Carb Cycling For Women: 21-Day Carb Cycling Meal Plan To Lose 50 Pounds Or More (While Still Eating Carbs)

Carb cycling is my favorite diet, there I said it!

This is coming from someone with programs in many diet categories: keto, intermittent fasting, metabolism, and more…

Carb cycling involves varying your carb intake over time.

Like intermittent fasting, this is a diet that has a lot of different variations.

Often people take the general concept and modify it to meet their own energy needs and lifestyle.

Why are people interested in carb cycling?

Carbohydrates have become a pretty controversial nutrient.

Conventional health advice has focused on cutting down fat as much as possible, which resulted in people getting a lot of their nutrients from carbs instead.

There is growing recognition that this approach isn’t particularly good for health.

The result has been a shift away from carbs again.

In some ways, carb cycling is an attempt to find a middle ground between low carb and high carb diets.

Cycling carbs for fat loss is commonly practiced by those looking to enhance muscle growth, but there are far more benefits of carb cycling.

A few other advantages:

  1. It boosts insulin sensitivity
  2. It encourages fat burning
  3. It prevents leptin resistance
  4. It promotes healthier eating habits by focusing on healthy carbohydrates

The Carb Cycling Meal Plan

 

 

What is Carb Cycling?

 

Essentially, the idea is just to alternate the number of carbs you consume.

Some variations of the diet have Low Carb weeks and then some high carb weeks, that basically act as a form of recovery.

There are many other variations too and the variations of the diet are often related to what people need and what they’re trying to get out of the diet.

For this part of our discussion, I’m going to focus on one specific variation of a carb cycling diet.

This is where people change up their carb intake on a daily basis.

So, you see patterns like this one here:

Frequently, this pattern is then paired with working out.

So, you might engage in intense workouts on the high carb days, do a lower intensity workout on the moderate carb days and take the low carb days as breaks.

In general, the answer to ‘what is carb cycling?’ is that carb cycling is a general diet type while the exact approaches that people take can vary considerably.

Carb cycling is a pretty individualized diet.

The approaches that people take are based, in part, on their own needs.

For example, a person who works out regularly and is trying to gain muscle may want to take in more carbs than someone who is comparatively inactive.

One approach suggests the following:

  • High carb: 200 g
  • Moderate carb: 100 g
  • Low carb: 30 g

Setting 200 g of carbs as the highest amount does seem to be a common approach.

However, it is important to note that this might vary depending on your activity level.

For example, bodybuilders are likely to need more carbs than a person who goes to the gym once or twice a week for a few hours.

Additionally, some variations of this diet don’t focus on counting the number of carbs you consume.

Instead, they just avoid carb foods on the low carb days and focus more on those foods during the high carb days. So, on a low carb day, you might end up having a bunless burger for dinner along with a range of vegetables.

It’s also important to note that carb cycling meal plans typically involve a relatively high level of protein for all the stages of the diet. This is particularly relevant for anyone on a carb cycling diet who wants to gain muscle.

To make each day successful here’s a number of carbs to consume:

Low carb days – (50 g or less)
Medium carb days – (50 g -100 g)
High carb days – (100 g -150 g)
You may be wondering about other macros such as protein and fat.
Well…

Carb cycling is merely about carbs going up and down depending on the day, while protein and fat remain fairly the same.

 

  

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How many carbs and calories should you aim for?

This depends on your specific body type, gender, age, level of activity and goals. Women usually stick within the 1200 to 1800 calorie range throughout the week, while men typically stay within a range of about 1500 to 3000 calories range.

You might find carb cycling to be easiest to sustain if you add or decrease only about 400 to 600 calories between high-carb and low-carb days.

Higher-carb days might include 150 to 300 grams of carbohydrates, while lower-carb days might include 50 to 100 grams. Once again, men who are bigger and more active will tend to require more carbs than smaller women do.

On both high and low carb days, your protein intake should stay roughly the same, but fat intake will likely increase or decrease. On higher-carb days fat might decrease to only about 15 percent to 20 percent of total daily calories.

