Carb Cycling: Lose Fat And Build Muscle At The Same Time?

Use Carb Cycling To Lose Fat And Build Muscle
Everyone knows you can't build muscle and lose fat at the same time, right? Learn how to maximize carbohydrate intake so you have a chance at adding mass while leaning out.

Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.

Are you tired of training your butt off to add every ounce of muscle you possibly can and then turning around and dieting it all off? It’s an extremely daunting task to try and pack on some muscle and build an impressive physique all the while risking losing it all for the sake of getting lean.

No matter what time of year it is, getting and keeping a lean, muscular physique is the goal of most people reading this. But how do you go about accomplishing what seems to be just beyond your reach?

You want to build muscle and lose fat. Period!

You’ve probably heard the old saying that you have to choose between gaining muscle and losing fat. The two just can’t be done simultaneously - the local gym know-it-all thinks he is just “telling it like it is.”

This belief is so vested in gyms everywhere that no one even attempts to prove it wrong. Let it be written, let it be done!

What if I were to tell you that it’s not only possible, but easy to execute requiring just a little planning and know-how? Can you build some appreciable muscle while losing that extra baggage in the meantime? Heck yeah! Just don’t tell your local gym know-it-all.

The breakdown

The giant 800 pound gorilla in the room is diet. Everyone knows they need to manipulate their eating habits, but few actually take the necessary action required to significantly create change. Below is a breakdown of the three vital macronutrients that encompasses this plan to build muscle and strip away fat and finally reveal your vision of one impressive physique.

Shredded ManProtein: What can’t be said about the importance of proper protein intake that hasn’t already? Comprised of the building blocks of protein, amino acids are crucial to the growth and development of muscle tissue, protein synthesis and even fat loss. This plan calls for you to eat approximately 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Let’s take a sample individual that weighs 200 pounds. This would equate to 200 to 300 grams. Starting on the low side is recommended when beginning the diet. Good sources are read meats, chicken, fish, eggs, beef jerky, Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese and protein powders.

Fat: Essential for not only heart, circulatory and joint health, healthy fat is essential for hormone regulation which will subsequently help with fat loss and muscle growth. The days of fat being the bad guy are over. However, since fat has over twice the calories as protein and carbohydrate careful consideration must be taken with amounts.

Fat in this diet will be used to offset any calorie restriction from carbs as they aid in energy and satiety. Good sources include avocado, all kinds of nuts, olive oil, natural peanut and almond butters, sunflower seeds and egg yolk.

Carbohydrate: Carbs will be your X factor during this diet. By manipulating its intake, carbs will have a significant effect on insulin levels, blood-sugar and energy all the while creating a fat burning, muscle growing experience. Careful consideration will be taken regarding consumption amounts and training day and intensity.

Strategically cycling throughout the week will keep your furnace burning and give you just enough to build lean muscle mass. Good sources are white and brown rice, white and sweet potatoes, 100% whole wheat bread, Ezekiel bread, vegetables, some fruits and whole grain pasta.

Let’s get it on!

Now, let’s delve into manipulating these macronutrients to our advantage. Burning fat and building muscle is the name of the game so let’s take a look at how each of these plays their unique role in the diet.

Protein intake will remain relatively unchanged throughout the diet. The only caveat would be to increase it slightly if gains are stalling. A good route to take is to go from 1 gram per pound of bodyweight to 1.25 grams. You can further increase this to 1.5 grams if you still feel you need to kick start your muscle-gaining efforts.

Fats will vary slightly relative to carb intake. Your baseline will be .25 grams per pound of bodyweight or roughly 20-30% of total daily calories. So, for our 200 pound individual example, he will need 50 grams per day as a baseline. On low carb days you can increase healthy fats by 50% to curtail any loss of energy and to preserve hormone function for those intense workouts.

Carbohydrate will be the most manipulated macronutrient on this diet plan. You will have low, medium and high carb days depending on number of training days and intensity levels. A low day will consist of an intake of .5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Your low days will be rest days from the gym and cardio-only days (or light activity).

A medium day will consist of an intake of 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight and they will fall on regular training days for the upper body. High carb days will take you to 2.25 grams per pound of bodyweight and be reserved for high intensity workouts such as a heavy leg day or a prolonged and intense bout of weight training such as a full body routine or extra HIIT training.

