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Calorie and Carb Cycling Instead of Deficit?

Instead of just a basic caloric deficit type cut, I plan on trying calorie and carb cycling for more of a recomp vs. a cut. Everything I can find on the subject suggests carbs high on training days (morning, peri-workout) which makes sense but they also say that calories will be high on training days.

My question is, wouldn’t it make sense, if I want to still build some muscle, to make calories high starting after training (I train at night, 3x per week) and throughout the first off day to have an anabolic response to my training session? Protein will be high all days and fat will remain fairly consistent.

Thanks for any suggestions.

If this is something you really want to get into, I suggest reading up on AMPK/mTOR. And here’s a worthwhile read, https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/maximize-protein-synthesis Furthermore, https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/carb-cycling-codex contains some insight into carb cycling when you train in the afternoon/night (depending on how you define it). Similar take, https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/carb-cycling-that-actually-works

If you are trying to recomp, I’d say don’t run your rest days as high calorie days.

Also, how you train, and how often you train, will matter more here. If you can train at a higher frequency, your recompositioning will go faster. You can still cycle your carbs, running on virtually no carbs on off-days, some carbs on upper-body days/strength days/athletic days, and even more carbs on lower-body hypertrophy days.

Here are an additional two articles I feel are worth reading on the subject,

Perfect, thank you!

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Also, carb cycling is “advanced”, it’s not for everyone. You can have results with out it. If you are a beginner, I’d argue just being in a deficit is enough. However, if you find that tinkering and experimenting is motivating for you then have at it.

Basically I want to cut, but I hate the idea of “wasting” hard work in the gym on “only” fat loss. I’m going to be switching up my training also and figure that’ll also be a waste of lots of new stimulii that could be building muscle.

Then maybe something like https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/the-matador-intermittent-diet could be up your ally. But, really, there is no wasting hard work in the gym. Fat loss isn’t driven by the exercise you do, but by the caloric deficit you are in. Usually, the strength loss people experience when dieting is a result of their leverages changing and it will return once the fat that they’ve lost is replaced with muscle.

I lost 25 kilos this year and added 20 kilos to my deadlift during that time. I didn’t do everything perfectly, made several mistakes in fact, and still I wouldn’t say any of the work was wasted. As long as you learn from the experience, it cannot truly be wasted.

It’s worth playing around with these things if it motivates you, as simple deficits can be too boring for some folks. I’ve experimented with almost every protocol known to man and plenty work. I’ll say this, if you drop enough fat and glycogen your strength will drop. It’s easy to interpret that as a loss of muscle and give up. Don’t do that and persevere.


If you want to drop fat/cut then do that, focus on that. Trying to recomp will be wasting time. Get to a comfortable set point and then focus on building muscle.

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Since my Fiance will be dieting with me, I’ve decided to keep it simple. Total calories and grams of protein will dictate other macros. On training days I’ll replace veggies with jasmine rice and will eat a bit above maintenance in the 24 hour period immediately following training. All other times will be low carb, below maintenance calories.

If you train 3x a week this means that you will be above maintenance almost half of the week. This is not conducive to fat loss or rapid body transformation. Just so that you are aware


Just trust me on this.

Provided you work hard enough, your hard work in the gym will not be wasted. You CAN keep your muscles and even add a little bit if you train frequently enough, hard enough, and keep protein high and carbs just high enough to allow some recovery to happen.

I dieted for two months training five days a week and doing cardio seven days a week. Every single day I was at a deficit. And while I can’t tell if I added muscle, you can definitely tell I didn’t lose any. I wouldn’t recommend that you do that, it sucked major ass, I just want you to know that it’s possible.

Push hard in the gym, keep some carbs around your workout, go heavy and go heavy often, and your efforts won’t be wasted.

Maybe I can garner this from your log but how much cardio did you do? At what intensity? Are we talking walks (LISS) for forty minutes at 110bpm or running/treadmill/bike/Ergometer at 120-140bpm for 20 minutes? Also, what’s your activity level otherwise? I bike to and from work everyday which is like 15-20 minutes each way in the summer and 30-40 now depending on how much snow there is. Where your workouts UB/LB or push-pull-legs?

I was initially told to just do 30 minutes of steady state a day, but after about ten days I was to the point of having a panic attack just thinking about cardio so I switched things up from day to day.

For the first weeks, I did 30 minutes on the treadmill, then I started doing a 30 minute run around the gym after my workouts just to make it a tad less boring. Eventually I was bored to death so I started using the stationary bike and once or twice a week doing hill sprints. I wish I had an actual bike but mine is broken.

For the last weeks I could barely train so I started doing 1 to two hour walks every day instead of running or doing anything intense. Iirc, I still did sprints once or twice during that period.

The bottom line is, my coach told me the type of cardio wasn’t as important as it was doing something that would help create a deficit in energy. I know that running is probably better than walking for fat loss, but I still walked for the most part because I hate running whereas I cal walk for hours on end without tiring which ultimately creates a bigger expenditure.

I woke up at 7, was at school from 8 to 14, slept for an hour, went out with friends from 16 to 18, went home, then trained from 21 to 22, went home, and went bed at around midnight. I tried to sneak in as much moving around as possible, especially during the afternoons. I mentioned it in my log: I actively tried to combat the reduction in NET by trying to always do somthing. I don’t know how much of an effect this had, but fact is I tried to stay as busy as possible at all times.

It was a push legs pull five times a week. Legs only trained once per week.

