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How to Use Calorie Cycling to Achieve Consistent Weight Loss

woman drinking from water bottleUsing calorie cycling for weight loss can be a more effective way to achieve your fat loss goals than the traditional daily calorie deficit. The following article will explain what it is and how to most effectively implement it into your eating plan.

What is Calorie Cycling?

Calorie cycling is one of many methods for achieving weight loss. Instead of creating a daily 500 calorie deficit, you instead create varying days of calorie deficits mixed in with days of calorie surpluses. Doing so has many benefits. Some of these include:

  • Resetting of Hunger Hormones – “Hunger” hormones like leptin and ghrelin are reset after periodic refeeds.
  • Psychological Boost – Being able to eat higher calorie days and feel full can help you mentally during prolonged calorie restriction.
  • Improved Insulin Sensitivity – Lower calorie days can improve insulin sensitivity which can help you reap the anabolic benefits of insulin on the days you increase you carbohydrate and calorie intake.
  • Acceleration of Fat Loss – When all your hormones are optimized, you have the potential to lose more fat.

Look at Your Calorie Intake Over a Week – Not Day

Most of us approach weight loss by cutting a certain amount of calories and then eating that amount every single day. When weight loss stalls, you cut them some more.

Calorie cycling takes a different approach. Instead of approaching weight loss and calorie intakes on a day to day timeline, you instead look at it over a period of time – such as a week.

For example, let’s say you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your current weight. Generally speaking, cutting your calories by 500 per day will result in weight loss of 1 pound over a week (500 * 7 = 3500 calories = 1lb). Eating 1500 calories a day means we end up eating 10,500 calories over the course of a week (1500 * 7 = 10,500).

How many different ways can we get in 10,500 calories over the course of a week? There are many possibilities. Some of these might be:

  • 1200, 1200, 2100, 1200, 1200, 1200, 2400
  • 1400, 1400, 1400, 1400, 1400, 1400, 2100
  • 1500, 1200, 1200, 1700, 1200, 1200, 2500

In reality, the possibilities are endless. However, every single one of these will net you the same 10,500 calories over the course of the week.

The end result on your weight could be very different from one scenario to the next because your metabolism could be a changing variable. And this is what we are aiming to achieve – a maximized metabolism so that our fat loss continues and doesn’t plateau.

How to Cycle Your Calories

My preferred method for calorie cycling is to have 2 calorie surplus days each week. Calorie intake tends to look something along the lines of – low, low, high, low, low, low, high. When I do it, I also cycle my carbohydrate intake. To give you a better idea, here is what I might do:

  • Monday: 2100 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 200 grams of carbohydrates
  • Tuesday: 2100 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 200 grams of carbohydrates
  • Wednesday: 3000 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 400 grams of carbohydrates
  • Thursday: 2100 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 200 grams of carbohydrates
  • Friday: 2100 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 200 grams of carbohydrates
  • Saturday: 2100 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 200 grams of carbohydrates
  • Sunday: 3000 calories – Protein, fat, veggies, and 400 grams of carbohydrates

All of this averages out to 2350 calories per day. It also averages out to about 250 grams of carbohydrates per day and .8-1 gram per pound of lean body weight in protein per day. The rest of the calories are filled with healthy fats.

You certainly don’t have to cycle your carbohydrate intake when you do calorie cycling. I just feel like it works better, as I’m able to keep a better hormonal profile that is conducive to fat loss – lower insulin levels, higher growth hormone, higher leptin levels, etc.

I could have just as easily eaten 2350 calories per day, each and every single day, but then I wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of calorie cycling outlined at the beginning of the article. I find that calorie cycling is the perfect way to eat for the person with a highly adaptable metabolism.

Give calorie cycling a try and see how it works out for you. You might just find that it fits your lifestyle better, and improves your fat loss too.

  • http://facebook Darlene

    hello i thought that carbs are the worst thing you can eat next salt oil and sugar, need help , ben using shakology its been working , but need new menue ideas , love friuts and vegeies any ideas

    • Coach Calorie

      Nothing wrong with carbs Darlene. You might be thinking of processed carbs. In that case, yes – they are pretty bad. If you need some meal ideas, I’d suggest you look at my weekly Healthy Recipe Roundup. Here’s the most recent one – Healthy Recipe Roundup | 5th Edition

  • Pingback: Calorie Cycling for Weight Loss « pilatespdx()

  • Jessica

    When you do your carb cycling, do you count dairy (cottage cheese, greek yogurt) as a protein or do you eliminate them because they are also a carb?

    • Coach Calorie

      If they have carbs and I’m not supposed to be eating them, I don’t. The only thing I let slide are the trace carbs from green veggies.

      • Cathy

        is greek yogurt or yogurt in general bad for wanting to lose weight?

