Everyone knows that the ketogenic diet requires you to restrict carbohydrates down to a minimum so you can start burning fats for energy.
But what about the weekends? Does that mean you can’t enjoy some carbohydrates here and there?
Don’t you need some carbohydrates to build muscle?
Look no further. In this article, we’re going to talk about everything you need to know to about eating carbs once in a while on the ketogenic diet.
The Ketogenic Diet …With Carbs?
To properly follow a standard ketogenic diet, you have to keep carbohydrates down to a minimum (20-30g per day). This allows your body to start burning ketones from fats for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates.
For most people burning fat for energy sounds like a dream come true because it means burning your own stored body fat to lose weight.
But there is one subset of people who may feel like they need carbs — athletes.
Many athletes believe that carbohydrates are needed if they want to build muscle, increase strength, and improve their overall athletic performance.
The thought process is that when you restrict carbs, you have no available glycogen to fuel your workouts. This is the basis of some studies that have found the ketogenic diet combined with weight training doesn’t lead to optimal muscle gain[*][*][*].
So does this mean that the ketogenic diet is useless for athletes?
Introducing the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): A ketogenic eating protocol that allows you to have carbohydrates one to two days out of the week. By eating high in carbs for these couple days, you will replenish your glycogen storages.
How to Do the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The CKD approach will have you consuming large amounts of carbohydrates one or two days out of the week (for most people this is the weekend). Then, for the remainder of the days, you will follow a standard ketogenic diet.
It’s important to note that during your high carb days, you must keep your fat intake as low as possible while you consume high carb foods.
But be careful, many people assume the CKD means you can overindulge on whatever junk food you desire and still reap the benefits. This is one of the most common mistakes people make when they attempt the cyclical ketogenic diet.
This is entirely incorrect.
The goal is to keep fat to a minimum so that your muscles use up all the glycogen. You see, your body prioritizes carbohydrates for energy before fats.
So when you combine fats and carbs together, your body will use the glucose from carbs as energy and the fat will be stored as body fat rather than used for energy.
It cannot use fat and carbs as energy at the same time.
Here are some common high carbohydrate foods you should consume during your carb days:
- White Rice
- Brown Rice
- White Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
The Initial Phase of the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
To get yourself into gear towards an anabolic mode, you will want to begin your carb load approximately 5 hours before your last workout. During this time, 25-50 grams of carbs can be consumed along with your protein and fats to start a higher liver enzyme production.
Then, 1-2 hours before your final workout, you will want to consume a mixture of both fructose and glucose consisting of around 25-50 grams total as a start.
Your Carb Up Phase
Many people like to just consume any kind of carbohydrates during your carb load. While this may certainly work for strength gains, it may also lead to some fat gain.
For the people who want to be more intricate with their routine, the steps below will give you a more detailed approach that will produce the best results.
Your Macronutrient Ratios
Everyone is going to require slight adjustments, but here are some general guidelines that you should follow:
- For the first 24 hours of carb load — Your carbohydrate intake should take up around 70-75% of your total calorie intake, 10-15% from protein, and 15% from healthy fats. Try to avoid processed carbohydrates if possible.
- The second 24 hours of your carb load — 60-60% from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, 15% from fats.
Getting Back into Ketosis After Your Carb Up
The fastest way to get back into ketosis is by depleting your liver and muscle glycogen. This can be accomplished in several different ways, with one of the most effective ways being intermittent fasting.
For a complete, detailed article on how to get back into ketosis after carb up, click here.
Here is a quick, foolproof way to ensure you enter a state of ketosis after your carb load:
- The day after your carb load, utilize intermittent fasting and don’t eat anything until around 7PM.
- Then, eat a standard ketogenic diet meal.
- On the second day, do a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout in a fasted state. This will help you deplete any extra glycogen that is stored in your liver and muscles.
- On the third day, proceed with your normal weight lifting regimen while in a fasted state. If you find yourself feeling weak, make sure you are consuming enough electrolytes. You can also supplement with BCAA’s.
- Anytime during these three days, consuming exogenous ketones or MCT oil will help drive you back into ketosis.
What Can You Eat on the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?
Remember that there are two separate phases during your CKD protocol. For the first five or six days, you will be following a standard ketogenic diet approach. On the other one or two days, you will be consuming mostly carbohydrates.
When you are in your CKD phase, it’s imperative that you don’t get your carbohydrates from simple carbs like candy. This can spike your insulin and blood sugar too much.
Instead, you want to focus on consuming the bulk of your carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates.
What Exactly are Complex Carbohydrates?
These are carbohydrates that take longer for your body to digest. This means your body won’t have sugar shuttled in all at once.
