Carb cycling for amateurs?

Here’s the thing. I’m 39% bodyfat. That’s down from last year, but I’ve been working with a cycling specific nutrition coach who gives much the same advice as the TR coaches. I’ve gotten stronger, but even though I eat 95+% clean, and weigh almost all my food, I am not shedding much fat at all at 51 years old. I ride about 6 hours a week, 3-4 days, and am in the gym for an hour 2-3 days per week, always putting in 6 days of workouts a week.

Yesterday’s keto video that TR led me to an epiphany. All of these studies are mostly focused on lean athletes, and I’m just never going to achieve this mythical “homeostasis” where my body is magically going to fix itself.

So I’m going to talk to my nutrition coach, but curious if anyone has carb cycled with success? I don’t want to keto. I know I’m going to need carbs to fuel before, during, and after my cycling. But the fact is that I have way too much fat to lose to just focus on improving FTP.

So, has anyone used this method? How? Do you have any info to send my way? The last time TR seems to have addressed the topic is way back in AACC #244.

Essentially, I’m now trying to prioritize fat loss over performance. I’d like to keep my ftp and strength at it’s current level, but fat loss without a crash diet is my goal.

1 Like

I’ve done it in the past a few years ago, and to some extent I still do it to this day. Overall you are going to have to be in a deficit. If you’re not on track and losing 1-0.5% body fat per week, given all the work you are doing then something is off.
Carb cycling is something that is effective when used during later stages of a cut when a lot if weight has already been lost. At this stage I think your weight should come off pretty steadily with a consistent deficit. My 2 cents.


I agree completely. My weight should be coming off at 1.5-2 pounds a week, based on my caloric intake. But it’s not. That may be a hormonal thing, I don’t know. I had an RMR test and dexa scan so I’m as scientific as can be about the whole thing. Instead I’m losing a pound a month. I’ve always been a hard loser, but I have no more time to train and I don’t see how I can cut more calories and function.

I’ve not used this method specifically, but had a lot of days where I was in a big calorie deficit on my journey from 270lbs down to 185lbs (I lost about 40 of that twice :frowning: ). I’m 6’1"ish (186cm) and still at 18-19% body fat. You’ve got a decade on me in age, so metabolically this may have been “easier” for me.

My basic calorie formula was to take my basal metabolic rate (estimate) and add half of my calories burned on a ride or workout back into that amount. For example. 1900cal bmr, 1000cal burned on a 2hr Z2 bike ride, total daily calories would be 2400cal. Worked for me and some days resulted in a huge deficit.

Here’s the takeaway from my own journey - if your goals are purely weight loss / aesthetics and you want to do it fast, then you might have success carb cycling or running a larger calorie deficit. However, the first time I dropped this weight, I left a lot of fitness gains on the table because I was under-fueling. I was maintaining on the bike at best. I lost weight fast, but may have more loose skin than someone who lost it at a more controlled way, just by virtue of how skin elasticity works.

The second time down (current - see 40 of that twice comment above) has been more controlled. I’ve been in a smaller calorie deficit, seeing less weight loss weekly but more body re-composition, and feeling much stronger on the bike - which has been my actual goal all along.

This may not be helpful information to you, but hoping someone finds it helpful.


As you cut calories, your body slows down other processes that conserve energy. This is why weight loss is so difficult. You create a 300 calorie per day deficit in some app. You should lose maybe 1/2 pound per week. At first this works and then a month or three later, you are just maintaining on that deficit. Now you have to cut more calories to lose more weight at the old pace. It sucks.

Keto/high fat allows one to consume even less calories and not be starving.

I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve lost 60 pounds from my all time high but can’t lose that last 20. I can’t train or do intervals on low carb. I quickly end up with keto flu type symptoms and feel absolutely miserable.

You could try lower carb on days you don’t workout if performance isn’t your primary goal. It’s going to be walking a fine line.

My only caution with low carb / high fat diets is that it isn’t a license to eat bunless bacon cheeseburgers every day if you want to be healthy. Bad quality food is still bad quality food. Saturated fat isn’t great for you.