Although there’s room for customization, here’s an example of a typical carb cycling plan:

  • Monday: higher-carb day
  • Tuesday: lower-carb day
  • Wednesday: higher-carb day
  • Thursday: lower-carb day
  • Friday: lower-carb day
  • Saturday: higher-carb day/optional reward day where you enjoy a favorite meal “off plan”
  • Sunday: lower-carb day

The Carb Cycling Meal Plan

DAY 1 (LOW-CARB)

Breakfast: 10-Minute Keto Tomato Basil Omelet
Lunch: The Upgraded Fat Loss Burger
Snack: Hard-boiled egg
Dinner: Taco Lettuce Wraps

DAY 2 (LOW-CARB)

Breakfast: Keto Over-Easy Egg Salad
Lunch: Keto Thai Chicken Bowl
Snack: 2 Tbsp. sunbutter and celery sticks
Dinner: Keto Spicy Chicken Sauté Tossed With Avocado

Breakfast: 3 Fried Eggs, 1 Slice bacon, and 1 piece of gluten-free toast with butter
Lunch: Avocado Chicken Salad with 2 servings of fruit 
Snack: 2 oz. cheddar cheese and 1 cup blueberries
Dinner: Grilled steak with roasted rosemary potatoes

DAY 4 (MEDIUM-CARB)

Breakfast: 2 Fried Eggs, 2 slices bacon, and 1 cup blueberries
Lunch: Grilled Chicken, brown rice, and sauteed spinach
Snack: 2 oz. cheddar cheese and 1 apple
Dinner: Sheet Pan Haddock With Roasted Veggies

DAY 5 (LOW-CARB)

Breakfast: Low-Carb No Egg Breakfast Bake With Sausage, Peppers, and Mushrooms
Lunch: Keto Ground Beef Taco Salad
Snack: hard-boiled egg
Dinner: Keto Mini Zucchini Avocado Burgers

Lunch: Keto Easy Shrimp and Asparagus Bake
Snack: jerky with 1 serving fruit
Dinner: Buttered Rosemary Chicken Drumsticks and Baked Sweet Potatoes

DAY 7 (MEDIUM-CARB)

Breakfast: Keto Morning Egg Scramble with Bacon
Lunch: Keto Tuna Salad
Snack: 2 Tbsp. sunbutter and celery sticks

Tips For Carb Cycling Success

Carb cycling is where you alternate periods of low and higher carbohydrate content in your diet.

This means you might spend three days eating low-carb, then a high-carb day, then another low-carb, then a medium-carb day.

Easy, huh?

A lot easier than a full-fledged keto diet.

The theory behind carb cycling and weight loss is that it optimizes your body’s metabolic needs. 

While in a low carb period, your body sharpens insulin sensitivity, produces glucagon to help you burn fat, and becomes metabolically streamlined.

These are great things. Yet if you persist in being too low carb for too long your thyroid hormone levels will drop, and your insulin sensitivity may actually worsen. 

In short: you gain weight.

So you want to eat low carb most of the time, but still be deliberate about including carbohydrates every so often.

For a lot of women I work with, it is important to consistently eat carbohydrates.

What women benefit from eating carbohydrates?

  • They are essential for women who have delicate hormonal systems
  • who are recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea
  • who may have thyroid issues
  • who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive
  • and who have mood issues

Nevertheless, carb cycling is an effective tool for fitness and weight loss when used correctly. The problem is that it is not always used correctly. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

Carb cycling and weight loss

The #1 mistake I see people making with carb cycling and weight loss is inattention to the specific needs of the female body.

Because it comes from a world of men, it doesn’t pay a whole lot of good attention to women. But there are two important considerations to bear in mind:

A) Thyroid status must be protected.

Thyroid hormone is essential for fat loss. Unfortunately on a low carbohydrate diet thyroid hormone production can slow down. This is crucial to bear in mind for women especially because women’s metabolism and thyroid activity are much more sensitive than men’s. It is important in the “low carb” times of the cycle to still not be very low carb. Stay above 50 grams of carbohydrate a day, at very minimum (and higher if physically active).

B) Female hormones impact insulin sensitivity

Estrogen and progesterone have significant impacts on carbohydrate metabolism.

At different parts in the menstrual cycle, carbohydrates are processed either much more efficiently or with much more fat storage. 

This is the secret to female carbohydrate cycling. I

nstead of sticking to a simple regimen provided by a personal trainer or some internet forum, the best thing you can do to maximize the effectiveness of your carb cycling is sync it up with your menstrual cycle.

Carb cycling and carbs

There are two important facts here: estrogen slightly increases, and progesterone decreases insulin sensitivity. 

Estrogen and progesterone are elevated at different points in the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels tend to be the most dominant in the first and second weeks of the cycle (especially the second week). Progesterone levels are at their highest in the third and fourth week of the cycle.

