How to Lean Out with a Mini Carb Cycle

How to Lean Out with a Mini Carb Cycle

Carbohydrates play a vital role in your fitness. Whether you’re regularly doing CrossFit, interval training or another type of high-intensity exercise, eating carbs (e.g. potatoes, fruit, rice, oatmeal) can help you feel good in your workouts, recover well and actually get stronger.

But if you’re also trying to get leaner, it can be tricky to know how many carbs to consume before it will interfere with your progress. The solution? Something called “carb cycling.”

What is Carb Cycling & Why Do It

Carb cycling is a great method for getting all the benefits that carbohydrates can provide (for example, good energy levels and improved recovery times) without hindering your weight loss goals.

Already a popular strategy in the bodybuilding world, carb cycling is exactly what you’ve probably already guessed it is: Eating more carbs during certain days or periods and fewer carbs during others.

It’s no surprise that lowering calories is necessary when trying to lose weight, and lowering carbs can often help too. But if you stay in a calorie and carb deficit for too long, you can end up wrecking your metabolism and having an empty fuel tank for your workouts.

Fluctuating the amount of carbs you eat, however, can prevent your metabolism from dropping too low and top off your muscles’ glycogen stores. This equals properly fueled workouts and improved recovery between training sessions.

The Simplest Method: A Mini Carb Cycle

There are a lot of different ways to incorporate carb cycling into your life. I’m going to share with you a method I like to call a “Mini Carb Cycle.”

I’ve found this to be the simplest approach there is, especially for those who are new to carb cycling or don’t want to overwhelm themselves with a ton of complicated tracking.

Quick Reminder: Before reading on, don’t forget how important it is to have solid foundational habits to build upon before making your diet more complicated. So if you’re still struggling to meal prep and eating processed food regularly, I’d recommend working on cleaning up those habits first, before you worry about timing your carbs.

OK, so are you ready? Here’s the Golden Rule that sums up how to do a Mini Carb Cycle:


In other words, working out equals more carbs and not working out equals fewer carbs. I’ll clarify this in just a minute, but first I want you to understand the science behind it.

When you do high-intensity training, such as CrossFit, your body uses what’s called the glycolytic energy system, which relies on carbs for fuel. Your body pulls that fuel from both the carbs floating around in your bloodstream as glucose, as well as carbs stored in your muscles as glycogen.

Your body is also highly insulin-sensitive when you work out. And insulin is a hormone that helps shuttle carbs into the right cells in your body. So by eating more carbs during that workout window, you’re consuming them at the peak of your body’s ability to apply them toward performance, recovery, muscle-building and energy storage — instead of ending up with an excess that ends up being stored as fat. No thanks.

Now let’s break the Golden Rule down into two simple guidelines.

Guideline #1: On Rest Days, Space Out Your Carbs Evenly

On your “off” days, space carb-dense foods out evenly throughout the day. In other words, try to avoid a big pasta dinner type of situation, with tons of carbs that will cause a huge insulin spike and largely go unused.

Instead, incorporate small servings of carbs into each of your meals and snacks over the course of the day to allow your body time to put them to better use and even store them more effectively.

If it helps you to keep track of this throughout the day, try writing it down in your food journal or making a note on your smartphone. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even try plugging your food into the My Fitness Pal app, which is the tool I use with clients who are tracking their macros.

Guideline #2: On Training Days, Concentrate Your Carbs Around Your Workouts

On days you train, aim to consume most of your carb-dense foods on either side of your workout. Ideally, strive for about 25% to 35% of your daily carb intake before your workout, and then about 25% to 35% after your workout.

Take a minute now to think about your schedule: Do you typically work out in the morning, or in the evening? Below are examples to show how you might concentrate your daily carbs depending on the time of day.

P.M. Training — If you train in the evenings, keep your carb-dense foods low during breakfast and lunch. Enjoy a carb-heavy afternoon snack (pre-workout fuel). Then eat plenty of carbs with your dinner (post-workout recovery).

A.M. Training — If you work out first thing in the morning, you won’t have much opportunity to get in a lot of carbs, and that’s OK. Just try to have a small snack with some carbs beforehand, or whatever typically works best for you pre-workout. Then include plenty of carbs in your breakfast afterward as well as your post-workout shake if you choose to have one. And for lunch and dinner, keep carb-dense foods low again.

Need more examples? For visual learners like me, I put together a PDF that outlines 4 example days (rest day, PM workout, AM workout with a post-workout shake, and PM workout with a shake). It breaks down the amount of carbs you could include with each meal and snack while doing a Mini Carb Cycle. Get the PDF by entering your name & email below.

And if you try a Mini Carb Cycle, leave a comment or shoot me a message on social media as I would love to hear how it goes!

Want more info on Mini Carb Cycling? I’ve put together a PDF with 4 examples days showing how you could break down your carbs by meal. Simply enter your name & email below to get it!

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Want more info on Mini Carb Cycling? I’ve put together a PDF with 4 examples days showing how you could break down your carbs by meal. Simply enter your name & email below to get it!

You’ll also get health + nutrition tips delivered to your inbox weekly.
Don’t like ’em? No problem. You can unsubscribe in a click.