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Carb Cycling for Fat Loss – Better or Wasted Effort ?

So I got a question a few weeks ago about carb cycling for fat loss and I decided to address this subject now.

My short answer is this: I believe carb cycling is unnecessary. It doesn’t lead to better fat loss or improved training performance while cutting. I think you’d do much better if you eat the same macros every day while cutting.

Fat loss only comes down to staying in a calorie deficit and training performance depends mainly on getting enough carbs as an average, not on the way you distribute them.

But I know you’ll probably not be satisfied with this short answer… so here comes the long one.

I’m going to talk about four things:

  1. What is carb cycling and what are a few of it’s forms
  2. How it compares to a linear carb intake for fat loss
  3. My experience with carb cycling and why I don’t recommend it
  4. How I recommend you set up your cutting diet


Let’s get started.

What is carb cycling and what are a few of it’s forms

Carb cycling means alternating high carb days with low-moderate carb days.

For example most protocols involve eating high carbs on your training days and low carbs on your rest days. Other might have you eat 3 low carb days followed by one high carb day.

A notable difference between protocol is that some cycle calories as well as carbs and others, keep calories fixed every day. This is an important difference.

Here is how a few protocols would look like expressed in numbers:

carb cycling forms

You can see that on the protocols with fixed daily calories, fat and carbs are inversely related – meaning when carbs are high, fats are low and vice-versa. On the protocols that cycle calories as well as carbs, fat intake remains relatively the same.

So this is what carb cycling means. Now the answer is, should you do it? Let’s see.

How carb cycling compares to a linear carb intake for fat loss

You probably heard carb cycling being marketed as a faster way to lose fat or even build muscle while in a deficit. As we said earlier, these claims are not true.

Of course you can lose fat doing carb cycling but it works just as well as a normal linear inteak, not better. Any diet protocol that puts you in a calorie deficit will result in fat loss, regardless of how the macros are set up.

Research clearly showed that as long as the calorie deficit and protein intake are the same, people lose the same amount of fat. Fat loss depends on the energy balance not on the ratios of fat and carb intake.

Here’s the catch though: low-carb diets usually result in more weight loss because of glycogen depletion. As I’m sure you know carbs retain water in our muscles so if you reduce carbs you also reduce the amount of water we hold. If you eat low carbs for a few days, your glycogen stores can be completely depleted and that can make you a few pounds lighter immediately. But it’s important to note that the reduction in weight is not fat. As soon as you start eating more carbs your weight will go back up by a few pounds.

So cycling carbs doesn’t improve fat loss simply because the daily calorie deficit remains the same.

Now what about muscle gain?

The main selling points of carb cycling for muscle gain is that the high-carb day puts your body into an anabolic mode by spiking insulin. The problem with this is that insulin is anabolic only in supra-physiological amounts – meaning with injections. You can’t raise insulin enough to become anabolic only by eating more carbs.

Furthermore, assuming that you are only cycling carbs and not calories as well, on your high carb day you’ll still be in a deficit. An energy deficit reduces protein synthesis so any gain from the carb bomb will probably be negated.

There’s good and bad in everything 

There is one aspect about carb cycling that should be beneficial though: replenishing glycogen stores for your training. We know carbs support training performance so if you can pair high carb days with training days, all evidence would suggest that you should have better performance. You must however make sure to eat at least half of those carbs before training – eating them after training wouldn’t have the same effect.

Because of this reason I also think combining carb cycling with calorie cycling may be superior overall to a normal linear intake. You’ll now say: “What the hell man are you now supporting carb cycling?”

No, I think carb cycling in and of itself doesn’t do anything. But if you intelligently set up a calorie cycling diet that includes carb cycling you can probably get better fat loss and better muscle retention or even growth.

For example a high carb day that is also a high calorie day may truly provide a better anabolic environment for muscle growth. Also a low carb day that is also a low calorie day may improve fat oxidation because of reduced glycogen stores. Such a diet is Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0. It’s probably the most complicated diet ever put together and it combines all sorts of low calorie days, metabolic workouts, high carb high calorie days, strength workouts all in an effort to achieve body recomposition. And all evidence would suggest it truly is superior to a normal diet.

Now, with all that said, I still wouldn’t recommend calorie or carb cycling for fat loss. Why? Because even if they are superior to a linear intake it’s probably only by 5-10%. And also there is a big, big difference between what is optimal from a physiological point of view and what is optimal in the real world.

I will expand on this in the following section:

My experience with carb cycling and why I don’t recommend it

So by this point we concluded that carb cycling without calorie cycling doesn’t do much. But a diet where you cycle both calories and carbs and time it intelligently with your training days may be superior to a linear intake.

