanding and applying basic diet and training principles.

Woody Allen once said that 80% of life is just showing up. Very applicable to us fitness-minded folk because 80% of having the body you want is hewing to the “boring” fundamentals.

As for the other 20%, it includes things that can give you a slight edge like fasted training, periodization, and supplementation, but it’s mostly just patience and persistence.

Which brings me to the subject at hand: carb cycling.

Some people would like you to believe it’s part of the 80%, but as you’ll soon see, it’s not. Not even by a long shot.

That said, that doesn’t mean it can’t help you lose weight and reach your fitness goals faster.

So, keep reading and you’re going to learn what carb cycling is, how it works, and how to know if it’s something for you.

What Is Carb Cycling?

carb cycling diet

Carb cycling is a method of dieting that involves planned increases and decreases in carbohydrate intake.

It usually involves increasing and decreasing caloric intake, too.

There are many carb cycling protocols out there, but most suggest alternating between at least two of three types of days:

  • High-carb days

These days generally call for something around 2 to 2.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. They’re the highest in terms of caloric intake as well.

  • Low-carb days

Most protocols peg your carb intake around 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight on low-carb days, which can be a bit of a struggle if you’re also training on those days. Caloric intake is usually lower than high-carb days, too.

  • No-carb days

These days are, quite frankly, rather hellish. A true no-carb day calls for less than 30 grams of carbs for the entire day and a low caloric intake as well.

As you can see, carb cycling requires that you pay very close attention to your meal planning and adhere strictly to it. It’s not for dilettantes or “half measure” types.

Why, then, do people subject themselves to it? And is it worth it?

How Carb Cycling Works

Carb cycling emphasizes the importance of manipulating your carbohydrate intake, so let’s start this discussion there.

Why the focus on carbs?

Well, you’ve likely heard that eating too many carbs spikes our insulin levels, triggers fat storage, and wrecks our metabolisms.

You’ve probably also heard that you have to eat a lot of carbs to build muscle efficiently.

Thus, a dilemma:

We’re supposed to “carb up” to build muscle but also have to accept the price of more blubber around our bellies.

Well, this is exactly the problem that carb cycling purports to solve, and is exactly why people are willing to suffer through it.

Specifically, the higher-calorie, higher-carb days are supposed to…

And the lower-calorie, low- and no-carb days are to ramp up fat burning.

Sounds perfect, right?

Theoretically, then, you should be able to use carb cycling to build muscle without gaining fat…or maybe even build muscle and lose fat at the same time!

If you take a grounded look at the science, though, it quickly becomes clear that the pitch is more sizzle than steak.

To understand why, we need to dig deeper into one aspect of carb cycling in particular…

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Does Carb Cycling Help You Lose Weight Faster?

carb cycling to lose weight fast

Most people interested in carb cycling want to know one thing:

Can it help me lose weight?

Sure it can.

But there’s more: so can any other diet that puts you in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time.


In fact, that’s the only way to achieve meaningful weight loss–you must consistently eat fewer calories than you burn, regardless of the carbs you do or don’t eat.

This isn’t an opinion. This is scientific fact.

After a century of metabolic research and anecdotal evidence, there’s just no room left for argument. “Calories in vs. calories out” (known scientifically as energy balance) dictates weight loss and gain, not food choices or meal frequency or any other factor.

Many of the health and fitness “PDF peddlers” won’t tell you that, though. They want you to believe that their brand of carb cycling is the “secret” that Hollywood bombshells use to melt belly fat and drop pounds by the bucketfuls.

Well, to get to the bottom of it all, we have to ask a different question:

Is carb cycling is any better for losing weight than traditional dieting?

And the answer is maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better mousetrap.

You see, when you restrict your calories to lose weight, a portion of the weight lost comes from fat, but a portion also comes from water, glycogen, and, in some cases, muscle.

Now, the amount of carbs you eat greatly affects how much water your body retains, so when you restrict your carb intake, you can shed a significant amount of water and glycogen weight.

This is why carb cycling (and low-carb diets in general) can result in faster weight loss than traditional, higher-carb dieting.

Read: What Causes Water Retention and How to Get Rid Of It

Notice, though, that I didn’t say anything about fat, which is what we really want to lose (water and glycogen weight will just come back once you’ve resumed your normal diet).

To be clear, while we may say we want to lose weight, what we really mean is we want to lose fat and not muscleThat’s what will improve our body composition and get us closer to the body we really want.

The real question we have to answer, then, is this:

Is carb cycling is any better for losing fat than traditional dieting?

Does Carb Cycling Help You Lose Fat Faster?

carb cycling for weight loss results

Ask just about anyone how to lose fat, and they’ll probably say something cutting out carbs.

It’s the weight loss diet du jour.

It also can’t live up to the hype.

Yes, there are studies that seem to demonstrate it can–that low-carb dieting is significantly better for losing fat. This, this, and this are a few of the more popular ones among low-carb evangelists.

Other research shows otherwise, though.


For example, this study conducted by scientists at Arizona State University found that a low-carb diet offered no metabolic or weight loss advantages over a traditional diet.

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin, University of Arizona, and Harvard University have come to the same conclusion: a low-carb diet doesn’t help you lose fat faster.

What gives?

Well, God is in the details, as they say, and in this case, the detail that matters most is protein intake.

Namely, when you read over the research you’ll notice that when a low-carb diet has resulted in greater fat loss than a higher-carb diet, it has invariably contained more protein.

Yes, one for one…without fail.

In some cases, the high-carb groups were given less protein than even the RDI of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight, which is just woefully inadequate for weight loss purposes. Studies have shown that double and even triple those (RDI) levels of protein intake isn’t even enough to fully prevent muscle loss while dieting to lose fat.

This is a catastrophic design flaw because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

You can’t pit a high-protein, low-carb diet against a low-protein, high-carb diet, observe that the former results in more weight loss, and then ascribe the results to the low-carb element of the design.

And especially not when it’s a well-known fact that a high-protein diet is itself superior for losing weight.

Instead, you’d have to compare a high-protein, low-carb diet and a high-protein, high-carb diet to get a real assessment of whether low-carb truly is better for weight loss.

And fortunately, that has already been done. Multiple times. And each demonstrated the same result:

When caloric and protein intake are matched among low-carb and high-carb dieters, there’s no significant difference in weight loss.

That is, a high-protein, low-carb diet simply doesn’t help you lose fat faster than a high-protein, high-carb diet.

Now, let’s bring this all back to carb cycling.

As it’s essentially a carb-restricted diet, carb cycling may help you lose weight faster but won’t help you lose fat faster.

That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t cycle your carbs when you want to lose weight.

Some people don’t process carbs well and respond better to lower-carb dieting. You generally see this in the very overweight, and in these cases, carb cycling can serve them well.

Another reason to carb cycle when you want to lose weight is because you like it, and if that helps you keep your diet on track, that’s valuable.

So, if you want to give carb cycling a go, you can learn how to set it up here.

What About Carb Cycling and Building “Lean Muscle”?

carb cycling bodybuilding

Nobody wants to just “gain weight.”

They want to gain muscle and not fat. Or, even better, gain muscle while losing fat.

Can you do that with carb cycling?

Sure you can.

Is it better for building muscle than traditional dieting, though?

No surprise here: nope.

Set up your diet properly and follow a well-designed workout program and you’ll gain muscle (and maybe even lose fat) regardless of whether you cycle your carbs or not.

Read: The Secret to Body Recomposition: Lose Fat & Gain Muscle

In fact, carb cycling can even hinder muscle gain due to a lower overall carb intake.

You see, how much carbohydrate you eat affects your muscle gain in two ways:

1 . It helps maintain high levels of glycogen in your body.

Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in the muscles and liver.

As it’s a fuel for your muscles during workouts, increasing glycogen stores can improve your workout performance, which, over time, can lead to greater gains.

2. Its effects on your insulin levels influence muscle growth.

Insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients into cells for use.

While it’s not anabolic like testosterone, it does have anti-catabolic properties, which means it decreases the rate at which muscle proteins are broken down. This, in turn, creates a more anabolic environment in which muscles can grow faster.

When you eat food (and carbs in particular), insulin levels rise, which is why a higher-carb diet results in generally higher insulin levels (which is more conducive to muscle growth).

This isn’t just theory, either–several studies have shown that high-carb diets are superior to low-carb ones for gaining muscle and strength.

For example, researchers at Ball State University found that low muscle glycogen levels (which is inevitable with low-carb dieting) impair post-workout cell signaling related to muscle growth.

Another study, this time conducted by scientists at the University of North Carolina, found that when combined with daily exercise, a low-carb diet increased resting cortisol levels and decreased free testosterone levels.

Cortisol is a hormone that breaks tissues down, including muscle, and testosterone is the primary hormonal driver of muscle growth, so this is basically the opposite of what you want for getting bigger and stronger.

Yet another study worth mentioning was conducted by researchers at the University of Rhode Island, and it looked at how low- and high-carb dieting affected exercise-induced muscle damage, strength recovery, and whole body protein metabolism.

The result was the subjects on the low-carb diet (which wasn’t all that low, actually—about 226 grams per day, versus 353 grams per day for the high-carb group) lost more strength, recovered slower, and showed lower levels of protein synthesis.

And last but not least, in a study conducted McMaster University, subjects performed daily leg workouts and followed either a low- or high-carb diet. Those on the low-carb diet experienced higher rates of protein breakdown and lower rates of protein synthesis, resulting in less overall muscle growth than their higher-carb counterparts.


All this is why I never drop my carbohydrate intake lower than about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight when cutting and I’ll go as high as 2 to 2.5 grams per pound when bulking.

And it also explains why carb cycling protocols that are, at bottom, low-carb diets aren’t ideal for gaining muscle.

Again, though, just because it isn’t optimal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

As I mentioned earlier, you might find that your body is particularly sensitive to carbs and feels better when you reduce intake several days per week. You might also just like it more.

These are valid reasons to use carb cycling to build muscle.

The Bottom Line on Carb Cycling

what does carb cycling do

Too many people are looking for magic bullets, quick fixes, “biohacks,” and other nonsense to reach their fitness goals easier and faster.

One month they’re following the Rebel Max Anabolic Anaconda Program, then it’s on to the Xtreme Adonis Metabolic Recomposition Program, followed by the Hyper-Aggressive Warrior Fat Shredding Intensive, and on and on.

And it doesn’t get them very far.

Unfortunately, carb cycling is often one of the shiny objects that “gurus” use to bait people into these honeypots (intermittent fasting, too).