The low days will force your body to tap into its fat stores for energy. After a length of time your metabolism will start taking a hit and need a few extra calories to rev back up. Medium and high days are installed to help refuel glycogen stores and get the furnace burning once again and help support muscle gain.

Woman Doing Pushups

Let’s look at our example from above one more time

200 pounds of bodyweight:
  • Low carb day: 100 grams
  • Medium carb day: 300 grams
  • High carb day: 450 grams
Troubleshooting
  • If fat loss is stalling after a few weeks, add in a few more low and/or medium carb days.
  • On low carb days, don’t forget to increase healthy fats – but just slightly.
  • If you feel muscle gains are plateauing, increase protein to 1.25 and then 1.5 later on.
  • If you have sensitivity toward carbs limit your high carb day to one day per week and increase fats.

Muscle building, fat torching sample diet plan (amounts are approximated for a 200 pound individual)

Low Carbohydrate Days

Meal 1
  • 3 eggs and 4 egg whites
  • ½ cup oatmeal (dry measure)
  • Cinnamon for taste
  • 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter
Meal 2
Meal 3
  • 6-8 ounces of meat, fish or chicken
  • Green salad with 3 tablespoons of olive oil dressing
Meal 4 (pre-workout)
  • ½ of an apple or banana
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder mixed in water
Meal 5 (post-workout)
  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder mixed in water
Meal 6
  • 6-8 ounces of meat, fish or chicken
  • Broccoli, green beans or peas or green salad with ½ avocado

Cable Laterals

Medium Carbohydrate Days

Meal 1
  • 3 eggs and 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup oatmeal (dry measure)
  • Cinnamon for taste
  • 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter
Meal 2
  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder mixed in water or 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 ounce of almonds
  • 1 apple
Meal 3
  • 6-8 ounces of turkey with two slices of wheat bread and 1 tablespoon of light mayonnaise
  • Green salad with 2 tablespoons of olive oil dressing
Meal 4 (pre-workout)
  • 1 banana or apple
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder mixed in water
Meal 5 (post-workout)
  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder mixed in water
  • 8 ounces of Gatorade
Meal 6
  • 6-8 ounces of meat, fish or chicken
  • Broccoli, green beans or peas or green salad with ¼ avocado
  • 1 cup of wild rice cooked

Dumbbell Bench Press

High Carbohydrate Days

Meal 1
  • 3 eggs and 4 egg whites
  • 1 ½ cup oatmeal (dry measure)
  • Cinnamon for taste
  • ½ tablespoon of natural peanut butter
Meal 2
  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder mixed in water or 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 ounce of almonds
  • 1 apple
Meal 3
  • 6-8 ounces of fish
  • Green salad with 2 tablespoons of olive oil dressing
  • 1 ½ cup of wild rice cooked
Meal 4 (pre-workout)
  • 1 banana or apple
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder mixed in water
Meal 5 (post-workout)
  • 2 scoops of whey protein powder mixed in water
  • 12 ounces of Gatorade
Meal 6
  • 6-8 ounces of meat, fish or chicken
  • Broccoli, green beans or peas or green salad with ¼ avocado
  • 1 medium sweet potato
4.4 STARS
8 VOTES
RATE THIS
About The Author
Brad has a Master's degree in Kinesiology and is a strength and conditioning specialist, military veteran, cancer survivor and Associate Editor at Muscle & Strength.

29 Comments+ Post Comment

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 03/26/2015 - 14:21
Chris

Hey brad, on the days I don't lift is it all right to not consume any carbs?

BradBorland's picture
Posted Fri, 03/27/2015 - 10:44
BradBorland

Hi Chris, I would get in a few carbs for recovery purposes....

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 03/17/2015 - 11:44
Chris

What am I supposed to do if I have a slow metabolism? If I ate this much food I would gain weight for certain. I have always found that I need to eat about 1500 calroies a day to lose weight. I am a man and I know this is low but it's the only way I have found. Maybe it's just because I am getting into my late 30's. I just try to eat as much protein and greens as I can and keep it at 1500.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/16/2015 - 15:45
Alison

Hi Brad, I am very excited to start this meal plan within the next few days. I am a beginner at 190 lb, trying to lose fat and gain muscle. Can you please refer me to a workout that will be a good match for this plan, or give me an example? I have one in mind, but I want to make sure that my fat loss goal with be met if I combine the 2. Thanks!