So should we start doing that if it seems to be superior?

I believe with all my heart that we shouldn’t.

The biggest problem with carb and calorie cycling is that you pay too big of a price in time and effort for the minute benefits it delivers. If I have to make my diet less enjoyable, give up on social events and put in 50% more time and effort just so I can get 5% better results, I won’t do it. It’s not worth it. have you ever thought about that?

In the real world, complicated optimal diets deliver worse results. Why? Because people don’t actually stick to them.

Let me share my experience.

I used to cycle calories and macros every day in the past and I did for more than 6 months. I did not notice any improved results but I noticed a lot of downsides to it:

  1. I was obsessed with my diet. If you’re truly going to stick to a carb cycling plan you can say goodbye to eating out. You have to cook all your meals and weigh everything to the gram. Believe me that kind of diet is not enjoyable.
  2. When you cycle calories you never get used to an eating plan. Because of it you constantly think about food. The low calorie and carb days suck. You have to eat very little and you constantly feel deprived. You start to think of the high calorie days as some sort of reward. Looking at it from the outside it may be considered an eating disorder.
  3. I used to neglect my training because of it. You see, when you have badass diet you tend to think that will do everything for you. All your focus is on your diet and for that reason you’ll start to underestimate the role of training and progressive overload. Don’t believe me? Ask any obsessed nutrition guy how his training is going. I can guarantee 9 times of 10 he’s not doing jack in terms of strength progress.
  4. You cheat more often. So although your diet may be 5% superior to a linear intake, if you cheat often that actually makes it less effective than the more sustainable diet. That’s the truth and I’m sure you can relate to it.

This is how something that appears to be superior on paper becomes inferior in the real world.

I bet that someone sticking to a simple diet that he actually enjoys gets better results than someone obsessed with every little detail. It may sound counterintuitive but it’s true.

How I recommend you set up your cutting diet

So after all this talk about calorie and carb cycling I end up not recommending it. How funny right?

Let’s finally move on to the practical stuff and give you the actionable diet that I recommend you follow.

From my experience with my own body and working with a lot of people, the best diet you can follow for fat loss is this:

Calories for Fat Loss:

10-12 calories per lbs | 22-26 calories per kg
* I usually go with 11 cal per lbs or 24 cal per kg
** If you’re significantly overweight use lean body mass instead of total body mass


1g of protein per lbs | 2g of protein per kg
25% of calories from fat
the rest of calories from carbs

Eat this everyday in an Intermittent Fasting setup and you’ll lose fat like clockwork until you’re as lean as you want!

Too simple for you? Ha! I know that feeling. If you think that this is too simple to work, alright, keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll soon discover that simplicity is the key to success.

The Aggressive Fat Loss Program

This is the diet plan I’m using right now. Is it simple? You bet.

Here’s what I do on this plan:

  • eat the same macros every day
  • enjoy big kick-ass meals as well as desserts every day
  • train 3 time a week with low volume
  • no cardio except for walking

Sounds interesting?

Then learn more about the program here.


  1. Gabriel on September 4, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Salut Radu ! Imi poti da o parere in legatura cu six packul meu ? Unde sa iti las poza ?

    Scuze de deranj!

  2. Moonlight15 on September 4, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Salut ! Am abit si acum am 67 de kg,si m-am setat macro-nutrientii si kcal dupa aceste kg. Daca inmultesc cu 0.8 imi da mai multe kcal,si trebuie sa mananc mai multe kcal la aceeasi greutate. Cum sta treaba? Sa continui sa folosesc 67×33 inmultit cu 0.75?

    • Radu Antoniu on September 5, 2015 at 8:53 pm

      Da, poti face 67 x 33 si apoi x 0.80

      Cred ca ai putea sa folosesti un deficit mai mic de acum incolo.

      • Moonlight15 on September 6, 2015 at 7:41 am

        Intr-o luna jumatate se poate ajunge de la 10 % la 7-8 % ?

        • Radu Antoniu on September 8, 2015 at 9:47 am


          • Moonlight15 on September 8, 2015 at 4:53 pm

            Te deranjez iar… Ce zici? Este un 10 % ? In poze nu sunt incordat.

            P:S : Scuze pentru fata :))


            Prima poza nu cred ca te ajuta cu ceva, pentru ca nu este foarte clara, din greseala camera nu era setata la 8 MP.

          • Radu Antoniu on September 10, 2015 at 7:33 pm

            Super progres !

            Cred ca acum esti cam pe la 13%.

          • Moonlight15 on September 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm

            Wow… chiar asa de multa este? Inseamna ca mai am de stat la dieta un timp indelungat :))) 🙁

          • Radu Antoniu on September 10, 2015 at 7:54 pm

            Da, asa cred. Mi-am dat seama ca majoritatea oamenilor (inclusiv eu) subestimeaza cata grasime au de fapt 🙂

          • Moonlight15 on September 11, 2015 at 10:57 am

            Accelerez arderea daca fac cardio 2-4 sedinte/ saptamana, 15-20 minute( bicicleta) ?

          • Radu Antoniu on September 12, 2015 at 2:10 pm

            Arderea de grasimi depinde doar de deficitul caloric.

            Daca prin cardio maresti acel deficit, da, vei arde mai multa grasime 🙂

          • Moonlight15 on September 11, 2015 at 2:42 pm

            Si inca ceva…. Am vazut la tine un program a lui Greg de slabit, ceva in gen cun faci tu acum cu acea cafea neagra si apa in loc de mic-de-jun. Intrebarea mea este… Slabesti mai repede ?

          • Radu Antoniu on September 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

            Din nou, slabirea de grasime depinde doar de deficitul de calorii :))

            Modul cum mananci si alimentele pe care le alegi nu afecteaza asta.

            Motivul pentru care noi sarim peste micul dejun e pentru a putea manca mese mari in a doua jumatate a zilei fara sa depasim deficitul de calorii. Modul asta de a manca nu accelereaza slabirea, o face doar mai usoara.

          • Moonlight15 on September 11, 2015 at 3:11 pm

            Era vorba de The Aggresive Fat Loss.. Vreau sa scap de grasime cat mai repede. Si am decis sa urmez acest program… Am 64.5 kg si am 1596 kcal de slabit dupa calculele mele.

            P: 142 g
            G: 44 g
            C: 158 g

            De luni,cand incepe scoala vreau sa inlocuiesc micul de jun cu o cafea neagra + apa si dupa e ok sa mananc pe la 13:00-14:00 avand in vedere ca ma trezesc la ora 7?Am inteles ca toate mesele trebuie sa fie pana in ora 9. Cum as putea sa-mi imparta acei macro-nutrienti pe cele 3 mese corect? Am inteles ca aceasta metoda este mult mai eficienta si sunt dispus sa o incerc. Multumesc inca odata pentru atentia acordata si scuze daca am facut spam.

            Cu respect,Adrian !

          • Radu Antoniu on September 12, 2015 at 2:22 pm

            Salut Adrian!

            Da, ar merge foarte bine.

            Eu ti-as recomanda sa mananci cam 40% din calorii dupa scoala, o gustare (un mar, o inghetata, ciocolata, etc) la ora 5-6 si restul de calorii pe la ora 9.

      • Moonlight15 on September 12, 2015 at 10:05 am

        De exemplu azi. M-am trezit la ora 8, am baut apa cam 0,5-0,7 l. Am fost la cumparaturi, iar la ora 1 am mancat 160 g de mere. Peste 1-2 urmeaza sa iau prima masa (30-60 % din caloriile necesare) iar ultima masa sa fie pe la 7-8 sa fie cu cateva ore inainte de culcare.

        Cafea neagra se poate inlocui cu o cafea normala, Jacobs de exemplu in care pot pune doar putin zahar? Eu acum trebuie sa mananc 1596 kcal, astea trebuie impartite in 2 mese nu, iar prima masa de regula sa fie cea mai mare.

        • Radu Antoniu on September 12, 2015 at 2:33 pm

          Da, e perfect asa.

      • Moonlight on September 12, 2015 at 3:04 pm

        Deci cum ar veni sa mut gustarea de dupa perioada aia de 4-6 ore in care nu mananc si sa o pun dupa prima masa? Suna interesant. Multumesc de ajutor ! Cafeaua nu o mai pun la socoteala cand imi calculez macro-nutrientii nu?

        • Radu Antoniu on September 16, 2015 at 7:52 pm

          Da, pot incerca asa.

          Cafeauna nu o pui la socoteala.

  3. Nick Henao on September 5, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Hey Radu. I really like your blog and youtube channel. I am starting my own blog very soon but i am looking for a good website to use for the blog. What software is this website because I like the format?
    Thank you.

    • Radu Antoniu on September 5, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Hey Nick!

      Thanks !

      My site is built on wordpress.

  4. Drew on September 6, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Hey Radu….

    Do you train fasted when cutting? If you do… do you take bcca or hmb(as suggested by Mike Mathew’s)?

    Also what are your thoughts on fasted vs fed training when eating at maintence or in a slight surplus?

    • Radu Antoniu on September 10, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Hey Drew!

      I usually train around 4-7 pm, after 1 or 2 meals.

