How To Get Carbs Back On A Keto Diet

12 min read

This article will answer a few questions that you may, or may not have

  • Should you carb cycle on keto?
  • The benefits of carbs during or after a ketogenic diet.
  • Is keto enough for workout performance and energy?
  • How do you avoid going through the keto flu all over again?

Loosening The Restrictions On Keto

There are no hard and fast rules in dieting. Whatever the reason might be, if you want the cake, there’s always a way to bend the blueprint. Even in a programme that has the near-complete lack of carbs as it’s only requirement.

The Traditional Keto Diet – Nutritional Ketosis

That’s because the diet has to fit you, not the other way round. If you somehow conjured up or youtube’d your way to the perfect meal plan, the odds would still depend heavily on your ability to hang on and stay consistent across a matter of months. 

The ketogenic diet, when medically administered, is a daunting ratio of 90% fat and 10% protein. Every day, without a blip. Because when you give in to the temptation for just a few fleeting moments, you’ll have to go through the pain of stepping down in ketosis, all over again. 

So we’ll sidestep this variation of keto, because this is used for treating cases much more serious than anything a blog post can tap into.

The Modified Keto – More Protein, More Carbs

Even when you move past clinical keto, and move across to the modified variation that is typically used for weight loss, the formula is still a heavy 5-10% carbs, 25-30% protein, and 60-70% fat. Regardless of how inventive your culinary gymnastics are, there’s going to be a lot of restrictions in place, and you’ll inevitably have to let go of a few favourites. 

Carb Cycling For Keto And Fat Loss

Now for some background, I’ve already written on this topic, explaining why cheat days and refeeds are generally a bad idea on keto. Carb cycling is a popular strategy, but it’s counterproductive to the process of becoming fat adapted. Time spent swinging back and forth between fuel sources is robbing the body of the chance to settle and optimise. But I can’t leave it at that, because like I said, the rules can’t be black and white. 

Carb Cycling Keto Meal Plan

So there are still several valid reasons for wanting to break off the keto chains, risk topping up on your liver glycogen, and restarting the process. And I’m going to present my carefully selected strategies for adding carbs while stuck in keto. But first, let’s touch on the issues you may run into, that may need a dash of sugar to fix.

Why You May Need Carbs In A Ketogenic Diet

1. Craving Carbs On Keto

Here we’ll also lump in the rest of the mental side effects that can follow carb restriction. In any case, it’s a problem that’s centered in the brain’s wiring, and it isn’t going away. You’ve waited patiently, painfully, through the first couple of weeks of keto adaptation, but there’s still a few cobwebs. You could just grit your teeth and ignore the voices. 

2. Hitting The Wall – Keto Fatigue

This is more of a physical problem. You’ve gone a week without any dip in the scale, and you’re starting to drag your feet. Most people don’t actually get to this point, because it’s a consequence of long-term dieting and being excessively lean. This can lead to adaptations in metabolism designed to hike the weight back up. Intense lethargy being one of them, with the mind of conserving precious energy.

If you’re fresh faced in the diet, and already in a rut, chances are the issue is something other than the dreaded ‘starvation mode’. 

How To Avoid The Keto Flu

3. Dropping Training Intensity – Low Carb Performance Issues

While the drop in carbs isn’t going to hurt your walking speed or put a dent in your brain power, there’s a good chance that you’ll feel some suppression when going for explosive movements. This isn’t going away in a hurry, because this level of performance adaptation can take months. The body will switch over to fat fuel after two weeks, but that’s nowhere near enough time for it to become fully optimised. That’s an upgrade that’s going to take patience.

4. Inability To Pay Your Social Dues – Keto Restrictions When Eating Out

Luckily this should be a rarity right now, but there’s always a special friday night takeaway that needs fitting in. Maybe you can’t bring yourself to let go of your weekend traditions. Maybe it’s her fault. In any case, it’s a choice between cutting ties and sticking with the diet, or keeping everyone happy without being greeted by the sight of your programme tumbling off the rails.

The Benefits Of Carbs During Or After A Ketogenic Diet

  • Replenishes glycogen, making you look fuller, while boosting metabolism by increasing leptin levels
  • Increase high-intensity performance, which is necessary for getting stronger
  • Ensures you’re metabolically flexible and able to use carbs just as well as fats
  • May boost adherence to the diet. This won’t apply for everyone. Some people need some wiggle room in their diet, in order to avoid a mental breakdown.

These are problems that don’t necessarily need to be treated with a sugar fix, but if it helps you to stay on track, then it may be time for a dose of ‘cheating’. While the body is perfectly adept at staying alive without an influx of sugar, working carbs back into the picture can boost adherence and performance. It’s a route worth taking, just as long as you realise that you’re playing with fire. 

