If you’ve been going keto-strong for a while now, you’ve probably heard of (or even considered) a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD). However, before wetting yourself in excitement at the thought of welcoming carbs back into your diet— you should be aware that cyclical keto comes with some mixed reviews.
The Bad Reviews
Most everyone in the ketogenic community has heard of Dr. Berg. Dr. Berg is basically the go-to doc of keto. His informational tutorials are SUPER helpful— especially when it comes to applying and troubleshooting your ketogenic diet.
Although, when it comes to cyclical keto, Dr. Berg is putting down his pom poms. The push for cyclical keto is largely coming from the world of high-performance athletes. The argument is such that high-performance athletes require more glycogen stores in order to achieve optimal results. Dr. Berg insists that cyclical keto is not necessary for optimal physical performance because (when fully fat adapted) the body has access to 77,000 calories worth of fat fuel. Furthermore, he reminds us, if necessary the liver is capable of turning fat and protein into glucose.
The Good Reviews
Athlete or not, many doctors such as Dr. Joseph Mercola or Dr. Jockers suggest that chronic suppression of insulin (as found in the ketogenic diet) is not a healthy (long-term) metabolic state. Therefore, cycling in and out of keto will provide metabolic flexibility, in turn improving insulin sensitivity and overall metabolic function.
In fact, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “The metabolic magic associated with cyclical keto actually occurs during the refeeding phase. While clearance of damaged cells and cell content occurs during the fasting phase, cellular rejuvenation occurs during refeeding. Therefore, if you don’t cycle between higher and lower net carbs, you forgo many of the revitalizing benefits associated with keto.”
What They Can Agree On
Regardless of which side of the fence these doctors fall on, all of them seem to agree on one very important factor— fat adaptation. Which means, prior to experimenting with cyclical keto, first focus on mastering the ketogenic diet.
How Can You Tell if You’re Fat Adapted?
“Fat adapted” refers to the metabolic state of prolonged ketosis. Ketosis is a fat-burning state in which your body is burning fat for fuel. Now, you could simply fast for 24 hours (or less) and find yourself in a state of ketosis. However, fat adaptation involves a metabolic rewiring— meaning the body has effectively transitioned from burning glucose for energy to burning fat stores for fuel.
Fat adaptation largely depends upon your level of insulin resistance. Which means, the longer it takes to repair your relationship with insulin, the longer it will take your body to reach a fat adapted state. As you likely know, the ketogenic diet serves to repair this relationship with insulin. So depending upon how strict you are with your keto diet, and how much healing your body needs, fat adaptation can take anywhere from 30 days to 12 weeks.
There are several ways of assessing whether or not you are in a fat adapted state. First, you could purchase a ketone blood meter. Once your body is consistently able to generate blood ketones over 5 mmol/l, you can assume you’re fully fat adapted. Your other option would be to take my fat adaption quiz (straight outta my digital course, Keto Crush). This quick 13-question assessment will help to determine if you’re fully fat adapted.
What is Cyclical Keto?
What is Carb Refeeding?
Standard keto involves the following set of macros proportions.
70% – 80% of calories from healthy fats
10% – 20% of calories from protein
5% – 10% of calories from carbs
On a standard keto diet you’re generally consuming 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day, correct? Whereas carb refeed days (1-2 days a week) would look something like this:
30% – 40% of calories from healthy fats
20% – 30% of calories from protein
30% – 40% of calories from carbs
So keep in mind, while your daily carb count is more than doubling (on refeed days), it’s important to adjust your fat consumption accordingly. If you up your carbs and fat for the day, you’ll likely aid in fat production rather than encourage metabolic flexibility.
What Should You Eat on Carb Refeed Days?
Once you’ve calculated your macros for refeed days, you’ll need to know what sorts of foods will yield the greatest results. The idea with refeeding is to keep your carb choices as clean as possible, because the healthier your carbs, the easier it will be to re-enter ketosis. The following is a list of 10 top choices for refeed days.