I have not watched the keto video you reference, but the nutritional advice on the podcast seems to be generally focused to a specific rider type / body type. There are lots of riders out there who don’t “need carbs to fuel before, during, and after” their cycling, especially for shorter (90 min & under) trainer rides. You may do better with the carbs if you’re doing a lot of very high intensity intervals or sprints, but, if you’re riding is on the lower intensity side of things or only involves very short high intensity intervals, give it a try without all the carbs. It may take a bit of time to adapt to this way of riding, but there’s a sub-set of the riding population riding very successfully without the carbs.


That must be frustrating to put in all work while being meticulous about your macros. I’d definitely seek out some medical testing of your hormone levels to see if there’s an imbalance that is preventing your from losing the weight that you would be. I hope that’s something you can get done asap. Otherwise it’ll be a very long haul at 1 pound a month.

1 Like

You make complete sense. That’s the key issue here - I am want to progress in my cycling ability, or at least not experience a decline. And I’m not interested in keto eating. I am pretty disciplined, but tbh my wife and lifestyle l will never allow it. Obviously I have to do something so. So, less carbs on gym days? Some other, less obvious option? I’m going to discuss it with my nutrition coach, but I’m going to find some anecdotal place to start the conversation.

1 Like

How many grams of Carbs are you consuming during the day?
How many grams of Carbs are you consuming on the bike?

FWIW, over a year ago, I went on a 3 month period to reduce weight. I went through 3 stages while continuing to train. I actually did a time trial at the end of the 3 months. Stage 1, I trialed taking in 160g Carb daily while consuming 30g per hour cycling (anything more than 75 min duration). There were times I was energy depleted. Stage 2, I changed the total daily Carb to 195g, 40g on the bike. Then, stage 3 (last 10 days prior the time trial), I did daily 210g, with 60-90g on the bike. The time trial was in the range of 2 hours. If I remember I lost 10-15 pounds in that 90 day period. I have kept it off by keeping good carb intake around 195’ish, on the bike varies by intensity. I was 60 years of age.

YMMV, but you might want to think along these lines if not already.

1 Like

In general - basically just move some more carbs ahead of your cycling workouts, during your workout, and some after - but what type of plan are you on anyway? It makes a difference if you are doing base work or intervals. If it’s just base work - then you wouldn’t need to prioritize carbs as much. If you are doing intervals, then front loading some carbs and having some intraworkout makes a lot of sense. You could pull something like 50 grams of carbs from your strength days and add it to your high intensity cycling days.

In general, your strength days would be your lower carb days. You shouldn’t need it but every once in while I’d do a re-feed day where I’d eat above my maintenance level if I felt like my body needed it or if I was getting irritable or food obsessed. I’d just plan a day where I’d have maintenance calories plus an extra 300-400.

1 Like

My personal belief is that being in some carb deficit is the key to weight loss. If the carb reserves are full, the body is not going to use fat (or a lot of fat).
I’m cautious on when I eat carbs. If it’s an easy zone 2 workout, I probably have enough reserves for it. If it’s more intense, I will check how much carbs I had before (even the day before) to estimate my reserves. I will probably get a breakfast with more carbs than what I usually do, and I will see during the workout (is it really hard, is it long?). Then I will see what I have planned after. I would get “just” enough carb to recover, but if I have something hard coming I would eat more to fill the reserves.
For me the biggest difference in health vs performance, is that for health you should not go to sleep with full carbs reserves, so no big carbs dinner. I try to eat early enough, and certainly skip all desert or carbs in front of the TV in the evening. That would be called carbs cycling I guess. For performance, I would make sure to eat enough carbs before going to sleep.
I did 2 blocks of endurance on “keto”. I did the easy version, just skipped carbs during meals and ate the rest. I still ate fruits around workouts, and even drunk sugar/gels during the longest rides, and still stayed in ketosis. It worked pretty well for weight.

The only thing that determines your weight loss is your caloric balance. So either you’re eating more than you think you are or you aren’t burning as much as you think you are. Or both.

Carb cycling can sometimes help people lose weight but only in that it helps them eat less calories. It does little to nothing on it’s own to promote weight loss. It’s mostly so that you can be in a deficit but by eating more carbs around your workouts you still feel like you are able to complete the work.

