Is Keto Cycling Healthy? Here's What to Know

Couple eating breakfast in bedI am sure if you have searched anything on keto, you have come across the term Keto Cycling and likely saw carb cycling during your search as well. Keto cycling or "cyclical ketogenic diet" and carb cycling can be confused, but they are not the same. They are compared because they do have a few similarities. They both cycle carbs, but the way to do each cycle is very different. We will explain what keto cycling is, the benefits of keto cycling, and go over what carb cycling is. Keep reading to get an overview of both.


What is Keto Cycling?

bowl with avocado and eggIf you faithfully follow your ketogenic diet for several days in a row, usually 5-6 days, then break your diet for one or two days by eating moderate or high levels of carbs for a day, you are Keto cycling. You are modifying your strict Keto diet to end ketosis, at least temporarily. Theoretically, your body can go in and out of ketosis depending on whether you feed it fat or carbs. With keto cycling, you maintain your carbs low enough and for long periods of time that you induce ketosis.


Why should I Keto Cycle?

bowl of salad and dressingMost people who follow a Keto diet do so to burn body fat and lose weight. Once their body's reach "ketosis" due to strictly limited carbohydrate intake, the fat-burning begins. Keto is highly restrictive and at times, becomes difficult to maintain for long periods. Keto cycling is less stringent, gives you the same results, and is overall more sustainable. Keto cycling allows you to add foods high in carbs and nutrients, at least for a day or two, before returning to your high fat and deficient carb diet. The higher carb days are referred to as "refeeding days" since it is meant to replenish your body's depleted glucose reserves. As a bonus, you may experience a boost in energy on training days or during extended training like endurance sports. With keto cycling, you may also prevent getting the side effects that at times are associated with the keto diet "flu." It is essential to understand why you are choosing to do a keto cycle. Do not start a keto cycle simply because you want a slice of pizza.


When should I start Keto Cycling?

Sweet potato and cinnamonThose who successfully practice Keto cycling suggest not increasing carbs intake until at least 30 days in ketosis. When meal planning for your higher carb (cycling days), choose healthy complex carbs like fruit, dairy, sweet potatoes, and whole grains, and make sure to skip those foods with added sugars and sweets. Adding carbs into your keto cycle does not mean to indulge in unhealthy foods. Why can't you eat the wrong carbs? Because the body needs healthy complex carbs that are high in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Healthy complex carbs also make the body able to switch to using carbs for fuel with less difficulty.


What is Carb Cycling?

bowl of vegetablesCarb cycling involves alternating between high and low carb days and is often used by athletes or bodybuilders to enhance or improve performance or body composition. Runners and endurance athletes often use carb cycling to prepare for a long race or upcoming competition. They will first train hard during low carb cycles to deplete stored energy (glycogen) then "carbo-load" to maximize glycogen stores during a high carb cycle before the race or event. The biggest difference between keto cycling and carb cycling is that you never let go of the carbs with carb cycling. There is just a change of low carb days vs higher carb days. The way carb cycling is divided is 4-6 days of low carb consumptions and 1-3 days of higher carb consumption.

Carb cycling is seen by bodybuilders and athletes who need to drop weight for competition. They use a reverse method of carb cycling to burn body fat and "make weight." Bodybuilders who are training for definition or boxers and wrestlers trying to diet down and make weight will drastically decrease carbs while training intensely—eating only the number of carbs to maintain energy. Carb cycling is also useful for kick-starting weight loss during a weight loss plateau.


Keto Cycling VS Carb Cycling

Woman lifting barbellCarb cycling promotes weight loss and boosts athletic performance, while Keto cycling increases fiber and micronutrients while providing a break from ketogenesis restrictions. One of the most significant differences between carb cycling and keto cycling is that you are never in ketosis with carb cycling so you cannot go in and out of ketosis if you were never in ketosis to begin with. Regardless of your approach, remember that your body uses more carbs during high-intensity exercise, so it makes sense to match your high carb days with high-intensity days.


Potential Benefits from Keto Cycling?

When you are on keto, there is always some concern on whether maintaining a low carb diet for long periods can negatively affect hormones, cholesterol levels, or even people's moods. When you add some keto cycling, you are allowing your body to replenish itself with carbs. Another benefit is not dealing with the keto flu. Keto flu can sometimes happen when you first start your keto journey. Typically the "keto Flu" can cause fatigue, nausea and diarrhea. No one can say the health benefits of regular keto dieting and keto cycling since no published studies compare the two. The most significant benefit, in our opinion, is the flexibility it provides. Having flexibility is good mentally since you are more likely to stick to the diet long term. Have you tried keto cycling? Let us know in the comments below. 

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