      For cutting fasted training may be superior. The hormonal status is supportive of fat oxidation during that time.

      From my personal experience fed training is better for muscle gains. I find I can push myself harder if I ate something before training. So when lean bulking I train fed.

      But other people are completely different. For example Greg does most of his workouts fasted without taking BCAA and he makes gains no problem.

  5. Cristi on September 13, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Salut, Radu! Fac sala aproape de 1 an si fac exercitii in stil piramida inversa ca tine. De ceva timp am vorbit cu un prieten si el imi spune sa numai fac cu impins cu bara cu greutate asa mare pentru ca imi voi strica articulatiile chiar si umarul. El imi spune sa fac cu ganterele e mai sigur, el face cu bara pentru ca se duce la concursuri. Sincer nu stiu ce sa zic parca pieptul il simt mai bine cu bara intr-adevar e mai greu decat cu gantere, iar cand fac cu bara avansez si la gantere invers nu. Oare ce sa fac? Apropo la impins cu inclinat este normal sa ridici mai putin ca cel din orizontal?

    • Radu Antoniu on September 15, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Salut Cristi,

      Daca faci corect impins la piept nu iti vei accidenta umerii. Trebuie sa-ti tii coatele aproape de corp in timpul miscarii iar spatele sa iti fie arcuit. Uite aici un tutorial.

      Cu gantere e mult mai greu sa progesezi pentru ca nu poti mari greutate decat cu 2.5kg minim pe brat. E un salt foarte mare.

      Da, e normal sa ridici mai putin la cel la inclinat. E cu 15-20% mai greu decat cel orizontal.

  6. Robin on November 7, 2015 at 4:42 am

    Hi Radu,

    First of all thank’s for that great article. It is always fun to read them and they are all packed with scientific information. I am a Boxer and i Do full body strenght training 2-3 times a week. I am on 88kg with about 15 percent of bodyfat and my height is 1,81 m.I am currently on your slightly changed afl approach. It is going great and the results are amazing. Never thought beeing in a deficit could be this enjoyable. As you can imagine i want to drop one weight class and loosing fat instead of muscle is prefered. Now i am concerned that i might overdo it. Cause i practise boxing also 3 times a week for 1,5 hours which is of course one hell of a cardio exercise. But i would still consider myself pretty big compared to taller fighters in my devision.Now here Comes the question. Would you try to cut down the cardio for the cutting time to fewer sessions or would you upper your calories on the cardio days? Which way would you consider the best to prevent muscle loss? Thank’s for your great help so far and keep up the great work. You are doing awesome.

    Greetings from germany, munich


    • Radu Antoniu on November 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Hey Robin,

      I answered your question on the other article.

      If you are a boxer, I would assume training for boxing is essential for your performance. Keep doing what you’re doing if you are still progressing in the gym or maintaining your strength.

      I think that if you keep the deficit in check, 2-3 hours of cardio per week won’t affect muscle retention.

  7. Kathy on January 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Radu, thanks for you article on this subject. Very helpful as I was on about my 50th calculation of macros and about to lose my mind. Is this calc for universal – women and men or would you change it for a woman? I started weightlifting 6 mos. ago after an injury. Been working with a trainer 2x’s per week. I’ve lost 20 lbs and feel so much better!!! I wouldn’t want to lose more than maybe 5 more lbs but really want to work on strength now and not feeling so depleted on many days. My trainer’s plan has been – 1250 cals, 4 days of weights (which I have insisted on vs. 2 days of weights with him, I do two on my own), 6 days of 30-45 min cardio. The cardio hurts my knee so I’ve been wanting to reduce cardio and hopefully have more energy/strength for weights. I struggle most days to stay under 1350 cals and usually hit 1500 on weekends. I’m drained and waking at night hungry. But I’ve wondered if this was just the deficit and therefore a sign to stay the course? I think I’ve found enough sites that have indicated 1250 is too low as you suggest above. Do you have thoughts on cardio? I’m doing two days each of upper & lower splits now for weight training. Do you recommend re feed days? I will look through your other articles but any pointers would be really appreciated!

    Thanks tons!!!

    p.s. 5’6″ 43 years old, about 26% BF a couple of months ago but have gotten somewhat leaner since.

    • Radu Antoniu on January 17, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Hey Kathy!

      Wow you are really dedicated! I appreciate that a lot and I think you’d actually do much better if you used all that willpower to better manage your diet instead of doing cardio. If you’re in a deficit you’re going to lose fat.

      6 days of cardio per week is overkill. 2-3 hours of cardio per week is about the maximum I would recommend.

      Yes the calculations in the article apply to both men and women.

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