I know because I get emails like this every day:

“Hey Mike

“I’m currently carb cycling, carb backloading, and intermittent fasting on a power/hypertrophy triple-split that I periodize with a strength complex. Why am I not big and lean like you? What type of cutting-edge protocols do you follow?”

My reply usually leaves them a little baffled. I share my “secrets”:

  • I lift heavy ass weights 4 to 5 times per week. 

High-rep “pump” training has its uses but when it comes to building muscle and strength, heavy lifting is king.

Again, isolation exercises have their place in a proper weightlifting program but compound movements are more important.

  • I’m push myself to, over time, get more reps and lift more weight.

If you want your muscles to grow, you have to force them to. Progressive overload is key.

And I ensure I’m eating the right amount of calories for my goals and getting enough healthy fats to support my health and performance.

  • I stay patient. 

I’m not looking for overnight results. I’m looking for small, incremental improvements that, in time, add up to big changes.

That’s it. That’s all it takes.

The reality is you don’t need to do anything fancy or special like carb cycling, but you can if you like it more than traditional dieting.

Remember that, in many ways, the best diet is the one you can stick to.


What’s your take on carb cycling? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my bestselling books.

Here's a little sneak peek of what you'll learn inside...

  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Bigger Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

Thinner Leaner Stronger

admin admin

I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

If you like what I have to say, sign up for my free newsletter and every week I'll send you awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious "diet-friendly" recipes, motivational musings, and more.

Want more awesome stuff like this? Enter your email address to get the weekly newsletter.
LIKE MUSCLE FOR LIFE? Let Google know!
Leave a Comment!
  • ismael

    I am so confud

    • Quentin


  • ismael

    Confused 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      How so?

  • Martin

    Love your article…It’s easy to undertsand and simplifies this whole thing. Great job MIke !

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Martin! Really glad you liked it.

  • Mike, I agree with you that you can lose weight on virtually any diet that puts you in a caloric deficit, at least, for a time. Roman Malkov wrote the definitive book on carb cycling, based on his experience as a nutritional adviser to the Russian Olympic team. Lean tissue conservation is the main reason Dr. Malkov used it with Olympians. I’ve used carb cycling for years to help my fitness clients bust through stubborn weight loss plateaus. It works. Anyone who wants to know more about it from a scientific perspective should read Malkov’s book for the why of carb cycling.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike! I’ll check out the book.

      The most common reasons why carb cycling helps people bust through weight loss plateaus are:

      1. They lose water weight due to the reduction in carb intake.

      2. They are forced to drastically reduce their caloric intake.

      The only exceptions that I run into here and there are people that are lean (8-9% in guys, 17-18% in girls) that want to get super lean. Sometimes people in these circumstances need to drop carbs quite a bit to lose the last bits of stubborn fat…

      • Mohanned Afeef

        No it is not the caloric deficit alone. Studies show that subjects do actually lose fat on carb cycling. Also, a study that compared two identical diets in caloric intake but which differ in their macro breakdown (high fat/low carb vs high carb/low fat) found that subjects in the high fat/low carb lost more weight and more fat. So, it isnt a caloric deficit only. Fat Loss/Weight Loss is more of a biochemical process than it is a physical process (Cals In/Cals Out).

  • JohnKov


    I agree with your “shiny object” standpoint totally. However, intermittent fasting can work wonders for some people, diabetics in particular.

    I am a type 2 diabetic and have been following your Bigger, Leaner, Stronger program for about 4 months now. While I have seen vast improvements in strength and body composition, I was still struggling with keeping my blood sugar levels down. The problem with this, which I am sure you are aware of, is that the higher my sugar levels, the more likely my body is to store fat.

    Since starting the intermittent fasting, I have had amazing progress in controlling my sugar levels. To the point that I have gone off medication all together and have had fasting sugar levels in the morning in the normal range for a non-diabetic!

    It is a little more difficult to do my workouts because I am still lifting heavy 4-5 days a week and I have not eaten before I go to the gym. However, I am determined to make the combination of your program and my new eating lifestyle work.

    My goal when I first started my fitness journey was to train my body to the point of almost reversing my disease. I would say at this point that I am well on my way!


    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks John! I’m really glad IF is working well for you. I actually support the use of IF:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-definitive-guide-to-intermittent-fasting/

      I was just using it as example of what people will try in the belief that it will somehow make building muscle and losing fat much easier.

      That’s amazing regarding your blood sugar levels. Keep it up and I won’t be surprised if you completely handle the condition. I’ve spoken with quite a few people that have.

      Regarding the fasted lifting, are you doing BCAAs before? This is important. 10 grams before training, and a good post-workout meal.

      Again, keep it up. I’m excited for you!

      • JohnKov

        Yes, taking 15g when I wake up. My schedule goes as follows:
        BCAA’s at 7am, workout at noon, 5 more grams of BCAA’s and 3g of creatine immediately following workout. First meal at 2pm.
        It’s working wonders.

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s good. Not to nitpick, but I would recommend doing 10 grams BCAAs before your training, and then 10 grams after, and then eat at 2 pm. The BCAAs at 7am aren’t so important because you’ll have aminos still being released from your final meal of the previous day if it contained any amount of protein…

          • JohnKov

            Ok. Thanks for the advice!!

          • Michael Matthews


  • Jenny Leadem

    Great article as always. This one really gets me pumped. My mom is one of those drawn to “shiny objects”. I can’t stand people who make excuses instead of just accepting what you have to do and doing it, no way around it. When you de-bunk this stuff it just reaffirms that I need to keep at it and work harder each day!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jenny! Really glad you liked the article.

      Haha yeah many people are drawn to the shiny objects. Help her through it though!

      Yup, just keep up the good work. You’re doing great.

  • Roseann

    Good information, you know your stuff. It was nice to hear from a body builder that you don’t support a no or low-carb diet, and support a healthy diet with healthy numbers of carb, protein, and fat grams. A caloric deficit does do wonders….


    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Roseann! I hate no/low-carb dieting and avoid it all costs. That said, it does have its place in contest preparation, but that’s only for about one week before the show.

      Yup, a mild deficit, proper exercise, and patience is all it takes.

  • Joe

    Dude you have a 5 pack!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah my ab genetics fail me. 🙁

  • rene

    Hi, mike, i was wondering how many calories did you eat while cutting at 40/40/20? thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      I started around 2400 and that took me from about 9% to 7.5% or so, and then reduced my calories 100 per week for 4 weeks to lose the final 1-1.5%.

  • Skylar

    Great stuff here, someone who does his research.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sklyar!

  • Andy

    Mike, what’s your opinion about carb backloading?

    • Michael Matthews

      Not into it. I’ll be writing an article on it soon.

  • Illysa Hamlin

    Would you recommend the 40/40/20 for females wanting to get low body fat as well, just with less calories?

    • Illysa Hamlin

      Also, perfect timing on this great article – I was getting ready to institute carb cycling this month and after reading this I think I’ll save myself the headache! Another outstanding read.

      • Michael Matthews

        Thanks! Good call I think. It’s just not necessary.

    • Michael Matthews


      Generally speaking, you want to have between 1 – 1.2 grams of pro per pound of body weight, around .2 – .25 grams of fat per pound of body weight, and the rest of your calories from carbs.

      That’s about a 40/40/20 split unless you’re eating a LOT of food.

      • Berry

        Hi Mike,

        how do you calculate your macro percentages, previously i would make the school boy mistake and use MyFitnessPals macro percentage calculator. sorry i am slightly a noob, so i havent found the correct maths to manually calculate Macro percentages.


  • Wildan

    Excellent article Mike!

    I especially like your take on diet trends, showing how there are no such things as sixpack shortcuts. :p

    During the most of the summer I used carb cycling and it works but not for the reasons alot of people believe it does. My experience shows me that on the days I ate low carb I would eat a significally less amout of calories opposed to my high carb days. If I wouldn’t have counted my calorie intake I would’ve fooled myself believing I ate more than I actually did. Same goes for Intermittent fasting as well, if I shorten my eating window I naturally eat less, which simply creates a caloric defict and not a magic pill. 😉

    I would greatly appreciate your input on my current carb cyling routine:
    The average macros across the week are 30% fat, 30% carbs, 40% protein, spread differently across the week.
    On weekends I would consume 20f/60c/20p at 2400 kcal which is a slight caloric surplus for me.
    On monday and tuesday I’d still be pretty carbed up from the weekend so I’d eat 60f/10c/30p, again at 2400 kcal.
    Wednesday however I make it my fasting day and do not eat anything and I would leave it as a rest day for weightlifting too.
    On Thursday and Friday I switch to a caloric deficit at around 75% of the calories from the eating days, taking 10f/20c/70p ~1800 kcal which feel more like 2500-3000 kcal because of the protein abundance, sometimes I have to force myself to reach the caloric goal. Worst days for hitting the iron, because my glycogen is usually totally depleted and 20% carbs are quite limiting even if I consume them prior to my workout. On the weekend I’d start with the cycle from the begining and carb up again.

    Technically this way I’m cutting only on 3 days out of 7 but with a deficit of around 400-500 kcal/day (weekly average as 4 days are surplus). Doesn’t seem like much but I’ve been able to shed my bodyfat on a steady basis as well as retain my muscle mass and improve my lifts.

    As a big fan of Brad Pilons Eat Stop Eat mindset my main reason why I do this kind of cycle instead of daily caloric deficit is that with high fat days my HGH level rise and allow me to do a 32 hours fast once a week, with no muscle loss at all. I do seem a bit flat on wed-fri but as soon as I carb up again my muscles look full again.
    How would you see this kind of routine and would you recommend some tweaks?

    Thank you and greetings from Austria!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      Yup you’re totally right on the calories point. Low-carb is an easy way to restrict calories, as is IF.

      Your setup is technically good for a recomp approach. I don’t see any major flaws other than I would personally be in a surplus on training days, not rest days (unless you train on the weekend).

      How has your body been responding though? The reason I ask is I just haven’t really run into any natural weightlifters that can pull off the type of recomp that inspires people to try, you know?

      ESE is pretty good. I prefer Berkhan’s model though.

      • Wildan

        You’re right, with this schedule I also think that it’s best to train on surplus days. As I have most of my freetime on weekends I decided to make them my carb- and heavy training days so I do legs on sat, chest on sun, back on mon, biceps/triceps on tue and minor support muscles like delts and forearms on one of the caloric deficit days.

        As the cutting goes this sort of recomp was kind of a trial and error thing for me.

        My problem in general is that my body adapts pretty quickly to any kind of caloric deficit and responds with slowing down my metabolism. This does happen even with the setup I described above but it takes a bit longer. First time I went on it I made the mistake to do it for too long at a time (5 weeks) and I had a way too big gap between my caloric deficit and surplus which gave me a hard time on reload days causing me to “spill over” with the carbs and then crave them afterwards during the week.

