Why You Don’t Need Carb-Up Days On Keto

7 min read

The Perils Of Carb Craving

There are two phases in life when you’re carb cycling. One where you’re waiting impatiently for the next time cereal gets back on the menu. The other has you passed out on the sofa with crumbs on your chest.

Carb-cycling can be the saving grace that tempts new dieters into trying a keto diet. Every three to seven days, the sweet stuff can be added back in, preventing the diet from feeling like a complete slog. 

And there’s more to it than just mental kick from having light in front of you. A decent influx of carbs can replenish depleted muscle glycogen, having a direct effect in picking up leptin levels, which is a hormone that’s crucial in up-regulating the metabolism.

In this fashion, you’re stopping the body from powering down over the course of the diet. 

Ketogenic diets often come saddled with slump in energy, and an increase in cravings. Which is understandable, because you’re trying to switch the body’s fuel source from sugar over to fat. The transition can be a bumpy one.

Five Ways To Overcome Keto Flu

The Standard Carb Cycle

So carb cycling can feel like the natural solution to that issue. You have the following effects combining to supercharge fat loss.

1. The Ketogenic Phase – 2-6 Days Of Low Carbs (0-20% of Total Calories)

  • Dropping carbs opens up a big caloric deficit
  • Changes the body’s preferred fuel source to body fat
  • Reduces digestive distress and bloating

2. The Carb Up – 1-2 Days Of High Carbs (40-70% of Total Calories)

  • Replenishes muscle glycogen, and that gets a leptin bounce
  • Allows you to lift heavy again
  • Gets that emotional baggage out of your system
  • Repairs your social life just a little
  • You can order your favourite takeaway again

As someone who’s into the baby-oil world of bodybuilding, I’ll naturally gravitate towards a diet that scores highly in performance and preventing muscle breakdown. And in all fairness, so should everyone else. 

The best way of seeing your weight loss goals through to the bitter end, is by holding onto muscle mass while the scale drops down. Otherwise, you’re in with a great chance of nailing the rebound

In order to keep those hard-earned gains, you don’t want to be progressively reaching for smaller dumbbells on the rack as the diet stretches on. If you’ve tried a ketogenic diet before, you may well experienced the slump in energy that followed once you went on your crusade against sugar. So despite its effects on amplifying fat burning, it doesn’t feel like the perfect match for continued weight loss.

Carb cycling alleviates the issues of a keto diet, and gives you at least one day in the week where you can stroll in the gym and feel at your best. And after a day or two of pumping sugar back in the system, you can resume the fat loss phase. 

So Should You Be Carb Cycling?

It reads well on paper, but chances are you’ll be best off forgetting about the science and ditching the carb up entirely. Because if you’re experiencing the classic keto slump, then you’re probably doing the diet wrong.

Diet’s shouldn’t be complicated, and carb cycling is an unnecessary tangle in the schedule. It disrupts your eating patterns and stops you from just settling into a steady flow. But the biggest issue is the fact that you’re pulling the body back from making the jump from sugar burning to fat burning. 

Here’s the thing: the body is going to optimise itself towards using one fuel source, and constantly switching back and forth is just going to keep you from feeling energetic and satiated.

Because in this fashion you’re not primed to use carbs, and you’re not exactly great at burning fat either.

If you’re trying to overcome a sugar addiction, bringing it back in for a day isn’t going to sooth the cravings, it’s going to fan them up. 

The best diet is the one that lasts, and hunger can’t be the thing that continually crops up. It has to be virtually eliminated from the day to day grind.

When you try keto and inevitably arrive at the day where you start scratching your arms while picturing your favourite takeaway, there are four better options to pick from.

1. Wait It Out

If this is still Week 1, then this is just the natural swing of things. The goal of keto is to get insulin low and become fat adapted. It takes time, and the longer you last, the easier it gets. So keep a jug of water by you at all times, add more salt to your foods, raise the fats, and wait it out.

2. Make Better Food

If this has been going on past the first two weeks of keto, then you’re going to have to upgrade your nutritional knowhow. And this happens to be the most likely fix to the situation. If you’ve got a sweet tooth that’s not disappearing, maybe the food shouldn’t be so bland. 

Get fattier cuts of meat, add more oil, make use of healthy sweeteners, and find recipes that feel like actual treats. You won’t need cheat days once you start enjoying the everyday meals.

3. Go For Targeted Keto. 

If you’re struggling to find the fire in your training, you can easily find the energy boost in a small dose of sugar placed around your workouts. 50g is more than enough to meet the demands of an hour of training, but keep in mind that you’ll only need it for explosive exercise. Otherwise, just go with what you’ve already got.

4. Try Intermittent Fasting Instead

Here, you accept that you need your daily dose of sugar. The truth is, you could easily just be more genetically suited to using carbs as fuel. It’s not something you can figure out instantly, because that sugar dependency might just be the result of decades of bad choices, and that can be reversed. 

But that takes time, and if you don’t have the patience, an intermittent fasting protocol will have similar benefits to a ketogenic diet.

Any issues with training and performance are pretty much irrelevant once you get past the first few weeks. You shouldn’t be worried about losing muscle when you’re dieting sensibly. Eating healthy foods 90% of the time, and lifting heavy when you can get in the gym.

How Long Should You Fast?

It’s Useful, But You’re Best Off Adapting First

  • Carb cycling looks great on paper, but is actually counter-productive
  • You’re best off sticking to a regular schedule if you want to become fat adapted
  • When you’re feeling desperate, wait it out, or make tastier recipe
  • Try targeted keto if you’re not feeling the workouts
  • There’s always fasting as a plan B

For a deeper dive into the process and timeline of becoming a fat burning machine.

How Long It Takes To Become Fat Adapted

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