This article gives you the cyclical ketogenic diet basics.
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
Does everyone nowadays get their own diet? I mean, the Atkins diet was named after the man who created it. Then there’s The South Beach Diet, The Zone, Paleo and so much more.
But with keto, it’s slightly different. The variations in the ketogenic diet directly point towards distinct metabolic environments the person will be in.
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) – low-carb high-fat diet that shifts your metabolism into a state of nutritional ketosis, in which your body produces ketones and burns fat as a primary fuel source.
- Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) – carb cycling diet, in which you cycle between periods of ultra-low carb and carb refeed eating.
The difference between the standard ketogenic diet and the cyclic ketogenic diet is that in one you’re aiming to be in nutritional ketosis all the time, whereas the other just restricts your carbohydrate intake at some days and compensates for it with refeeds.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Basics
Okay, here’s CKD in a nutshell.
- You eat SKD for a week or two, during which you restrict your carb intake close to zero.
- You schedule a refeed day or two, in which you do the opposite – consume high amounts of carbohydrates.
- You return to SKD the next day, during which you eat zero carbs again for some time.
- You have another carb nite after a while and get kicked out of ketosis again.
- You rinse and repeat for a certain period, according to the structure of your cycles.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Explained
But what’s the idea behind all of this? We’re all aware that it takes a long time to adapt to nutritional ketosis and it’s not easy by any means. How is this supposed to work effectively if eating carbs kicks you out of ketosis? Or does it…?
Let’s imagine ourselves trying to become ketotic.
- As you start eating the ketogenic diet, your liver glycogen stores get depleted. This increases the amount of ketone bodies in the blood stream, which the body begins to use for energy. Eventually, you’ll establish nutritional ketosis.
- Limiting carbs reduces insulin and blood sugar levels. In response, glucagon soars, which converts stored glycogen into glucose and increase free fatty acid utilization.
- Once you start eating carbohydrates again, insulin levels will rise dramatically. In response to this exaggerated carb load, the body will firstly shuttle that glucose into muscle glycogen.
- Periods of carbohydrate restriction, followed by overconsumption, causes a super-compensatory effect, which increases the overall levels of your glycogen stores – more so than a regular high carb diet would. Refeeds create an even greater anabolic response by driving amino acids and glucose into the cells.
- The following day, your body will be topped off with glycogen, which increases vascularity, makes the skin thinner and muscles look fuller. You return to your low carb menu.
- During the first 2 days after the refeed, your body will be running on both that extra glucose and free fatty acids from your keto foods. The consecutive 2 days will limit your glycogen again and you’ll be burning fat exclusively.
And that’s the magic, you can use both glucose and fat for fuel.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Guidelines
Despite the massive amounts of carbs eaten on refeed days, you won’t be jeopardizing nutritional ketosis as much as you’d think.
Of course, you won’t be in ketosis the next day, but you can get back into a primarily fat-burning state within 2-3 days already.
However, there are some guidelines that will make your cycling easier and with fewer side effects.
- First, you want to get into nutritional ketosis. Going through the initial adaptation period will ignite distinct metabolic pathways that on the Standard American Diet lie dormant. This will take 2-3 weeks to take effect.
- Secondly, you need to have a physiological reason to eat carbs. Doing the cyclical ketogenic diet without exercise isn’t nearly as effective. If your muscles don’t need glucose, then there won’t be any super-compensation either. You’ll be just eating carbohydrates that will be most likely directed into fat storage and kicks you out of ketosis.
- Thirdly, there needs to be some empty space between refeeds. How often to have a carb nite depends on your body’s glycogen demands – training frequency and intensity. Nevertheless, you want to have at least 3-5 days in between high carb and low carb cycles.
- Fourth – and this is the most crucial point – you must not mix together high carb and high-fat foods. This will have a reverse effect on the insulin spike and undermines both the supercompensation as well as nutritional ketosis. Your refeeds should be relatively low fat and moderate protein.
- Fifth, the cyclical ketogenic diet schedule should fit your workout routine. By consuming certain foods at certain time intervals, you can structure your training around those cycles. When you’re low carb, you focus on more aerobic activities and after your carb-loads you train at higher intensities.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan
On the CKD, your body will go through dramatic changes every week. First, you’ll be eating close to zero carbs and then you’ll be stuffing them down your throat in immense quantities.
The cyclical ketogenic diet is good for low carb athletes wanting to maximize their performance and metabolic flexibility. It also works for regular people who simply want to bring in variation to their diet without jeopardizing their health.
That’s the magic of carb cycling – you get your steak, your cake and you get to eat both of them…at different times, but nevertheless.
I’ve been doing the ketogenic diet since 2015 and have tried out many versions of it. The cyclical ketogenic diet has been in my back pocket for some while now, which I occasionally draw out. It works and it’s super effective for performance as well as satiety.
If you’re someone who’s interested in trying out this way of eating, then you’re in total luck! I’ve created a program called Keto Carb Cycle. It comes with all the information about the ketogenic diet, carb cycling, how many carbs to eat, how often to refeed and much more. There are 50+ recipes and a 30-day cyclical ketogenic diet meal plan with exact macros and quantities of what to eat at what times. It’s the ultimate handbook for the keto practitioner.