        Eventually as I learned to calibrate my caloric intake vs. weight change, my body responded better as well. Still even with 4 days of caloric surplus my metabolism goes down, not by much, but at some point the effort doesn’t seem to give enough benefit. Two weeks never seem to be a problem but after the third week, in order to maintain the rate of fat loss, I find my self forced to reduce the average calories trough the week by a higher amount then it equals the weight change. I don’t feel any worse but I concluded that my metabolism is slowing down though so now I never do it for longer than 3 weeks and return to a steady slight caloric surplus at around 20f/50c/30p for a few weeks.

        It’s hard to objectivly measure my muscle gain during my carb-cycling but it’s deffinatelly there, eventhough it can’t compare with the results a steady supply of carbs at a continuous caloric suprlus.

        I know that this diet routine doesn’t sound like a great deal for some people but in terms of fat loss/muscle retention, carb cycling brought me the best results so far. Also a great benefit was that I developed a habit of being more careful about the quality of consumed carbs, which also helped me to avoid wild insulin spikes. I used to eat all kinds of processed crap before wondering why my gut engine wouldn’t get smaller. 😉

        I don’t think I’ll stay on this cycle trough the comming winter but I definatelly want to see how it compares to the same kind of a recomp/caloric intake but with something like 20f/50c/30p.

        I do believe that hormones have their role in fat loss but for sure not in such a huge way like it’s often believed today. Just like the issue with the thyroid I think it’s gladly used as a scapegoat for staying lazy. It still goes down to energy in – energy out.

        I never heard of Berkhan’s model but I’ll make sure to check it out, thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          Definitely better to train on surplus days. Good call.

          Hmm I suspect that your training could be optimized. You shouldn’t be having any metabolic issues until you get to the 7-8% body fat range.

          What is your exercise schedule like? What type of lifting program are you following?

          You’re right, hormones don’t affect weight loss as much as some people believe.

          You can read about Berkhan’s Leangains here:

          https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-definitive-guide-to-intermittent-fasting/

  • maxfaxmax

    On point-best article iv come across in a long time

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Max!

  • Andy

    Great article! i also just purchased your book. love how all the macros are already figured out for you, makes life that much easier. Cant wait to try some new recipes. I have a question about the 40/40/20. Do you keep it and your calorie intake the same on your rest days?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Andy! I hope you like the recipes.

      I keep my cals the same when I’m cutting, and usually when I’m maintaining. (Kinda depends how big my Friday night cheat meal is, haha.) Sometimes I’ll drop 300-500 cals on my rest days when I’m maintaining.

      When I’m bulking, I like to drop cals to maintenance for my rest days.

  • Marissa Georgiou

    Hi Mike, I just read an article on tabatatimes.com about how women at resting burn glucose as opposed to men who tend to burn fat at rest. Therefore it suggested that manipulating carbs (carb cycling) occasionally could assist the body use fat stores. It did caution however that restricting calories too low would be counter effective. Would like to get your thoughts on this. Perhaps you could look into whether the articles comments on the metabolic differences between men and women are substantiated?

    • Michael Matthews

      I haven’t seen any research on the glucose vs. fat point, but I have seen research indicating that men simply oxidize fat easier than women (and thus can generally lose fat easier).

      That said, there’s no change as to how to lose the weight–moderate deficit, regular exercise, strength training a big bonus.

  • Pingback: The Best Way to Gain Muscle Without Getting Fat | Muscle For Life()

  • Lucian Popescu

    How to carb cycle if I’m lifting 5 days a week ?

  • Lucian Popescu


    • Michael Matthews


  • Samuel Sander

    Hey, first off – awesome blog, been soaking up the info for the past few hours 😀
    A few months ago I started with leangains and carb cycling. Decided to drop the carb cycling approach now and also add some randomness to IF – eg. eat breakfast on some days and do a longer fast than on others.

    Thing is though, now when I don’t carb cycle anymore – I should still stick to eating more calories on training days and less on rest days, right? How do you approach this (whether cutting/bulking/maintenance) – do you eat a set amount of calories each day or do you eat more on training days? (so calorie surplus/deficit would show on a weekly scale)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sam! Really appreciate it.

      Cool on what you’re doing. That’s totally fine.

      Yeah, a slight surplus on training days and a deficit on off days is a workable way of maintaining. I’m actually going to talk about it in depth in my next book, which will be out in January/Feb.

      The idea is your WEEKLY cals are at maintenance, but you don’t want your daily surplus so large that you have to eat next-to-nothing on your off days, haha.

      Keep in mind you don’t have to do this at all though. You can just eat TDEE every day and be fine too.

      • Samuel Sander

        Oki, so TDEE (including multiplier) or higher/lower calories depending on the nature of the day – both work. I reckon I’ll go with the latter on most days though..just personal preference.
        Thanks a lot! :))

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah exactly. YW!

  • Jordan

    Do you have an article that goes into depth about all the different kinds of carbs? Mainly hi GI carbs vs low GI carbs? I know in BLS you mentione hi GI carbs are best eaten right after a workout, but other than that it’s better to stick with low GI. Is that the “definitive guide” version?

    Thanks Mike, love the info!

    • Michael Matthews

      No I don’t but this is on the list!

  • Jamal

    Mike, what is your opinion on people saying, skinny fats cannot be in surplus or deficit consistently or will gain fat/lose muscle? I’m skinny fat and until recently had been doing this… lift 4 times a week. On lifting days eat 300 cal below maintenance and on not lifting days eat 700 cal below maintenance. I’d follow the leangains guide where I’d do same protein every day but 70%/30% carbs/fat for the remaining calories on training days and 30%/70% carbs/fats on non-training days. All training done fasted so I would the body with carbs right after a training session, so i’d be in a short term surplus after I lifted weights. 2 of my rest days would include fasted cardio as well. This had worked well but I want to switch to the BLS program. Only problem is, my diet would have to change as the 5x a week program cannot allow for more than 2 rest days. So I’m thinking of switching to a consistent caloric deficit daily, same macros every day. I’m afraid that if that “consistently in a deficit” will lead to muscle loss for people with skinnyfat genetics theory is correct that I will lose a ton of muscle.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jamal! That’s bogus. Skinny fat is just a problem of body composition and you fix it the same. Some people need to eat more and some people less, but once you know your metabolism, you can just roll along smoothly.

      I don’t recommend alternating surpluses and deficits unless you’re an advanced weightlifter more or less happy with your physique and you’re just trying to stay lean and make slow, 3-5 pounds per year gains.

  • DJVege

    Only just read this page. I’ve carb cycled a few times in my life, only for about 3 months max in each straight run, and I’ve dropped fat/weight fairly well. However, you definitely you definitely feel LOW on the low/no days. Obviously, you don’t lift weights on those days (unless you’re an idiot), so I did cardio/stretching/rest on those days. I seemed to only lose a little muscle and a good deal of fat. I can see, reading your article, however, that the decrease is really just due to being in a weekly calorie deficit. Whether carb cycling is better at maintaining muscle during fat loss periods, I’m not sure, but I think I’d like to give a straight 40/40/20 a go to see the different.

    So, while I would definitely say Carb Cycling WORKS when done CORRECTLY, for the average human who wants to build muscle, lose weight, and not take steroids, 40/40/20 looks to be a much better fit. No low/no days where you feel crappy and irritated at work. 🙂

    Of course, sneaking in a week or 2 of carb cycling for photos is still viable. 🙂

    Thumbs up on the great article. I learned a lot.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment! Yeah, it works, it’s just not necessary, that’s all.

      Glad you liked the article. 🙂

  • Jay Abate

    Do you eat the same meals every day to assure your macros are correct?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah or if I want to change a meal, I make sure to look up the macros.

  • Danielle Martinson

    Great article! I had luck dropping a few pounds with carb restriction but boy was I weak and moody! I couldn’t do that for the long term so I gained it all back. Learned my lesson and now I follow the 40/40/20 which allows me to stick with it and have energy for my HIIT days as well as weight lifting days. Thanks for all the great information! 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Danielle! Haha yeah, low-carb dieting sucks. Nice on what you’re doing. Keep up the good work!

  • Jonas

    Do you know Martin berkhan or Anthony Mychal? they are both carb cycling and are insanely ripped as well…

    • Jonas

      anthony mychal suggests to eat 1 pound of meat per day, fattier on low carb, and lean meats on high carb, then much carbs on training days and much fat on rest days…
      i mean it seems to work ( look at the picture)
      i also like that idea of eating its just way more liberate!
      or could it just be done like this: “your everday diet” on training days, on rest days high fat? like 30 protein, 20 carb, 30 fat ( or what could you recommend?)

      how do you even maintain your diet when eating out or how can it be done?

      • Jonas

        thats anthony mychal

        • Michael Matthews

          Great physique for sure.

      • Michael Matthews

        That’s a sensible way to eat. i do something similar and talk about it in my next book, as “zig zagging” calories is most suitable for advanced lifters.

        Eating out sucks for dietary purposes. I just save it for cheat meals so I don’t have to think about it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Cycling calories can help you stay lean but a carb cycling routine that has you drastically lowering and raising carb intake just isn’t necessary.

      • Jonas

        would it work to eat a bit more fat on the off days and the recommended amount of carbs on training days( so no drastic lowering of carbs, but still enough carbs to fuel regeneration, basic movement etc, but bot as much as on training days, because not as much is needed) ..

        and how would this day look like in terms of macro ratio then?
        150 g protein still of course..

        but then? 100 grams fat, 200 grams carbs? how can i calculate that?
        the reason why i would probably enjoy this is because i like fatty stuff like yoghurt, milk, nuts oils all thr stuff but im very limited on training days, as in most of my protein sources theres already much fat with it..

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah, that totally works. I will be talking about this in my next book and I break all the numbers down.

  • Pingback: Calorie Cycling? - 3 Fat Chicks on a Diet Weight Loss Community Calorie Counters()

  • Laura

    Interesting. Carb cycling is the only thing that seems to work for me. I tried calorie defector using my fitness pal and weighing everything!! Excercise and weighing myself daily, my weight went up :(. I have hormonal problems, hypothyroid and have just gone on the contraceptive pill to balance my hormones (obviously I’m a girl). I’m assuming hormones play a big role in weight loss for people as well. We all have different levels which is why some weight loss programs work for some and not others. Just a theory

    • Michael Matthews

      It really depends how much you were eating previously and what your exercise routine was like. And you may have been running into water retention issues:


      Hormones don’t affect your ability to lose fat as much as people think. Yes, the lower your T levels the naturally heavier you will be, but hormones mess with water retention more.