        • Coach Calorie

          As long as you don’t have a dairy intolerance and you can fit it into your calorie needs, there is nothing wrong with it.

  • Teresa

    I’m frustrated, join Herbal magic thinking it might help, but it hasn’t helped at all, it’s been a month.
    I had a totall hip replacement and 3 dislocation, so I have to sear a brace and am limited with exercise.

  • allie

    what are the fats that are recommended to eat?

    • Coach Calorie

      Healthy fats like fish oil, fatty fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, nuts, seeds, and any other whole food that has fat is good.

  • Anne

    So you don’t eat fruit but 2 times a week?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Anne, yes, in the strictest sense, you don’t eat carbohydrates (and thus fruit) on your protein/fat/veggie days. You do eat veggies though. However, there is nothing wrong with fruit, and 10 grams of carbs from an apple never made anyone fat. The main idea of calorie/carb cycling is to cycle your carbs between low/med/high days.

  • Danielle

    Would you consider these net calories, subtracting calories burned from exercise? Or do you eat this number of calories regardless of what your workouts look like?

    • Coach Calorie

      These calories are just examples to show how you cycle between low, med, and high calorie days. You will need to find your own calorie intake levels. The idea is to go below maintenance on low days, and above maintenance on the higher days. Once you average out your calorie intake for the week, you are still hypocaloric.

  • Elena

    In another post you suggest eating carbs after your workout. How would that be accommodated in this meal plan? I exercise at least 5 times a week (weights and Zumba) Thank you :)

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Elena, ideally you would plan your high calorie days on your workout days. The days that have more exercise get more calories, and the days that aren’t as intense get medium calories, and the rest days get the low calories.

  • Tess Courage

    this is good news….I have been able to maintain my weight loss by fasting 5 days from 10pm till 5pm the following day…then having a light protien, fat meal two days (weekends ) I introduce carbs and “let go” a little!…although *I am the same wieght, I am a size smaller in clothes and Body fat percentage has reduced (I also run and do light weight training 5 hours a week)

    • Coach Calorie

      Sounds like you’re doing a form of intermittent fasting. As long as your calories aren’t too low or too high over a period of time, you can continue to make progress. Congrats on the lost body fat!

  • sfitchben

    On the Medium and High days, which kinds of carbs are acceptable? Are we taliking whole grains, starchy veggies, and fruits?

    • Coach Calorie

      I always recommend whole foods because health is my #1 priority, but if you’re the kind of person that can get away with dirty cheats, the high days would be ideal for them. Do go crazy though. Maybe have 1 meal that is a little more lax. If you find you’re not making the progress you want, you might need to cut out the processed food on those days.

  • sfitchben

    Got you. I eat no processed foods. Was thinking along the lines of brown or wild rice, steel cut or old fashioned oats, sweet potato, and some of the squashes like butternut and acorn. Thanks for your help.

    • Coach Calorie

      Those look like good choices to me!

  • Nydia

    I usually eat protein (100-120 grams), fat (20 to 50 grams) and carbs (less the 100) but carbs are only in veggies and fruits. I’m eating around 1200 to 1300 cal a day and I’m also doing 30 minutes of cardio and 30 of weight at least 5 days a week. I’m no losing any weight. So if I do the calorie cycle, what type of veggies should I eat?

  • Dagmara Boryszczyk-Roure

    What would 100 grams of carbs look like?

  • Coach Calorie

    Depends on the food. Oats would be about 2 cups. 4 apples…

  • Coach Calorie

    First, low fat AND low carbs usually results in low calories, which tends to result in stalled weight loss. Those 1200 calorie days are fine, but you’ll need a couple days with at least 50% more calories. As for types of veggies, any of the ones on this list are fine –

  • Elsy Garcia

    How can I figure out my calorie needs?

  • Elsy Garcia

    I’m doing Intermittent fasting, can I break my fast if I have a bulletproof coffee before my morning workout? and continue with the fast after I’m done with my AM workout, I’m doing 12 to 14 hours period during night time.

    • Coach Calorie

      I’m not sure what a “bulletproof” coffee is, but some coffee will be fine as long as you aren’t filling it with a bunch of sugar and cream. Even still, if it helps you have a good workout, that should be your priority.

  • Coach Calorie
  • lsl

    how do you figure out how many carbs something is?

    • Coach Calorie

      Look at the nutrition label or use a food logging app.

  • scb1898

    I actually started doing it this past Monday. It is working! I do like some of the examples you provided.

  • JC

    I started calorie cycling about 3 years ago then probably stopped for about 6months and I have been back at it for the past 5 months. It really works. My body responds well to calorie cycling.

  • Tony Schober

    Hi Laleh, there’s no set amount of either macronutrient. The idea is to increase calories once or twice a week, and make those calories come from carbohydrates. Eat maintenance calories on the high days and you’ll be good to go.