What Is The Cyclical Keto Diet? Pros and Cons


If you are a practitioner of the keto diet then most likely you’ve come across the term, cyclical keto diet and may be wondering what exactly is it, it’s pros and cons, how it works and if it’s the right fit for you.

We’ll cover all that and more so you can make an informed decision and really see if you should adopt this approach to your diet. The idea is to incorporate healthy eating habits in the long term, which is what you look for healthy and sustainable weight loss.

Many stay away from the low carb, high-fat approach -which is essentially the keto lifestyle because they worry it will mess up with their performance. However, the cyclical keto diet may offer the best of both worlds, because it allows carb consumption while still obtaining the benefits of ketosis.

What Is Cycling Keto Diet?

A standard ketogenic diet consisting of very low carbohydrates, moderate protein, and high fats. Your body will then be put on a state of ketosis where instead of burning carbs for energy, it burns fat.

The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) is a variation of the ketogenic diet where carbs can be consumed occasionally. CKD basically poses the idea of eating clean carbohydrates one or two days out of the week.

CKD format consists of 5-6 days of normal ketogenic dieting and 1-2 days of high carb eating. During the cycling keto days, also known as carb-loading, you’re encouraged to eat large amounts of carbs; such as rice, potatoes, oatmeal, pasta, and whole grains.
If you want the best results, it is key to keep your fat intake low during your carb days. The very opposite of standard keto.

The primary goal here is to temporarily switch out of ketosis to refill muscle glycogen, in order to sustain training performance in the next cycle. This is especially appealing to many strength athletes and bodybuilders because of the need for carbs on heavy training days.

Does Carb Cycling Kick You Out Of Ketosis

The cyclical ketogenic diet is often compared to carb cycling however, while they may use the same method is not quite the same thing.

Cyclical keto involves a mostly ketogenic diet mixed in with limited carb days for athletes who need to restore glycogen stores. These carb days are designed to take the body out of ketosis temporarily before returning to ketosis shortly thereafter.

With carb cycling, you are cutting carbs on certain days of the week while upping your intake on others. Typically, each week is divided between 4–6 days of lower carb intake and 1–3 days of higher intake.

So, carb cycling does not necessarily induce ketosis. Carb intake is adjusted each day, but it’s likely never reduced enough to get you into a ketogenic state.

How To Do The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?

If you follow a standard keto diet then adopting a cyclical ketogenic diet shouldn’t be that much of a problem.

If you are really serious about starting a cyclical ketogenic diet, all you have to do is follow the standard keto diet 5–6 days per week, and add 1–2 days of higher carb intake.

You’ll be going in and out of ketosis, in other words switching from the standard ketogenic phase and the carb load phase.

Keep in mind you have to be very disciplined, it is important to follow a strict ketogenic diet when you aren’t in the carb load phase. This is to ensure your body doesn’t get confused as to which fuel source to use for energy.

The ability for your body to switch from one fuel source to another (from fats to carbs and vice versa); is called metabolic flexibility -which will become more efficient through exercise, fasting, and eating the right foods.

What To Do During Standard Ketogenic Phase (5–6 Days per Week)

Most days of the week while you are on the standard ketogenic days, it’s important to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day.
Low carb intake will eventually result in depleted glycogen stores, typically within 24 – 48 hours, leading to a breakdown of fat, leading to ketone production, resulting in a metabolic change.

The following macronutrient ratio should be used for standard keto days:

70% – 80% of calories from healthy fats
10% – 15% of calories from protein (or 20% – 25% if choosing a more liberal keto diet)
5% – 10% of calories from carbs

Healthy fat options include:

  • Eggs
  • Coconut oil and unsweetened coconut
  • Avocado
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Low-carb nuts and seeds
  • Nut butter
  • Fatty meats
  • MCT oil

Proteins should make up around 15–20% of your total calories, while carb intake is typically restricted to under 10% (4Trusted Source).

What To Do During Carb Load Phase (1–2 Days per Week)

The second phase of the cyclical keto diet involves choosing 1–2 days per week in order to fill up your body’s muscle glycogen, in order to enhance your workouts or athletic performance for the remainder of the week.

During this phase, you want to consume more carbs in order to break ketosis.

The carb loading days should follow a macronutrient ratio of 30% – 40% of calories from carbs, 25% – 30% of calories from protein, and 30% – 40% of calories from fat. Carbs should come from micronutrient-dense, whole foods.

Foods containing processed sugar should be avoided, as they can cause an unhealthy, rapid spike in insulin levels and provide no valuable nutrients.

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

What To Eat On The Ketogenic Diet

As a reminder, you need to be consuming healthy, complex carbohydrates rather than quick, simple carbs.

Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest in the body. They are made up of sugar molecules that are bound together in long, complex chains. In other words, they won’t create an unhealthy insulin spike.

In addition, complex carbohydrates contain more vitamins and minerals compared to simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs are often known as “empty calories” because they don’t contain any vitamins, minerals, or fiber.

Check out the following list of complex carbohydrates you should eat during the carb load phase:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • White or brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal
  • 100% whole wheat bread
  • 100% whole wheat pasta
  • Couscous
  • Butternut squash
  • Beets
  • Yams
  • Multigrain cereal

Simple carbohydrates you should stay away at all costs during your carb-up phase include:

  • White bread
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Doughnuts
  • Cake
  • Fruit juice
  • White flour
  • Agave nectar
  • Dextrose
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Corn syrup

Getting Back To Ketosis After Carb Load Phase

To get back to ketosis, intermittent fasting as well as high-intensity workouts are recommended on the days following high-carb consumption.

Check out the next tips:

  • On the first day after carb load, use intermittent fast, by not eating anything for at least 16 hours.
  • On day two, perform high-intensity interval training on an empty stomach. Then continue to eat meals that are ketogenic-friendly.

This will help you to deplete your body’s glycogen storages that have accumulated from your carb days.

Pros of Cyclical Keto

Some of the benefits you might expect from the cyclical keto diet include:

1. Prevent the keto flu

As the body struggles to adapt to using fat and ketones as primary energy sources, you might experience something known as the “keto flu” -your body’s natural response while it adapts to burning fat, and not glucose, for fuel.
Carb intake can help to get rid of the keto flu in the short term but be warned, you may still get keto flu when you try to get back into ketosis.

2. Makes keto easier to stick with 

The standard keto diet is restrictive by nature, that’s why some people find it difficult to maintain 100% of the time. Adopting cyclical keto will allow occasional carb consumption taking the pressure off on social occasions and resulting in easier adherence to the diet.

3. Increase in nutrient intake

By consuming high carb foods such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, butternut squash, and brown rice your diet may become more nutrient-rich. They provide valuable nutrients such as vitamin A, fiber, manganese, magnesium, and more.

4. May increase muscle growth

Cyclical keto can be used strategically on intense training session days to enhance the anabolic effect of insulin for muscle development.

Cons of Cyclical Keto

1. It may be counterproductive to weight loss 

If too many carbohydrates are consumed on carb load days. Increased carb intake following glycogen depletion may also cause water retention and temporary weight fluctuations.

2. Cyclical ketogenic diet is not for everyone

If your main reason for following a ketogenic diet is for health concerns such as hyperinsulinemia, epilepsy, or metabolic disease such as type 2 diabetes, the cyclical ketogenic diet is not recommended for you. It works great for people who exercise frequently, advanced dieters, bodybuilders who want to build muscle or athletes looking to improve workout performance.

3. Other side effects may appear

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

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