Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): Complete Guide

A cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) is a diet regimen for inducing nutritional ketosis throughout the week while incorporating short-term carbohydrate “refeeds”. Ketosis is where your body flips a “metabolic switch,” so to speak, from using carbohydrates for energy to utilizing fats (including adipose tissue) as its priority fuel source. 

Hence, ketosis is the result of significantly reducing the amount of carbohydrates you eat (e.g. <30 grams per day); this forces your body to begin utilizing fat as its “baseline” energy reserves. Nutritional ketosis is a beneficial state due to the fact that it initiates rapid and sustainable weight-loss; it also helps blunt cravings, regulates blood sugar glucose values, and reduces energy/mood swings.

The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) entails inherently high fat and protein intakes, with negligible carbs. A cyclical ketogenic diet follows the same approach, with intermittent carbohydrate feedings to refill your muscle glycogen and support intense exercise.

Ketogenic Diets and Working Out

Nutritional ketosis is a totally natural and healthy state of being. Many individuals experience immediate benefits in cognitive function and energy while in ketosis. Yet, a qualm some people have with the standard ketogenic way of life is the potentially drastic impact it can have on strength and endurance when they exercise. Fats and ketones are reliable fuel sources for your body (and brain); however, glycogen is a major source of reserves for intense exercise and skeletal muscle tissue.

You can most definitely lose weight without exercising while following a ketogenic diet. Even so, most individuals are sure to benefit from working out regularly. Following both a cyclical ketogenic diet and healthy exercise regimen will allow you to perform better (especially physically); you will also be able to build lean muscle tissue faster. For this reason, a cyclical ketogenic diet is advantageous for gym-goers/fitness lovers over the standard ketogenic diet.

Furthermore, you should exercise regardless what diet you follow. If you train rigorously, a targeted or standard ketogenic diet will not replenish your glycogen adequately enough to bolster your workouts. However, for the gym-goer or athlete on an intensive exercise regimen, the cyclical ketogenic diet variation is optimal.

Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Strategy

If you wish to gain the multitude of advantages a ketogenic diet has while still being able to reach peak physical performance, a cyclical ketogenic diet is ideal for you. A cyclical ketogenic diet means you follow the standard ketogenic diet every day while incorporating occasional carbohydrate refeed days. As a result, you can replenish muscle glycogen enough to enhance your exercise regimen while getting the benefits of ketosis throughout the week.

Additional Modifications For a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet:

  • One to two times per week, add 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass to your SKD diet and reduce your fat intake by 50%
    • Changes the macros for the above example as follows: 180 g protein/295 g carbohydrate/57.5 g fat
  • Consume your macronutrients proportionally (roughly) over the course of four to six meals each day
  • Follow the basic ketogenic diet on days you do not exercise.
  • Spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day when you have high-carb/refeed days
  • Loading up carbohydrates before and after intense exercise on refeed days may be beneficial
  • Aside from the meals on refeed days, stay away from starchy foods like oats, potatoes, cereal, and so on.
  • Typical ketogenic diets include lots of animal proteins, nuts, eggs, MCT oil, and cruciferous veggies.

Take-Home Points

CKD is the most advanced form of ketogenic diet; it should only be followed by those who have been on a standard or targeted ketogenic diet for several weeks. If you’re highly active and train intensely five or more times each week, then cyclical ketogenic dieting is your best option after the initial “induction” phase.

Furthermore, the cyclical ketogenic diet is generally best for individuals looking to reap the therapeutic properties of nutritional ketosis while supporting intense exercise. If you exercise more moderately, consider reading our Complete Guide to the Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD).

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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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