Looking for a new way to drop some unwanted weight? Calorie cycling allows you to shift between higher and lower calorie days so you can easily adjust your eating plan to your lifestyle. There are no hard, fast rules or strict guidelines, just figuring out your calorie count for different days of the week. If your goal is to build muscle and lose fat, you have to try calorie cycling for weight loss!
What is Calorie Cycling?
Calorie cycling, also known as caloric shifting, is an eating plan where you cycle between low-calorie and higher-calorie days. This typically happens in the adjustments of carbs and sometimes fats. Calorie cycling offers more flexibility in your eating habits, allowing you to have a break when you go out with friends or want to indulge more on the weekends, but you need to make sure to track your calories so you can follow the cycling properly.
Those following this eating plan set an average caloric intake goal at an amount that will lead to personal weight loss and plan each day so they eat more or less of that total. On low calorie days, decrease your intake by 500 to 1000 calories and on high calorie days, eat about 1000 calories more. For example, if you plan to maintain a 2,000 calorie diet, consumption would shift anywhere between 1,200 to 2,800 calories per day to create the daily consumption average of 2,000 a day over the week.
The idea is that changing the number of calories you regularly consume prevents your body from adapting to a set number of calories, helping you lose weight. Periods of high calorie days have been shown to increase your metabolism and help you lose weight efficiently.
There are numerous different methods of calorie cycling:
- Alternative deficit method. You alternate every other day between low and high calorie days for a total of 4 low calorie days and 3 high calorie days.
- The weekend method. Monday through Thursday are low calories days while Friday, Saturday and Sunday are high calorie days. Or Monday through Friday are low calorie days, while Saturday and Sunday are high calorie days.
- The 5:2 method. 5 high-calorie days mixed with 2 days of fasting (not in a row). If you’re new to fasting or the thought of fasting overwhelms you, it’s probably best to try out one of the other methods first.
Some people also go weekly and opt for 3 weeks of a low-calorie diet and 5 to 7 days of high-calorie eating, or 4 to 5 weeks on a low-calorie diet followed by a 10 to 14 day higher-calorie diet.
Calorie Cycling vs Carb Cycling: What’s The Difference?
The classic carb cycling schedule alternates between high carb and low carb days, six days a week, saving the seventh day for reward meals. Similar to calorie cycling, there are different methods for different health goals. With carb cycling, you don’t have to count calories, but add and lower carbs based on the day.
How to Use Calorie Cycling for Weight Loss
1. Workout on Your High-Calorie Days
Working out is an important part of any healthy weight loss journey. Your body’s energy requirements are higher on workout days, so you need to consume more calories in order to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. This will help you build muscle and lose fat more efficiently and ensure you don’t become weak from not eating enough.
2. Focus on Complex Carbohydrates on High-Calorie Days
On your higher calorie days, focus on eating complex carbs. Just because you can eat higher calories doesn’t mean you should be scarfing down burgers and heavy white pasta dishes. Focus on getting the majority of your calories from complex carbs such as whole grains, legumes and fruits that will keep you satisfied and energized while promoting weight loss.
3. Protein for Low-Calorie Days
To keep you energized through low-calorie days, get your protein from chicken, fish, lean beef, eggs and tofu. Add non-starchy vegetables – pretty much anything except potatoes, corn and peas. Stay away from preservative-packed processed foods and stick to fresh produce items!
How to Create a Calorie Cycling Meal Plan
1. Focus on Balance
Whether you’re on a low-calorie or high-calorie day, your meals should include a balance of essential macronutrients and a variety of foods to ensure proper nutrient intake. Fruit and vegetables are loaded with fibre, which will help you stay full without erasing your weight loss efforts. A balanced diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein is key.
2. Don’t Restrict Calories Below Recommended Levels
Health should always be your number one priority, and it’s important not to starve yourself while trying a new diet. Make sure to consume meals that are balanced in protein, carbohydrates and fat. Starving yourself on low-calorie days and binging on processed or fast foods on high-calorie days is not the way to go.
Remember that women should not consume less than 1,200 calories per day. Very low-calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slowed metabolism and binge eating, which leads to weight gain and other health issues.
3. Don’t Drink Your Calories
Sugary drinks like pop, fruit juices and lattes come at a high calorie count and are a big contributor to derailed diet progress. Stick to water, unsweetened teas or black coffee to ensure you’re consuming beneficial calories from healthy, nutritious foods.
4. Meals for Low Calorie Days
On low-calorie days, consume high-protein, high-fat and low carb meals. Focus on foods that will make you feel full but are low in carbs and calories. Examples of breakfast would be plain Greek yogurt with raspberries, cinnamon oatmeal with strawberries or peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast.
Lunch ideas could be a spinach salad with walnuts, feta cheese, dried cranberries, avocado and a light balsamic vinaigrette or a whole wheat wrap with chicken, black beans, tomatoes, cheese and avocado. Low calorie dinners would consist of chicken or fish with a plate full of veggies or shrimp with couscous, red pepper and hoisin sauce.
5. Meals for High Calorie Days
On high-calorie meal days, consume high-carb and moderate to low fat and protein meals. Think breakfasts like a large omelet with turkey sausage, veggies and cheese and whole wheat toast, or two whole grain waffles with a banana, syrup and a side of vanilla Greek yogurt.
Lunch examples would be whole wheat spaghetti with mushrooms, zucchini, grilled chicken breast and marinara sauce, and sesame salmon with brown rice, sugar snaps and broccolini. Examples of high calorie dinners are baked trout with lemon on brown rice with steak, kale and roasted tomatoes, and a black bean veggie burger on a whole wheat bun with tomatoes, pickles and romaine lettuce.
Calorie cycling may not be for everyone, but if you’re looking to try a diet more suited to your lifestyle, it may be right for you!