When you are carb cycling, it can be helpful to have a meal plan to outline the types of foods and meals that you should consume each day. In particular, planning out your low-carb day is important in order to not accidentally overdo your carb intake.
On a low-carb day during a carb cycle, you will typically consume higher amounts of dietary fat while keeping your protein intake consistent. While you should keep your carb intake low, you shouldn’t avoid carbs entirely. Carb sources such as certain fruits and non-starchy vegetables are great for low-carb days.
When you are transitioning frequently from a high-carb day to a low-carb day, which is required during carb cycling, it can be difficult to ensure that you are hitting your macro targets correctly without a plan in place. Planning out your meals in advance will increase your dietary adherence, which will have a positive impact on your results.
In this article, we will discuss:
- Differences between what to eat on a high- & low-carb cycling day
- What a low-carb day should look like while carb cycling
- Which carbs are best for low-carb cycling days?
- Which proteins are best for low-carb cycling days?
- Which fats are best for low-carb cycling days?
- A sample meal plan for low-carb cycling days
Differences Between What to Eat on a High- & Low-Carb Cycling Day
While there are going to be some similarities between a low-carb day and a high-carb day, there are also a few obvious differences that are worth highlighting.
More specifically, the types of carbs that you eat on a low-carb day are going to be different than the ones that you include on a high-carb day.
Carbohydrate-dense foods such as grains, pasta, and starchy vegetables are more likely to be consumed on a high-carb day, where you will have more wiggle room within your carb target to include a variety of different carb sources.
On a low-carb day, the majority of your carb intake will be coming from certain vegetables and fruit.
However, it is important to keep in mind that even certain vegetables and fruits pack a heavy hit of carbs per serving and might not be the best option depending on how low your carbohydrate target is for the day. The specific types of carbs that are best on a low-carb day are detailed in the section below.
In addition to the difference in carb intake, there will also be a difference in the amount of fat that you consume on a low-carb day versus a high-carb day. On a low-carb day, you will be able to consume a lot more fats, and on a high-carb day, you will keep your fat intake lower.
This increase in dietary fat on a low-carb day is to account for the calorie fluctuation which will occur when you reduce your carbs for the day. In order to keep your calories stable and consistent, an increase in fat intake is needed.
A few things that tend to stay the same whether it is a low-carb day or a high-carb day are factors such as your protein intake, which should remain consistent regardless of where you are in your carb cycle, and your meal frequency.
Both of these elements should remain stable throughout your carb cycle regardless of which day you are on.
What a Low-Carb Day Should Look Like While Carb Cycling
The specific macro requirements of a low-carb day during a carb cycle are going to be different depending on each individual person.
What is considered a low-carb day for one person may not be a low-carb day for the next person. Therefore, it is important to calculate your specific calorie and macro requirements for your individual goals and needs.
In general, a carbohydrate intake of less than 100-150 grams would be considered low carb. With that being said, carb intake might end up being much lower than this if an individual is carb cycling or if someone is trying to achieve ketosis, a process where the body switches to fat as its primary fuel source as opposed to carbs.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to use an example of a 30-year-old female fitness competitor who is 5’5” tall and 130 pounds.
The number of calories that this woman needs per day to maintain her weight is around 1900 calories per day. Since she has set a weight loss goal to coincide with her carb cycling, she has set her calories to about 1600 calories per day.
On a regular day with a balanced macro split of 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat, this woman would be consuming around 160 grams of carbs, 120 grams of protein, and 53 grams of fat.
This woman has decided to set her high-carb day macros to a split of 60% carbs, 30% protein, and 10% fat. That would mean she would need to consume 240 grams of carbs, 120 grams of protein, and 18 grams of fat in order to hit her requirements.
To offset her high-carb days, the woman has calculated her low-carb day macro split to be 20% carbs, 30% protein, and 50% fat. That would mean she would need to eat roughly 80 grams of carbs, 120 grams of protein, and 89 grams of fat in order to hit her targets.
As you can see, the woman in the example above would need to eat less than 100 grams of carbs on her low-carb days during her carb cycle in order to reach her goal. The exact amount of carbs that you will need on your low-carb day will depend on things such as your height, weight, gender, age, and body composition goals.
Further in the article, I discuss in detail how you can structure your low-carb day, including meal ideas and examples.
Which Carbs Are Best for Low-Carb Cycling Days?
The types of carbs that are best suited for your low-carb days are those that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber while also being low in carbohydrates.
As mentioned above, these foods will typically include non-starchy vegetables and certain fruits.
A list of the best vegetables to eat on your low-carb days are:
- Lettuce (green leaf) – 2.9 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Celery – 3 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Mushrooms – 3.3 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Cucumber – 3.6 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Broccoli – 6.64 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Spinach – 3.63 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Zucchini – 3.1 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Cauliflower – 5 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Asparagus – 3.9 grams of carbs per 100 grams
Including the vegetables above in your low-carb day will help ensure you get to eat the largest amount of food for the least amount of carbs.
Fruit is also great to incorporate into a low-carb day. While it will typically contain more carbs than the vegetables listed above, certain fruits can still be a great option when you are watching your carb intake.
A list of the best fruits to include on your low carb days are:
- Strawberries – 8 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Blueberries – 14 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Blackberries – 10 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Watermelon – 8 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Cantaloupe – 8 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Peaches – 9.5 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Honeydew – 9 grams of carbs per 100 grams
- Avocados – 9 grams of carbs per 100 grams
Even if you aren’t on a low-carb day during your cycle, these types of foods are great to include in your diet. They contain a variety of health benefits that can contribute to the optimal function of your body.