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 01/15/2015 - 07:46
Sharon

Hi I just came across your article which is great! I've been researching carb cycling and your plan is perfect! I just need to know how to set up the plan. Should it be Day 1 - Low Carb; Day 2 - Med Carb; Day 3: High Carb then repeat? I am at 196 lbs and want to lose weight/fat and tone up.

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 01/06/2015 - 22:47
Thomas

do I use olive oil when cooking my fish chicken etc? Or will that throw off my fat macro?

No Profile Pic
Posted Tue, 11/11/2014 - 13:37
Leslie

I am totally new at this, how can i figure out how many calories, etc for a female 148 pounds? Thank you so much.

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 10/30/2014 - 07:54
Vic

Brad,
I was calculating my protein intake based on the numbers you mentioned in the article. It seems feasible. Just one question. What would my calorie intake be if I weigh 270 lbs. I am looking to come down to at least 210. But I don't want to build muscle over fat I want to shed the fat and build muscle after that.

No Profile Pic
Posted Wed, 10/22/2014 - 12:27
Dev

Is this wild rice measured after you cook it Brad ?Because its a lot if its before

No Profile Pic
Posted Sun, 03/30/2014 - 10:48
GeezerDude

What impact would this plan have on someone who is border line diabetic and having to limit carb intake?

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 03/13/2014 - 09:31
vijesh

Before and after workout we take protien cause acidic is it true?coz protien is acidic

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 03/13/2014 - 09:30
vijesh

Hey brad u suggested protien shake before and after workout but the prblm is u know protien is acid if it take more it cause acidic.more protien cause more acidic

No Profile Pic
Posted Sun, 03/09/2014 - 09:52
Regi

Hi,

I have a question about meal #1.
Do I have to mix everything in a mixer or should I eat them separate?

Thank you,
Regi.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/10/2014 - 16:31
Brad

Regi,
Separate. Thanks!

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 03/01/2014 - 01:34
Willems

Hey Brad,
Will you come to my gym and lift my weights for me? I feel like that would really up my rep count. Get a way better pump with you there bud. Also, like Rakan asked, will you make me a customized diet plan? Keep in mind I don't like cheese. Awesome. Can't wait to get it!
P.S. Can you teach me that "clean the snatch" move I've heard about? Hear it's a great full body exercise.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/10/2014 - 16:30
Brad

Willems, ha! I see what you did there.... : )

No Profile Pic
Posted Fri, 02/28/2014 - 18:42
edwin

How do i know which days to eat what? I barely starting working out and work out monday -Frida, wednesday i do cardio.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 02/24/2014 - 20:33
Shawn

Should diet be adjusted for current weight or desired weight?

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/10/2014 - 16:29
Brad

Hi Shawn, current weight...

No Profile Pic
Posted Thu, 05/08/2014 - 00:06
umang

You have to start at the you are at now, subsequently as you gain weight over the period of time, adjust your intake count as per the weight you are on. Keeping a tab on what you are and what you do is what you have do.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 02/24/2014 - 20:11
muggs

I'll try it for a month

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 02/24/2014 - 20:01
Shawn

Do I plan the diet around current weight or desired weight?

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/22/2014 - 13:53
Kari

Hi Brad, will this program work for females as well? I was assuming this was for men. I want to lose fat and gain muscle but not doing it for a competition, just doing it for me.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/10/2014 - 16:27
Brad

Hi Kari,
Absolutely! Just adjust the calories for your body weight.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 02/10/2014 - 03:26
Rakan

Hi Brad,
I am working out in the morning time. How would I adjust this menue to fit my time and body needs?

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 03/10/2014 - 16:27
Brad

Raken, I have just the thing for that question. Check out my author profile and there you will find an article I just wrote about eating and training times...

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/08/2014 - 04:05
Simon

Brad what about calorie intake during all of this? Are you varying that per day and trying to keep in a calorie defecit (based on individuals maintenance level) or calorie surplus?

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/08/2014 - 08:19
Brad

Hi Simon,
Once you determine your macros the calories take care of themselves. Just focus on specific levels of proteins, carbs and fats. It should mostly be a calorie deficit.

No Profile Pic
Posted Sun, 02/16/2014 - 17:13
Bart

So since your carbs are up the down due to the different carbs about per day your calories would be up and down as well correct? Or should should you still go for -500 calories deficit (e.g. be at 2700) and everyday be of that calories amount just adjust fat and carbs around that?