How To Follow A Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: Benefits & Pitfalls of Keto Carb Cycling

Though it’s often considered inflexible, the ketogenic diet has many different variations.

The standard keto diet is by far the most popular form, but there are several other ways to follow this low-carb, high-fat regime, including the cyclical ketogenic diet.

The cyclical keto diet involves rotating between a strict high-fat, low-carb ketogenic meal plan and higher carb intake.

In this article we will talk about the benefits, downsides and basic steps of the cyclical ketogenic diet.

When following a ketogenic diet, you normally restrict carbs to under 50 grams per day .

When carb intake is drastically reduced, your body must burn fat for energy instead of glucose, or blood sugar, in a process known as ketosis.

While in ketosis, for energy source your body uses ketones which are the byproducts of fat breakdown produced by your liver.

Although the cyclical ketogenic diet is a variation of the standard ketogenic diet, there are major differences between the two.

Cyclical ketogenic dieting involves adhering to a standard ketogenic diet protocol 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of higher carb consumption.

These higher-carb days are often referred to as “refeeding days,” as they’re meant to replenish your body’s depleted glucose reserves.

If you undertake a cyclical ketogenic diet, you switch out of ketosis during refeeding days in order to reap the benefits of carb consumption for a temporary period.

The cyclical ketogenic diet is popular among those seeking muscle growth and improved exercise performance.

How to follow a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.

Anyone wanting to start a cyclical keto diet should follow a standard ketogenic diet 5–6 days per week, adding 1–2 days of higher carb intake.

Step #1. Stick to a Standard Keto Diet 5–6 Days per Week.

During standard ketogenic days, it’s important to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day.

During this phase of the cyclical keto diet, healthy fats should deliver approximately 75% of your total calorie intake.

Your healthy fat options must include, Eggs, Coconut oil and unsweetened coconut, Avocado, Full-fat dairy products, Low-carb nuts and seeds, Nut butters, Fatty meats and MCT oil.

Proteins should make up around 15–20% of your total calories, while carb intake is typically restricted to under 10%.

Be sure to follow the standard keto diet 5–6 days per week.

Step #2. Increase Carb Consumption 1–2 Days per Week.

In this phase of the cyclical keto diet you should choose 1–2 days per week to “refeed” your glycogen stores.

During refeeding days, you should consume more carbs in order to break ketosis.

On refeeding days:

Carbs should comprise 60–70% of your total calories.

Protein should account for 15–20% of your total calories.

Fats should deliver just 5–10% of your total calories.

Though the goal of the refeeding phase is to increase the number of carbs, carb quality also matters.

Instead of relying on unhealthy sources like white bread and baked goods, you should get the majority of your carbs from healthy sources.

Some examples of nutritious, complex carbs include, Sweet potatoes, Butternut squash, Brown rice, Oats, Quinoa, Whole-wheat or brown-rice pasta, Beans and lentils

These carbs are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which fuel your body and keep blood sugar levels stabilized.

Step #3. Returning to Ketosis.

After high-carb, refeeding days, you should consider intermittent fasting to return to ketosis fast.

The most common intermittent fasting method involves fasting for 16 hours of the day.

We also recommend high-intensity workouts on the days following refeeding in order to achieve ketosis while optimizing muscle growth.

A cyclical ketogenic diet also comes with a few potential benefits.

Benefits of Carb Cycling

Benefit #1. It decreases keto related side effects.

The ketogenic diet is associated with unpleasant side effects collectively known as the keto flu.

Symptoms of the keto flu include nausea, fatigue, headaches, constipation, weakness, difficulty sleeping and irritability.

These symptoms emerge when your body struggles to adapt to using ketones as a primary fuel source.

Cycling in carbohydrates 1–2 days per week can decrease these symptoms.

#2. It helps you add more fiber to your diet.

Constipation is a common complaint among those first transitioning to a keto diet.

This is because some people struggle to obtain enough fiber when eating a high-fat, very low-carb diet.

Though it’s possible to consume enough fiber on a standard keto diet, transitioning to a cyclical ketogenic diet can make it much easier.

#3. It may help in gaining muscle

Muscle-building hormones like insulin are suppressed when following very low-carb diets like the keto diet.

Insulin regulates muscle growth by allowing amino acids and glucose into your muscle cells, increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein breakdown in muscle tissue.

Using the cyclical keto diet to strategically raise insulin levels on specific days could allow you to use the anabolic effects of insulin to promote muscle growth.

#4. It makes the keto diet easier to stick to.

SInce on a keto diet you must drastically reduce your carb intake to reach ketosis, many healthy, yet high-carb foods are off limits.

Using the cyclical keto diet, you can eat carb-rich foods on refeeding days, which may make the diet more sustainable in the long run.

Because research on the cyclical keto diet is limited, its side effects are largely unknown.

One of the most obvious side effects could be that many people may eat too many calories on refeeding days, counteracting the weight loss benefits of the standard keto diet.

Also, transitioning from a standard to a cyclical keto diet may result in temporary weight gain, primarily due to excess water that is retained when consuming high-carb foods.

There are two main groups of people that carb cycling can be helpful for – endurance athletes and active people on low-carb diets.

But research on that too is relatively new, and there’s not a lot of data on the long-term effects of swinging between low and high carb intake.

While this method is claimed to reduce keto flu symptoms, boost athletic performance and promote muscle growth, research on its effectiveness and possible drawbacks is lacking.

No matter which type of keto diet you choose, it’s always important to choose healthy, nutrient-dense foods in order to reach your goals.

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