The ketogenic diet rose to fame back in the 1920s and ’30s when it was widely used as a therapy for epilepsy.
Still used today to help hard-to-treat epilepsy in children, the keto diet has also become a hugely popular diet to help control blood sugar levels, as well as promote weight loss.
Many who follow this strict, low-carb diet are asking, can you have more carbs on keto if you exercise?
Below, we explain how exercise affects the keto diet so you can better understand your personal carb limit so that you can maximize your time spent in ketosis.
Can You Have More Carbs on Keto if You Exercise?
Some people find it incredibly difficult to follow low-carb diets, such as the keto and Atkins diets, mainly because carbs are found in so many foods.
The general carb limit that most people try to follow is 35g of total carbs or 25g of net carbs.
By following a diet that stays within these carb limits, you will likely reach ketosis.
There are, however, a few other factors that also have an influence over you reaching ketosis, including exercise, stress, protein, and how “keto adapted” you are.
Some people find that they can stay in ketosis even if they go over these limits, and that’s because there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” carb limit.
The number of carbs one person can eat per day to reach and remain in ketosis will generally always be slightly different from another person’s limits.
Unfortunately, the only real way to check is by experimenting with different amounts and conducting regular blood tests.
Who Can Eat More Carbs While on Keto Diet?
If you’re following the keto diet to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat more carbs because it will slow down your progress.
Even though all the exercises that you do will help to burn fat, you shouldn’t use that as an excuse to eat more carbs.
There are a few occasions, however, where you may benefit from a “carb-up.”
Firstly, the type of exercise you do matters.
If you do high-intensity exercise, such as CrossFit or sprinting, then some extra carbs may be beneficial.
Similarly, if you’re a high-performance athlete or bodybuilder, there are variations of the keto diet that allow you to eat extra carbs.
For these people, eating more carbs while on keto is okay.
In fact, they've even got names for two different keto diets that allow for exercise "carb-ups."
The targeted ketogenic diet and the cyclical ketogenic diet both allow you to eat carbs strategically around your workouts.
Types of Keto Diets
If you’re a high-performing athlete or a bodybuilder, or you’re someone who performs high-intensity workouts regularly, you can eat more carbs even while on keto.
In these cases, carbs can be used to enhance your performance and build muscle mass while remaining in ketosis or without interrupting ketosis for too long.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet
The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) is designed for people who perform high-intensity exercises regularly or those who work out for extended periods.
It’s basically the same as the standard keto diet, except that you’re eating more carbs around your workouts.
If you still want to lose weight while following the TKD, it is possible. However, you have to make sure you consume less fat on the days that you carb up.
Your carb intake will increase the calories you’re consuming, so you need to offset this with your fat calorie intake.
The TKD allows you to achieve peak performance while exercising without being out of ketosis for too long.
The TKD is ideal for beginner and intermediate strength trainers, as well as those who can’t follow the cyclical ketogenic diet for health reasons.
Other people who may benefit from the TKD are endurance athletes and those participating in moderate-intensity exercise for periods over one and a half hours long.
Supplementing your diet with carbs before a half-marathon, for example, has been shown to improve performance and perceived exertion levels without affecting ketosis.
How to Carb Up on the Targeted Ketogenic Diet
If you’re keen to start experimenting with the TKD, it’s recommended that you consume around 25 to 50 grams of carbs 30 minutes before you begin your workout.
The carbs you choose should be easily digestible, such as liquids or high-glycemic foods.
High-glycemic foods, such as white bread and sugary snacks, will absorb into the body quickly, but they're not good for you.
The best choice of carbs will be a clean source of dextrose or glucose in the form of a tablet or lozenge.
While a fruity snack would be the obvious healthy choice for most people, fructose tends to head straight to the liver to help replenish liver glycogen, so it should actually be avoided for exercise purposes.
Dextrose and glucose, on the other hand, will be more likely to be absorbed into your muscles, which is exactly what you want.
You should also avoid eating fat immediately before and after working out because it slows down fat and protein digestion.
This excludes medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s), as they are digested more quickly and actually help to increase ketone levels.
Either eat your carbs on their own, with protein to help boost muscle growth, or with MCTs to increase ketones to achieve the best results.
Instead of ingesting carbs after your workout, you’ll benefit more from a high-quality protein shake to help aid your recovery.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) is designed for people who want to utilize carbs to increase muscle mass and enhance their exercise performance.
This diet involves devoting one or two entire days to high carb consumption, which allows the body to fully replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores.
The CKD allows you to enjoy the main benefits of the standard keto diet. Still, you should be aware that you may also gain some body fat alongside muscle mass.
This diet is not recommended for people whose exercise is considered as being low to moderate intensity, as it’s unlikely that glycogen stores will be fully depleted.
If you follow the CKD without performing the necessary amount and intensity of training, then it’s highly likely that you will leave ketosis and struggle to return to it quickly.
If, however, you have a rigorous and intense training schedule that depletes your glycogen stores, you’ll be able to return to ketosis quickly every week.
