On and Off Ketogenic Dieting: Carb Cycling for Fat Loss
I am a fan of carb cycling if you enjoy following a ketogenic diet, but still want carbs on occasion. The basic principle for fat loss is that you follow a low-carb diet on some days, and add carbs on others, particularly ones where you have been more active. While I mostly follow a ketogenic (low-carb, high-fat) diet, I do allow myself to have carbs on occasion. The primary reason is that I consider myself to be a true foodie, so I allow myself to indulge in carbohydrates like roast potato or high-sugar fruits like mango or pineapple at times (I tend to lose control around fruit for some reason).
Not that all sources of carbs are necessarily bad, like fruit, but my body is quite sensitive to them, so I stick to a low-carb diet in general. If you follow a low-carb diet, especially a low-carb, high-fat diet, your body will start to break down fat and turn it into ketones for energy when it runs out of glucose for available energy.
There are a lot of benefits to following a low-carb, ketogenic diet for fat loss, such as:
Training your body to burn fat for energy, which will help you lose excess fat.
Improving brain health. You brain cells are mostly made up of fat.
Making fasting easier. When your body is used to burning fat for energy and can easily burn your fat into energy, fasting becomes easier. Your body will not struggle to find energy when you are fasting, and you can experience the benefits of fasting, such as autophagy (the body’s cell-recycling process), fat loss, muscle protection, detoxing, etc.
Also stimulating autophagy like through fasting. Therefore, pairing a ketogenic diet with fasting will help you be in a deeper state of autophagy.
Although your body can run on ketones for energy when you follow a low-carb diet for fat loss, your brain still requires some glucose, which is why I try to include some carbs once or twice a week. I reserve my carbs for when I am visiting family and friends. This makes being in social situations a lot easier. It can be hard for friends and family to cook for you when your diet is strict, and while I still will not eat bread, gluten, or sugar, I will still eat some roast potato or pumpkin fritters (my grandmother’s speciality) on occasion.
The amount of carbohydrates you can consume, as well as the frequency of consumption, depends on your body. People who can thrive while eating more carbohydrates can opt for alternate days where they eat carbs every second day while the carb- and sugar-sensitive individuals like myself can stick to a couple of times per week. Here are a few benefits I have found with carb cycling for fat loss:
Freedom from Post Pasta Guilt
It allows me to eat a ketogenic/low-carb diet and follow a low-sugar diet most of the time, but I can still enjoy them once or twice a week without feeling guilty. If you stick to a keto diet 80% of the time and follow the 80/20 rule, you will still experience most of the benefits and be healthier than you would be if you were following the standard western diet.
If you do this, then you do not have to feel guilty about indulging every now and then. Being perfect when it comes to your diet can be stressful and make you feel anxious, so if you allow yourself to not be perfect and to indulge on occasion, the resulting reduction in stress could actually benefit your health.
Your health might be equal if following the 80/20 rule than being 100% perfect, but stressed and miserable. So it does not matter which one you choose.
If You Time It Well, It Can Help Your Progress in Terms of Health
I like to do my harder workouts on days where I do include carbohydrates, as they help restore the lost glycogen in your muscles, which helps them to heal and grow. Personally, I do not consume a lot of sugar in my diet, but if you are going to eat it, have it just after a workout to restore glycogen and aid muscle repair.
Changing your diet can also help fat loss, as it helps to keep your body guessing, and helps you avoid hitting a fat-loss plateau.
Cycling Between a Ketogenic Diet and A Carb-Inclusive Diet Keeps You Sane
Carb and sugar withdrawal is a big thing for those who daydream about pasta, bread, rice, cakes, and pastries. Allowing yourself to eat carbs strategically can help satisfy cravings and even improve your mood. On a deeper level, eating carbohydrates can help relieve anxiety by forcing amino acids into your muscles, which allows Tryptophan (an amino acid that is responsible for producing serotonin and has to compete with other amino acids and often loses) to get a chance to enter your brain.
If you do struggle with mental health, having carbs now and then could be beneficial. This is thanks to the contribution to serotonin production and the reduction of stress and self-loathing around diet and health.
It Keeps Your Body Guessing
Switching up the way you eat, such as with carb cycling, is a good way to trick your body into not plateauing, and to promote fat loss. When your body becomes used to a certain diet, it can adjust, and you will start seeing less results. If you have been eating a low-carb and low-sugar diet for a while, and have stopped seeing process, carbohydrates could be just what you need to jumpstart fat loss again.
The great news is that if you decide to follow a ketogenic diet and want to experiment with a keto diet, it does not have to be permanent, and you do not have to be perfect 100% of the time. Carb cycling can help you get food freedom and experiment freely. It can benefit your body and help you reduce the amount of self-judgement and self-loathing you put yourself through.