  • Jason

    Hey mike good article like always. I have just recently started a carb cycling program and it sucks terribly lol.

    It’s from the book engineering the alpha by john romaniello.

    Your thoughts if you checked that out yourself.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jason! Haha I also hate low-carb dieting. Haven’t read the book….

  • Tommaso

    Another great article – certainly agree with the faddish euphoric element to IF/Carb-cycling and other “diets”

    That said, i’ve never followed a carb-cycle per se, though i do tend to reduce my carb intake fairly drastically when im cutting. I normally keep my carb intake at or around 1g per KG of bodyweight (for me that’s around 75) per day – the majority of which is taken pre and post workout, or if im using BCAAs for workouts, then post and either breakfast/dinner. All the while keeping protein high (~2.5-3g per KG of bodyweight), and fats moderate.

    Quantity control never seemed to work that well for me, whereas using low carb, and toying with some keto diet philosophies, i shed an appreciable amount of body fat, and didnt lose any noticeable muscle. My measurements stayed pretty much the same, and my lifts didnt seem to suffer too much, though that was while i was using the 8-12 rep range; not the BLS 4-6 range with much heavier weights.

    I think this time i may try to reduce my carb intake more gradually and see how i fare. Any thoughts?

    • Michael Matthews


      I also reduce my carbs when cutting simply because I have to reduce calories, but I never go below .8 grams per pound. Low-carb dieting sucks for training though. You lose quite a bit of strength.

      The bottom line is so long as your insulin response and sensitivity are good, you can get shredded eating plenty of carbs every day.

  • TheTallGuy

    Hi Mike, I just bought Bigger Leaner Stronger and am about halfway through, I am enjoying it. When I saw that you are actually answering questions here I got excited.
    Here’s my question. I’m a tall guy (6’7″, 245), medium build, about 20-30 lbs of fat I’d like to lose eventually, but would also like to put on 20lbs of muscle for a net affect of weighing about 235-245 lbs. If I were to choosing the bulking cycle first, I would need to start consuming around 3,660 calories a day. My current average is 2600-2800 and carbs on the low side. I have a hard time eating more than that, especially by adding complex carbs which I find very filling. But one easy way I know I could add another 500-700 calories without filling me up so much is Almonds. I love almonds, and I could add them as snacks and easily get to 3660. Only problem is that makes my Fat macros pretty high. Is there something magical about getting those extra calories from complex carbs? Or can I safely substitute for almonds?? Thanks!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much!

      Cool on your stats and goal. I like it.

      It sounds like you should cut first. Here’s why:


      Let me know what you think!

      • TheTallGuy

        Thank you for the quick reply! I like the rule in that article helping to make the decision between bulking and cutting. You’re right, I am over 15% body fat (around 22-25% I think) so I should cut first. According to your formula that would put me at around 2600 cals per day.
        About my other question, when I do bulk, can I substitute almonds for brown rice to be able to get enough calories without stuffing myself? 3660 calories is just a lot to eat, I don’t care who you are, but due to my height, I need to find a way to do it. If I substitute some almonds, my macros would be at about 250g protein, 321 carb, 150 g fats. All healthy foods. Is that 150g fat going to harm me while bulking? Thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure! Cool let’s have you cut first.

          What I like to do is focus on eating a bunch of calorie-dense foods. Here are my favorites:

          Red meat

          Grains like brown rice and quinoa

          Oils like coconut oil and olive oil


          Whole-fat dairy

          Multi-grain pasta and bread

          Almonds and almond butter


          White and sweet potatoes

  • David Roberts

    Hey mate I’m 13 stone with 16bf how much protein fats and carbs would I need to do this carb backing loading to get lean, I train 4days a week, I understand that on non traing days you do less en 30grams of carbs but how much protein and fat would I need en and when I do train how much?

  • Nikky

    When a person approaches carbs and fat cycling properly, she/he never trains on low/no crabs days (these days are rest days). Carbs and fat cycling works wonderfully! It works for both muscle gain and fat loss. I never reduce my calories. It doesn’t work for me. I do not understand how people can work out while reducing calories (energy level?). I cycle carbs and fat. I change my diet. I change my ratios. I am very happy with this approach because I can eat plenty of carbs and plenty of fat, and it works into my advantage. It also works well for females because girls burn more carbs than fat at rest!

    • Michael Matthews

      That doesn’t work if you’re training 5 days per week. And if you’re losing fat, you’re creating a calorie deficit. You just aren’t counting or tracking numbers, that’s all.

      • Nikky

        Correct. It does not work if you train 5 days per week, and that’s why I mentioned rest days. If a person trains 5 days per week and his body and CNS recover (and such person must lift exceptionally heavy if he needs to split body parts to train 5 days per week), he is either genetically very gifted or chemically enhanced. Training 5 days per week in most cases eventually leads to over training.

        I count my ratios precisely. Always. I just shared with you my experience. You made presumptions that do not exist.

        • Michael Matthews

          I work with hundreds of guys and gals of all ages training 5 days per week and they do great. The claims that 5 x per week = overtraining are bogus.

          Ah cool on the tracking. Then you know you’re creating a calorie deficit (restricting your calories)…

  • Mike, I weigh 191lbs and I’m having around 200g protein daily to support muscular gains.

    Thing is I am still overweight and have a lot of fat to burn. I am following BLS’s routine and I am weekly beating my last week’s numbers, like clockwork.

    My current problem is that I am trying to stay at 1,800kcal por day and eating more carbs make that number go up a lot, considering I stick with 200g protein/day.

    My usual numbers are 40-50g fat, 100-200g carbs and 200-250g protein. Today, for instance I did 50g fat, 123g carbs and 209g protein, however the calories ratio is Carbs 27%, Fat 25% and Proteins 48%.

    I am noticing this is becoming a constant. Given that I am still losing weight, however now at a much slower pace (lost 58 pounds already, and am losing 0.5 to 1pound per week), should I change this ratio? How can I achieve that without affecting my protein intake? Or is my current ratio OK during this (eternal) cutting phase I’m on?


    • Michael Matthews

      The calories will determine overall weight loss but I would recommend keeping your macro intake more constant. You want the carbs to keep your training numbers up…

      • Hi Mike!

        Thanks again for your reply.

        They are constant, just not 40% p / 40% c / 20% f. They are more like 50% p / 30% c / 20% f. Would that be a feasible goal if I stay at 1800kcal or should I really aim at 40/40/20?

        I think this was what I intended to ask.

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah okay. Protein doesn’t need to be that high but it’s not detrimental. Personally I would drop 5 – 10% pro and add to carbs.

  • Schyluer Jarman

    Mike great article. Im trying to learn everything I can about how to get as strong as possible while staying in a weight class for Olympic lifting. Obviously this means trying to increase my LBM as much as possible by replacing some fat with muscle.. I am 9-10% BF right now. And want to get to about 7-8% for my next competition while increasing muscle and strength BUT i have a weight class. What would you recommend? I lift 6 days a week. With two days being max effort on squats and 1 day max C&J.

    • Michael Matthews


      Hmm honestly by staying natural all you can do is diet and train correctly and see how your body responds. You sound like an experienced weightlifter so I highly doubt you’ll be able to go from 10 to 7% AND get stronger…

  • rayca

    “Without burning up a ton of muscle”–LOL. Do you realize your heart is muscle. Do u really think your body is so stupid as to burn heart muscle? Or do u live in a world where the muscle is selective, like quads or biceps? Honestly. The only people I’ve ever heard of losing TONS of muscle are people who fast for weeks at a time and POWs. Next time u r in San Francisco, stop by. There’s a bridge I’d like to sell u.

    • Michael Matthews

      Says someone who most definitely has never been below 10% body fat.

      Real useful comment.

      • Renier

        Haters gonna Hate mike, just ignore…

  • Gabriel

    I’ve been working out for 5 years now. Like you, I do heavy workout 5 days per week. After trying several diet approaches, I found out that my body have a really good response with carb-cycling diets, even for bulking. My mass gains are bigger and leaner than with a high-carb diets. For me, it’s related to my overweight past and genetics (lot of people from my family has diabetes) that makes my body insulin resistence very high and work very well with carb cycling diets.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great! HIgh-carb is definitely the way to go and if you like carb cycling, keep it up!

  • Gerardo celasco

    Do you do consults? What the best place to email you?

    • Michael Matthews

      I don’t as I don’t have the time at the moment but I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

  • Ravi

    I think the issue is not around weight loss but fat loss. If any calorie deficient diet will result in weigh loss…. Are you saying an individual can go on a Twinkie and doughnut diet and lose weight as long as they are below they calorie maintenance level. I believe the reason behind the low carb diet is on the low carb days… The body relies on body fat stores for energy thus reducing fat. So low carb leads more to better body composition. All the diets may have lost the same weight but how did the individuals look? Was the body composition better in the low carb? That is the question.

  • David M. Day

    Hi Michael… Very very good write up. I’ve been looking for a good formula to follow and you have provided that perfectly. Is there a good “rule of thumb” formula for a “refeed day”? Or is a refeed not even need this particular system?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Generally a refeed is eating about 2-3g carb per pound of body weight and as little fat as possible.

  • bored@work

    Its good to see a post about diets that actually reference technical publications. Although, it seems as though diet is very person-specific. You referenced publications that show low carb diets as being equal in the long-term to traditional diets (although for small sample sizes). However, there are publications which show the exact opposite. One such publication concludes “ndividuals assigned to a [very low carb ketogenic diet] achieve a greater weight loss than those assigned to a [low fat diet] in the long term”:

    Nassib Bezerra Bueno, Ingrid Sofia Vieira de Melo, Suzana Lima de Oliveira and Terezinha da Rocha Ataide (2013). Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition, 110, pp 1178-1187. doi:10.1017/S0007114513000548.

    I think (and this is just personal opinion) that it really just comes down to the individual, and what works for their specific body.

  • Kat

    Hi Michael,

    I just finished TLS a few days ago and really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about overall nutrition and strength. I have two questions for you. I’m currently 5’4, 130, 20.9% body fat and (like everybody else) I’d love to lose fat and gain muscle.

    1. Do I focus solely on HIIT cardio and calorie deficit to get down to 15% before I start strength training?

    2. According to the book calculations, I should be eating 1380 calories a day, at roughly 40/40/20. Does this include exercise? For example, if I burn 100 calories doing HIIT cardio, should I be eating those calories back?

    I apologize if you’ve answered these questions before, I tried to do some hunting for answers but didn’t come across any.