The Danger Of Having A Cheat Day After Keto

The risk is two-fold. You might dig into a bowl of coco pops, get flushed with repressed memories, and decide that carbs are too precious to be sidelined again. Or you might end up going through the whole box and flood the body with more sugar than it can handle. After some intense hypoglycemia, you have to start working down to ketosis all over again. It’s frustrating, and it robs the body of valuable time spent adapting to a fat-fuelled metabolism.

So the best strategy is going to be just that, have a plan in your head before you start pulling down your favourite carbs from the danger aisles. In that spirit, I’ll lay out a few choice methods of dietary interventions.

The Methods For Getting Your Carb Fix Without Ruining Keto

1. Slow-Carb Refeed Day – Low GI Carb Cycling

Carbs dosed at 4g/kg body weight, once a week

A cheat day that doesn’t feel like cheating? Here is the slow-carb reset, with all its anticlimactic potential. GI is short for the glycemic index, a score which rates how quickly the sugar hits your bloodstream. So we’re selecting the ones that take their time and don’t get you back on the blood sugar rollercoaster. In this fashion the potential for fat regain is limited, and you’re unlikely to go rabid for more carbs.

Bread’s pretty much ruled out, and preferred options will be on the level of sweet potato and chickpeas. They may not look like residents of flavour-town, but a good diet has a way of heightening the senses. 

You will get snapped out of ketosis, but you’ll be back down in no time. The next day will be back to normal service, and if you can work in a fasting window straight after the refeed, the process can be sped up considerably.

The carb dosage is moderate at best, and that’s all you’re going to need. People can have an absurd estimation of how much sugar the body can store and process at one time. Combining muscle and liver glycogen gives up a maximum of 2000 calories, and the refeed’s probably not starting with you sitting at zero. 

So the numbers we’re playing with here will be well under that. In a case where you’re sitting at 60kg, that’s 240g of carbs. That’s about 300g, if we’re still shopping for sweet potatoes. In order to fit the extra calories into your budget, you should bring the fats down a touch. Not the protein, never the protein.

When messing around with numbers like this, it’s worth having a macro calculator around, just to stay on track with the carb count. Otherwise, I’ve found that people tend to lose all sense of portion control once they let the carbs back in.

I did mention having cake, and that’s still very much a possibility if you can figure out some culinary loopholes that allow you to make it with sweet potato.

2. Workout Carbs – Targeted Keto

20-30g of straight sugar before or during training

This is by far my favourite keto tweak. A small amount of the sweet stuff for adding some fire to the workout. Once again it might feel on the low side, but you’re fuelling with just enough to support training, and training alone. The sugar will be in and out the bloodstream without disturbing ketosis, getting either the fate of being used instantly for energy, or sucked in hungry muscle glycogen. 

Having intra-workout carbs can have a positive effect regardless of whether it makes a physiological difference. Meaning you’ll expect a boost, and get it thanks to the power of placebo and good will. In any case it’s a real avenue for those who are worried about having to sacrifice workout performance for the sake of making fat loss a little easier. And with all that being said, Targeted Keto has been proven to boost performance and protect muscle mass.

An easy way to approach this would be adding dextrose, maltodextrin, anything in that category, to whatever you’re sipping. Throw in some electrolytes, which could be as simple as a gram or two of Himalayan salt, and you’re guaranteed to start seeing deadlifts more favourably.

3. The No Carb Refeed – Fuelled By Fat

  A tablespoon of MCT oil for your brew

Medium Chain Triglycerides occupy a special foothold between fats and carbs, because it is broken down much faster than normal fat calories, and taken straight to the liver without the extra pit stops. This means it’s a real viable source of quick energy, which is a real boon for people who still have to go through periods of low energy and haphazard focus during keto.

MCT can actually significantly boost blood ketones, improving the pace of fat adaptation. It’s keto through and through. But it does present an extra tool to make up for the shortcomings of carb restriction, hence why I’ve added it to the list of interventions.

As with everything, there’s a slight caveat to MCT, where you’re best off restricting the dose to an amount you can tolerate. Take more than you can handle before a workout, and you’ll be spending time on the loo rather than burning calories. 

I’d start things off with about 10g, assess the digestive feedback, and look to build up the tolerance from there. MCT can also be bought as a powder, which tends to cause less issues.

The Takeaway – Keto Can Have Carbs, But It’s Worth Being Strict With Your Refeeds

These strategies are perfect for adding carbs, or just boosting energy, without dropping any pace in the diet. Using carb refeeds more liberally than this isn’t a great idea when you’re the type to spiral into binge sessions. By tracking it by the numbers, food can become a little less emotional, and you won’t be at risk of caving into hunger at every opportunity. Of course, you could just decide to enjoy life to the fullest, but it’s good to have some empathy for the plight of future you.

Who’s The Author?

Hey, I’m Sama, a natural bodybuilder who’s bought into the perks of keto and intermittent fasting. Why? When combined, the boosting effect on mental energy is unrivalled on any other diet. And the fat loss isn’t bad either. 

I’ve got a ton of recipes, guides and insights covering both of them, so head through the link to see the rest of my blog.


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