What Is the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

Though often considered inflexible, the ketogenic diet has many different variations.

The standard keto diet is by far the most popular form, but there are several other ways to follow this low-carb, high-fat regime — including the cyclical ketogenic diet.

The cyclical keto diet involves rotating between a strict high-fat, low-carb ketogenic meal plan and higher carb intake.

This article explains the benefits, downsides and basic steps of the cyclical ketogenic diet.

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The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low-carb diet.

When following a ketogenic diet, you normally restrict carbs to under 50 grams per day (1, 2).

When carb intake is drastically reduced, your body must burn fat for energy instead of glucose, or blood sugar, in a process known as ketosis.

While in ketosis, your body uses ketones — byproducts of fat breakdown produced by your liver — as an alternate energy source (3).

Though the cyclical ketogenic diet is a variation of the standard ketogenic diet, there are major differences between the two.

Cyclical ketogenic dieting involves adhering to a standard ketogenic diet protocol 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of higher carb consumption.

These higher-carb days are often referred to as “refeeding days,” as they’re meant to replenish your body’s depleted glucose reserves.

If you undertake a cyclical ketogenic diet, you switch out of ketosis during refeeding days in order to reap the benefits of carb consumption for a temporary period.

The cyclical ketogenic diet is popular among those seeking muscle growth and improved exercise performance.

(Video) 10 Things You Need to Know About Carb Cycling

Though research to support this claim is lacking, some people speculate that the cyclical diet is superior to the standard version for boosting strength and muscle.

Is it the same as carb cycling?

The cyclical ketogenic diet is often compared to carb cycling — but it’s not the same thing.

Carb cycling involves cutting carbs on certain days of the week while upping your intake on others. Typically, each week is divided between 4–6 days of lower carb intake and 1–3 days of higher intake.

While the method is the same, carb cycling doesn’t reduce overall carb intake drastically enough to reach ketosis.

Carb cycling is often used to promote weight loss, boost athletic performance and encourage muscle growth (4, 5, 6).


The cyclical keto diet involves modifying the standard keto diet with days of higher carb intake to bring your body in and out of ketosis.

There is no standard set of rules for a cyclical ketogenic diet.

However, anyone wanting to start it should follow a standard ketogenic diet 5–6 days per week, adding 1–2 days of higher carb intake.

Stick to a standard keto diet 5–6 days per week

During standard ketogenic days, it’s important to consume 20-50 grams of carbs per day.

During this phase of the cyclical keto diet, healthy fats should deliver approximately 65-90% of your total calorie intake.

Healthy fat options include:

  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Low-carb nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Fatty meats
  • MCT oil

Proteins should make up around 10–30% of your total calories, while carb intake is typically restricted to under 5% (7).

Be sure to follow the standard keto diet 5–6 days per week.

Increase carb consumption 1–2 days per week

The second phase of the cyclical keto diet involves choosing 1–2 days per week to “refeed” your glycogen stores.

(Video) Better Ways to Cycle Through A Keto Diet? - Keto Expert - Dr. Brett Osborn

During refeeding days, you should consume more carbs in order to break ketosis.

On refeeding days:

  • Carbs should comprise 60–70% of your total calories.
  • Protein should account for 15–20% of your total calories.
  • Fats should deliver just 5–10% of your total calories.

Though the goal of the refeeding phase is to increase the number of carbs, carb quality also matters.

Instead of relying on unhealthy sources like white bread and baked goods, you should get the majority of your carbs from healthy sources.

Some examples of nutritious, complex carbs include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Butternut squash
  • Brown rice
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Whole-wheat or brown-rice pasta
  • Beans and lentils

These carbs are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which fuel your body and keep blood sugar levels stabilized.

Avoid foods and beverages high in sugar — like candy, juice, soda and cake — as they’re devoid of nutrients and lead to blood sugar irregularity, which can cause increased hunger and irritability (8, 9).

Returning to ketosis quickly

After high-carb, refeeding days, you should consider intermittent fasting to return to ketosis more rapidly.

The most common intermittent fasting method involves fasting for 16 hours of the day.

High-intensity workouts on the days following refeeding are also advised in order to achieve ketosis while optimizing muscle growth.


In the cyclical keto diet, you follow a standard ketogenic diet most days of the week, then “refeed” with carbohydrate-rich foods a few days per week.

Research on the cyclical ketogenic diet is very limited. Still, it may provide advantages.