    • Kat

      I did a little more digging and came across your Healthy Meal Planning Tips post. I calculated 80% of my TDEE (with 1-3 hrs exercise per week) is 1322, which is less than the TLS calculation. Any advice on what to go by?

      And am I understanding correctly that if I go by 40/40/20 at 1322 cals per day, I don’t bother tracking calories burned per exercise and then try to eat them back?

      Thanks so much!

      • Michael Matthews

        Let’s start you at 1400 per day on 40/40/20 and see how your body responds.

        Yes you can’t eat any cals back.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it.

      Cool on your stats and goal.

      1. Let’s definitely start you with lifting. It will help preserve/build muscle.

      2. Yes that’s including exercise. Check this out for more info:


      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Hi Mike.
    Awesome article, thanks 🙂
    I’m a prof. badmintonplayer practicing 3-4 hours a day. Atm I’m in a 25% deficit and I’m getting lighter easily. However, I’ve read quite a few articles saying that a guy like me (around 9-8% bodyfat) should implement a “refeed” day once or twice a week, where I eat a bit over my maintenance to keep leptin and metabolism up?

    What is your thoughts?

    I’m currently eating 3500 kcals a day.

    Thanks a lot for helping out.


    • Michael Matthews


      Yes that’s a good idea. You should start with one per week and what you do is eat about 2 to 2.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight with 1 g pro/lb and as little fat as possible.

      Enjoy! 🙂

      • Thanks Michael..
        However.. Would that get me to 4600 kcal which would be around my maintenance..


        • Michael Matthews

          You could try even more if you’d like… Some people go insanely high like 4 g carb/lb…

      • I weigh 187 pounds.. That would be around 467.5gr carb (1870 kcal) – 187gr protein (748kcal) I all ready eat around that amount of carbs at this weigh while being on 3500kcal..

        • Michael Matthews

          That’s right and the refeed isn’t so much about increasing cals as it’s about increasing CARBS…

  • Mukta Tolani

    Hey Mike!! Thank you for throwing light on this subject! I totally agree with your view. Also, I have noted that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. So the conclusion you wrote makes it very simple.

    One thing I would like to know.. What kind of macro nutrient break up do you suggest your clients who are ovo-lacto vegetarian clients?? In my experience with a macro nutrient break up like :40 % CHO 40 % protein & 20% fats it becomes tough to meet protein requirements for such people (when they are doing proper weight training)
    I follow 60% CHO, 20% protein and 20% fats for these people. (I am a nutritionist)

    kindly share your views 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked the article.

      Very true and we generally try to get about .8 to 1 gram of pro per pound of body weight, about 30% of cals from fat, and the rest from carbs.

  • Pingback: IIFYM och carbcycling? - Optimal Body Forum()

  • Pingback: TESTAR PÅ CARB CYCLING | Min satsning()

  • Jared Ostrosky

    Mike how would go about using a planned caloric intake instead of basing everything on grams per lb of BW. I have done many diets and it seems that I always stay the same no matter what my training protocol is. I have done IIFYM and Carb-Backloading and nothing. I am 6’5 230lbs. I am in pretty good shape except for the pudge around by stomach.I am very lean I mean veins in my thighs, chest, shoulder, and calves. I have always wanted to be more shredded (not stage shredded) but never could achieve it, could just be genetics. I want to give this carb-cycling a go but don’t know where to start. Right now i am going off of a 3000 cal diet with ~300 protein, ~230 carbs, and ~100g fat. I never know what calories to go by because I bust ass in the gym when I am in there. I was curious if you could point me in the right direction.

  • GB

    Hey Mike,
    Been reading a lot of your posts because I have been feeling the need to change my diet and exercise routine. I workout about 6 times a week, i lift heavy at least 5 of those days and throw in one HIIT day on the 6th day if Im sore, etc. I also so some sort of HIIT after my lifting sessions. I feel that with the high intensity workouts I do that I should be eating more, but from years prior and trainers/nutritionists telling me things, I am kind of stuck in thinking that I am going to eat too many carbs and never have abs. But then I start to second guess myself and think that maybe I havent lost the stomach fat BECAUSE I am eating too few carbs and my calories are too low? What is your opinion on that? I know some people say that not eating enough will make you store fat as a reserve, etc…let me know what you think and how I should go about changing my diet to get “lean” Thanks!

  • Shreddy Brek

    IM a HUGE fan of carb cycling, do it for my shows. Great read Mike

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah many competitors find it helps them get rid of the last bits of fat.

  • Jackie

    Just read your article I’m currently 2 wks into a card cycling diet and I’m ready to give it up !!!! I want to loose some fat in my stomach area but noticed that I am loosing weight and it all comes of my booty

  • Ody Socialist

    i lost weight with high carb diet when my body fat % were very high 32% until i reached 15% then my fat loss stopped no matter how hard i try i tried to reduce my calories even more but no fat loss at all i decided to give low carb diet a try n i lost fats on low carb diet n now i’m 8% body fats so high carb diet may be work for u but not work with everyone especially with high metabolic resistance n people have insulin resistivity our bodies not created equal

    • Michael Matthews

      Great job! I’m glad to hear it went well for you!

  • Deep

    Can carb cycling be combined with IF?

    • Michael Matthews
      • Deep

        Great article, thanks.

        In the above article you mention how everything looks numerically (adjustment of macros based on high, low or no carb day). What about the calories? Does that number stay constant or does a person’s caloric intake adjust. ie, more calories on high carb day and less calories on no carb day?

      • Deep

        Great article, thanks!

        You mention the macro breakdown in the above article (high carb, no carb etc) but what about total calories for the day? Does that number stay fixed or does it increase/decrease based on high carb, no carb days?


    Brad Shoenfeld and Jacob Wilson have both shown in peer reviewed studies that it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, steroid free

  • Nikki

    I lost 17lbs on carb cycling, Im reactive hypoglycemic so it definitely helped a lot as far as keeping my sugar levels normal. Just wondering how you would go about getting off of carb cycling? in returning to normal eating? Thanks 🙂

  • syny

    Im currently 50kg. want to burn fat and build muscle.. what do i do? Should i go on a carb cycle? Or just continue with medium carbs everyday? female!!
    Totally confused cos my abs aren’t showing up… though they’re flat.. they aren’t hard and strong.. will this carb cycle help?

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:


    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

  • Pingback: 3 Calorie Counting "Secrets" Every Dieter Should Know | Muscle For Life()

  • Cecilia

    Olá! Gostei muito do seu livro:Dieta de Academia. Emagrecer e comer pratos saudáveis e gostoso é difíci.. Seu livro solucionou à questão. Amei!

  • Pingback: Burn Fat Feed Muscle Carb Cycling | BurnfatTrip.tk()

  • Ksally

    I found this very interesting. I’m curious what you would suggest for me. I’m currently at 18.5% body fat. So I have about 26# of fat on my body. I do have shredded 6 pack abs, very lean upper body and quads. Here is my struggle. I swear all 26# of fat is on my glutes, hamstring and inner thighs. I cannot lose it. I Lift heavy, do Hiit work out, no steady state cardio and I have built a lot of muscle. I’m searching for the correct diet to help me shed this fat and continue to gain muscle. I’m also almost 39 years old. I was thinking of carb cycling, but now I’m not so sure. That’s me on the right of big bird

    • Ksally

      Also, I saw the titles of your books. I want to shed this fat but I don’t want to be thinner. I want to build muscle & drop to around 16% body fat. Would you still suggest the book for women? I actually relate to the men’s title more. I’m a women not afraid of bulking. I would love to be bigger.

      • I would say the women’s book would be most relevant but wait a week or so as I’m about to release a second edition.

      • Jen123

        I would try using the 30 day energy and performance system from Isagenix. It really helped me lose fat and gain muscle. Pearljen.isagenix.com

    • Thanks!

      Wow you’re lean. Honestly if you get much leaner you’re going to enter the “problem” zone for women where your period can get irregular, your mood can become unstable, etc.

      I’ve seen women that can comfortably maintain 16-17% but I’ve seen just as many that simply can’t. It messes with their hormones too much.

      That said, this will help you:


      LMK what you think.

  • Brad Gorlicki

    Hey Mike, All the studies you used compared low carb/ketogenic versus traditional dieting which we all know leads to a reduced metabolic rate. Did you actually find a study comparing CKD or carb cycling versus traditional dieting?

    • Low-carb doesn’t necessarily impair metab but it just doesn’t offer anything special in the way of fat loss, which is the big pitch for carb cycling.

      My point with this article is you’re not doing anything particularly special by going really low-carb on certain days of the week.

  • Robert Jones

    That’s a great read and answered all the questions i had on carb cycling. I am definatley going to follow your advice on a 40/40/20 split diet. Thanks for sharing your information Mike.

  • Nina

    Great article! I’ve been trying to do some research on carb cycling, because the “theory” of it intrigues me, haha. Anyway, it is EXTREMELY difficult to find information with any true scientific backing. Most of it is someone trying to spread the gospel of how carb cycling is the key to being shredded.
    I thought the information you presented here was helpful, relevant, and most importantly- backed by data and research. Thank you.

    I do have a question, if you so happen to have the time to answer. What are your thoughts on lowering carbohydrate intake on rest days for someone who has a relatively high carb intake (190g day)? Would you recommend this? Thanks!

    • Thanks! Yeah it sounds cool but is vastly overrated IMO. You may find this helpful too:


      Calorie cycling can be useful if you’re an intermediate/advanced lifting that wants to continue making gains in the gym while staying lean. I explain how to do it in my book Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger.

      • Nina

        Thank you for the reply! As much as I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read here on the site, I suppose I really do need to get your book.
        I noticed you have two different books, is the information similar? I’m a female athlete who lifts 5 days a week, also planning do a figure compettion next year. Which book do you think could benefit me the most? Would you recommend getting them both? Sorry for all the questions!

        • My pleasure! It’s similar yes but I’d recommend the women’s book because the workouts are different.

  • Barry and Tracy Burchill

    I read so many of your articles during my vacation and was very excited to find this on carb cycling. I was just about to try it and now am thinking otherwise. I am cardio queen turned weight lifter about 6 months ago. I am progressively lifting heavier. I have stopped the 16-18 reps and moved to 10 max lifting heavy 5 days per week with HIIT 2 days. My body is changing and I am at 20% body fat with a goal of 18. I am 36 with 3 kids and never dreamed I would see muscles like I do and my 5 year old would tell me “Mommy you have arm muscles like a boy”! I would love to hear what you think about how many calories I should be consuming. I have used many different calculators and coming from a background with anorexia and growing up with the magic 1200 calorie per day limit for women I have a hard time wrapping my head around 1900cal per day. I do use IIFYM and am at 1650 cal with a 40 carb, 35 protein and 25% fat split. I have a very hard time getting all my calories by the end of the day and carbs are always are hard one for me to fill. I am 140lbs and 5’5. Any help or suggestions would be so very appreciated. That little anorexia devil is always sitting on my shoulder saying I shouldn’t be eating that much but I know in order to grow and get lean I need to eat. I do eat 90% good quality foods and 10% junk. Thank you thank you thank you for all you do. I love every article you put out.

