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By now you've probably heard a friend, family member, or perhaps even a celebrity touting the benefits of the popular ketogenic diet, which cuts carbs and increases fats so the body is forced into a fat-burning state. If that sounds extreme, fear not. A cyclical version of the diet exists, and it may suit your lifestyle better.
What Is the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?
A cyclical ketogenic diet alternates between high-carb and low-carb days. The goal is to get your body to run out of its typical fuel of sugar and instead break down protein and fat for energy, which could lead to weight loss.
We tapped wellness doctor and author Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, who recently created a diet and fitness plan based on the ketogenic method, to give us the scoop on this way of eating. In addition to expanding on the specifics of a cyclical ketogenic diet, we asked this nutrition expert to tell us what makes a good candidate, what the biggest misconception is, and what side effects you might experience. Here's a basic primer.
Meet the Expert
Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS is a certified natural medicine doctor as well as a chiropractic doctor and a clinical nutritionist. He started a renowned functional medicine center in Nashville, TN, and he is the founder of one of the most visited natural health sites on the web.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Basics
According to Axe, a cyclical version of the ketogenic diet is characterized by the fact that it alternates between eating high-carb and low-carb. "Typically, someone following this plan would eat more carbs about one to two days per week, aiming to get 100 grams of net carbs or more on higher-carb days," he explains, "The other five to six days of the week, they would restrict carbs to about 25 to 35 net grams per day, with about 75% more of their calories coming from fat."
The benefit of eating this way, as opposed to the traditional keto diet, is replenishing muscle glycogen, which is an energy source. Additionally, notes Axe, carb-cycling can help with metabolism, breaking through plateaus experienced in weight-loss journeys, and exercise recovery.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet Candidates
As for who makes a good candidate for the cyclical ketogenic diet, it seems that more physically active types are at the top of the list. "If you're someone who is athletic, cycling may be a good strategy for keeping your energy levels up and supporting muscle growth and recovery." If you're someone who tried to go keto but found it too restrictive—or found that the side effects (explained below) made it too difficult to totally commit—you might also benefit from carb-cycling since it allows a bit more flexibility.
Don't let the "high fat" description fool you, as Axe says that those who consider the cyclical ketogenic diet (or any keto diet) to be a free-for-all for bacon, ice cream, and other fatty indulgences should think again. "One of the biggest mistakes I see is when they indulge in any and all types of fatty or high-protein foods, many of which are highly processed and not very healthy," he explains, "Just because a food provides fats or won't throw you out of ketosis doesn't mean it's good for you." He recommends using whole, clean foods as a means of getting both fats and protein. For example, opt for wild-caught salmon over processed meats and grass-fed butter over refined oils, and get your carbohydrates from whole grains and starchy veggies.
What to Expect
While many have found the cyclical ketogenic diet to be an effective way to burn fat, it's not without potential side effects. And as Axe is quick to point out, different bodies can have different results based on factors like weight, age, medical history, and frequency of physical activity. "When you first begin the ketogenic diet, you might experience some temporary side effects like low energy, brain fog, trouble sleeping, or cravings for sugar/carbs," he elaborates. "These feelings are totally normal when you drastically restrict carbohydrates."
But while anyone interested in this type of diet should be aware of these potential side effects, the potential gains might make this interim period worth it. "With patience, these issues usually go away within a range of a few days to several weeks," Axe reports. And after cycling a few times, dieters very likely could see these symptoms subside.
Would you give this way of eating a whirl?