May aid muscle gain

Muscle-building — or anabolic — hormones like insulin are suppressed when following very low-carb diets like the keto diet (10, 11).

Insulin regulates muscle growth by allowing amino acids and glucose into your muscle cells, increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein breakdown in muscle tissue (12).

(Video) Cyclic ketogenic diet improved healthspan and improved memory in mice | Eric Verdin

Using the cyclical keto diet to strategically raise insulin levels on specific days could allow you to use the anabolic effects of insulin to promote muscle growth.

Keep in mind that there is not enough research on this diet to prove this method’s effectiveness.

May boost performance in athletes

Refeeding with carbohydrates may benefit elite athletes who are following very low-carb diets.

One study in 29 elite race-walkers found that the athletes benefited from periodic high-carb intake — though it did not specifically test the cyclical keto diet.

The study revealed that the walkers who received periodic high-carb feedings prior to training sessions experienced significant improvements in performance compared to those following a standard keto diet (13).

The researchers concluded that athletes who periodically consumed a lot of carbs saw an improvement in performance, while those following a strict keto diet did not.

Decreases keto-related side effects

The ketogenic diet is associated with unpleasant side effects collectively known as the keto flu.

Symptoms of the keto flu include nausea, fatigue, headaches, constipation, weakness, difficulty sleeping and irritability (14).

These symptoms emerge when your body struggles to adapt to using ketones as a primary fuel source.

Cycling in carbohydrates 1–2 days per week can decrease these symptoms.

Adds more fiber to your diet

Constipation is a common complaint among those first transitioning to a keto diet.

This is because some people struggle to obtain enough fiber when eating a high-fat, very low-carb diet.

Though it’s possible to consume enough fiber on a standard keto diet, transitioning to a cyclical ketogenic diet can make it much easier.

During refeeding days, high-fiber carbs, such as oats, sweet potatoes, beans and quinoa, are allowed.

Makes the keto diet easier to stick to

The keto diet is linked to various health benefits, such as weight loss, blood sugar control and a reduced risk of heart disease. Yet, it can be difficult to follow long term (15).

Because you must drastically reduce your carb intake to reach ketosis, many healthy — yet high-carb — foods are off limits.

Using the cyclical keto diet, you can eat carb-rich foods on refeeding days, which may make the diet more sustainable in the long run.

(Video) Which of the 5 TYPES of Keto are for YOU? Carb Cycling, Carnivore, etc

However, because there is currently little research on the cyclical keto diet, its long-term benefits are unknown.


Following a cyclical keto diet may decrease keto flu symptoms, make the standard keto diet more achievable, boost athletic performance, increase fiber intake and promote muscle growth.

Because research on the cyclical keto diet is limited, its side effects are largely unknown.

Until studies on the diet are completed, it’s impossible to determine its full effects.

Keep in mind that many people may eat too many calories on refeeding days, counteracting the weight loss benefits of the standard keto diet.

Also, it should be noted that transitioning from a standard to a cyclical keto diet may result in temporary weight gain — primarily due to excess water that is retained when consuming high-carb foods.

In fact, your body stores each gram of carbs in muscle with at least 3 grams of water (16).

For those looking to boost muscle mass or improve athletic performance, it’s unknown whether the cyclical keto diet is more effective than the standard one.

As research supports the standard keto diet for muscle growth and exercise performance in athletes, transitioning to a cyclical keto diet solely for those benefits may not be necessary (17, 18).


Though little is known about the potential side effects of the cyclical keto diet, it may be easy to consume too many calories on refeeding days.

A cyclical ketogenic diet involves adhering to a standard keto diet 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of higher carb intake.

(Video) 5 Rules for Eating CARBS on Keto (Carb Cycling Instructions)

While this method is claimed to reduce keto flu symptoms, boost athletic performance and promote muscle growth, research on its effectiveness and possible drawbacks is lacking.

No matter which type of keto diet you choose, it’s always important to choose healthy, nutrient-dense foods in order to reach your goals.


What are the rules for cyclical keto? ›

A cyclical ketogenic diet involves adhering to a standard keto diet 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of higher carb intake. While this method is claimed to reduce keto flu symptoms, boost athletic performance and promote muscle growth, research on its effectiveness and possible drawbacks is lacking.

Can you lose weight on cyclical keto? ›

Benefit #2: Weight Management

The cyclical keto diet also shines when it comes to weight loss. That's because its occasional carb refeeds regulate weight loss hormones.