  • Nik

    Not a bad article. Although I believe you have failed to address is that more recent studies have shown that while macro breakdown doesn’t matter for overall weight loss, it certainly does for changes in body composition. The greatest changes in body fat have been seen in lower carb, moderate fat, higher protein diets. While this is not proof for the effectiveness of carb cycling, it does provide some scientific basis for it.

  • Joseph

    Mike I see you are a pragmatist and I respect that. I think you could go a bit more in depth than just saying ” It is just a calorie/macro game, the end ”, though.
    1) Pennsylvania study talks about the effects of low carb. Carb cycling isn’t low carb. How is this study relevant ?
    2) Harvard study. In carb cycling nutrients are… cycled, not constant. Again, how is this study relevant ?
    3)Arizona study. Again, it is cycling, not specific,constant macros.
    4)OK I accept this one. However, what about extreme carb cycling, with keto-ish on the one end ( not just ”low” carb, but lower than 30g non-fiber carbs/day ) and massive carb ups on the other, as in carb-backloading ? Did you have any experience with it ?

  • Pingback: Diet. Which One Is Best For Weight Loss and Overall Health? | Fight to the Fittest()

  • arslanbaris

    Hey mike , i realy like your articles but i think there is a misconception on this one . People with relative high body fat don’t need carb cycling , but as you get leaner your leptin hormone goes down , low leptin levels will slow down your metabolism wich will make it harder to burn fat. Leptin is carb sensitive so when you do a high carb day your leptin levels will replenish . This will signal the body that your are fueled or full . Your metabolic rate will increase as a result of this signal and your body will continue burning fat .This is just a short explanation why people do carb cycling .

  • Steven Boley

    The studies you cite above don’t seem to involve people engaged in resistance training. It doesn’t make sense to me to base a position on these studies unless you qualify it first by being clear that it is for people who don’t lift. I make this point because resistance training is essential in getting your body to prioritize its metabolic pathways for either muscle building and or fat storage. In addition, your analysis seems to ignore to the effects of insulin level timing, ie, training with insulin levels low vs high, and cortisol levels low vs high. Still all in all a good read though, thanks.

  • Cat

    Hi, this was a great article. I do have a question. I’ve read several articles on carb cycling and I see that there are different ways to go about it. Meaning some say alternate one high day then low day then on day 7 a cheat day. Some don’t have a moderate day. Also some say to count calories? If you keep your macros within the appropriate range. Isn’t that enough?

  • Sammi B

    Hi Michael…..I thought with carb cycling, the basis was: you eat high carbs on
    your weight training/most exercise intense days because your body needs it most on those days……then on your cardio/low/no exercise days you do low carbs since you may not utilize it as much. That way you lose weight especially since unused carbs are stored as fat in the body. Did I misunderstand this? I was planning on starting carb cycling just to try but based on your article it would seem pointless.

  • Pingback: How I Use Calorie Cycling to Build Muscle and Stay Lean | Muscle For Life()

  • “Rebel Max Anabolic Anaconda” is my new stage name. Please refer to me as such henceforth.

  • vivianne

    Have you ever tried carb cycling or you just want to contradict this theory? I was doing carb cycling without knowing what is was, but the efects os eating carbs in one meal of the entire low carb week just made me check on line for anwers that I descovered was named CARB CYCLING. I works for me, make me feel new for a new week and I look slimmer than ever. Just to say that I read your book and did not see nothing new. I you look good, nice for you, just don’t try to burrier alternatives than can work for anothers.

  • Mark

    Hi Michael.
    Very interesting article. I tried classic diet and it worked for me fine. I’m looking into carb cycling diet but I’m not sure about the way you cycle your calories while on it.Would you increase calories with carbs increase or would you cut down on fats or protein to stay at the same calorie level (deficit of 20% in my case).
    My carb cycling would look like this:
    50,100,150,200,250,300 and 350 or more grams on 7th day.

  • Kevin

    Hi Michael,

    Your website as this article are awesome. But mainly, I’m about 12% BF and I want to reach 9 or 10 at least. Will this carbs cycling help me or it will just helps me to drop all my shape and don’t make me thinner but just skinnier ? I mean I workout and do HIIT beside so now what i want is just a little help to chase fat and make it leave my belly.

  • Ryan G.

    I did weight lifting for 4 years while eating clean. I dropped to a good BF% (from 16% to around 12%) to be considered lean, but I wanted abs (I mean who DOESN’T want abs?) So I got myself on a carb cycling diet and, within 9 months dropped to 8.7% body fat and had a visible 6-pack. For me, carb cycling worked. I don’t do intermittent fasting for a good reason.

    Your liver and pancreas will produce enzymes to break down the triglycerides in adipose tissue into ketones and long-chain hydrocarbons. However, once you stop training, your body won’t filter/metabolize the byproducts (muscle fuel + “ashen” urine.) Instead, it will reform them into triglycerides and be restored as adipose tissue.

    • Great job! That’s awesome.

      Remember, though, that a calorie deficit is the key to it all regardless of meal frequency/macronutrient manipulation.

    • Jhem Murray

      you didn’t see abs at 12%??? strange..

  • shop4sport

    Hey MIchael, I enjoyed your posting.. I just finished my first set of show for spring.. I competed in master figure, I did very well! Needless to say, I’m hooked. The “food management program” Not diet, LOL was aggressive but did the tick to get me show ready in 12 weeks. I did not have to loose a ton of weight 10 lbs but needed to add muscle. My body time is Ectomorph/Mesomorph I didn’t need to do a ton of cardio just lift very heavy! Now that I done, reverse dieted, I’ve started to Carb cycle to stay lean and build muscle to start prepping for fall. My question is- my numbers.. I used your number and the high/mod/day seem VERY high on the carbs.. Are those number male or female? My current weight is 113lb my high day was 243 and Mod was 170? Thanks for helping!!!

    • Thanks! That’s awesome! Great job.

      There are quite a few different methodologies out there but given your weight, something around 2 g/lb sounds right for a high day.

  • Jennifer

    Hey Michael! I love your posts! I was actually iffy about carb cycling now that I have read this, I feel better about my decision. I do have one question though, how do you get rid of belly fat? I’ve been training for 6 months now weight training and cardio and I’ve been eating healthy tracking my macros but I have seen NO progress. Like I understand the whole patience thing but I mean I would like to see something different to let me know I’m doing something right. No muscle growth and stubborn belly fat is still there. Any suggestions?

  • Liberal

    I have a respectfully disagree. Those studies and carb cycling are apples and oranges. Long term elimination or reduction in a macro puts the body into metabolic stress. Which produces platues for most especially when eating at a deficit. By cycling, the body never gets into metabolic damage, lowers cortisol, makes it easier to maintain sleep, and isn’t mentally difficult because you are just a few days around the corner to your next high carb day. Personally I’ve done 7 day cycles and 3 day cycles. Because of my workout schedule, 3 days worked better for me. Plus I eat an entire pizza after my workout on Saturday nights. 2 pennies worth.

  • Alex Edlin

    Hi Michael,
    You recommend a high carb day for an intense training day. What if I train first thing in the morning (4am)? Wouldn’t I want to have the carbs on the day prior as fuel for that workout the next day rather then eating high carbs afterwards?

    • Depends what you’re trying to accomplish and what type of protocol you’re following.

      I’m not a fan of carb cycling in general to be honest. I don’t see the point.

  • Aditya Singh Rathi

    How Long should 1 do carb cycle ? can be done for 3-4 months or lesser. Help please.

    • I don’t think it’s necessary unless you know that your body does better with overall lower levels of carb intake.

  • Dustin Johnson

    The problem with those studies is that they only choose overweight or obese people. It’s the same argument that people use against intermittent fasting in my book. People aren’t rats, and in reality, athletes aren’t people. Once you get to an athletic body composition the rules change a bit. I definitely see improved fat loss and muscle retention with carb cycling in my personal experiments with traditional and carb cycling diets (same starting and ending body fat 15-10). That’s N=1 anecdotal evidence though. Is it necessary, no, but I would say it’s optimizing everything you can.

    • That’s true to a point but underlying mechanisms are what they are, regardless of health status.

      That said, I too have seen/worked with people that did better with lower carb intake/carb cycling when lean and wanting to get really lean, mainly because of poor insulin sensitivity.

      The majority of the thousands of people I’ve worked with don’t have that problem though and can get as lean as they want on a higher carb diet.

  • Vicky

    if I feel like my body doesn’t do well with carbs, is it a good idea to do reverse dieting? I have read your article on that, but I now am thinking I should try carb cycling since I have reached a plateau in my fat loss goal.
    also, on high carb days, does it matter if you spread the carbs throughout the day , or have one fairly large carb meal, and finish the rest off with little carb-included meals? Does that matter at all?
    I am trying to maintain the muscle I have gained while trying to lose fat. you mentioned that too much steady state cardio can make you lose that muscle. I have been doing rolling hills on the stairmaster a few times a week. is that more HIIT or LISS? I don’t want to do too much cardio if its going to make me lose muscle. I still also lift fairly heavy. not PR’s or 1 RM, but fatigued enough that 8-10 is difficult on the last few reps. that should be enough to maintain muscle, correct?

  • Graham Woodberry

    Hey Michael,

    Hey Michael,

    I would love your opinion on my approach regarding where I should go next. I am a 23 year old fitness enthusiast, with an NASM CPT. I am very proud of my current physique, but am excited about how long the journey is ahead of me. I am always looking to get better. I got into lifting because of football in high school. I graduated with a good baseline knowledge of training at least in the sense that I would hit 2-3 workouts a week where I would go all out and hit Flat Barbell Bench, Cleans, Squats, Deadlift often, and then 3-4 exercises for each body part. I made crazy newbie gains (a term I know you like). I went from a skinny soccer player/runner’s body with great abs to a very strong solid, pretty lean early college kid. In high school those newbie gains came with eating tons of healthy and tons of unhealthy foods. Didn’t seem to matter. In college I continued to make gains, but learned the heard way that I needed to eat cleaner. I got bigger but definitely put on a few % body fat. I stayed this way until the summer before my senior year of college where I cleaned up my diet and really started putting more effort into my training. Instead of lifting for maintenance I went in there with an attitude. I ate clean and got a solid physique with a six back, solid legs, solid arms, solid chest. Abs to write home about nothing else all that amazing. Good not great. Then I was put on to Greg Plitt by a good friend. I treated his site like the bible. I was absolutely shocked when he died almost exactly a year after he changed everything for me. RIP. His videos changed the game for me. I realized I was a hard gainer and started mimicking his lifting style and really becoming a student of the game. I put on size and got leaner leaving me graduating college at a crazy low body fat and a vascular composition with solid size. Throughout this past year I realized that as great as it was to be a low body fat, I wasn’t holding the size and strength I used to have underneath the fat. I think Plitt’s workouts are more tailored to a cutting style rather than size and strength. Your hit failure and you hit it hard with Plitt. I will say I started lifting, yes lifting, everyday. Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, Legs, start over. Yes I take off days, but I don’t plan them. A day of traveling or an occasional busy weekend day maybe. They come just often enough that I don’t ever know an off day is coming nor plan for it. I like it that way because the rest days and days of the week I hit body parts is always changing. Monday isn’t always chest and my off days aren’t always after legs. I started hitting biceps and hamstrings with back while they also get hit on arms and legs respectively. So Im lifting a lot and its worked pretty well for me. I can hit 225 on flat bench for 10, I can deadlift houses, I got 315 on squat for a solid 9 the other day, form all there. I bulked to get here though. For the first time in a long time I decided to attempted a bulk. I was crazy low body fat and was 6’2″ 195, but people always thought I weighed less. Now I am around 208 and have put on great size and am still leanish, but not as much as before. Where do I go now Michael? Do I carb cycle? Should I just clean up my diet which currently includes whole milk and quite a few egg yolks. Im eating a ton. Like a bodybuilder and my bulk is almost becoming a cut because my increased muscle mass has caught up with what my previous calorie surplus. I love getting bigger and stronger and its still fun because I am a naturally lean person with athletic genes. Where do I go from here? I always want to get better keep that in mind. I work hard, I meal prep, I want the knowledge I need to be my literal best. Thanks so much for reading I really hope you respond and I would be open to buying a meal plan happily if you feel you have some insight.


  • Paulita Villegas

    Thanks for posting this! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to carb cycle or just stick to my macros ( 189.5 carb, 108 protein, 54 fat 27/34 fiber ) it’s a whole new experience for me since I would love to compete on the wbff league before I turn 31. I feel I’m making slow improvements ( which im happy about. It’s all about patience ) but when it comes to diet and cardio I feel I lose all my gains, which it already happened before , now I’m kinda just going with the flow, yes I eat healthy, but I have cheats at least 3 times per week, it’s hard for me to find that balance, I think I should consider sticking to my macros at least for 8 weeks to see how my body reacts to it, I lift heavy, ( not as heavy as you ) but I do take my training seriously, I do go ham on leg days, back and arms, I usually don’t do much chest, and no cardio, for the reason I stated before, I end up enjoing morning runs on the beach that become marathons lol and all the hard work at the gym goes away. What can you suggest for my fitness goals and my training?

  • Max Mathews

    Hey Mike, I’m a pretty big fan of yours and I love your podcasts.

    I played college football for two seasons, took two seasons off and now I am trying to play for one more. I have lost a good amount of muscle over the time off. I was at one point about 214 lbs with 13-14% bf. I am now around 190 with about 15% bf. Learning about muscle regain has greatly excited me as I am trying to get all of my strength/size back in the next three months. I have experience with heavy compound lifting. I am planning to train 6x a week, fasted, taking BCAA’s and green tea extract before my workouts. (I want to be as anabolic as possible) I will also include 4-6 run sessions a week (one day of 110’s and one day of 20yd bursts.) At this point I am going to divide my splits as follows:

    Day 1: heavy back squat or front squat, heavy deadlift, pullups, curls, abs, short sprints

    Day 2: light power snatch, heavy shoulder press, heavy bench press, weighted dips, light shoulder fly, 110 yd strides

    My weeks will alternate so that week one will include three day 1s and two day 2s and week 2 will include three day 2s and two day 1s.

    I am aiming to consume 3300 calories, my BMR is about 2900 with exercise.

    What do you think?

    • Thanks Max!

      Cool on your plans. I like it all around. Just have to make sure you manage your volume properly…

  • Melina Olivia DiPaola

    hey Mike! love all your stuff! right now i am around 126 lbs. given the moderate carb day, that would put me well under the calories I’ve been consuming (1650-1700- those calculations of macros add to under 1400) especially for my high activity level. How would i tweak it?

    • Thanks!

      Sorry but I don’t understand your question…

      • Melina Olivia DiPaola

        Sorry if my Q was kinda vague- using the #’s in the article I think my calorie count was too low.
        What would you suggest as a high carb day % and low carb day % for someone wanting to shred? I’m 125 lbs and workout regularly, about 1650-1700 cals a day. Just not sure what to set as macros for the carb cycling . Would ❤️your input. Also I love forge! If my preworkout has 10 cals w bcaas, does that mess up the fast?


        • Oh okay. Honestly I wouldn’t bother with carb cycling if I were you. Given your weight I doubt you have insulin sensitivity issues…

  • Ric

    Shud i take the forge supplement and phoenix even on reffed day?

  • Jeff

    Do u refeed on your program on a 8 weeks cut

  • Bardia Talabi


    Thanks for the read. I’m hoping this will help me in reaching my goal of 190. I started at 290 almost a year ago and I’m 22 years old, currently 5′ 9 at 221 pounds with no movement on the scale. I’ve consumed about 1800 calories every day with cheat meals on Thursday. I’m very interested in carb cycling but I’m confused as to how I should start. On my high days I would consume 300 grams and 150 on lows. How should I schedule these days during the week? Should I focus more on my macros or calorie intake? Is 300 grams a fair carb intake for a high day?

  • JB410

    Hey Mike, great read!

    I actually have a question about carb cycling. I’m 5’3, 123lbs and went on a low carb low fat diet last year (with a nutritionist). It was a stupid ass diet but I trusted the professional…Result, it completely F’d up my hormones and I had terrible fat cravings when I stopped the diet. To fix that I tried Keto for a month, it was great until I realized my workouts were suffering a lot. Since then I’ve been trying to find a good ratio for my macros but its fairly complicated. I workout about 5 times a week, cardio 3x1hr and just started weights twice a week. I know to lose weight my calories need to be around 1400, tops. Since I have been carb traumatized from the previous diet. I have about 6-8lbs to lose (I’m not fat but I have quite obvious fluff around my muscles..). I was wondering if carb cycling would help?

  • Adriana Vasquez

    Hi! I currently eat about 1700 cal/day, 170 grams protein, 54 g fat, 134 g carbs. I only weightlift (4 times a week) & occasionally throw in 1 day just for 25 min cardio. Im 24.2% body fat and 130 lbs, female. If i want to gain more muscle without gaining a lot of far & see more definition what should i do?
    Also ami eating too much protein and too litle carbohydrates?

  • Jasvir Singh

    Hi Michael, Great read…i am really interested in this carb cycling as ive gained muscle through training but also a bit of a belly. Ive since now started eating “better” meals (the green healthy stuff) and have seen some of the fat around the abdominal area disappear. It has now hit a brick wall.

    Just had a question in regards to the calculations…according to my bmr my recommended daily caloric intake is 1697 however when i calculate my low carb day the calories are 1695. That doesnt seem right to me? should those days be a non training day? Another other suggestions in regards to keeping muscle mass but losing fat?

  • Mike, surely on the days that you don’t work out your body will use fewer carbs. So doesn’t it make sense to east fewer carbs on those days?

    It comes back to energy balance. You expend less energy on those days so you should eat fewer calories or you will store more fat.

    That just seems like common sense to me. A I wrong?

    • No fewer carbs but LESS ENERGY. There’s a difference there.

      But yes, I do eat less carb on my rest days because my diet is fairly high in carb and I don’t want to reduce fat intake.

      • Well, carbs are your main source of energy right? So when you need less energy you eat fewer carbs. I mean why eat less fat when you need less energy? Or less protein? It seems to me it would make the most sense to eat fewer carbs.

        • Carbs are primarily energetic but if we’re talking strictly potential energy, fats are more energy (calorie) dense.

          One gram of carb = 4 cals. One gram of fat = 9.

      • Sfine

        In this response are you talking about during maintenance/bulking? During cutting you just keep the same cutting cals every day as described in BLS, correct? For maintenance/bulking how many calories are you adjusting during rest days vs workout days?

  • ankita

    Hi mike.loved dis article!!! Good work by u!! Just wnna knw wats ur take on food combining diet. I hav read, wrong food combos can even wreak havoc on our metabolism? Pls share ur views.

  • Stev

    Um, well this is an option article. You don’t “believe” in carb cycling, and your “evidence” is just what you read from the studies. I’m not into carb cycling because I’m carb sensitive and low carbs makes me feel horrible. That being said, you are misleading people about carb cycling. First, carb cycling is in short time frames. 1 -3 days at a time. If you actually read those studies, they kept low carb diets for months/ a year and one was for 2 years!! That in its self destroyed your argument for me. Next, the people who have actually taken fitness in college as a major and support carb cycling always make clear that it is NOT for : obese people, over weight people, or fat people. They, like your studies showed, claim that if you are in that category almost anything you do will show results. Carb cycling is for people who have been on proper diet and exercise for a while and are down to the last bit of belly fat(13/12% bf). And it’s not long term just a few weeks at a time as a means to “shock” the body. Like changing exercises, set and reps, and rest between sets. As if they are that low and have been working at it for a long time the body has adapted and just needs another shock. And you own words in the comments section “But yes, I do eat less carb on my rest days because my diet is fairly high in carb and I don’t want to reduce fat intake.”. That is carb cycling!!!!!! On rest days you take in less carbs!!!! You bash carb cycling in this article and yet freely admit doing it.

    • Thanks for the comment but I’m not sure if you realize that most carb cycling protocols are much more rigid than just eating less on days that you burn less energy.

      Most have you do very low carb and even no (sub 30 g) carb days.

  • Key J.

    I am a Registered Dietitian and I THROUGHLY enjoyed reading this article! It was to the point and written conversation style which is great (I think). I will share this article with others who struggle with nonsense and need some clarity. Thanks!

    • Happy to hear it! Thanks a ton for spreading the word.

      My pleasure. 🙂

      • Philosophy Science

        The experiments cited were not carb cycling.

        • Are you referring to the studies showing that low-carb dieting doesn’t accelerating fat loss?