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Since we’re talking about training for fat loss, I want to share a thought I’ve had for a long while.

So the common recommendation is that people should train “heavy while cutting to avoid muscle loss.” Somehow this is made sound like the only way to keep muscle is to never go above maybe six reps with the heaviest weight possible during a cut. The rationale is that you have to signal your muscles that they are “still needed.”

I don’t buy into this. The people who say this are extremely inconsistent in my opinion because they are the same ones who say that “muscles only know tension, not the weight on the bar.” I have also heard these people saying, “what builds muscle keeps muscle.” Do you only do triples to build muscle?

In my opinion, you CAN go high reps to keep muscle so long as you’re going as heavy as the rep range will allow. Muscles know effort. And if you do a set of 15 to true failure, there is no way your muscles haven’t done work. What do you think, your muscles will go, “oh we just shit a kidney doing this set of presses but the reps were above ten so we’re free to disappear now”?

The program I followed during my cut was centered around reps from eight to 15. Right. No set was under eight reps. And most were 10-15. There were even two sets of 100 reps!
But I can tell you that my 15 reps sets felt heavy from the first one and toward the 12th rep I needed all my mental strength to complete another three.

This has taught me most of this is in our heads. Train HARD, like genuinely hard, knowing you did the best you could ask out of yourself, and you’ll succeed.

I get it when people say that light weight doesn’t keep or build muscle. So what? Light weight high reps doesn’t work, and neither does light weight low reps. We need to stop thinking about light and heavy the way a scale would. If I do 100 reps with the 5 kg plate on front raises, rest assured that weight will feel HEAVY AS FUCK. So when you hear heavy weight high reps don’t think in terms of heavy as in “high 1rm%,” but more like “I’m about to do twelve reps with a weight that feels challenging from the very first rep.”

I agree with what you are saying. My counterpoint is that I’d rather train heavy when in a deficit than bust out sets of 10-20 reps.

But, I’d argue that the latter might help the fat loss process more as you’ll certainly be glycogen depleted that way whereas if you go heavy you might just be relying on ATP to fuel the movement. Which might not necessarily be a bad thing as you can potentially cut out intra-workout carbs completely then and thus have lower insulin levels overall than you would have otherwise.

Furthermore, to do a heavy set of 3 is less mentally taxing than a set of 8 and you might need that mental willpower for something else like work or keeping more disciplined with your diet. Depends on the kind of person you are I’d reckon.

You make some interesting points. I believe there is an element of ‘jumping on band wagons’ when people start talking about ‘fat loss training’, because there is a tendency to think about the popular 1980s linear periodisation model where drug-induced athletes started doing sets of 25 reps, etc.

As another poster comments, when on low calories/carbs, training in the strength zone has its merits as it becomes achievable to stick with high frequency training using such a low volume approach.

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Completely agreed. In fact I’d only do five reps on every exercise if it were for me. High rep sets are fucking painful. But there is no denying of their effectiveness and that’s why I keep doing them (and apparently my coach feels the same because both my cutting program and the one I’m currently doing are centered around high reps and in particular beating rep pr’s).

Yes, but depleting muscle glycogen also increases muscle insulin sensitivity, so an insulin spike would be desirable. In my opinion, so long as energy deficit is the same, a bigger energy flux (both greater energy in and greater energy out) leads to better results.

I agree. Getting ready for a heavy set of 6 is one thing. You focus on pushing a few hard and strong reps and that’s it. Above ten reps things are different. Lactic acid starts to set in and it’s difficult to contract muscles, pain makes it harder to keep going, oxygen isn’t enough anymore, and even doing one more rep is hard as hell even if you do have the strength. Last but not least, the set lasts longer.

The most painful thing I’ve ever done is Christian thibaudeau’s growth factor giant sets for shoulders.

Seconded. Again, I did high frequency, high volume training on low carbs and toward the last weeks it sucked seriously bad.

I don’t think I’m ever running a straight diet again for what it’s worth. A deficit everyday for sure, but vary carbs depending on the intensity of the workout. Keep workouts brief and intense (I’d rather lift everyday than have to have “rest” days with ESW because they’re mindless to me. Or, translate ESW to metcon/complexes/ab shredder).

I’d run hard deficits for two-to-three weeks (starting with the former, if it works then great, otherwise the latter) followed by one-to-two weeks maintenance (preferably the former). Same thing with training, I’d start out just doing strength work during these phases but if my recomp is taking too long then I’d go Lyle McDonald style and kill my glycogen stores with volume work.

Matador study seems interesting but being on maintenance for 2 weeks seems a a bit counterproductive. What do you guys think about being on a calorie deficit of 75% of maintenance for 3 weeks, cycling carbs and fats on training and non-training days, keeping proteing high all the time and then being on maintenance calories for a week.

I’ll tell you what, I would rather do it that way too, but at the same time the nightmare I put myself through worked so well for me that I’d be scared to try anything different!

For one, I’d never gotten those results dieting IIFMM style, but on the other hand I think I might have made some major mistakes when I was dieting by myself. My deficit probably wasn’t big enough, I hardly did anything to increase my “energy out” side of the equation, and most likely I didn’t stick with it for long enough. But most important, I wasn’t strict enough and had too many “unplabned” meals.

I am a little bit scared of trying a new approach, but next time I have to lose fat I’d much rather go “sprint style,” dropping calories by a lot and only doing it for a short period of time. It saddens me a bit to know that my coach is strongly against this approach though.

So you took my advice and read his works :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: