Although carb cycling has proven to be an extremely effective tool for achieving your body composition goals, you might wonder how long you should stay on this type of diet.
So how long should you carb cycle? The ideal amount of time to carb cycle for optimal results is approximately 12 weeks. But if you feel good physically and mentally, carb cycling past the 12-week mark is fine provided you properly balance your low-carb and high-carb days and eat enough calories for your body and activity levels.
Carb cycling for too long can lead to issues like irritability, poor performance in the gym, and food obsession or binging. It’s important to recognize the signs that it’s time to end your carb cycle so you can successfully move into the next phase of your diet.
In this article, I will discuss:
- What is the ideal length for carb cycling?
- 4 factors that determine how long you should be carb cycling
- Can you carb cycle forever?
- How long does it take for carb cycling to work?
- What to do when stopping your carb cycle
What Is the Ideal Length for Carb Cycling?
If you have decided to enter into a carb cycling phase of your diet, you might wonder what the ideal length of time is that you need to eat this way to see results. This will most likely depend on other factors such as the number of calories you eat.
For example, if you implement carb cycling into your diet with the goal of weight loss, you will also need to be in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight).
When calories are restricted, exceeding 12 weeks of carb cycling is not recommended. Negative health repercussions such as low energy, decreased performance in the gym, and irritability can come from being in a calorie deficit for an extended period.
Since the benefits of a carb cycling diet are not limited strictly to weight loss, there are situations where you might want to implement this practice, even if your goal is to maintain your weight. Other benefits of carb cycling you may experience are:
- Regulating hormones like leptin (which plays a role in hunger cues) and thyroid and reproductive hormones
- Making it easier to adhere to a low-carb diet
- Helping athletic performance on a low-carb diet
- Making eating enjoyable
When you’re carb cycling while eating at maintenance, it is acceptable to carb cycle longer than 12 weeks, provided you feel good physically and mentally.
While it may be less common to see carb cycling implemented during periods of weight gain or “bulking,” you can do it provided you are eating in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you need to maintain your weight) first and foremost.
However, when bulking, it is ideal not to exceed the 12-week mark to avoid any unnecessary fat gain.
In the section below, I will elaborate more on the warning signs that it might be time to end your carb cycle.
- Related Article: How Long Should You Bulk? 3 Factors To Consider
4 Factors That Determine How Long You Should Be Carb Cycling
There are certain factors to consider when deciding how long you should carb cycle for.
If you are experiencing negative side effects brought on by carb cycling or a reduction in calories, it is best to give your body a break. On the other hand, if you are feeling good and experiencing no negative symptoms, there may be no need to stop at all.
Four factors to consider if you want to continue carb cycling are:
- Your hunger levels are stable and manageable
- You are progressing or maintaining your body composition goal
- You are not experiencing negative side effects that come from a lack of carbs and calories
- You are not obsessed with your diet and thoroughly enjoy the carb cycling process
1. Your Hunger Levels are Stable and Manageable
If you find that carb cycling is a tool that helps you manage your hunger levels and cravings while dieting, carb cycling is likely working well for you.
On the other hand, if you find that your hunger levels and cravings are unmanageable and leading to uncontrolled binges after a period of carb cycling, this could be a sign that you need to exit out of your carb cycle and keep your carb intake a little more balanced.
- Related Article: Should You Undereat After Overeating? (Here’s What To Do)
2. You Are Progressing or Maintaining Your Body Composition Goal
If you are successfully progressing toward your body composition goal maintaining your goal while carb cycling, this is a good sign that this way of eating is working for you. Therefore, there is no reason to put a halt to it.
However, if you have been carb cycling for a period of time and have not been progressing toward your body composition goal, or your progress has stalled, this could be a sign that your body needs a break from cycling carbs and would benefit from going back to a balanced way of eating.
3. You Are Not Experiencing Negative Side Effects That Come From a Lack of Carbs and Calories
Certain negative side effects and symptoms can come with eating a reduced amount of carbohydrates and calories. If you are experiencing any of these to the point where they interrupt your daily quality of life, your body may benefit from a carb cycling break.
Examples of some side effects that can occur from reducing your carb intake include:
- Low energy
- Reduced athletic performance
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle loss
- Bloating and constipation
- Irritability and a bad mood
- Food obsession or binging on low-carb days
Theoretically, the high carb days are meant to offset these negative side effects that can occur on a low carb diet. But everybody is different and may react to a carb cycle in different ways.
With this in mind, if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, your body may benefit more from eating a balanced amount of carbs on a daily basis. I provide recommendations for a more balanced approach later in this article.
- Related Article: What To Eat On Low Carb Cycling Days (Sample Meal Plan)
4. You Are Not Obsessed With Your Diet and Thoroughly Enjoy the Carb Cycling Process
If you enjoy carb cycling and the planning and tracking it requires, you might want to carb cycle longer than someone who does not enjoy the process.
If a certain diet or way of eating makes you miserable or increases your daily stress, you should avoid that way of eating altogether. While carb cycling can provide some benefits as I discussed above, it does not outweigh the importance of other factors such as overall calorie intake and food quality.
Therefore, if you genuinely don’t enjoy carb cycling, it does not mean that you will not reach your goals. Instead, you can try tracking your daily calorie intake without obsessing over hitting exact macros.
Focusing on eating a specific calorie intake rather than specific macro targets would allow you to make changes to your body composition without having to fuss over how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat you are eating in a day.
I recommend using the MacroFactor app to track your intake because it is user-friendly and has a large food database that’s verified by registered dietitians. Using this link gets you an extra week on your free trial (2 weeks total). Cancel any time before your trial ends without being charged.
- Related Article: How To Count Calories Without Getting Obsessed (5 Tips)
Can You Carb Cycle Forever?
If you are enjoying carb cycling, there is no reason you cannot continue, provided you are eating a sufficient number of calories and are feeling healthy and energized physically.
You may wish to continue your carb cycle past the suggested 12-week mark if you genuinely enjoy cycling your carbs and feel physically healthy. This is where it becomes truly important to listen to your body and any signals it may be giving you.
While there is no evidence saying that an extended carb cycle is harmful, there are ample amounts of evidence to show the negative effects of extended calorie restriction. Therefore, if you choose to continue with your carb cycle, it is important to ensure you are not also in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time.
How Long Does It Take Carb Cycling to Work?
The length of time it takes for carb cycling to work will depend directly on your individual goals. For example, measuring whether or not carb cycling is working for someone with a weight loss goal is going to be different than for someone with a goal of weight maintenance.
However, since carb cycling is typically used for weight loss, the amount of time it takes for your carb cycle to work will depend most heavily on your adherence to your calorie deficit. Once you start your carb cycle, you may notice progress in as little as one week if you are sticking to your daily calorie target.
However, it is best to give your body at least 3-4 weeks to respond to your diet. If you have not noticed any progress after the 3- to 4-week mark, it might be worthwhile to re-evaluate the number of calories you are eating and the structure of your carb cycle.
If your body is responding well to your diet, you should notice a weight loss of around 0.5-2 pounds per week. If you prefer not to weigh yourself, you can also measure progress by noticing how your clothes fit and if they are feeling more comfortable or even getting looser.
Related Article: Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories? (What’s Best)
What To Do When Stopping Your Carb Cycle
If you have been carb cycling for a long time and wish to transition back to a balanced daily diet, it is important that you do not overdo carb consumption too much, too soon.
Your body will likely not be accustomed to processing a large amount of carbs on a daily basis, and you may experience undesirable side effects like excess water retention if you overdo it.
What I would recommend is to revert back to a balanced macronutrient intake of around 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat while adhering to the appropriate number of maintenance calories for your body. While it may take a few days for your body to adjust to the changes, this is a balanced way to exit your carb cycle.
Other Carb Cycling Resources
- How Much Fat To Eat When Carb Cycling (Does It Matter?)
- What To Eat On Low Carb Cycling Days (Sample Meal Plan)
- Refeed vs Carb Cycling: Differences, Pros, & Cons
- Best Time To Eat Carbs When Carb Cycling (4 Rules to Follow)
- How Many Calories Should You Eat When Carb Cycling?
- Carb Cycling vs Keto: Which Is Better?
- Who Is Carb Cycling Good For? (And Who Is It Not For)
- Carb Cycling vs Intermittent Fasting: Which Is Better? (3 Differences)
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.