How intensely are you training? I wonder if by dropping the intensity (and maybe even doing a touch less exercise) you’d be able to support a greater deficit and be able to lose more weight. At least for leaner athletes, it is always suggested to do any weight loss efforts during the lower intensity base seasons when you don’t have to complete and recover from any super high intensity workouts. High intensity + calorie deficit = bad.


How are you determining the calories you think you need to take in to fuel the workout? Are you using power in your training?

In my experience that’s where I got hung up for a long time when trying to lose weight. The typical apps estimate high the amount of calories burned, is what I decided. I could be wrong on that, but I came up with my own calories/hr estimate depending on my wattage (or HR on the MTB), and my estimates are on the low side to be conservative.

I don’t fuel zone 2 rides…if I did over 2 hrs in the higher end of z2, I probably would take in 30 grams, but I usually eat right after. For intensity, it depends on what I’m doing, but z3 I’ll take a gel (30g) when I’m getting ready to ride, have a bottle with 60 grams, and take gels as needed - next one will probably be at the hour mark, unless I’m not drinking a ton (since I’ve upped my sodium in my bottles, I’ve cut way back how much water I need by about half).

Those easy rides are the ones you can take huge advantage of for weight loss, because you are burning more fat than glycogen, and you have a steady supply of fat without eating it. Whatever calories I burned doing z2, I put half of it into the calorie counting app. So I work toward the usual 500 calorie deficit plus I’ve hidden half my z2 calories (because if I see I have an extra 400 calories I could eat (per the app), I eat them, and that’s not as good.


Good questions. Here’s my eating and training plan at this moment.
RMR, 1980 calories
Current eating plan: 2280 calories/day except for Saturday, which is my long ride day. 40% pro, 30 cho, 30 fat

MWF: 45-1hr weightlifting. I do not fuel with carbs other than a banana an hour before.

Trainer road has me doing the following: Tuesday vo2max, 60 minutes. Thursday, sweet spot, 60 minutes. These are fueled with some carbs like a banana or PB&j before the workout and 25g carbs during the workout.

Saturday is 3 hours with the club, a mix of riding per your typical club ride. Fueled by UCAN for the first hour, then 75g of carbs an hour. 50g carb recovery drink. On this day my coach asks me to add 200g of carbs from complex carb sources

Sunday is a rest day.

I personally believe that most of the TR talk, and the talk you’re going to get from almost any cycling nutrition coach, is going to be focused on how to slowly lose a small amount of weight while raising your power. They’re cycling coaches after all.

Conversely, when you have someone with high body fat, they are probably focused on losing weight more quickly. The TR reel you’re referring to mentions this too. The keto athletes lost more weight. Trying to lose weight quickly AND simultaneously increase power are not realistic goals (for me). So, when I need to lose a lot of weight, I’m going to focus on intermittent fasting and very low carb strategies to lose weight. I believe that the focus should be to maintain (or lose only a small amount of) power, while also cutting a lot of weight. I’m better off health wise overall and also as a cyclist doing that than losing only a few percent body fat but gaining a watt or two. As someone mentioned above though, be careful doing this because you can lose a lot of weight quickly, which leads to excess loose skin.

1 Like

This sounds like a lot to me for trying to 1lb/wk. This is basically 5 intense days of working out per week and would be tough to recover from without trying to lose weight. I’d probably drop that VO2 day for endurance/tempo. You’d be less fatigued and might even be able to burn more calories as your Avg power is likely to be higher.

And it’s interesting that you (and other people) are discounting the need for carbs around a lifting workout. Lifting heavy is very energetically demanding and puts a big strain on your glycogen stores.

I agree with @Pbase that I would probably go through different phases of your training where you toggle between losing weight and maintaining power or maintaining weight and gaining power. It’s very achieve both weight loss and power gain and if you try you’re just likely to do neither very well.

1 Like

This topic reminded of the Stronger by Science podcast. I recall an episode where they were calculating calorie deficits by time and the scale. So if one is losing 1 pound per month then their actual deficit is 3500 / 30 = 116 calories per day.

