Cyclical Ketogenic Diet

Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The Facts About Low-Carb Cycling

Cyclical Ketosis - An Overview

If you know about the ultra-low-carb keto diet and have perhaps tried it, you are likely aware of the many benefits the lifestyle has to offer. Those include weight loss, reduced appetite, more stable blood glucose levels, enhanced physical stamina, and mental acuity and, in some cases, lowered blood pressure. All because you trick your body into burning fat for energy instead of carbs. It’s pretty remarkable, although strictly adhering to the diet takes discipline and determination.

Carb Up to Max Out Keto Benefits

While the benefits of the low-carb lifestyle are real and many there may be times when a person feels that their weight loss efforts have stalled or they want to try and build larger muscles, (not just leaner ones), or that they don’t have quite as much energy at their disposal as they might want. In those cases, they may want to try what's called a "cyclical ketogenic diet plan” or "carb up." Carb up is just what it sounds like; breaking with your strict diet and performing periodic carbo loads.

carbohydrates rich meals

Those who have gone all-in on the low-carb lifestyle will likely scoff at the notion, but the idea of carbing up (also called “cyclical ketosis”) is not as odd as it may seem.

Cyclical Ketosis is Not for Everyone

Now let’s get something straight right out of the box: the cyclical ketosis diet is not for everyone. You need to have already mastered the low-carb lifestyle and been successfully and thoroughly in a state of ketosis for some time; typically 1 to 2 months. If you're starting out on your keto odyssey, don't even think about carbing up for now.

Also, a carb-heavy keto refeed doesn’t just mean hopping from one Italian restaurant to another until you can’t stomach any more pasta. It has to be done in a controlled, intelligent manner intended solely to provide you the specific benefits you feel you may be missing out on with the lifestyle alone. And one more thing: it will very undoubtedly result in you being kicked out of ketosis, but that's the point and why it's called "cyclical ketosis." It's because you'd be cycling in and out of ketosis.

What You Need to Know Before Starting

man eating a sandwich

Okay, so we’re going to assume you’ve been adhering to the keto diet (more details here) for at least a couple of months and are ready to enhance the benefits of the lifestyle by carbing up periodically. You understand that a carb refeeding is a way to augment your routine and lifestyle efforts, not a white flag because you can't take the diet anymore. So with all that as a given, let's look at precisely what cyclical ketosis entails.

A keto carb up is a short period when you intentionally consume more carbs than your diet allows. This period may be as short as a single meal, or it may last for a full day (some people will need the carb up for 2 days at a time, but we feel that's a risky strategy that can easily result in abandoning the lifestyle altogether). Again, keep in mind that you will be kicked out of ketosis and that you’re likely to put on a bit of weight via water retention.

The amount of carbs you consume and for how long will depend on your specific goals and the overall condition of your body. It's likely you're going to have to do a bit of experimenting before you find the Goldilocks "just right" combination. Here are a few examples of how you might want to carb up:

  • Adhere to the keto diet during the week, do carb loading on Saturday and then return to the strict rules on Sunday.
  • Stick with a strict routine except for a single carb-heavy meal every 3rd day.
  • Adhere to the lifestyle full time except when you feel a specific need to have some carbs at the ready. This strategy does not call for predictable cycling but instead more random carb ups determined solely by the needs of the moment.
  • Eat low-carb all week and then go carb heavy every weekend. As we said above, we think this strategy of 5 days on 2 days off presents unnecessary risks of abandoning your routine altogether. But if you think you can handle it, then more power to you.
people eating lunch

Keep in mind too that reserving your keto carb up instances for the weekend provides you flexibility when going out with your family or buddies for a weekend feed.

Carb Ups and Workouts - Cyclical Ketosis Diet

A cyclical ketosis diet is most successful when it dovetails with your workout regime. It’s recommended in fact that you do a strenuous workout the day before doing your carb up so that your glycogen stores are fully depleted. Carbing up will then will allow you to replenish your reserves of glycogen and push yourself harder during your subsequent workouts to achieve a higher degree of muscle growth.

So What Should You Be Eating During a Carb Up?

cooking prep in the kitchen

Regardless of the carb up the schedule you adopt, the carb-heavy meal should be your last meal of the day so that you can best avoid experiencing the cravings that sometimes descend as a result of eating carb-heavy foods. And speaking of carb-heavy foods the ones you choose to load up on should have a low glycemic index as well. This will also help you avoid excessive cravings. Sweet potatoes, bananas, whole wheat pasta, carrots and more all fit the bill.

Just remember that carbing up is not intended to supply you with a way to cheat on your keto diet. It needs to serve a specific purpose, or you'll be flopping in and out of ketosis for no good reason.

Cyclical ketosis provides some dieters with a legit way of augmenting their health and fitness efforts within the general framework. But it requires discipline, and you should have well-developed goals in place before embarking on this dietary strategy.

About the Author

Ryan is a personal trainer, athlete, health enthusiast, and entrepreneur. He is researching and expanding his knowledge about the ketogenic diet. He spends most of his time writing content about his new learnings of the ketogenic diet.