Regardless of which carbs you choose to consume, you should understand that carb refeeding is not the same as cheating— not that I’m knocking a cheat day— I’m still guilty of cheat days. My point is, if you’re truly honoring a clean cyclical diet, you’ll focus on clean carbs— not processed junk-food. And if you’re doin’ the damn thing right, you can expect to cash in on some bonus (keto) benefits.
Potential Benefits of Cyclical Keto
1. May Promote Muscle Gains
There is evidence to suggest that cyclical keto is more effective at building muscle than standard keto protocol. Insulin in fact, is an anabolic (muscle-building) hormone. Anabolic hormones, also known as growth hormones, are directly responsible for fat loss and muscle growth. Which means, the greater your sensitivity to insulin, the easier it will be to build and repair muscles.
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.
2. May Improve Athletic Performance
If you’re a fellow fitness freak, you already know that it’s best to add variety to your training regimen. To keep improvement levels high, it’s good to mix it up. Try some high intensity intervals (preferably after a carb refeed day). The following day go for an endurance ride. The day after that hit up strength training. And then take a rest.
Diet works the same way. If you eat the same thing every single day, you will likely hit a plateau. Beyond that, many bodybuilders and athletes incorporate low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets (LFHC) because carbs are believed to be the more effective muscle building energy source. But science has shown time and time again that dietary fats are important for optimal hormone production like testosterone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), and HGH. Keep in mind, optimal hormone production means optimal physical performance.
3. Helps Prevent Constipation
Constipation is a common complaint within the keto world. By incorporating more healthy whole grains, starchy vegetables and fibrous fruits into your diet you will inevitably combat constipation.
Though it’s 100% possible to squeeze in 25 grams of fiber per day on a standard ketogenic diet, cyclical keto makes it much easier!
4. Helps You Stick to Keto
I know exactly how boring and limiting the ketogenic diet can feel. I mean c’mon I’m a Keto Coach— I live this shit too. Lol. Cyclical keto is great way to add variety to your diet and catch up with some of your old favorites— like Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus, Butternut Squash Soup or Massaged Kale + Quinoa. Yes please!
Who is Cyclical Keto Ideal For?
1. Long-Term Keto Enthusiasts
Cyclical keto is an advanced ketogenic strategy. Therefore, it may not be the best approach if you’re brand new to keto. During the initial phase of keto, your body is rerouting metabolic pathways. If cyclical keto is introduced before the body has a chance to fully reroute, you may not attain the metabolic flexibility necessary to achieve high-quality results with CKD.
2. Fully Fat Adapted Folks
CKD is best reserved for fully fat adapted folks that have hit a plateau. This plateau could be observed in the form of stubborn weight, dry eyes, fatigue, or hormonal imbalances. However, you certainly don’t have to wait for any of these symptoms to crop before giving it a go.
Cyclical keto is certainly something to consider if you’re an athlete, or if you participate in super high-intensity workouts. I found, the more I devoted time to weight-training the more difficult it was for me to get ahold of my appetite. Implementing a refeed day prior to my most intense lifting day (as well as upping my protein intake), has made a dramatic difference in my energy and ability to push myself.
The Bottom Line
Is cyclical keto right for everyone? Not necessarily. Bioindividuality must be taken into account. Just as everyone is built differently, everyone has a different threshold to carb consumption. If you’re curious about cyclical keto, I’d advise experimenting with it. Begin incorporating one day of refeeding into your weekly dietary protocol, and take notes. Note changes in your energy, physique or physical performance. From there, you’ll have a better understanding if cyclical keto is a good option for you.
Whether you’re well-versed or brand spankin’ new to keto life and looking for some help, you should check out Katie’s coaching program. Coach Katie lives keto all day, errryday. She keeps up to date on the latest science, so you don’t have to. But more importantly, she addresses your specific goals to help you achieve ultimate success on your keto journey. And it’s always better to have someone in your corner, guiding you along. So if you’re ready for total life transformation and ultimate keto success, schedule your FREE initial keto consultation today!
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Katie Rodriguez nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.