Carbohydrate Cycling for Fat Loss and Why You Should Not Eliminate Carbs from a Bodybuilding Diet for Fat Loss

349Typically, when a bodybuilder reaches 10% body fat, in order to keep going down in body fat percentage, we need to use some metabolic trickery.  While at this point, the instinct of many bodybuilders is to eliminate carbs from their bodybuilding diet and go on a ketogenic diet, this is not the best strategy in my opinion.

While eliminating carbs from your diet initially brings about some results in the way of less water retention and a sudden drop in weight, the body immediately puts itself into an emergency state and thus begins to take measures in order to lower its metabolic rate. It will do this through a reduction of thyroid hormone production (which is the hormone responsible for keeping the metabolism high) and the only way to bring this production back up (and thus, boost the metabolic rate) is through an increase in carbohydrate intake. So instead of just eliminating carbs from the diet, a better way to accomplish fat loss when already at 10% body fat is through the use of an advanced technique called carbohydrate cycling.

Carbohydrate Cycling

Since you are already at 10% body fat, it will take some metabolic trickery in order to coax your body to go down to 6%. Here is where carbohydrate cycling really pays off.

When using carbohydrate cycling, carbohydrate intake is lowered significantly (but not eliminated) for a few days in order to put the body in a fat burning state. Then, for one day, carbohydrates are increased again to normal levels in order to prevent the metabolic slowdown that we described above. In addition, by temporarily increasing your carbs, you also get to have better energy levels throughout the fat loss process as well as preserve (and even gain) muscle tissue.

How to Implement Carbohydrate Cycling

There are many ways to implement carbohydrate cycling. However, a simple way is to do three days of lowered carbohydrates, followed by one day of increased intake. As far as how many carbs, proteins and fats to consume, I personally use the formulas below:

Carbs (low days) = Lean Body Mass (Fat Free Weight) x .85
Carbs (high days) = 2 x Carbs (low days)

Proteins (same for high and low carbohydrate days)= Lean Body Mass x 1.25 (you can go as high as times 1.5 if you are training twice a day)

Fats (same for high and low carbohydrate days)= Lean Body Mass x 0.34

So in my case, for example, my Lean Body Mass is 175-lbs (this is my fat free mass). Therefore:

Carbs (low days) = 175 x .85 = 148.75 (so I will round this off to 150 grams of carbs)
Carbs (high days) = 2 x 150 = 300 grams of carbs.

Proteins (same for high and low carbohydrate days)= 175 x 1.5 (since I train twice a day) = 262.5 which I will just round to 260 grams

Fats (same for high and low carbohydrate days)= 175 x 0.34 = 59.5 which I will round to 60 grams.

So now that I have my daily values, I have to figure out what I need to consume in each meal. I believe in eating 6 meals a day so first I will calculate my proteins and fats simply by taking the total amount that I need to consume per day and dividing by 6:

Protein intake per meal = 260/6 = 43 grams (so I will round it to 40 grams per meal)

Fats intake per meal = 60/6 = 10 grams of fats per meal.

In order to calculate the carbohydrate intake, on low days I like to have carbs only for my breakfast, my pre-workout meal and my post workout meal. I chose to have carbs at these times because in this manner, the carbs consumed will be fully utilized by the body for fuel. Therefore, in order to calculate carbs for a low day, simply take the total amount of carbs and divide by 3.

Low Carb Day Carbohydrate Intake Per Meal = 150/3 = 50 grams on 3 meals (breakfast, pre-workout and post workout meals or breakfast, lunch and dinner if it is a day off from weights).

To calculate carbohydrate intake for a high day, simply divide the total carbohydrate intake by 6. So in my case, that comes out to:

High Carb Day Carbohydrate Intake Per Meal = 300/6 = 50 grams per meal.

Food Choices

As far as food choices, for proteins use lean proteins such as chicken and egg whites. Also, feel free to include proteins rich in essential fats such as wild atlantic salmon.

For fats, on meals where you are including proteins that contain essential fats, you don’t need to add any. On meals with lean proteins like chicken, egg whites, or protein powder then you need to add fats in the form of flax seed oil or capsules like EFA Lean.

Finally, for carbohydrates, since our main goal is fat loss, only include low glycemic index carbs such as oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes and, of course, green vegetables like broccoli and green beans.


I’ve consistently used the carbohydrate cycling technique with awesome results. Many others have used it as well. Give it a try and I guarantee you that every time you go through a cycle of 3 days of low carbs followed by one day of high carbs your body will change by burning body fat and retaining, or even gaining, muscle.

Take care and train hard!

About the Author

Hugo Rivera is an International best selling fitness author certified in personal training and nutrition with a computer engineering degree from the University of South Florida. Hugo is owner of, an informational, free fitness and nutrition website. He is author of over 10 fitness books (with over a million copies sold) including his best sellers: Body Re-Engineering, The Body Sculpting Bible for Men, The Body Sculpting Bible for Women, the Weight Training Diary, and the Hardgainers Handbook of Bodybuilding. Today via his website, numerous articles, book publications, TV and radio appearances Hugo continues to educate the public on how to achieve the body of their dreams via the use of weight training exercise, good nutrition and correct supplementation.  You can follow Hugo at his YouTube channel here:

3 Responses for Carbohydrate Cycling for Fat Loss and Why You Should Not Eliminate Carbs from a Bodybuilding Diet for Fat Loss

  1. John Marchiando


    April 25, 2009 11:23 pm

    When you mention that you train twice a day, are you referring to lifting twice, or combining cardio and lifting? I do most of my cardio in the morning and lift in the evenings, so would that count as twice daily? Just want to make sure I use the correct formula.

  2. A


    April 5, 2011 9:25 am

    Do you count vegetables in your carb numbers?

  3. Nice


    April 17, 2011 8:52 pm

    Yes. Veggies are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.