The consequences of this are that:

  • The female body is naturally more insulin-sensitive in the follicular phase (the first two weeks of the cycle) when estrogen levels are highest and progesterone levels are at their lowest. This means it tolerates carbohydrates in these two weeks better than the rest of the time.
  • The female body is naturally slightly less insulin sensitive when progesterone levels are higher in the luteal phase (after ovulation, in the last two weeks of the cycle). This means it does not tolerate carbohydrate as well in these weeks.

How does carb cycling work

A carb cycling diet plan works by giving your body the fuel it needs to increase your metabolic capacity and work load via carbohydrates and optimize fat loss via a reduced carbohydrate diet.

It is seen as ‘the best of both worlds’.

There are a number of protocols that have been designed to manipulate the general set up of a carb cycling diet plan, but many will use all three types throughout the week. These are generally rotated daily, or cycled, but the most common set up is based on daily activity levels.

The typical recommendations are:  

  1. On days of high activity, you should consume moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates.
  2. On days of moderate to no activity you should consume moderate to no amounts of carbohydrates.

A typical weekly breakdown would look like this: 

Monday: Heavy weight training day > High carb 
Tuesday: Interval training day > Moderate carbs 
Wednesday: Rest day > Low carbs
Thursday: Heavy weight training day > High carbs 
Friday: Interval training day > Moderate carbs 
Saturday: Heavy weight training day > High Carbs 
Sunday: Rest day > Low carb 

Various carb cycling diet plans show differences in the detail, but overall it is nothing more than eating more carbohydrates on some days and eating fewer carbohydrates on other days. 

The heavy focus is placed on carbohydrates manipulation as it is considered to have the most influential effect on body composition and how you look, feel and perform. 

Various carb cycling diet plans show differences in the detail, but overall it is nothing more than eating more carbohydrates on some days and eating fewer carbohydrates on other days.

 

The heavy focus is placed on carbohydrates manipulation as it is considered to have the most influential effect on body composition and how you look, feel and perform. 

MODERATE TO HIGH CARB DAYS:

  • Improve insulin sensitivity, making your body respond better to carbohydrates;
  • Promote fat loss by tricking your body into burning fat for fuel; improved fat oxidization via reduced insulin levels; and
  • Improve fat burning by reducing overall daily calories into a calorie deficit.

LOW TO NO CARB DAYS: 

  • Make you feel good and energized;
     
  • Replenish glycogen stores that fuel muscle; and
  • Stimulate an insulin response to create an anabolic environment for muscle retention and growth.

The Key to Carb Cycling

Remember that different things work for everyone.

While some may see major results from carb cycling, others might find that following a consistent diet with a moderate amount of carbs works well for them.

Everyone can benefit, however, from following a few of the central concepts of carb cycling:

Load up on fibrous vegetables every day. They are nutrient dense, low in calories, and should be a main component of everyone’s diet.

Limit or eliminate refined starches, like pastries, cakes, muffins, etc. They contribute very little nutrition-wise besides empty calories and sugar.

Focus on healthy carbohydrate choices. Fruits, tubers, and gluten-free grains are all excellent choices for rounding out a healthy diet.

Include lean proteins and healthy fats with each meal. Integrating these into every meal is just as important as including good sources of carbohydrates.

A simple low carb day diet plan

Meal 1: Breakfast
4 whole eggs scrambled in coconut oil with spinach
Serving protein powder with greens powder

Meal 2: Lunch
Homemade turkey burgers with large side salad
Large handful of roasted mixed nuts

Meal 3: Snack
Small sweet potato topped with tuna and cheese

Meal 4: Evening Meal
Large chicken breast wrapped stuffed with olives wrapped in Parma ham, served with roasted seasonal vegetables topped with olive oil

This would be a non weight-training day

Bottom Line About Carb Cycling

A carb cycling diet plan can be a good protocol for those who want an easy and simple set of guidelines to follow when seeking body composition changes.

Also it can quickly help people understand what their body wants in terms of macronutrient breakdown and what they do best on.

Aside from this, little evidence exists to suggest it will change body composition any quicker than traditional methods.

Lastly, taking everything into consideration, it can become quite a difficult protocol to follow.

Which is why you should follow a proven and science backed program like The 3-Week Carb Cycling Diet to guide you through a carb-cycling diet. 

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