What Is a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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The initial stages of a diet can diminish vital energy reserves in the body. Methods such as the cyclical ketogenic diet seek to combat this effect. This diet works by carb-cycling, or increasing carbohydrate consumption for specific periods of the diet. More specifically, the diet operates on a flexible schedule of five days of low-carbohydrate, high-fat dieting followed by two days of the reverse. The approach is believed beneficial because it forces the body to burn fat while restoring depleted body energy levels.

Due to the difficulties of sustaining a low-carbohydrate diet and the potential for muscle loss, many individuals opt for the cyclical ketogenic diet. This approach claims to eliminate many of the negatives associated with traditional low-carbohydrate diets. Further, individuals with an active, energy-mandatory lifestyle could especially benefit from the diet. In fact, many athletes and bodybuilders use this method to control fat and maintain muscle mass.

The low-carbohydrate portion of the cyclical ketogenic diet burns fat by taking advantage of the body process of ketosis. Carbohydrates help the liver store glycogen, which is used by the body for energy and muscular function. When carbohydrate levels are reduced, glycogen diminishes and the body becomes aware that it needs to find another energy source: fat. The breakdown of fat produces ketone bodies, which serve as an alternative source of energy.


Despite the usefulness of low-carbohydrate dieting in burning fat, numerous negative effects of carbohydrate deprivation have been documented. Muscle strength and energy levels often suffer. Irritability and impaired thinking capabilities can result as well.

Elevating carbohydrate amounts for part of the diet thus serves several functions. Perhaps most importantly, the mind gets a needed rest from the sometimes punishing effects of low carbohydrates. Likewise, the body receives an uptick of stored sugars, diminishing the soreness of undernourished muscles. A carbohydrate balance also helps keep glands and hormones functioning normally.

Increased carbohydrate intake for the cyclical ketogenic diet usually lasts for a couple of days. During this time, individuals will not consume carbohydrates derived from fats or artificial sugars. Rather, the individual should rely on complex carbohydrates like those found in vegetables, grains, and beans. These carbohydrates replace the low levels of glycogen in the liver.

The intake of fat is of further importance in the cyclical ketogenic diet. Fat both alleviates hunger and lowers blood sugar levels, and it should constitute roughly 60 percent of calorie intake during the low-carbohydrate portion of the diet and about 10 percent during the high-carbohydrate portion. As for calorie amounts, many experts recommend specifying a target calorie count each day. Some advise multiplying one’s body weight by 15, and then subtracting 500 to achieve a daily average. In addition, around 20 to 30 percent of calories in this diet should come from proteins, as these substances help preserve muscle mass.


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