How to Determine Optimal Carb Cycling?

Hello everyone!

I (24F) am 176cm and my current weight is 94kg (down from 112kg since May 2022)
And I want to ask about carb cycling, and what is the optimal way to approach this.

For now I follow the 5x5 Stronglifts progam (which I know is not ideal for weight loss, but I want to keep as much muscle as I can). So it means I have 3 days of “heavy training followed by 20 mins of cardio.” + 1 accessory training (usually upper body). I am also looking to incorporate 1 hour of cardio 2 times a week.

While my goal now is to lose some more weight afterwards I would love to build bigger glutes and tights.

My question is do any of you have experience with carb cycling because as while I tried to do four days of 50g/100g/150g/50g wave the progress has slowed down since. And on the internet I found basically widely different ranges/lenghts of this program. Is there any way to determine what may be more optimal for me?

Thanks for any tips!

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How long have you been following Stronglifts? It’s effectively an intensification block of training, so it’s going to have a limited window of effectiveness, and once you move on to a full program it’d be easier to determine carb cycling days.

Ultimately, it’s a question of what you are “using” the carbs for. If the intent is fuel for training, you’d want the higher carb days to be the day BEFORE the heavy training. If the intent is for recovery FROM trainnig, you’d put the carbs ON the training day.

Thanks for the reply. Could you tell me what do you mean by full program?
I would like to hear if you have any full training programs that you would recommend.

Also have been doing stronglifts for 1 and half months now.

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By a full program, I mean one that ISN’T just an intensification block like Stronglifts. A full program will include a variety of rep ranges, assistance work, conditioning, jumps/throws/athletics, etc.

5/3/1 is probably the simplest program I know of. Jim has it set up really well. Plus in the numbers, run a 5/3/1 program for 2-5 cycles, then pick a new one.

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Could you give me a link, if you have any for the 5/3/1 in combination with carb cycling? I am unsure how I would combine it.


The good news is your lifting program matters so little for weight loss as to be negligible. This gives you a ton of freedom to choose what works for you. As you get really deep into a cut, you may have to make lifting decisions based on recovery, but most of us never really get that far.

Perfect thought process!

May I ask then why you want to carb cycle? If you were more successful without, and it adds additional complexity, why bother playing that card?

To your question of whether we’ve used it, I personally have. It’s far more trouble than it’s worth until (which I’ve only done like twice) I get to like 200g carbs for the week; in that case, cycling them lets me actually eat something starchy a couple times a week and slightly breaks the “feel like crap” cycle. Other than in that case, I don’t think it’s worth it.

You look to be averaging 100g carbs a day, which may be a rock solid place to be. There’s no reason, in my mind, you can’t keep kicking ass eating that daily. What’s the rest of your diet like?

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Well, again, I’d need to know what your purpose is for the carbs. 5/3/1 has 2 heavy days: the squat and the deadlift day. You’d either eat your high carb days the day before those days, to perform your best, or the day OF those days, to recover your best.

Thanks for your reply!

Personally I wanted to try carb cycling to aid with weight loss.

Most of the weight I lost at the beginning was because I had 6 days of less than 40g carbs and 1 normal day. But that is not something I feel is sustainable now, as I want to also lift.

For the rest of the diet, what I seem to be struggling the most with is the amount of fats I should be eating as I believe this is where the loss of progress comes from.

Do you have any tips on the amount of fats I should be eating on the high/low carb day?

So if I want to use the carb to aid the recovery, my high carb day should be on the heavy lifting day, am I correct?

Also do you have any tips on the amount/distribution of carbs during the cycle?

How many calories are you eating right now?

There’s a couple ways to do it:

  1. Eat higher calories on your high carb days, so your fats don’t change much (if at all).

  2. Keep calories the same by reducing fats significantly on the high carb days.

Again, I don’t think you really need to cycle carbs (ever, but certainly at this point), but if it’s more sustainable for you go for it.

I’d figure out a weekly average calories and go from there.

