You’ve heard a lot of negative things about carbs lately. And it’s true that eating them in excess is not a good thing for any fit guy trying to trim up for summer. But there is a case for keeping some carbs in your diet. Especially if you’re an endurance athlete training for something like a marathon or Iron Man. Another popular trend in nutrition these days has to do with intermittent fasting—where you fast for hours at a time and then eat all your food in a smaller window. 

Carb cycling is a way of eating that sort of hits notes from both of these methods. We talked to celeb trainer Chris Powell, author of Extreme Transformation: Lifelong Weight Loss in 21 Days, who is a devoted carb cycler, to talk about what it is, why you should try it, and what you eat.

“Not only do I use carb cycling for all of our clients, but I have carb cycled for years with incredible results," says Powell. “It is totally customizable based on your needs and goals, but beyond the physiological benefits of this designed way of eating, it also allows you to enjoy a lot of different foods and meal combinations (bread, rice, and pasta on high carb days…and fattier foods like bacon, cheese, and peanut butter on low carb days) that you don’t get to enjoy when following a mono-structural low carb or low fat diet.”

What is carb cycling?

Essentially, you alternate between days eating high carb/low fat meals and days where you sick to low carb/higher fat meals. High carb days are slightly higher in calories as well, and designed to help boost metabolic rate, replenish liver and muscle glycogen stores and aid in protein synthesis (muscle building). 

“The high and low carb days can be combined in multiple variations based upon the goals of the individual,” says Powell. 

If you're new to carb cycling, try this pattern:
Low
High
High
Low 
High
High

And if you want to speed things up switch to this pattern:
Low
Low
High
Low
Low
High

Why you should try it

"Carb cycling has actually been used in the fitness industry for decades as a powerful way to maximize fat loss while sparing lean muscle and preventing a metabolic crash and subsequent rebound," says Powell. "Low carb days are designed to put the body into an abrupt calorie deficit from the high carb day, which leads to the body mobilizing and oxidizing fat," says Powell.  "However, by also removing carbohydrates, it forces the body to release catabolic hormones which accelerates the rate at which the body mobilizes fat for oxidation." What's more, this way of eating helps prevent you from ever feeling deprived or restricted since you can eat lots of different types of foods (more on that on the next page). That means you'll be more likely to stick to the plan rather than crash dieting and failing.

Here's what a typical high carb and low carb day looks like for Powell:

What to eat on a high-carb day

Breakfast: Vanilla Protein Shake blended with almond milk and ice
Whole Wheat Bagel toasted - with a little bit of peanut butter
(NOTE: Breakfast is a balanced meal with protein, carbs and fats)

Snack: Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt (sweetened with stevia) & Banana

Lunch: Extra Lean Ground Turkey with Steamed Jasmine Rice & marinara sauce

Snack: Chocolate Protein Shake blended with rolled oats, almond milk, and ice

Dinner: Tuna and Low Fat Macaroni & Cheese (just don’t add the butter when mixing in the powdered cheese)

What to eat on a low-carb day

Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs on Whole wheat english muffin
(NOTE: Breakfast is a balanced meal with protein, carbs and fats)

Snack: Protein Shake & Mixed Nuts

Lunch: Chicken Salad w/ Ranch Dressing

Snack: Deli Turkey, Cheese, avocado roll up

Dinner: Salmon & Grilled Brussel Sprouts

*These numbers are recommended by Powell. 

Low body fat: under 10% body fat
HIGH-CARB DAYS (in grams)
1.2x Body weight in protein
2x Bodyweight in carbs
1/4 Bodyweight in fats

LOW-CARB DAYS 
1.2x Bodyweight in protein 
1/4 bodyweight in carbs 
3/4 Bodyweight in fats 

Moderate body fat: 11-20% body fat
HIGH-CARB DAYS (in grams)
Bodyweight in protein 
1.5x Bodyweight in carbs 
1/5 Bodyweight in fats

LOW-CARB DAYS 
Bodyweight in protein 
1/5 bodyweight in carbs 
1/2 Bodyweight in fats 

Higher body fat: 20%+ body fat
HIGH-CARB DAYS
3/4 Bodyweight in protein 
1x Bodyweight in carbs 
1/6 Bodyweight in fats

LOW-CARB DAYS 
3/4 Bodyweight in protein 
1/6 bodyweight in carbs 
1/4 Bodyweight in fats