Longer digestion means your body will have more stable blood sugar elevations rather than insane fluctuations that may occur from simple carbohydrates. This will help you keep less fat off while still benefiting from increased muscle and strength gains from carbing up one to two times out of the week.
Here are some complex carbohydrates to eat during your carb days on the cyclical ketogenic diet:
- Sweet potatoes
Avoid Simple Carbohydrates
As mentioned before, you will still see progress if you consume simple carbohydrates, but, you will also experience fat gain and it’s worse for your health.
Simple carbs have very small amounts of fiber and doesn’t contain any vitamins and minerals. Excess amounts of simple carbs can lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels which in some cases can result in type 2 diabetes[*].
Here’s a list of simple carbohydrates that you should avoid at all costs during your carb days:
- White bread
- Fruit juice
- Refined grains
- Sugary drinks like Gatorade
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
As you can tell, the general theme here is anything that contains sugar should be avoided. If you have the slightest bit of general nutritional knowledge, you should know that these foods are bad for you anyways.
Benefits of Adopting a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
But what about the cyclical ketogenic diet? Are there additional benefits?
Following a cyclical ketogenic diet can drastically help athletes and people who are following a weight loss regimen and want to build muscle while keeping fat down to a minimum.
Here’s what happens when you successfully follow a CKD:
- Anabolic hormones are increased. The hormones — testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) are all increased when you adopt a CKD. This is largely due to the hormone optimization that occurs by increasing fat intake for five to six days followed by high carb for a day or two.
- When you keep carbs low, your body will start burning fat for energy which increases lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and decreases lipogenesis (fat accumulation).
Don’t Be Afraid of Insulin (to Build Muscle on Keto)
Insulin is secreted by our pancreas whenever carbohydrates are present in the body. Low insulin levels means your body can start using fat as its main energy source, and vice versa.
So shouldn’t we try to keep insulin low at all times?
Not in the case for building muscle.
During your carb ups, you are spiking your insulin levels. The insulin will then shuttle amino acids into the muscle tissue and refill your depleted muscle glycogen stores.
This will help you build muscle more effectively throughout the week when you are eating low carb, high fat.
Having muscle glycogen means you can lift more in the gym without getting fatigued right away. So by reloading our glycogen stores every week, you have ample amounts of energy to fuel your workouts.
Fat Increases Testosterone
The CKD works well for many people because you are taking the best of both worlds. For example, during the five days of the week that you are consuming high fat, you are optimizing your testosterone levels to function at its best.
Studies have shown that healthy dietary fat increases testosterone[*].
Testosterone is known to help you build more muscle while keep fat away.
Ketosis is Muscle Sparing
Some people think that when you restrict carbohydrates, you may be losing muscle because you are depleting your glycogen stores.
But just because you are depleting muscle glycogen doesn’t mean that you are going to lose muscle.
In fact, studies have shown that when your body adapts to burning fats for energy through ketones, you benefit from a muscle sparing effect. This means as long as you are providing yourself with enough protein and fats during your standard ketogenic phase of CKD, you’ll burn fat while still keeping muscle[*].
One Week Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Meal Example
Here is a quick demonstration of how the CKD looks like for one week.
For five days out of the week (Monday through Friday), you will eat standard ketogenic diet meals consisting of low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fats.
An example of a SKD meal plan for a day includes:
- Breakfast — eggs and bacon
- Lunch — 80/20 grass-fed beef with tuna and avocado
- Dinner — A fatty cut of meat like ribeye or t-bone with asparagus.
During the weekend, you will eat a high carbohydrate, low fat and moderate protein meals.
This would include:
- Breakfast — Oatmeal with whey or beef protein and a banana
- Lunch — Tuna with white or sweet potatoes
- Dinner — Chicken breast, white rice and broccoli
- Snack — beef protein and fruit
Use the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet if You’re Already Experienced with Keto
The cyclical ketogenic diet almost sounds like the perfect diet because you are still receiving the benefits of standard keto while still being able to enjoy carbohydrates during the weekend.
But as I mentioned above, during your carb ups, it’s imperative that you are NOT indulging on fast food and processed carbohydrates. This will lead to weight gain and you won’t see the results you’re hoping for.
If you are an athlete, bodybuilder or experienced with the ketogenic diet and want to take it a step further, you can consider trying out the cyclical ketogenic diet to further improve your athletic performance while keeping body fat low.
But if you are a beginner to this way of eating, it’s best to start out with a standard ketogenic diet.
P.S. If you are unsure of where to begin with the standard ketogenic diet, my step-by-step Ketogenic Diet Roadmap will give you a simple, easy-to-understand blueprint so you can start losing fat and increasing your energy through keto today!