If you already know about the keto diet, how to dip into ketosis and monitor your ketone bodies, you’ve probably heard about keto cycling.
What is Keto Cycling?
There is no standard definition to go by (although everyone talks about it). But, most of the time, the definition is that you stick to a strict carb-restricted keto diet five to six days a week, with one cheat day or a planned high-carb day.
Basically, keto cycling is different from a typical keto diet because you consume more carbs than usual one day a week in order to kick your body out of ketosis (only to return to ketosis the next day).
It’s actually similar to carb cycling – you alternate lower and higher carb days, often to match the type of workout you’re doing (think: high carb days for high intensity workouts). The main difference: You’re not cutting out enough carbs (or eating enough fat) to get into ketosis on a carb cycle.
How does Keto Cycling Work?
The keto cycling, also known as the cyclical keto diet, involves following a keto diet for several days in a row, then going off it, taking a day off and eating more carbohydrates. And then you go back on it. So you’re on a keto cycle throughout the week. There are ways to do keto cycling with higher carb days.
You can follow a strict low-carb keto diet six days a week followed by a “cheat day” or a “high-carb day,” or you can do this more frequently during the week, so after doing a few days of a stable keto diet, then have a few more days like that. You have a choice.
Keto carb cycling may be beneficial for people who expect cheat days or some variation in their eating habits because they have up to 2 high-carb days. For example, these days may be high activity or workout days, or on weekends when they may want to indulge in a little brunch or cocktails with friends.
Keto Cycling Benefits
Some proponents of the keto cycling say an intermittent program can help prevent the side effects of a full-on keto diet. The theory is that fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and other symptoms of the “keto flu” may be reduced if people are not in ketosis for so many days at a time. There is also some concern that long-term carbohydrate restriction may negatively affect hormones, cholesterol levels, and even people’s moods. Again, in theory, these issues could be avoided with regular carbohydrate supplementation days.
However, since there are no published studies on keto cycling versus regular ketogenic diets, no one can definitively say that one has any health benefits over the other. But one thing is for sure, mentally speaking, the keto cycling is easier to stick to in the long run, and it allows for more variety in the diet – which most health professionals would agree is also a good thing for physical health.
Generally, keto cycling is recommended as a way to continue a keto diet after an initial 30- to 90-day period of daily carbohydrate restriction. But the truth is that someone can just do a keto cycling and really see results even if they don’t go full keto.
Because research on the cyclical ketosis diet is limited, its side effects are largely unknown. Until research on this diet is completed, it is impossible to determine its full effects.
Keep in mind that many people may eat too many calories on refeeding days, offsetting the weight loss effects of the standard keto diet.
In addition, please note that transitioning from a standard keto diet to a cyclical keto diet may result in temporary weight gain – primarily due to the excess water retained when consuming high-carbohydrate foods.
In fact, your body stores at least 3 grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate in your muscles.
It is unknown whether a cyclical keto diet is more effective than a standard diet for those looking to improve muscle mass or improve athletic performance.
Since research supports the use of a standard keto diet for muscle growth and athletic performance in athletes, transitioning to a cyclical keto diet solely for these benefits may not be necessary.
Should You Try Keto Cycling?
Be careful if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and starting a keto cycling or ketosis in general. These women should consult their primary care physician first. Those with type 2 diabetes should also consult their physician, while those with type 1 diabetes or kidney problems should avoid this diet.
If you have cleared this approach with your healthcare team and weight loss is your ultimate goal, know that keto cycling will not be as effective as ketosis. It can stop your weight loss by taking those days off because you won’t be burning any fat during that time and you may gain even more. The results of a keto cycling will never be as dramatic as when your body is in a constant state of ketosis.
On the other hand, if you take the approach of following a keto diet most days, but cycling helps you to stay on track, cycling can help you stick to the keto diet longer.
What it comes down to is this. You need to know yourself and your self-control. If you can have a high-carb day that includes healthy carbs and can get back on track the next day, then it may work for you. But if you’re someone who loses control when you get to sweets and one donut means a whole box of donuts, you’re going to have trouble with it.”
The Bottom Line
The keto cycling involves adhering to a standard keto diet for 5-6 days per week, followed by more carbohydrate intake on the following 1-2 days.
While this approach claims to reduce keto flu symptoms, improve athletic performance and promote muscle growth, research on its effectiveness and possible drawbacks is lacking.
Regardless of which type of keto diet you choose, it is always important to choose healthy, nutrient-dense foods in order to reach your goals.