When should I start cyclical keto? ›

Step 1: Get fat-adapted first before starting a cyclic ketogenic diet. We recommend doing a standard ketogenic diet for a full month before attempting cyclical keto. Sustaining ketosis for a month will allow your body to reach a fat-adapted state, in which it's already used to burning fat for fuel instead of glucose.

What is cyclical vs standard keto? ›

A standard keto diet prioritizes nutrient-dense foods and eating 30-50 grams of carbs per day to induce ketosis. A cyclical keto diet encourages low-carb eating 5 or 6 days a week, with one carb "refeed" day to boost performance during workouts.

Is cyclical keto better than keto? ›

Both approaches can help with weight loss, but cyclical keto is better for athletic performance and bodybuilding. The standard keto diet, on the other hand, will make you keto-adapted, which means fully adapted to burning fat for fuel.

How long should you cycle keto? ›

Keto cycling doesn't have a set definition. Some people choose to have five or six days on keto followed by a day or two off. Others will do keto for 10 to 12 days followed by three to four days off. Devine typically doesn't recommend taking more than two days off keto.

Does keto shrink belly fat? ›

Interestingly, a ketogenic diet is a very effective way to lose belly fat. As shown in the graph above, a ketogenic diet reduced total weight, body fat and abdominal trunk fat much more than a low-fat diet did ( 11 ).

What is the most weight lost in a month on keto? ›

Weight Loss One Month Into the Ketogenic Diet

“For the first month on keto, if people stay at a calorie deficit and stay consistent with the diet, most people can probably lose 10 pounds or more that first month,” says Manning.

Why do you lose belly fat on keto? ›

Going keto lowers your carb intake and reduces insulin levels. On high-carb diets, you're constantly spiking insulin, which inhibits fat-burning and encourages your body to hold on to your fat stores. The lower insulin and blood sugar levels on keto make burning stored fat easier and more efficient.

What stage of ketosis is best? ›

Blood ketone levels while on the keto diet typically range from 0.5 – 3.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) ( 1 ). These levels are the optimal range for nutritional ketosis — the state in which your body can use stored fat for energy most effectively, helping boost weight and fat loss ( 1 ).

How do you know you are in ketosis stage? ›

You can find out how much ketosis is going on in your body by testing for ketones in your blood or urine. You can buy test strips to check your pee at home. Some blood sugar meters can measure ketones in your blood. If you don't know how and when to test your ketones, talk to your doctor or diabetes instructor.

Can I have a cheat day once a week on keto? ›

The bottom line. You should avoid cheat meals and days on the keto diet. Consuming too many carbs can kick your body out of ketosis — and it takes several days to 1 week to get back into it. In the meantime, your weight loss may be disrupted.

Can you carb load once a week on keto? ›

Also known as carb cycling, a cyclical keto diet involves intake of high amounts of carbohydrates once a week. The other six days of low-carb keto are similar to the standard keto diet. When you follow the cyclical keto diet, you eat lots of healthy fat and very few carbs, 5 to 6 days of the week.

What is the best carb cycle? ›

5-Day Carb-Cycling Meal Plan
  • Day 1: Rest day, low carbs (30-50 grams)
  • Day 2: Moderate workout, moderate carbs (100 grams)
  • Day 3: Intense workout, high carbs (200 grams)
  • Day 4: Moderate workout, moderate carbs (100 grams)
  • Day 5: Rest day, low carbs (30-50 grams)
Nov 12, 2022

Is it good to cycle in and out of ketosis? ›

Don't attempt cycling until you've followed the keto diet for 30-90 days, so your body is fully adjusted to ketosis. Start slowly. Increase carbs by about 30 grams per day when you go off keto.

Who should stay away from keto? ›

The Keto diet is strictly not advisable for the ones with extra high levels of blood glucose, diabetes type 1 or type 2 who are taking regular doses of Insulin, Metformin supplements and other forms of medication since the Keto diet can have adverse effects on the medications.

Do you do cheat days on keto? ›

It's entirely possible to have a cheat day while staying in ketosis, as long as you plan your macros carefully. However, if you want to go all out on your cheat day, be ready for some of the side effects and the fact that you'll more than likely have to spend some time getting back into ketosis.

How many cheat days should you have on keto? ›

If your goal is calorie control, aim to cheat no more than once or twice a week. But if ketosis is important for your progress, consider cheating much less often, like once a month. And if you are new to a keto diet, wait at least a few weeks to get some progress going before even considering cheats.

