The number of calories that you eat while you are carb cycling is just as important as adjusting your carbs when it comes to achieving the best results.
How many calories should you eat while carb cycling? The number of calories that you should eat while carb cycling will depend your age, height, weight, sex, activity level, and body composition goal. Since the correct number of calories is going to vary from person to person, carb cycling can look largely different for everyone.
It is important to remember that if you only focus on carb cycling in your diet while not paying any attention to calories, you are going to have a much more difficult time reaching your target weight or physique.
In this article, we will discuss:
- Do you need to count calories while carb cycling?
- How do you calculate calories while carb cycling?
- Where should your calories be coming from when carb cycling?
Do You Need to Count Calories While Carb Cycling?
While you do not necessarily have to pay close attention to calorie intake while carb cycling, you will achieve the best results if you adhere to a consistent calorie intake based on the body composition goal that you wish to achieve.
For example, if you are carb cycling with a goal of weight loss in mind, then it will be important for you to also remain in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain weight).
If you are only focused on cycling your carbs and don’t reduce your calories to achieve a caloric deficit, it’s unlikely that you would lose weight.
The same is true for carb cycling while bulking, if you’re not adjusting your calories accordingly to achieve a calorie surplus (eating more calories than your body needs to maintain weight), then it will be difficult for you to add mass.
In the next section, I will discuss how to go about calculating your calories for carb cycling.
How Do You Calculate Calories for Carb Cycling?
Here are the steps that you can follow to calculate your daily calories for carb cycling:
- Determine your maintenance calories
- Adjust your maintenance calories based on your body composition goal
- Calculate your macro split for high carb, moderate carb and low carb days
1. Determine Your Maintenance Calories
In order to calculate your calories for carb cycling, you must first determine how many calories your body requires on a daily basis.
The number of calories you burn per day is reflected in Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) , which is calculated based on factors such as your height, weight, age, sex, along with your activity level.
You can input this information into an online TDEE calculator to easily determine your maintenance calories.
For example, a 25-year-old female athlete who is 5’5” tall and weighs 130 pounds would require approximately 1957 calories per day in order to maintain her weight according to an online calculator.
If you’re having a hard time adhering to your maintenance calories because they feel too low, then it might be time to refeed instead of carb cycling.
2. Adjust Your Maintenance Calories Based On Your Body Composition Goal
Once you have determined the number of calories needed to maintain your weight, you must then adjust your calories based on your specific body composition goal. If your goal is weight gain, this will require a slight caloric surplus, while weight loss requires a slight calorie deficit.
If the woman in the example above wanted to lose weight, then she would require a calorie deficit to achieve this. Reducing her calorie intake by roughly 100 to 300 calories per day would result in weight loss over time.
Alternatively, if she wanted to gain weight, then she would need a calorie surplus to achieve this. Increasing her calorie intake by roughly 100 to 300 calories per day would result in weight gain over time.
3. Calculate Your Macro Split For High Carb, Moderate Carb and Low Carb Days
After you have determined the appropriate number of calories that are required for you to meet your goal, you can then determine the appropriate macronutrient split for your high, moderate, and low carb days.
- Moderate Carb Day: Can be utilized on an average training day where activity levels are moderate like an upper body workout.
For a moderate carb day I recommend a balanced macronutrient split where you’re eating roughly 40% of your calories from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from fat.
This would mean that the woman in the example above would need to eat about 166 grams of carbs, 124 grams of protein and 55 grams of fat on a moderate carb day.
- High Carb Day: Best implemented on a day that includes high intensity training like challenging leg workout or HIIT training.
On a high carb day, I recommend a macro split of 60% carbs, 30% protein and 10% fat.
This would require the woman in the example to eat 249 grams of carbs, 124 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat on a low carb day.
- Low Carb Day: Should be reserved for a rest day or a day that includes very low intensity physical activity such as a recovery walk or stretch.
A low carb day requires you to shift both your carb and fat intake, with a suggested macro split of around 20% carbs, 30% protein and 50% fat.
This would result in the woman’s low carb day consumption to be about 83 grams of carbs, 124 grams of protein and 92 grams of fat.
By adhering to these macro splits, your daily caloric intake will stay the same so that you’re on track to achieve your bodyweight goal, and you will improve your body composition.
Where Should Your Calories Be Coming from When Carb Cycling?
Where the majority of your calories come from while you are carb cycling will fluctuate depending on whether you are on a high carb day or a low carb day. That being said, it should only be the calories from carbs and fats that fluctuate, because your protein intake should always stay the same.
The reason you want to adjust your fat intake as your carb intake changes is to ensure that your calorie intake stays the same, regardless of where you are in your carb cycle.
For example, on a low carb day where your carbs are down to 20% of your caloric intake, and protein is at 30%, your fats should increase to 50% to compensate for the lack of carbs to keep your caloric intake from changing.
Maintaining consistency with your calorie intake during your carb cycle will help to ensure that you sustain your energy levels while also working toward your specific body composition goal.
It is best to keep your protein intake consistent while carb cycling, since protein is essential for maintaining lean muscle mass on the body.
Foods that are high in protein will consistently be about 30% of your calorie intake throughout your entire carb cycle.
High quality protein sources to include while carb cycling are:
- Greek Yogurt
- Protein Powder
- Egg Whites
Foods that are dense in carbohydrates and low in fat are consumed in larger quantities on a high carb day when you need more energy, which is why carbs are set to 60% of your calorie intake on high carb days.
The best carb sources to include on high carb days are those that are low in fat because when carbs are high, your fat intake will be lower.
Great carb sources to include on your high carb day are:
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole grain bread
On a lower carb day the bulk of your calories, or around 50% of calorie intake, should be coming from high fat foods, because fats are your body’s preferred energy source when you’re less active.
On a lower carb day, you need to stick to fat sources that are lower in carbohydrates so that you’re not going over your daily carb goal.
Great fat sources for your low carb day are:
- Olive Oil
The number of calories that you should eat while carb cycling will depend on your body’s individual needs, along with your body composition goals. No matter what physique goal you have in mind, ensuring that you are paying attention to your calorie intake in addition to carb cycling will guarantee you the most success.
Other Carb Cycling Resources
- Best Time To Eat Carbs When Carb Cycling (4 Rules to Follow)
- What To Eat On Low Carb Cycling Days (Sample Meal Plan)
- How Long Should You Carb Cycle? And, Can You Do It Forever?
- Who Is Carb Cycling Good For? (And Who Is It Not For)
- Carb Cycling vs Keto: Which Is Better?
- Carb Cycling vs Intermittent Fasting: Which Is Better?
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.