If one wants to lose 2 pounds per month, then they would need to cut an additional 120 calories per day. If the wanted to target 4 pounds per month, then it’s an additional 350 calories per day. Rather than be frustrated by not losing weight despite following an app or calculation to the letter, use your actual data to calculate the needed deficit.

1 Like

This is your answer right here? MWF if you lift for 45-60 mins you’re maybe burning 2-300 calories. So 4 days a week you are not in a deficit (and possibly in a surplus) (including Sunday).

What is your average power on your rides?

Man, that’s a lot of protein, and obviously lean protein. My diet is more fat heavy, and I’ve been working on upping my protein, but trying to get 150g hasn’t been easy (no criticism, just marveling at that 220+ you’re doing).

The numbers say you should be losing weight. Calculators suggest you’d lose 1/2# per week at 2280 cal/day at normal (“somewhat active”) activity levels. Then you’re adding the the biking and lifting on top of that. So if those exercise sessions are burning 500 cal per session (an hour at 130watts, roughly, so probably low estimate, depending on your fitness level) beyond your base activity level, that could be another 3/4 to 1# per week, theoretically. Don’t know what your ftp is running right now, as obviously there can be a sizeable difference in cal/hr burned from a 150 ftp to a 350 ftp individual. That leaves Sat & Sun as the oddball days, and it looks like you eat an additional 1000 cals on Sat…not out of line for a 3hr ride.

You said you’re getting stronger, and you’re losing about a # per month, but you’re not losing fat…are you sure your body comp isn’t shifting those fat lbs to muscle lbs?

My RMR is less than 100 higher than yours. I have my base calorie goal set at 1830 per day (goal 1.5# loss per week) focusing on hitting protein and fat goals (usually end up with 100-150g carbs), and then I add the exercise calories for that days specific workout, being conservative (err on the low side) with those exercise calories. So, my method is probably more of a targeted carb intake.

If I do z2 or weights/bands (I’m not lifting heavy just living room dumbell with shoulder problems work), I let my regular meals fuel it (that 1830 cal/day), plus I’ll add half the burned calories to my regular meals budget, so that will result in 300 cals (up to 500 if 1.5 hr z2) added to get a revised 1830+300 calorie budget goal for that day, and TRY to hit it, but sometimes I end up eating the whole 1830+600 (but that still puts me at a 700 cal deficit for the day because my 1830 budget, AND if I eat another 200 calories, I’m still at 500cal=1#/wk deficit).

A 60min indoor threshold or VO2 workout, add the full calories burned to my daily budget (so 1830 + 800 or so for the day), and to fuel it I’ll take in 30-60 grams (so up to about 250 calories before/during the ride), and then eat the other 550 during the rest of the day in meals or snacks.

My outside weekend rides are mtb or mixed road/gravel on my mtb (sandy national forest roads) of 1.5 to 3 hrs. Same deal, I have my base 1830 cal budget for the day and then I add carbs specifically for the ride (usually in the 60-75 g/hr range similar to you). These usually end up being (per my HR that Ive been tracking for years) like 40% z3 and close to the same % z4, so I spitball my calories at 600 or 800 calories per hour (depending on how much time I spent up near threshold, and I usually go 700 for the longer rides, because there’s more recovery time), so I end up with a budget for the day of 1830+1400ish calories, and usually over eat some.

I easily lose a pound a week this way…went from 209 to 197 in June & July last year, averaged about 6 hrs per week on the bike, and felt pretty good (started Nov 2022 at 219 but had some personal stuff come up in Feb last year, so got going in the right direction again in June). I’m not a good dieter, because I have little self control and snack a lot, so I yoyo a lot, and I’m notorious for being able to gain weight, even while I ride 7-10 a week (lately), so this has worked for me for many other weeks, just not strung together very well because I have weeks where I blow the diet :smiley:. Maybe I’d do better to budget 2030 and shoot for 1# per week.

1 Like

Based on that I’m still in a deficit. If my RMR is 1980, and my intake is 2280, but I burn 300, I’m still in a deficit due to the calories my body burns throughout non exercise daily life activity. And on cycling days I’m burning 500 minimum.