How long is too long on keto? ›

According to a recent survey of doctors by Readers Digest, dieters shouldn't stay on the high-fat, low-carb Keto diet for longer than six months, although one local dietitian said adults shouldn't be on the diet at all.

What is an example of carb cycling? ›

Carb cycling is a dietary plan where people alternate their carb intake daily, weekly, or monthly. For example, some people may have a high carb and low fat diet some days and consume a diet low in carbs and high in fat on other days.

What happens when you stop keto? ›

Weight gain. Bloating and other bathroom issues. Blood sugar spikes, which could cause fatigue and irritability. Increased hunger and sugar addiction.

How do I speed up weight loss on keto? ›

To speed up weight loss on keto, I recommend the following things:
  1. Fasting.
  2. Avoid snacking.
  3. Reduce calories.
  4. Sleep more.
  5. Quit alcohol.
  6. Exercise more.
  7. Watch out for your medications.
Aug 4, 2022

Why am I losing weight but my stomach is still big? ›

This is because when you are stressed, cortisol levels in the body rise, resulting in storage of fat around the belly area. Another reason responsible for a stubborn belly fat is genetics. It has been noticed that if your parents have belly fat, you might also have the same body type.

What is the ideal ketosis level for weight loss? ›

The sweet spot for weight loss is 1.5 to 3.0 mmol/l. This level of nutritional ketosis is recommended by researchers Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek. Ketone levels of 0.5 to 1.5 mmol/l, light nutritional ketosis, is also beneficial although not to the degree of full nutritional ketosis.

What kind of bread is keto friendly? ›

Cloud bread, or oopsie bread, is very popular with low-carb and keto dieters. Cloud bread is a protein-rich alternative to regular bread and makes an excellent sandwich base or English muffin replacement. There are various recipes for cloud bread, but a simple version is as follows.

Can you eat peanut butter on keto? ›

Peanut butter can definitely be part of a keto diet, but it's best to stick to plain options that are free of extra flavors and sweeteners. Almond butter is a good choice, too, and it's slightly lower in carbs. Additionally, you should be mindful of your portion size if you're trying to lose weight.

How long does it take to lose weight on keto without exercise? ›

Generally, you'll need to adhere to a caloric deficit of around 500 calories per day. At this rate, you should start to see noticeable weight loss after anywhere from 10 to 21 days.

Where does keto burn fat first? ›

When you don't eat carbs, your liver switches over to burning fat for fuel. It turns fat into fatty acids and ketones and sends them to your cells for energy. This state is called ketosis -- your body is running on fat, not carbs. However, even in ketosis, you burn dietary fat first, and body fat after that.

How long does it take for ketosis to burn belly fat? ›

Proponents of the keto diet claim that ketosis is essential for fast weight reduction. It might take 2-4 days or longer to lose weight in ketosis, depending on a variety of factors such as your metabolism, carb-protein-fat intake, level of exercise, and whether you follow the diet strictly.

How long before belly fat goes away on keto? ›

This is not done by contracting—they actually need to get physically shorter at rest, and this takes 6–12 months to occur by natural processes. In the meantime, your belly looks soft. Bottom line: it takes a bit of patience to lose fat and then see the full benefits that we expect.

What time of day are ketones highest? ›

The highest detection rates (>90 %) for ketosis were at 07:00, 22:00 and 03:00, respectively.

How many carbs will keep you in ketosis? ›

The ketogenic diet typically reduces total carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams a day—less than the amount found in a medium plain bagel—and can be as low as 20 grams a day. Generally, popular ketogenic resources suggest an average of 70-80% fat from total daily calories, 5-10% carbohydrate, and 10-20% protein.

How can I cycle off keto without gaining weight? ›

“As you transition off the ketogenic diet, start to slowly decrease your fat intake while upping your intake of lean proteins, vegetables, and wholesome carbohydrates, like fresh fruit, whole grains, and beans,” she says. White refined grains and sugars should still be limited.

Can I have a cheat weekend on keto? ›

It's entirely possible to have a cheat day while staying in ketosis, as long as you plan your macros carefully. However, if you want to go all out on your cheat day, be ready for some of the side effects and the fact that you'll more than likely have to spend some time getting back into ketosis.


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3. Cyclical Keto - Carb Cycling EXPLAINED!
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