This diet is also not recommended to those following the keto diet for health reasons.
If you’re following the keto diet to help with hyperinsulinemia or hypertension, you may find that it doesn’t work, as your body’s hormone response could trigger health symptoms.
This diet involves five or six days in which you follow the standard keto diet and one or two days of high carb intake.
An alternative cycle to this one-week plan, which can also produce good results, is to cycle every two weeks.
Following a two week cycle would involve 10 to 12 days of the standard ketogenic diet, followed by three or four days in which you consume a high carb diet.
Most people tend to follow a one-week cycle, purely because it fits in better with their schedule and lifestyle.
Note: The amount of training you need to do to completely deplete your glycogen stores will depend on the number of carbs you’re consuming in your “carb-up” days.
How to Carb Up on the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
To work your way up to an anabolic state, in which the body builds and repairs muscle tissue, you need to begin carb-loading around five hours before your final workout.
Around 25 to 50 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed along with fats and proteins to increase liver enzyme production.
Another 25 to 50 grams of carbs should be consumed one or two hours before your final workout.
At this point, a combination of glucose and fructose is recommended to replenish liver glycogen.
When carb loading, many people still achieve good results by eating any old carbs. However, if you want the best results, you’ll need a more scientific approach to nutrition.
For the first 24 hours, you should consume 70% of your calories as carbs and split the remaining 30% evenly between fats and proteins.
High glycemic index (GI) foods can be consumed, but it’s best to avoid processed foods and stick to whole food carbohydrate sources where possible.
For the second 24 hours, you should consume 60% carbs, 25% protein, and 15% fat. Again, try to choose lower GI foods.
Depending on how rigorous your training schedule is, you can add more carbs to the carb-loading process as needed.
How to Re-Enter Ketosis Following Carb Up
Following your carb up, you’ll want to completely deplete your glycogen stores again, switching you back into ketosis.
To ensure a smooth switch back into ketosis, follow this schedule:
- Day 1: Do not eat after 6:00 PM.
- Day 2: Perform high-intensity training on an empty stomach and then follow a strict keto diet of just 0 to 2% carb intake
- Day 3: Do medium intensity training on an empty stomach, followed by the normal keto diet rules of 3% to 5% carbs.
You could also consume MCTs to increase your ketone levels more quickly.
1. How does exercise affect keto diet?
The way the keto diet works is that by following a low-carb diet, your body will switch into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, so it would need to take energy from fat stores instead of carbohydrates.
As an energy source, however, fat isn’t burned as easily as carbs, which is why an athlete’s performance during high-intensity exercise can suffer.
Lower-intensity workouts are less affected, so if you want to exercise while on the keto diet, you should choose a lower-intensity exercise schedule or consider the TKD or CKD.
If you are following a keto diet to lose weight and burn fat, you should avoid carb loading.
If you’re lacking the energy needed to exercise but want to avoid carbs for weight-loss reasons, your best bet is to take MCT or coconut oil to help boost energy levels.
2. How many carbs will kick me out of ketosis?
The keto carb limit is 35 grams of carbs per day or 25 grams of net carbs.
Your net carbs are your total amount of carbs minus the amount of fiber you’ve eaten.
3. Will one cheat day ruin ketosis?
The answer to this depends on your idea of “ruin,” as well as your definition of “cheat day.”
If you’re following a keto diet to help you lose weight, then one cheat day every now and then won’t hurt too much.
One cheat day will likely result in your body leaving the state of ketosis, but it won’t completely ruin the progress you’ve made thus far.
Just because you couldn’t say no to dessert doesn’t mean that you should give up trying.
Doing so may cause your body to leave ketosis for a short while, but you should be able to switch back pretty easily.
If you’re panicking about it and want to reach ketosis again more quickly, you can work to a limit of 20g of net carbs to help speed up your return.
If you’re following a keto diet for health reasons, however, then cheat days should be taken a little more seriously.
For example, keto cheat days could increase heart health risks for diabetics who are following the keto diet to help control their blood sugar levels.
Therefore, in such cases, these cheat days should be avoided as much as possible.
4. What happens when you cheat on the keto diet?
When you eat more carbs than is recommended on the keto diet, your blood sugar will immediately spike.
This will produce an abundance of energy and cause your body to switch back to using glucose as its primary source of fuel.
Ketone production only happens when your body is burning fat, so it will stop when you eat more carbs than what’s recommended.
The abundance of glucose will also be used to refill your depleted glycogen stores, which may result in a short gain of water weight.
As it’s the default energy source, your body will continue to use up any and all available glucose and glycogen stores until it is depleted again.
Only then will ketone production resume.
So, can you have more carbs on keto if you exercise? The answer is yes!
If you’re following the keto diet for weight loss, then you may find it beneficial to avoid carb loading by sticking with low- to mid-intensity workouts.
However, if you’re exercising a lot and are doing high-intensity routines, you may find that you need the extra carb boost just before your workout to help you finish the session.
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