Macro cycling is a diet where you eat varying amounts of carbohydrates and fats over alternating 2–week periods.
People who use macro cycling are generally trying to lose weight. Though some individuals have found it can help promote weight loss, the scientific research on its effectiveness is lacking.
Even so, you may wonder how it compares with other forms of dieting, such as carb cycling.
In this article, we’ll define macro cycling, explain how it works, and list some potential benefits and downsides to help you decide whether it’s right for you.
Macro cycling is a way of dieting where you alternate how much protein, carbs, and fats you consume over 2-week periods.
Macros, also known as macronutrients, refers to the three major nutrients that our bodies use. These are:
In macro cycling, you use ratios to determine the appropriate amount of each macronutrient to consume in a given week.
Whereas traditional weight loss diets gradually reduce carbs and fats over time, macro cycling alternates between reducing carbs in one cycle and fats in another to promote weight loss.
Theoretically, this may allow for increased diet flexibility and help keep you from feeling deprived of various foods.
In addition, athletes and other active individuals often use macro cycling to get leaner while maintaining their energy levels and performance.
Macro cycling vs. carb cycling
Macro cycling stems from a diet strategy called carb cycling, which has been around for a while.
As the name implies, carb cycling involves cycling through carbs on a daily or weekly basis. The purpose is to consume carbs when you most need them, like before or after exercise, and avoid them at other times.
This can help promote weight loss by putting you into a calorie deficit, which means consuming fewer calories than your body burns on a daily basis (1).
Instead of cycling only carbohydrates, macro cycling also specifies the amount of fat you eat during a given period.
Protein, on the other hand, usually remains consistent. This is because it plays less of a role in energy metabolism. Plus, consuming it may actually help you lose weight (
Macro cycling is a diet strategy people use to lose weight. Followers eat varying amounts of carbohydrates and fats over 2-week periods, based on specific ratios. In macro cycling, you cycle your consumption of both carbs and fats.
Here’s a quick rundown on how to implement a macro cycling pattern.
Determining your macros
To start out, you’ll have to determine your daily calorie intake goal. You can estimate this using one of several online calculators.
You’ll input your:
- activity level
Then, the calculator will help determine a suitable daily calorie intake for you.
From there, you’ll break these calories down into amounts of individual macronutrients using the ratios below.
When it comes to determining your individual macros, most people use ratios of protein, carbs, and fats as a percentage of total calories.
Here are some of the most popular ratios for macro cycling:
- Starting ratio: 40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fat
- Lower carb, higher fat ratio: 40% protein, 20% carbs, 40% fat
- Lower fat, higher carb ratio: 40% protein, 40% carbs, 20% fat
You multiply these percentages against your total daily calories to determine how many calories you’ll need to get from each macronutrient.
Protein, carbs, and fats have 4, 4, and 9 calories per gram, respectively. So, to find out how much of each macronutrient to eat in a single day in terms of weight, divide any calories from protein and carbs by 4, and calories from fat by 9.
For example, if you aim to consume 2,000 calories per day and are using the starting ratio, you need to consume 30% of your total calories in the form of carbs — in other words, 600 calories. And since carbs have 4 calories per gram, 600 divided by 4 equals 150 grams of carbs.
Throughout the macro cycle, your protein intake will generally remain consistent. This is because it doesn’t have much of an effect on your weight status (
Putting it into practice
When following a macro cycling approach, most people use this starting ratio for the first 2 weeks:
- 40% protein
- 30% carbs
- 30% fat
From there, you’ll recalculate your macros using either the lower fat or lower carb ratios for the next 2 weeks, and finally using the remaining ratio for the last 2 weeks in that cycle.
In continuing cycles, you’ll alternate the lower carb and lower fat ratios every 2 weeks until you meet your weight loss goal.
You may need to lower your overall calories throughout the process to keep losing weight.
You’ll start out by determining your overall calories, followed by your individual macros using specific ratios, and finally implement your macros in 2-week cycles.
Macro cycling followers report several benefits, though there’s little research on the effectiveness of macro cycling.
More flexibility than carb cycling
Macro cycling allows you to vary your intake of carbohydrates and fats on a biweekly basis. For this reason, the diet tends to be much more flexible than carb cycling.
On the other hand, a carb cycling diet requires you to modify your carb intake on a daily basis, depending on your level of activity.
This can leave carb cyclers feeling deprived of the foods they’re used to eating.
Following a macro cycling approach may help keep you from feeling this way because it gives you more variation in your diet, especially if you’re following the diet for a long period of time.
