One of the most important rules for the keto diet is to avoid carbohydrates in your diet and replace them with healthy fats.
But in a cyclical ketogenic diet, you can eat carbs one or two days a week.
Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of the ketogenic diet? While the standard ketogenic diet can help lose weight, there is speculation that there may be problems building muscle in the process.
And the cyclical ketogenic diet (ZKD) may be for you if you doubt the standard keto diet.
The cyclical ketogenic diet is intended for advanced dieters and is only recommended for people who have successfully followed a standard ketogenic diet in the past.
The ZKD helps your body convert carbohydrates into muscle mass instead of storing them as fat.
However, to reap the benefits of muscle gain and fat loss, you can only consume a specific carbohydrate type within a given loading day.
What is the cyclical ketogenic diet?
In The cyclical ketogenic diet (ZKD), you follow a standard ketogenic diet after five to six days a week. And you eat carbohydrates one or at most two days per week.
The goal is to use anabolic hormones, like insulin, to build muscle and replenish glycogen stores to lift weights or get through heavier workouts.
But wouldn’t increase carbohydrate intake throw you out of ketosis? Yes, however, you need to strategically get out of ketosis to improve your workouts for the rest of the week.
The beauty of a cyclical ketogenic diet is that you will increase athletic performance by eating carbohydrates on one to two days (usually on the weekend) while reaping all the benefits of ketosis the rest of the week.
ZKD help you improve anabolic hormones
Anabolic hormones, also called growth hormones, are directly responsible for building muscle and the fat you want to lose.
Many bodybuilders and athletes use low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets because carbohydrates are a more effective energy source for building muscle. However, science has consistently shown that dietary fats like testosterone are important for optimal hormone production.
Research shows that diets with less than calories in fats can inhibit testosterone production compared to diets with calories of dietary fats or more.
One of the biggest benefits of ZKD is increased production of muscle-building hormones, including insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), testosterone, and growth hormone.
The relationship between insulin and muscle-building hormones
Insulin is a hormone that has a negative reputation when it comes to health. Insulin plays a significant role in building muscle. It is secreted by the pancreas when carbohydrates are consumed in the diet.
Insulin is responsible for taking in blood sugar, storing it as glycogen in the muscles and liver, and also inhibiting fat as an energy source. When you have low insulin levels, the body begins to use fat as fuel. For this reason, restricting carbohydrates leads to ketosis.
Follow the cyclic ketogenic diet correctly.
Once or twice a week, your insulin will take a spike during the carbohydrate loading day. This transports amino acids into muscle tissue and also replenishes your body’s depleted muscle glycogen stores.
Muscle glycogen fills up with carbohydrates but is emptied when we restrict them. The disadvantage of large amounts of carbohydrates is that triglycerides are formed and stored as fat when the glycogen tank is full.
What is the purpose of filling up the glycogen reserves if excess fat is stored?
Muscle glycogen drastically improves your strength and improves your performance in the gym. When you follow a cyclical ketogenic diet, you benefit from the muscle building and strength you get from carbohydrates. Then, after the carbohydrate loading phase – when you are in the non-carbohydrate phase – your body uses up the excess glycogen storage and begins to burn fat for fuel via ketosis.
Throughout this process, you’ll be building muscle while ensuring that you’re not storing fat as you would on a typical high-carbohydrate diet.
On a ZKD, you will increase insulin only during the carbohydrate loading day by lowering growth hormone one to two days a week, followed by carbohydrate restriction, which will reduce your insulin and increase growth hormone for the rest of the week.
Unlike high-carb diets, a cyclical ketogenic diet can help you build muscle and lose fat while maintaining peak hormone production.
What should you eat on loading days?
It would be best if you ate healthy complex carbohydrates instead of quick, simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest. They are made up of sugar molecules linked together in long, complex chains. This means you get a steady rise in blood sugar that doesn’t feel like an unhealthy insulin spike.
Besides, complex carbohydrates contain more vitamins and minerals compared to simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are often referred to as “empty calories” because they have no vitamins, minerals, or fiber.
Here’s a list of complex carbohydrates you can eat during the carb-loading phase:
- Andean Millet
- Sweet potatoes
- Rolled oats
- White or brown rice
- 100 whole wheat bread
- 100 whole grain pasta
- Butternut squash
- Multigrain cereals
Simple carbohydrates that you should avoid at all costs during loading days include:
- White bread
- White flour
- Fruit juice
- Agave nectar
- Corn syrup
Check nutrition labels for hidden sugars before you buy packaged foods. Many so-called “health foods” on the market contain added sugars, such as those listed above.
Back to ketosis after carb-loading days
After your carb days, the main goal should be to deplete your body’s glycogen stores that you have accumulated from the carb days. Getting rid of the glucose will help you get back into ketosis and burn fats again.
Here is how to get back into ketosis after a carb-loading day:
Day 1: Use intermittent fasting. Eat a standard ketogenic diet with minimal carbohydrate intake for dinner.
Day 2: Perform intense interval training on an empty stomach. Continue to eat ketogenic-friendly meals.
Day 3: Perform intense interval training on an empty stomach after waking up. Continue to eat high-fat, low-carbohydrate afterward.
The longer you follow a ketogenic diet and the harder you train, the faster your body will return to ketosis after a carb-loading day. And your body develops healthier metabolic flexibility.
The bottom line:
The cyclical ketogenic diet is not for beginners. To truly experience the benefits of ZKD, some experience in dieting, nutrition timing, and discipline are required.
Building and strengthening muscle during a standard ketogenic diet seem nearly impossible due to chronically low insulin levels and low glycogen storage.
Conversely, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet can weaken your body’s crucial muscle-building hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone. That’s why many people gain fat while on a high-carb diet.
The cyclic ketogenic diet uses the best of both worlds. It uses carbohydrates to build muscle while maintaining optimal hormone production.
If you have successfully followed a keto diet in the past but have seen a decrease in athletic performance, implementing a cyclical ketogenic diet can significantly help you build muscle while maintaining a lean body.