Super easy starting numbers (all based on grams per lbs bodyweight) below. Keep in mind this is a starting point; no matter what you’ll have to adjust.

Assuming weight loss is the goal:

  • 12 calories per lbs
  • 1 gram of protein
  • .4 grams of fat
  • The rest is carbs

So, for you (rounding for simplicity and because this isn’t a chemistry experiment),

  • 2500 calories
  • 200g protein
  • 85g fat
  • 235g carbs

Then you’d just set that as your average day and subtract or add to hit high/ low days.

So if you’re doing 3 heavy days, one accessory day, and 3 conditioning days, you could do the following (protein/ fat stay the same):

  • Monday (heavy lift): 335g carbs
  • Tuesday (cardio): 135g carbs
  • Wednesday (heavy lift): 335g carbs
  • Thursday (cardio): 135g carbs
  • Friday (heavy lift): 335g carbs
  • Saturday (accessory): 235g carbs
  • Sunday (cardio): 135g carbs

Now I think you’re already eating less than that, so you could run the above calculation at 10 calories per lbs but I’d be cautious of going much lower than that for too long. I always have to later in a diet, but I can’t handle it for too long.

I’m not diving into it here, but food quality matters. The nice thing about paying attention to calories is it tends to help you learn to budget out junk food.

EDIT: My example above is super simple and probably not the most effective version, because you don’t stack enough low days to actually need that carb up. If I were really doing it, and wanted to prioritize recovery, it would probably be more like:

  • Monday (legs): high carb
  • Tuesday (shoulders): medium carb
  • Wednesday (cardio): low carb
  • Thursday (chest): medium carb
  • Friday (back): high carb
  • Saturday (arms): medium carb
  • Sunday (cardio): low carbs

Hi @TrainForPain, sorry for the late reply.

So in the end I am thinking of doing something like this:

  • Monday: High carb day with 300 carbs and Stronglifts 5x5 day with 20m cardio
  • Tuesday: Low carb day with 100g carbs and Mobility training/1 hour cardio
  • Wednesday: High carb day with 300g carbs and Stronglifts 5x5 day
  • Thursday: Low carb day with 100g carbs and 1 hour cardio and mobility training
  • Friday: High carb day with 300g carbs and Stroglifts 5x5 training
  • Saturday: 200 g carbs with cardio
  • Sunday: 100g carbs and accesory training

With the protein I’ll aim for the 200g but I’ll maybe try to lower my fat intake a bit as that is something I often struggle with, I was thinking of something closer to 60g.

What do you think about this plan? Is there something you would advise for me to do differently?

Thanks for any reply!


I’d probably do my accessory work on Saturday instead of Sunday, don’t doesn’t impact your Monday session and it aligns with a little higher carbs.

I’m with you on lower fats - it messes me up to go too high too.

Good luck!


Hi @TrainForPain,
I have been thinking about the accessory work on Sunday and I am thinking about switching it up for 1 hour cardio, so that it helps me with weight loss, but does not impact my training days. Do you think it is a good idea?

Also, based on the last week, I think that the amount of carbs I am eating is too high, do you think it would be wise to lighten on them? I am thinking about 50g per day less.

What are you doing for cardio?

For cardio I am doing 1 hour long LISS on treadmill.

I am doing cardio to lose weight as I would like to be able to lose about 1kg/per week for some time. With the amount of carbs, I was not loosing that amount per week, so I would like to adjust for that.

So for sure adjust your carbs down. The what you eat side of the equation is the most controllable and predictable for weight loss. You’ll always have to adjust that, up or down, as your body and goals change. You wanted to try carb cycling, too, so you could get that minus 50g average by dropping all carbs on your off days if you wanted.

LISS cardio shouldn’t be real stressful to your lifts. In fact, it should improve your recoverability. I’d personally rather see you keep that accessory day, especially on such a low-volume/ low-variation program. Is there no way you could do 20-30 minutes 3x a week on your off days as a starting point? The frequency would net you better results as well.