The cyclic ketogenic diet for athletes is a smart way to have your cake and eat it too. It works well for both endurance athletes and strength athletes alike.
A lot of you have been emailing me to expand more on the cyclic ketogenic diet. In my book The Ketogenic Diet for Athletes I discuss it briefly. But it is vital to get the basics correct first before expanding out on different variations.
Once you are keto-adapted, THEN it is time to explore tweaking the system and experimenting with cyclic ketosis. You can’t do a cyclic ketogenic diet for athletes unless you are first in ketosis.
To learn more about cyclic ketogenic diet meal plans, check this out:
Nothing lasts forever. The body needs constant change and stimulus or it stops responding. As you know, you should not do the same training every day. To keep improvement levels high, it is good to do some slow and steady endurance training, then some high intensity intervals another day, then some strength work another day, then a rest day. Keep mixing it up.
So to with your diet. If you eat the same thing every day, you will start to see a plateau. What “worked” before may start to find an equilibrium of less and less improvement. Make sure you continue to eat widely and from balanced sources. If you need some yummy keto food ideas, shopping lists and recipes click here
Humans are designed for feasts and famines which has occurred throughout our evolutionary history. It is good and healthy for the body to have a change now and then.
The cyclical ketogenic diet for athletes does just this.
Dr Stephen Phinny and Dr Jeff Volek in their excellent book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance explore this.
A Practical Approach To The Cyclic Ketogenic Diet For Athletes
A lot of people tend to have an all or nothing approach to diet. If they get stuck on one aspect, they can tend to throw the whole diet out the window in a “it just does not work” mode, instead of getting a deeper understanding and tweaking it for their own circumstances.
Remember the ketogenic diet never once states that carbohydrates are “bad”. Or that it is a “no carb diet”. These criticisms are false and demonstrate a lack of understanding. The ketogenic diet simply suggests a re-balancing of carbohydrates towards more fat. Most Western diets encourage people to overdose on carbohydrates which generally leads to poor health outcomes.
Depending on your physiology, you might be able to have 40g carbohydrate daily and remain in ketosis. Some people can have 130g carbohydrates and remain in ketosis. The average person on the standard Western diet consumes 300-450g a day.
What Are The Major Advantages of The Cyclic Ketogenic Diet for Athletes?
The cyclic ketogenic diet for athletes involves eating low carb (strict ketogenic) for 5-6 days a week, then 1-2 days of higher carbohydrates and less fat. This “re-feed” is good for hormonal balance and thyroid activity. Dr Phinney and Dr Volek also agree that cycling in and out of ketosis is the best way to sustain the benefits of the ketogenic diet over the long term.
This re-feed day does not of course mean go silly and gorge on croissants, cakes, donuts and pies!
Stay healthy if possible obviously. Go for carbohydrates like parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes or some rice. This approach is also beneficial psychologically as you are not restricting yourself from abundant carbs forever.
A high carb day will spike your insulin levels. For more “carb-ing up” practices click here. Insulin is a hormone with significant effects on your metabolism. Insulin causes most of the body’s cells to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stops the use of fat as an energy source. When insulin is low, glucose is not taken up by most body cells and the body begins to use fat as an energy source.
Insulin is secreted by the pancreas primarily in response to the carbohydrates in your diet. Since you are keeping carbs low for most of the week, your insulin levels will also be low.
Once a week when you increase the carbs and let your insulin levels spike, insulin will shuttle amino acids into the muscle tissue, and also refill your muscle glycogen stores during this time. It will also stimulate increased production of:
2. Growth Hormone
3. IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor 1)
This gives a manageable and sociable weekly cycle where you carb up over the weekend and return to your low-carb diet during the week.
Another way to ensure you can consume more carbs without getting kicked out of ketosis is to supplement with exogenous ketones. Taking on these ketones immediately raises the level of available ketones in your system which the body can burn for fuel.
Many endurance athletes use exogenous ketones to maintain full concentration all day, full energy for work and workouts all day and to help the cycling in and out of ketosis quickly and easily at will. There is some suggestion that the Tour de France riders are experimenting with exogenous ketones as well as used with the ketogenic diet they help make you bonk-proof.
Dr Peter Attia ran a test of aerobic efficiency pre and post ketosis:
He found ketosis resulted in improved aerobic efficiency, he could rely on much more on fat, rather than glycogen, during prolonged exertion. This freed him up from needing to be constantly eating on long swims and bike rides
- Prior to ketosis – At this level of energy output, he required 95% of my energy to come from glycogen, and was only able to get 5% of my energy from fat.
- Post ketosis – At this same level of energy output, he was now only 22% dependent on glycogen, and therefore able to get nearly 80% of my energy from fat.
- He did note that his max VO2 output was reduced in a state of ketosis though as max anaerobic performance is 100% glycogen dependant. So depending on your requirements and distance of race, you may be able to increase your carbohydrate intake if you anticipate needed top end power for racing but be predominantly in ketosis for the majority of your sub-max training.
Good Fats On the Cyclic Ketogenic Diet for Athletes
As you know, a ketogenic diet is rich in fats. But which fats? No- not fast foods and donuts. A ketogenic diet is naturally rich in omega 6 fatty acids, so it’s important to consume omega-3-rich foods such as wild salmon, fermented cod liver oil, grass-fed meat, chia seed, walnuts and macadamia nuts.
Saturated fats are those which are usually hard at room temperature, and these are your best option for cooking as they are more stable at high heat than unsaturated fats. Examples of these are lard, MCT oil, coconut oil, cocoa oil/butter. Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard of the Bulletproof coffee trend to throw some butter and MCT oil into your coffee in the morning and blend it up. This reportedly helps with energy and focus, gives you greater mental clarity, sustains your energy over a longer period of time and keeps hunger at bay. As most of you know, we are fans of caffeine to enhance training effects, fat metabolism and a tool in racing performance.
There is even a kickstarter campaign to fund their own instant butter coffee, called Coffee Blocks, which adds egg yolks to the mix. I certainly add MCT oil to my morning coffee and can attest to some of these benefits. (Not sure I am ready to try egg yolks in my coffee just yet!)
Saturated fat increases uptake of calcium into the bone, protects the liver form toxins, lowers cholesterol, supports brain and nerve function and boosts the immune system.
It is best not to heat any unsaturated fats like flaxseed oil as when they are heated, they release free radicals and form harmful compounds and increase inflammation in the body. In general, we want to maintain an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:1.
Polyunsaturated (Omega-6): Sources include, sesame oil, avocado oil, borage oil and evening prim- rose oil.
3. Polyunsaturated (Omega-3): Sources include flax seed oil, pumpkin seed, hemp seed, walnut, macadamia nuts, grain-fed meat, high-fat fish and chia seed.
These are essential meaning your body cannot produce them on their own.
Fats To Avoid On The Cyclic Ketogenic Diet
Processed vegetable oils, vegan spreads, margarine, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats are all damaging to your health.
Oils to avoid and watch out for include: sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, canola, soybean and corn oil. Trans fats are typically found in margarines, cookies, crackers and commercially fried foods. These tend to increase risk of coronary heart disease , some cancers and negatively affect cholesterol levels.
So whether you are at the beginning of your ketogenic journey looking for more information check out The Ketogenic Diet for Athletes as it is packed with tons of valuable strategy and info.
- To help you get started
- To add a huge amount of the variety to your meals
- To discuss the benefits of intermittent fasting
- To help you overcome common stumbling blocks and
- To give you more advanced techniques
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