  • Wissem Nina

    I’m not fat much but I need to tone my lower body (a lot). I’m 18 and weigh 53 kg, 160 cm in height. I’ve tried a normal diet because I want to lose 1-2 kg fat then tone. So should I try carb cycling, because I just can’t resist no carb or low carb for an entire month. Thanks

    • If carb cycling fits your lifestyle or you don’t do well with carbs, sure! Otherwise, there’s no need. As long as you hit your target cals/macros, you’ll get the results.

      To calculate what your cals/macros should be, take a look at this:


      Welcome. Hope this helps! Talk soon.

  • Joshua Zitting

    Great article! Your site is really amazing. I am a trainer and always looking to guide my clients towards good information. I would love to reference some of your work. I recently wrote this on carb cycling as well – http://joshuazittingfit.com/carb-cycling-meal-plan-women/ so this article really spoke to me. My clients have amazing results from it. Men and women and I am so happy to see more people talking about it. I look forward to reading more content from you guys. Thank you! – joshua zitting

  • VV

    Super great article Michael..I am 5 4′ ,121 lbs female and for the last year I have been trying to lose fat and build some muscle..I lift 3-4 days a week and do HIIT or LIIS on other days ..I havent see much progress in the stubborn fat lose ,have gained some muscle and toned a bit but the fat isnt budging from the stomach area.Do you think carb cycling will help me or will it make me lose the muscle mass I gained? I usually eat around 140 gm carbs on a moderate day..going below 100 seems to be hard considering you have to count in the veggie and fruit carbs too.Have you had clients like me who have seen results with carb cycling? Thanks so much in advance!

    • Thanks! Thanks for all the info, and cool you’ve been trying to build muscle and lose fat.

      To make sure you’re doing it right, check this out:


      Feel free to give it a try! If it fits your lifestyle and you get results with it, stick with it! If not, there’s no need for it.

      You can see how many carbs you should be having daily here:


      Yep, I’ve had many people have success with carb cycling. What it comes down to is a diet that works for you that you can stick to and hit your target cals/macros with. Whatever helps make that happen is what I recommend.

      My pleasure! Talk soon.

  • Lynn

    I’m pretty myself for a figure competition, a coach suggested carb cycling. (doing this natural btw) should I carb cycle or just use traditional dieting? My body functions well with carbs…Would I be able to diet down to 12% bodyfat? I’m around 19-20% now, the show isn’t for another six months

    • I don’t typically recommend it unless the person doesn’t do well with carbs or if they just prefer to carb cycle. Otherwise, there’s no need or added benefit to it.

      You can with proper training and dieting, but it’ll be tough. I’d also strongly recommend fasted training, HIIT and supplements to get down there.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Rachie

        So it is okay to do HIIT or weight train in the morning fasted? I’m cutting for my holiday but trying to preserve the small amount of muscle I have. I’ve been doing HIIT first thing in the morning but drinking BCAA before and during and then have protein porridge about 30 mins after.

        • Yup, it’s perfectly fine. Your routine has been a good one!

  • Hello Mike, thanks for the article. I noticed a contradiction though. You say it is all about energy balance but then you say low carb/high protein diet is not superior to high carb/high protein diet for weight loss.

    That seems to be a contradiction because if you eat fewer carbs you get in fewer calories which must translate to more weight loss given the same amount of energy expenditure. Unless you change fat intake. Is that the catch?

    Also, I have been eating one fewer meal than I usually do and increasing my cardio while attempting to cut but the only time I noticed any weight loss at all was the a rest week when I didn’t do any weight training at all. What gives?

    Finally, I am now noticing a drop in my immune system only after two weeks of weight training whereas before it took 8 weeks and then 4 weeks. I notice it because I start getting a sore throat. Do you think it is a problem with the multi-vitamin or omega 3 I take? I remember you saying the multi-vitamins sold in stores are woefully low in their dosages of essential vitamins and the same for omega 3 basically.

    Or do I need to get a blood test?


    • Huh?

      That statement SUPPORTS the notion that energy balance is the most important factor.

      Match protein and caloric intake and it doesn’t matter how many or few carbs you eat…

      Check this out:


      And are your calories too low? Exercising too much?

      • Lol? Are you saying as long as you eat the calories you need for weight loss in protein you can eat as many carbs are you want without gaining fat? Carbs contain calories, right? And energy balance is about calories the way I understand it. If you eat an infinite amount of carbs you can eat no protein and still get fat.

        • Definitely not. Energy balance applies always.

          • Thanks but this still doesn’t answer my original question. The argument in the article was that a low carb/high protein diet is not superior to a high carb/high protein diet for weight loss. That seems like a contradiction because the latter contains more calories. How it can it not be inferior for weight loss is energy balance always applies?

          • Ratios of the macros–same calories, different ratios.

          • Ok I gotcha now. Easy to get confused!

          • No probs. Glad we were able to clear that up 🙂

  • Allie

    I am a massage therapist who works with a lot of elite athletes who are using intermittent no-carb diets so they can burn fat instead of carbs when they’re doing long distance races. Long as in 55 mile mountain running races or Ironman triathlons. I read a study where they had athletes exercise intensely in the afternoon, eat no carbs after that, then do a light hour-long workout in the morning and then eat normal carb levels. It was successful at helping them use fat as an energy source. Do you think this has any applications for less than elite athletes?

    • Hey Allie,

      I’d say the only reason any athlete should go low-carb is if their performance is enhanced by it. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

  • This was definitely a very interesting article to read. I’m new in the fitness and wellness industry and currently coaching women on very specific exercise and nutrition programs. Carb cycling is included in them and I love hearing more about what it does and how it is beneficial (or not). Your books and website have such valuable information and I look forward to learning so more as I continue in the industry! Thanks!

    • Great! Happy to hear you’re getting so much out of my articles. YW.

  • Carl

    Hey Mike,

    Great article. I have just started a cut. From your book I did the calorie/macro calculations. My over all weight is at 168lbs and body fat at 16%. For cutting I came out with cals 1892. On the macro nutrients calculator from your link it says may cals should be at 1895, protein at 190g, carbs at 190g also and fat at 42g. Would you say this was spot on in helping me retain muscle and shred?

    • Carl

      Also, on you rest days during a cut, do you continue to stay at your cutting numbers? and on rest days during a bulk you can either stay at bulking numbers or move to maintenance diet for that day?

  • Melanie charles

    Hey Mike, I’m a type 1 diabetic and just brought your book. I was wondering as I do not produce insulin and it is important for transferring energy into cells will this effect my muscle growth? Will it mean I won’t repair as quickly also? I do notice weights lower my bloods a few hours after but spike them in the short term would taking extra insulin after a work out combat this and help my muscles repair quicker and transport nutrients quicker? Any help would be appreciated as my diabetic doctor no help what so ever

    • Thanks Melanie!

      I’ve worked with quite a few people with T1D and they do great without changing anything in terms of insulin dosing or timing.

      So I’d say just do your normal thing and keep your carbs in a range that you’re comfortable with and you’ll be good to go.

  • Victoria

    Hey Mike!

    I am following Thinner Leaner Stronger like the Bible. It’s done great things for me thus far, including my strength and physique and overall emotional state. Question though: I notice a lot of girls who lift will go higher carb on leg days. I’m interested in your take on this. Worth it? I love carbs so that would be great news to me, but I wondered if that’s part of your ideology. Currently my carbs on training/non-training days are 134 g. If I were to bump it up on leg day, what would that look like? Should I? I’m going as heavy as I can in a 8-10 rep range. I’d like to really build my legs and glutes which is why I ask this.

    Here’s the whole picture:

    P: 135 g

    C: 134 g

    F: 27 g

    kcals: 1,319

    I’m 5’6, currently at 133.4 lbs trying to cut but build muscle

    Any help is much appreciated!



  • John

    Jesus Christ ur everywhere and fucking annoying to. bait bitch.

  • Roxanne

    Hey Mike, I have yet another question 😁 I have been reverse dieting for about a month now, and the calculator says my TDEE is 1798. As soon as I hit those numbers, my weight decreased by a couple lbs…. Should I start my cut or try to go up to 1900? I wasn’t sure how to judge my activity level since I do crossfit and every day is different time wise. So I put in custom at 1.27. And also, should I really eat 185 carbs on my rest days too or should I up my fat and decrease my carbs? I’m not that active on my rest days. Just taking care of kids 🙂 thanks!

    • Antonio Wright

      You don’t have to change calories on rest and training days.

      • Roxanne

        My question was if I should change my macros, not my calories. So keep my calories the same, but decrease carbs and make up for the decrease in fat as far as calories goes on test days.

        • Antonio Wright


    • Hey Roxanne, weight loss is still possible during the RD. Go up to 1900 and let it stabilize. Are you looking to bulk or maintain after this?

      Keep your macros the same.

      • Roxanne

        Thanks Mike! I actaully had gained about 4 or 5 lbs working my way from 1400 calories to 1800 but then lost 2.5. And my main goal is to keep muscle, but lose fat. I had gained a lot of muscle reverse dieting last year, but then then did a cut and stayed at my cutting calories way too long and started gaining weight :/ So I’m looking to lose between 10-15lbs. I’m 5’4″ and weigh 155. I felt really good between 140 and 145 though. I could possibly lose more than that but I also have 3 kids and I don’t know if I could maintain much lower than that but idk!

        • NP. Some weight gain (1-2lbs) will be due to water and glycogen–this is perfectly normal.

          I’m sure you’ll find a way to maintain! It’s all about energy balance.

  • Kris

    I came here, because I saw an article about carb cycling. Of course with a fancy title and a big hype so I thought that I first have to check my “encyclopedia” 🙂 I knew I can rely on you Mike. great article and all details nicely explained. no confusion. Thanks

    • Nice! Glad to hear you were able to learn a lot from the article, and thanks for your support.


    can carb cycling be used to someone who is about to start a training and nutrition plan? Someone who is 30 lbs overweight.

    • CPPPP

      Or is this for only lean people trying to get ripped?

    • It can…if you stay in a 20-25% calorie deficit. Easier to take out the complexity and do this instead, though:


      • CPPPP

        Should i use carb cycling from the get go or only when reach closer to my body fat goal/weight goal? I’m starting a 12 week plan and i want to know if i should do carb cycling. Lifting days (Carb days), cardio days (low/no carbs).

        • Nah. No point to start off carb cycling. It’s not a magic bullet for weight loss. First step is getting in good habits and nailing your macro targets. No need for complexity. Plus, no benefit for you to do it. Check out the last section of this article real quick.

Sign in to Muscle For Life
Sign in below to access your account Connect With Facebook
or use your MFL Account