Exercisers usually avoid carbohydrates while on a keto diet, however, they have their application in strenuous workouts. If you sit all day and eat processed carbohydrates (biscuits, chips and sweets), the risk of heart disease and diabetes is dramatically increased - which is very bad. If you use carbohydrates as fuel in your muscles for intense training or to replenish energy levels (glycogen) in your body, then you can use carbohydrates to the fullest extent without any negative side effects - which is very good.
The same principle applies to the keto diet. When taken incorrectly, carbohydrates can pull you out of ketosis and cause fat to start accumulating again. When eaten properly, carbs can be a tool to help you get better results.
Before you fly to the kitchen and start peeling potatoes, we must first find out if increased carb intake is a good choice for you. If you are already on a regular keto diet and do not have energy problems, continue with the same regimen. If your strength or endurance is drastically declining, a keto diet with carbohydrate rotations might be a good choice.
Keto diet with carbohydrates?
To follow a keto diet appropriately, you need to limit your daily carbohydrate intake to some 20-30g of net carbohydrate (net carbohydrates are the difference between total carbohydrate intake and total fiber intake). This simple rule should be followed by anyone on a keto diet, but there is one exception - athletes.
When we say "athletes", we mean anyone who does high-intensity training several times a week. Some examples of high-intensity training are bodybuilders, wrestlers, circuit training (such as CrossFit), as well as low-load workouts with a weight above 80% of the maximum of one repetition.
During high-intensity training, the body relies on glucose as fuel, not fat. This is because fats can only be used as energy when cells have enough oxygen.
When the body's energy requirements exceed the amount of oxygen that cells have access to, cells begin to burn glucose for fuel / energy. How do you know when this is happening? When you breathe while training. This is one of the indicators that your body is burning glycogen instead of fat.
Glycogen is a complex sugar molecule that is stored in your muscles and liver as a source of energy. During the long period when you do not eat carbohydrates (during sleep, fasting or keto diet), your body relies on stored glycogen to keep sugar levels stable. When you train, your body does the same thing. However, glycogen reserves are not infinite. When glycogen stores are low, problems can occur.
No food? No problem. Your body will use stored glycogen. But what happens when you combine high-intensity training and a keto diet? The answer is: glycogen depletion.
When glycogen is depleted, your body must rely on the protein you take in through food and supplements, and on muscle protein as energy. This is why some studies have concluded that the combination of keto diet and exercise training does not lead to an increase in muscle mass in the expected ratio. In some cases, a keto diet can even lead to muscle loss. A necessary side effect of an extremely valuable process called gluconeogenesis. As long as you get enough macronutrients, you don't have to worry about this effect.
Gluconeogenesis - a "magic trick" that will save you
Some studies have found that exercisers did not gain muscle mass while combining a low-carbohydrate diet and exercise training.What exactly is the reason for that? The answer is a biological process called gluconeogenesis
When the body goes through gluconeogenesis, it converts macronutrients that are not carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates called glucose. One such macronutrient that can be converted to glucose is protein. Muscle proteins can also be a source of this protein. This leads us to the conclusion that gluconeogenesis causes muscle loss - yet this is just a theory.
What does the research say?
One study investigating the difference between a low-carb and a high-carbohydrate diet has made an interesting finding. The researchers found that subjects who had lower carbohydrate intake relied more on protein to provide energy during exercise. In contrast, subjects who ingested more carbohydrates used energy from glycogen instead of protein. Researchers believe this actually means that if we start exercising with high glycogen stores, it can replace protein and protein degradation throughout the body.
In other words, exercisers who were on a high-carbohydrate diet had enough glycogen to accompany the workout. Accordingly, these exercisers did not have to rely on muscle protein for energy. On the other hand, exercisers who were on a low-carbohydrate diet had to rely on protein as energy because they did not have high enough glycogen levels. This finding confirms the thesis that gluconeogenesis can lead to loss of muscle mass during exercise. This phenomenon also explains why some studies have found that exercisers who did not eat enough carbohydrates did not increase muscle mass as exercisers who ate more carbohydrates.
Should athletes avoid the keto diet?
This does not mean that a high-carbohydrate diet is the only answer for athletes, weekend warriors and weightlifters. Some of the studies did not ensure that subjects had sufficient protein intake. In studies where subjects ingested a sufficient amount of protein, subjects on a keto diet maintained muscle mass to a much greater extent.
This actually indicates the importance of adequate protein intake no matter what diet you are on. But what exactly is adequate protein intake? One study recommends that approximately 35% of total caloric intake should be from protein to prevent protein breakdown for energy.
However, one indisputable truth still haunts us. A diet that does not limit carbohydrate intake provides a greater increase in muscle mass and puts you at less risk of losing muscle.
Does this mean that athletes, weekend warriors and other high-intensity exercisers should reject the keto diet and embrace the high carbohydrate intake? A trick question. The right answer is to combine both.
Answer - Keto diet with rotation of carbohydrates
To increase muscle mass, improve health, improve mood, increase performance in training, it is best to use the principles of both a diet - keto and a diet high in carbohydrates. In this way, you will combine the benefits provided by ketosis and carbohydrates. The best way to do this is to follow a keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates.
