Given how strict the standard ketogenic diet is, many people don’t know that there are actually a few variations to it. One of them being the cyclical ketogenic diet.
Even though the standard way of doing keto is the most popular, some people like the variation the cyclical version can give them when it comes to eating food.
Basically, the cyclical ketogenic diet will involve you rotating between the strict version of keto (high fat, low-carb) and a period of higher carbs mixed in.
We’ll explain in detail what this diet is, how you can do it, and get the best results from it.
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Explained
On a traditional ketogenic diet, you’re only allowed to consume about 5% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
It’s a very high-fat, low-carb diet where you’re not allowing your body to eat over fifty grams of carbohydrates a day, roughly.
Your body is forced to use an alternative source of fuel since you’re starving it of carbs.
This fat-burning mode is called ketosis, where your body burns fat for its energy instead of the sugar or glucose it normally gets from carbohydrates.
When your body goes into a state of ketosis, it uses ketone bodies produced by the liver as your new energy source.
Your body and brain work very well on a ketogenic diet.
There are big differences between the standard keto diet and the cyclical keto diet, and it’s important to understand the nuances between the two of them so you can get their maximum benefit with whichever one you choose.
On the cyclical version, you’ll be doing the standard ketogenic diet for 5-6 days out of the week and giving your body 1-2 days of higher carbs.
Also known as a refeed day, these days of higher carbs are more common in strength athletes where they gain the muscle-building benefit of replenishing their glucose stores.
Of course, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get a benefit from the cyclical keto diet, but by leaving ketosis for a day or two, your body can reap the rewards of higher carb consumption temporarily.
Although there’s not much evidence to support this, some people in the fitness community speculate that the cyclical version of keto is superior for building strength and muscle while still reaping the fat-burning benefits of keto.
Is Cyclical Keto Carb Cycling?
Well, yes and no. While it is often compared to carb-cycling, it’s definitely not the same thing.
Yes, you will go through periods of increased and decreased carbs on different days. Carb cycling rules are very similar, but with much higher levels of carbs.
Normally on carb cycling, you’ll have almost the same breakdown of days between lower and higher carb intake, but you’re also increasing protein intake as well.
You’ll likely never reach the state of ketosis by carb cycling, as it can take a few days to a few weeks to adapt fully to keto.
You’re never really giving your body a chance to fully deplete its glycogen stores to go into ketosis since the higher carb intake will keep replenishing glucose in your body.
When Do You Do Cyclical Keto?
While the rules are fairly flexible, the main way to incorporate a cyclical ketogenic diet is to start by doing the traditional version of keto for five to six days per week.
Then, one or two days out of the week, you’re allowed to go slightly higher in carbs than just having 50 grams.
On your standard days, you’ll be eating roughly 25-50 grams of net carbs per day and your fat intake will be around 75 percent of your total daily calories.
Some foods high in fat that are great to eat are:
- Coconut, Avocado, or Olive oil on almost everything
- Dairy products full of fat (whole milk, butter, heavy cream, etc.)
- Almonds and other low-carb nuts/seeds
- Fatty cuts of meat like steak
Protein should only take up around 25 percent of your overall daily caloric intake, and it’s easy to go overboard with it.
The Refeed Days
Pick one or two days out of the wheel where you’ll be replenishing your stores of glycogen with a higher carb intake.
On these refeed days, the standard way of eating keto goes out the window.
You don’t want to turn this into a cheat day, so be sure to eat within your normal daily calories.
Here are some guidelines for your refeed days:
- Fat intake can drop down to 5-20 percent of calories for the day
- Protein can account for 20 percent of calories
- Carbohydrates should consist of 60 percent of your calorie intake
What you consume on these days is also important.
Again, this is not a cheat day, so stuffing your face with doughnuts and other sugary treats is not the goal.
Make sure to get your carb intake from healthier sources to keep your body fueled and running at an optimal level.
Stick to sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, beans, quinoa, and other similar foods for carbs.
Not only are these foods high in fiber, vitamins, and other minerals, they will also help to keep your blood sugar from going through the roof.
Also, it’s another good idea to avoid sugary drinks as well like soda. Your body will likely respond with irritability and increased hunger if you don’t follow the above guidelines.
After your refeed days, you’ll want to get back into ketosis as fast as possible.
You can get back into ketosis through fasting while also going back to a high-fat, low-carb diet.
Benefitting From The Cyclical Approach
The reason the cyclical ketogenic diet is gaining popularity is because users have reported advantages they’ve seen on themselves while on this keto variation.
More studies are coming out about how a cyclical keto approach can affect muscle gain in performance athletes. (1)
Since you’re avoiding spikes in insulin when on the keto diet by consuming a high-fat diet, muscle-building hormones like insulin are almost nonexistent. (2)
Insulin has been shown to allow glucose into muscle cells which, in turn, increases protein synthesis and prevents muscle tissue breakdown. (3)
By using a cyclical ketogenic diet approach, you can raise levels of insulin rather strategically to promote growth in muscle tissue.
Decreased Side Effects
Commonly associated with side effects that can be unpleasant like the keto flu, nausea, headaches, constipation, and general irritability, some have experienced none of these symptoms on the cyclical variation of keto.
While there are common mistakes that can avoid these side effects, this is also another way to do it.
Generally, when switching fuel sources, your body is lacking certain vitamins, minerals, and nutrients leading to those side effects.
Easier Adherence To Diet
Since the ketogenic diet can be pretty restrictive when it comes to the foods you can and can’t eat, it might be difficult to stick to for the long term.
On these strategic refeed days on the cyclical keto version, you can bring in foods you may really like to eat, thus allowing you to stay on the diet for the long haul.
By following the advice given above when trying out the cyclical ketogenic diet for yourself, see how your body feels and be in tune with it.
It’s a higher probability that you’ll avoid the symptoms that come with changing over to a ketogenic diet like the keto flu, but more research is needed here.
This method is also great if you’re looking to get more of a boost from your performance in the gym.
Remember, whether you try this diet or not, your food options are very important. Choose foods where you’ll gain the most benefit from, and you can’t go wrong.