Overall, this may help you stick to the diet and achieve better long-term results (
Simplifies meal prep
With carb cycling, you need to prep a variety of foods that are lower in carbs for low carb days and higher in carbs for higher carb days.
This can make it more difficult to prep meals in advance because you need to change your carb ratio on a daily basis.
Following a macro cycling approach may allow for simplified meal prepping because you only have to vary carbs and fats every 2 weeks. This may allow you to batch-cook meals for the whole week, for example.
This could save you time pondering what you are going to eat and allow more time for other things.
May be better for athletes
High performance and recreational athletes depend on getting adequate nutrition to fuel their body for training and competition.
More specifically, many high intensity sports require moderate to high carbohydrate intakes (
A macro cycling approach may be superior to a carb cycling for this because it allows you to get a more consistent intake of carbohydrates to fuel your performance.
Following a macro cycling approach comes with some potential benefits, which include more food flexibility than carb cycling, simplified meal prep, and improved tolerance for athletes.
While following a macro cycling diet may come with some benefits, you should also be aware of a few downsides.
It’s important to note that, if you want to try macro cycling and you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, you should make sure to speak with a healthcare professional to decide the best approach for you.
Lacks reliable research
The major notable downside of macro cycling is the lack of research supporting its effectiveness.
While there are select studies available that have reviewed similar diets, such as carb cycling, the research on macro cycling itself remains scarce.
This is likely due to the fact that this method of dieting is fairly new and has not attracted as much interest from researchers.
Until scientists do further research to investigate macro cycling, experts can’t make informed recommendations about the diet.
So, if you’re attempting this form of dieting, it’s best to proceed with caution.
Calorie deficit may affect athletic performance
It’s important to note that, whether you do macro cycling or carb cycling, maintaining too large of a caloric deficit can affect your athletic performance (
That’s why competitive athletes may want to wait until their off-season to focus on serious body recomposition goals.
May require tracking foods
When following a macro cycling diet, keeping track of your daily macronutrient intake is important to ensure you remain on track.
For most people, the easiest way to count calories and macros is by using one of several smartphone apps, which use a food database to calculate macros.
While some people may find it simple to regularly track macros, others may find it a nuisance.
Sill others may choose to “guestimate” the macros of each meal and add them up at the end of the day. You might find this method easier, but it also leaves room for error and can potentially affect your progress.
Before starting a macro cycle diet, consider whether you’ll be able to regularly track your macros and what method might work best for you.
Macro cycling has a few downsides. These include the lack of research supporting its effectiveness, a calorie deficit potentially affecting athletic performance, and the need to regularly track your macros.
Some people claim they’ve experienced excellent benefits from macro cycling. However, others may not want to be bothered with having to calculate their macros on a biweekly basis.
An alternative method to macro cycling is to simply eat a whole food, nutrient-dense diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates, which are high in fiber.
Nutrient density refers to the nutrient content of a given food in relation to the calories it supplies. A nutrient-dense food packs a lot of nutrients with a lower number of calories. Many fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense (
Eating like this takes the focus off the quantity of food you are eating and directs it toward the quality of your diet.
When you’re making this shift to a nutrient-dense diet, you may end up reducing your calories as a side effect, which can lead to fat loss in the long run (
For most people, this is a much more sustainable approach to dieting and can help prevent weight regain.
That said, some individuals may still benefit from following diet strategies that require specific macronutrient guidelines.
A good alternative to a macro cycling diet would be to simply consume a whole food, nutrient-dense diet. This takes the focus off the quantity of food you’re eating and emphasizes the quality of your diet, often leading to fat loss.
Macro cycling is a method of dieting in which you consume varying amounts of carbohydrates and fats over alternating 2–week periods based on specific ratios of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
People aiming to lose weight can use this method without some of the negative side effects of more restrictive diets, such as carb cycling.
Following a macro cycling approach comes with some potential benefits, which include:
- more food flexibility than carb cycling
- simplified meal prepping
- improved tolerance for athletes
That said, research on macro cycling is lacking, so if you choose to try this dieting approach, it’s best to tread with caution.
If you’re looking for a less restrictive approach to weight loss, macro cycling may be an option worth considering.
If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, speak with a healthcare professional if you want to try macro cycling. They can help you decide on an appropriate approach.
Just one thing
Try this today: Stocking your kitchen with nutrient-dense snacks is a great way to set yourself up for healthy eating success. Chia pudding, edamame, cottage cheese, and eggs are just a few examples of delicious nutrient-dense snacks.
Read this article for 29 nutrient-packed, weight loss–friendly snack ideas.