A carbohydrate-rotated keto diet involves one or two days of high-carbohydrate intake to fully replenish muscle glycogen stores. The rest of the week includes a standard keto diet.
In order for a keto diet with carbohydrate rotations to have an effect, you need to deplete your glycogen stores with training and enter ketosis before filling up on carbohydrates. This is an ideal strategy for everyone who trains with high intensity, but it is not ideal for everyone.If you are a beginner in exercise or doing endurance training, a targeted keto diet could still be a better option
Second possible answer - Targeted keto diet
The targeted keto diet is the same as the standard keto diet, but with one difference - targeted carbohydrate intake. Approximately 30 minutes before your workout, ingest 25-50g of simple carbs. If you do this and stick to a standard keto diet, you have applied a targeted keto diet. It's very simple.
By consuming carbohydrates this way, you will provide your body with the sugar it needs to conserve glycogen, maintain sugar levels and prevent muscle breakdown while exercising. However, this could only be useful for beginners or athletes who do extreme endurance training. People who exercise constantly with high intensity will get minimal benefits from a targeted keto diet.
The best keto diet for people who train constantly with high intensity is the keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates. This diet combines the benefits of ketosis and carbohydrates in a way that allows exercisers to make the most of their training and their body.
To implement a keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates, you need to introduce 1-2 days of high carbohydrate intake into your diet to replenish glycogen, and then follow the keto diet for another 5-6 days to deplete it. However, the carbohydrates you eat are very important.
What to eat on a keto diet with carbohydrate rotation
When your goal is to replenish glycogen stores and return to ketosis, it's not a good idea to ingest simple sugars such as sweets. This will lead to an unhealthy rise in blood sugar, insulin and inflammation.
One to two days of eating simple carbs will cause your body to store extra fat and reverse the positive effects of a keto diet. Eat complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars.
What are complex carbohydrates?
Complex carbohydrates are not complex to understand. They are complex to digest. This means that they need longer to digest than simple carbohydrates. Prolonged digestion leads to a balanced maintenance of blood sugar levels and does not cause unhealthily increased insulin secretion. This leads to a minimal increase in fat, a much higher replenishment of glycogen, and you will return to ketosis much easier.
Some examples of complex carbohydrates are:
- Whole unrefined cereals
- Lenses and legumes
- Rice (brown, colored and wild)
- Sweet potatoes, peas and other starchy vegetables
Each of these carbohydrates contains a different amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that increase your body's ability to deal with carbohydrates. For example, fiber and certain specific phytonutrients slow down the absorption of sugar (from carbohydrates) into the bloodstream, while some vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients increase the body's ability to use carbohydrates. This makes complex carbohydrates ideal for your health whether or not you are on a keto diet that includes carbohydrate rotation.
What to avoid on a keto diet with carbohydrate rotations?
Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, contain a small amount of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and sugar is released very quickly into the bloodstream. This unhealthy increase in blood sugar leads to cell damage that can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The only way to prevent the side effects of simple carbohydrates is to consume them in small amounts 30 minutes before exercise (targeted keto diet).
However, if you opt for a high carb keto diet, it is very important to stay away from all simple carbs for best results
List of simple carbohydrates to avoid:
- Sugar-sweetened drinks (cola, energy drinks, etc.)
- Fruit juice
- White bread
- White flour
- Refined cereals
- Other sweets
Many canned foods that are considered healthy foods contain added sugar (simple carbohydrates) as well. If the food you want to consume contains some of the added sugars listed below, then it is best to avoid them (even if they are organic):
- Brown sugar
- Sugar wool
- Stuffed cod juice
- Cheese syrup
- Fruit Juice Concentrates
- Maple Syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Raw sugar
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Invert Sugar
These lists do not contain all sources of simple carbohydrates, so if you are unsure about a food, it is very important to follow one general principle of food intake. Eat as many healthy foods that are not processed, and as few processed and canned foods as possible. If you stick to this principle, you will avoid almost all simple carbohydrates and replenish glycogen reserves in the healthiest possible way.
After you finish your carb diet (a day or two), it's important to return to a keto diet that doesn't include any carbs.
How to start a keto diet with carbohydrate rotation?
Now all we have learned is to put in one plan a keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates. You must first include a diet plan in your daily schedule. The standard format of a keto diet with carbohydrate rotation is 5-6 days of keto diet and 1-2 days of high carbohydrate intake.
Some exercisers have experimented with a two-week cycle that includes 10-12 days of a standard keto diet and 3-4 days of carb filling. This approach also brings significant results, but depending on how practical it is.
In order to understand which keto diet and carbohydrate supplementation suits you best, we need to pay attention to the exercise schedule. One of the goals of an exercise schedule is to ensure that we consume glycogen through training before carbohydrate replenishment occurs.
For the easiest possible transition to the keto diet and its maintenance, and especially training on this diet, you need to turn to supplementation and supplement your diet with the necessary supplements. Our recommendations for some of the supplements that will help you on a keto diet and improve your performance are:
A good example of an exercise plan is:
- Monday / Tuesday - division of the whole body. You can work your legs and abdomen on Mondays, and your chest, back and arms on Tuesdays.
