WHAT IS CYCLICAL LOW-CARB DIETING?
Just when you get the hang of a low-carb lifestyle, figure out all your macro ratios, breakthrough the fat-adaption stage, and really begin to understand how low-carb living feels and works for you, the cyclical low-carb diet curveball comes flying across the plate.
Not to worry, cyclical low-carb dieting is a strategy based on the regular low-carb diet you’ve learned to live and love. Having a strong base in the understanding of how to thrive in low-carb makes cyclical low-carbing much easier when and if the time comes to switch to a cyclical version of low-carb.
Cyclical low-carb is a schedule whereby carbs are introduced at higher levels for 2 days out of the week to carb back-load your system so that it can perform higher intensity activities without suffering a loss of performance (1).
So the simple truth is, you only use cyclical low-carb dieting when you’re ready to shoot for positive body gains, like putting on muscle with heavy lifting or maximum cardio and stamina gains for distance running, cycling, rowing, etc.
It’s not recommended to use cyclical low-carb dieting for maintenance workouts or when you first begin working out, rather it’s meant to improve high-level athletic performance and help to achieve better numbers.
HOW DOES CYCLING LOW-CARB WORK?
Based on the idea of re-feeding your muscles, cyclical low-carb works by giving your body two unfettered days of carb loading.
There are two ways of loading:
1. Consume carbs through the re-feed cycle up to about 600g per day. This approach is more relaxed and less restrictive. It’s a good way to start as it offers a break from the constant tracking of regular low-carb eating.
2. For a more controlled approach, often used later in the cyclical low-carb journey when tiny details can make a big difference, it’s recommended that to re-feed, a person should consume about 4g of carbs per pound of body weight. This translates to roughly 70% of daily calories. The protein and fat macros during re-feed should be split evenly at 15% each.
Either method is acceptable. Use the one that best works for you. Either way, it’s recommended that healthy, complex carbs like fruits and veggies are used with smaller amounts of simple carbs like breads, rices and pastas to get your carb numbers for the re-feed.
The reason for doing this is to give your muscles glycogen stores to use for the demanding workouts that are needed to gain muscle, speed, or stamina (2). With low-carb eating your body produces ketones that it uses in a very efficient manner, leaving nothing for the muscles to use for extreme exertion.
With carb cycling, the body gets an influx of glycogen from carbs for two days then spends the next 5 days in heavy training, burning the glycogen off completely, allowing the body to return to a ketogenic state before the next re-feed.
The point here is that all of the glycogen must be used and burned off during the week so the body can continue to create and use the ketone fuel. The glycogen is only for use by the muscles.
If any glycogen isn’t used by the muscles during the strenuous workouts it will be used as fuel and disrupt the ketone production process.
HERE’S WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
Saturday: High-carb intake
Sunday: High-carb intake
Monday: Low-carb intake – begin high output training
Tuesday: Low-carb intake – high output training
Wednesday: Low-carb intake – rest
Thursday: Low-carb intake – high output training
Friday: Low-carb intake – medium to low output training to make sure glycogen stores are depleted.
Getting back into ketosis by the end of the week depends on the glycogen being burned off but a few other factors can play a role in how quickly and easily your body can return to a ketogenic state:
The more healthy, complex carbs you use to backload, the easier it will be to get back into keto. Eating a bag of snickers minis will certainly carb you up, but the return trip won’t be as easy as if you had carbed-up with fruits. Remember, this isn’t a license to go crazy; you’re still living the low carb lifestyle for a reason.
The more fully keto-adapted you are when you start cyclical and break with keto, the easier it will be to get back.
The more you train and the smarter you train to deplete your glycogen, the quicker you can return to a ketogenic state (3).
Consistency is key. If you are doing cyclical low-carb with dedicated re-feed days and stay with it, your body will adapt and get on board.
BENEFITS OF CYCLICAL
Obviously, as discussed above, the main reason to try cyclical low-carb dieting is to improve athletic performance (4). So the biggest benefit is cyclical ability to repopulate your muscles with glycogen that they can use to perform at maximum efficiency (5) and give you everything they have.
Cyclical low-carb dieting also upregulates hormone activity (6) that can wane during the fat-loss dieting process (7).
It also offers a break in the restriction low-carb living demands. Many cyclical low-carbers have been doing low-carb for months by the time they are ready to take advantage of the cyclical version and are happy to get forbidden veggies and fruits back in their diet to help add a new variety to their low-carb journey.
The point is: just because it’s time to muscle up or train for a marathon, you don’t have to give up the low-carb lifestyle that has given you so many benefits. There is always a way with low-carb, and niKETO will be here to help you find the right way.
1. Åkermark, C., Jacobs, I., Rasmusson, M., & Karlsson, J. (1996). Diet and muscle glycogen concentration in relation to physical performance in swedish elite ice hockey players. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 6(3), 272–284. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8876347.
2. McDonald, L. & McDonald, L. (1998). The Ketogenic Diet: A Complete Guide for the Dieter and Practitioner. The Author, Austin, TX.
3. Fery, F. & Balasse, E.O. (1986). Response of ketone body metabolism to exercise during transition from postabsorptive to fasted state. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 250, E495–E501. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3518484.
4. Wilson, J.M., Lowery, R.P., Roberts, M.D., Sharp, M.H., Joy, J.M., Shields, K.A., et al. (2017). The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Males. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1. https://insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=28399015.
5. Slater, G. & Phillips, S.M. (2011). Nutrition guidelines for strength sports: Sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29, S67–S77. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21660839.
6. Danforth, E., Horton, E.S., O’Connell, M., Sims, E.A., Burger, A.G., Ingbar, S.H., et al. (1979). Dietary-induced alterations in thyroid hormone metabolism during overnutrition. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 64, 1336–1347. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/500814.
7. Ullrich, I.H., Peters, P.J. & Albrink, M.J. (1985). Effect of low-carbohydrate diets high in either fat or protein on thyroid function, plasma insulin, glucose, and triglycerides in healthy young adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 4, 451–459. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3900181.