Which Proteins Are Best for Low-Carb Cycling Days?
The types and amount of protein you eat should remain consistent throughout your entire carb cycling phase. That said, there are certain protein-rich foods that are better for low-carb days in comparison to high-carb days.
More specifically, when you are on a low-carb day, you’ll be able to get away with protein sources that are higher in fat. This will differ from your high-carb day, where you will more than likely have to stick to only lean sources of protein.
Learn how to increase your protein intake without increasing your fat.
A list of the best protein-rich foods to include on your low carb days are:
- Meat (beef, lamb, pork)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, etc.)
- Eggs (the egg white contains most of the protein)
- High-protein dairy (Greek yogurt and cottage cheese)
- Protein powders
While certain foods such as beans and legumes are great plant-based sources of protein, they are also accompanied by a large number of carbohydrates. For this reason, these foods are best reserved for your high-carb days.
Which Fats Are Best for Low-Carb Cycling Days?
On a low-carb day during your carb cycle, the number of fats that you are able to eat will increase, which allows you to have more variety in the types of fat sources you will get to include.
There are certain types of fats that you’ll want to include and certain types that you’ll want to avoid regardless of whether or not you are carb cycling. This is because certain types of fat are healthy for you and certain types are more harmful to your health.
In general, you want to get the majority of your fats from unsaturated fat sources. This includes both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You can obtain the majority of these unsaturated fats through nuts and seeds, olives, avocados, and some fish.
You can also get some fats in your diet in the form of saturated fats. While saturated fats tend to have a bad reputation, you actually need some of these in your diet.
In fact, saturated fats can help regulate good cholesterol levels. These fats are mostly found in animal foods like meat, dairy, eggs, and coconut products.
While the fats mentioned above have a place in a healthy diet, trans fats are best avoided altogether. These fats are typically added to processed foods and can drastically increase your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
A list of the best fat sources to include in your low carb days are:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut products and coconut oil
- Nuts and nut butters (almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, etc.)
- Seeds and seed butters (chia seeds, flaxseeds, flax oil, hemp hearts, tahini, etc.)
- Eggs (the yolk contains the fat)
- Full-fat dairy products (yogurt, cheese, milk,)
- Fatty fish (salmon, anchovies, sardines)
- Fatty cuts of meat (bacon, fattier steaks)
- Fatty cuts of poultry (chicken thigh)
Low-Carb Cycling Days: Sample Meal Plan
The following meal plan is based on the macro requirements of the woman in the example above, but it can easily be modified to meet your specific requirements.
- Carbs – 80 grams
- Protein – 120 grams
- Fat – 89 grams
Breakfast: Egg Scramble with Berries
- 2 eggs (156 calories, 1g carbs, 13g protein, 16g fat)
- ½ cup of egg whites (63 calories, 1g carbs, 13g protein, 0g fat)
- 1 cup spinach sauteed in omelet (6 calories, 1g carb, 0.5g protein, 0g fat)
- 1 oz 2% cheddar cheese (114 calories, 0.5g carbs, 6.5g protein, 9g fat)
- 1 cup strawberries and blueberries (60 calories, 15g carbs, 0.5g protein, 0g fat)
Calories and Macros:
- Calories – 399 calories
- Carbs – 19.5 grams
- Protein – 33.5 grams
- Fat – 25 grams
Lunch: Chicken Thighs with a Green Salad
- 2 medium chicken thighs (304 calories, 0g carbs, 31g protein, 18g fat)
- 2 cups romaine lettuce (16 calories, 3g carbs, 1g protein, 0g fat)
- 1 small granny smith apple chopped in salad (55 calories, 16g carbs, 0g protein, 0g fat)
- 1/3 cup cherry tomatoes (9 calories, 2g carbs, 0g protein, 0g fat)
- ½ cup chopped cucumber (5 calories, 1g carbs, 0g protein, 0g fat)
- 2 oz feta cheese (150 calories, 2g carbs, 8g protein, 12g fat)
- 1 tbsp blue cheese dressing (73 calories, 1g carb, 0g protein, 8g fat)
Calories and Macros:
- Calories – 612 calories
- Carbs – 25 grams
- Protein – 40 grams
- Fat – 38 grams
Snack: Protein Greek Yogurt with Chia Seeds
- ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt (70 calories, 4g carbs, 12g protein, 0g fat)
- ½ scoop whey protein powder (60 calories, 2g carbs, 12g protein, 0.5g fat)
- 2 tbsp chia seeds (116 calories, 10g carbs, 4g protein, 7.5g fat)
Calories and Macros:
- Calories – 246 calories
- Carbs – 16 grams
- Protein – 18 grams
- Fat – 8 grams
Dinner: Salmon with Roasted Asparagus and Sweet Potato Mash
- 4 oz Atlantic salmon w/ lemon, salt, and pepper (158 calories, 0g carb, 25g protein, 5g fat)
- 7 medium asparagus spears (22 calories, 4.5g carbs, 2.5g protein, 0g fat)
- 1 tbsp olive oil (119 calories, 0g carbs, 0g protein, 13g fat)
- ½ cup mashed sweet potato (57 calories, 15g carbs, 1g protein, 0g fat)
Calories and Macros:
- Calories – 356 calories
- Carbs – 19.5 grams
- Protein – 28.5 grams
- Fat – 18 grams
Learn More About Carb Cycling
Woodside, J., Young, I., & McKinley, M. (2013). Fruits and vegetables: Measuring intake and encouraging increased consumption. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 72(2), 236-245. doi:10.1017/S0029665112003059
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.