- Friday - whole body, glycogen depletion training
The amount of training to completely deplete your glycogen depends on the amount of carbohydrates you ingest during the charge. If you work with a low number of repetitions and a large weight, 2-3 sets will be enough. If you work with more repetitions and with moderate weight, do 5-6 sets.
If you don't have or don't exercise with weights, explosive exercises like short sprints, variations of jumps (squat jumps, jumps with pulling the knees to the chest, etc.) and push-ups with applause can also help to deplete glycogen levels.
Once your glycogen is completely depleted, you're ready to fill up on complex carbs for the next day or two.
How many carbohydrates should you eat?
It's best to experiment with carbs yourself, but here are some guidelines:
- The first 24 hours of glycogen replenishment: Carbohydrates should make up 70% of your total caloric intake with 15% protein and 15% fat. Foods with a higher GI (glycemic index) should be consumed. Some examples of healthy foods with a high GI are potatoes, carrots, bananas, pineapples, raisins and rice.
- Another 24 hours of glycogen replenishment: 60% carbohydrate, 25% protein and 15% fat. Consume foods with a low GI. Low GI foods include grains, peas, most berries (blueberries, blackberries), lentils, and black beans.
Follow these instructions and you will feel much better after your body recovers and replenishes its glycogen stores. This diet will get you out of ketosis.
How to enter ketosis after carbohydrate filling?
Once you have finished filling up on carbs, it is very important that you return to ketosis as soon as possible. The easiest way to do it? Just follow these steps.
- Last day of carb filling: don't eat carbs after 6pm
- First day of a standard keto diet: wake up and do a classic HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or high-intensity weight training on an empty stomach. After training, start a strict keto diet with 0-2% carbohydrate intake.
- Second day of the standard keto diet: wake up and do MISS (stable medium intensity training) or medium intensity training with weights on an empty stomach. Return to a normal keto diet with 3-5% carbohydrate intake.
The longer you are on a keto diet, the faster you will return to ketosis. If you have been on the keto diet for a year, it will be much easier for you to re-enter ketosis than for someone who has been on this diet for a month.
Also, if you consume complex low GI carbohydrates, it will be easier for you to re-enter ketosis.
The more consistent you are with a keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates (adequate carbohydrate intake when filling, without "cheating", etc.), the easier it will be for you to return to ketosis, because the body will need less time to adapt.
If you are on a standard keto diet and do high-intensity workouts regularly, then you will benefit the most if you practice a keto diet with a carbohydrate rotation. This diet combines the benefits of a ketogenic diet and a diet high in carbohydrates without any side effects.
To implement a keto diet with carbohydrate rotation in the right way, you must first make a plan. The most common format is a 5-6 day keto diet with 1-2 days of carb filling. During the keto diet phase, do at least two medium or high intensity workouts a week, and one high intensity workout that will deplete all stored glycogen the day before you start charging carbs.
When filling up on carbs, it's best to consume complex carbs from healthy food sources. On the first day, eat at least 70% of your total caloric intake from carbohydrate sources such as potatoes, carrots, bananas, pineapples, raisins and white rice. During the second day, it is best to reduce your carbohydrate intake by 10% and eat low GI carbohydrates such as cereals, peas, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, lentils and black beans.
After replenishing your glycogen stores, the best way to return to ketosis is to do a high-intensity workout in the morning on an empty stomach on the day you finish recharging carbs. After your workout, limit your carb intake and continue with your standard keto diet. >
Limit carbs and train hard. Eat and recover with carbs. A delicate balance between high carbohydrate intake and a keto diet is the key to better results.
However, if you do not do high-intensity training regularly, a standard keto diet will provide better results.
A brief overview of the standard keto diet
The keto diet with a rotation of carbohydrates on days when we do not eat an increased amount of carbohydrates is the same as the standard keto diet
- Calories for gaining muscle mass: 36 calories per kilogram of body weight
- Calories for weight loss: 24 calories per kilogram of body weight
- Calories for weight maintenance: 30-32 calories per kilogram of body weight
- Carbohydrates: 30g or less per day. The less you consume carbohydrates, the sooner you will enter ketosis - this is very important if you have 5-6 days with low carbohydrate intake
- Protein: During the first 3 weeks, eat about 2 grams per kilogram of lean muscle mass or 150g
- Fats: Make up the rest of your caloric needs / calorie intake
Short list of foods you should and shouldn't eat during a standard keto diet:
- Cereals - wheat, corn, rice, flakes, etc.
- Sugar - honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
- Fruits - apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
- Tubers - potatoes, etc.
- Meat - fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
- Vegetables (leafy) - spinach, kale, etc.
- Vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- High fat dairy products - hard cheeses, butter, etc.
- Nuts and seeds - nuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Avocados and berries - raspberries, blackberries and other berries with low glycemic index
- Sweeteners - stevia, erythritol and other sweeteners with low carbohydrate intake
- Other fats - coconut oil, salad with high-fat dressing, saturated fats, etc.