What Happens After Keto?

What Happens After Keto?

Although you may like the idea of ditching keto completely, many people benefit from maintaining a keto diet but incorporating higher carb meals. For obesity and metabolic problems like insulin resistance, a keto diet with carb cycling (often called a cheat meal or carb re-feed) may be just the ticket.

When restricting carbs you deplete the muscles of glycogen—the storage form of carbs in the body. Then, the carbs you eat during your higher carb meal are stored as glycogen, not fat. Carb cycling also helps keep the cells sensitive to insulin and the brain responsive to the hormone leptin so you do not experience deranged hunger.

To truly benefit from carb cycling, you need to ensure you are fully fat adapted. This generally takes two weeks on a strict keto diet with less than 50 grams of carbs a day. It is critical you don’t slip up and eat higher carb foods during the adaptation phase because this will set you back to the beginning.

After the first two weeks, you can work some carbs back into your diet. After 14 days of veggie-only eating for your carb source, you can have a meal in which you eat whatever you want. Then, on day 16, you are back to low-carb eating but can eat a higher carb meal every 3 to 7 days.

The exact timing of your carb re-feed will depend on physical activity and goals. For example, individuals who are sedentary or who are minimally active but exercising a few days a week will likely benefit from a higher carb meal once a week. For leaner individuals, people who are active, or training regularly, a higher carb meal every 3 to 5 days is preferred. Determining the ideal schedule for you takes some experimentation. The goal is to be able to achieve and maintain optimal body composition and feel energized.

Option #2: Keto With Targeted Carb Cycling

Another carb cycling option that can work for athletes or people who frequently train at a high intensity is to get fat-adapted and then include higher carb foods around exercise. Athletes involved in sports with a high anaerobic energy component, such as basketball, CrossFit, martial artists, or soccer are unlikely to have the high rate of energy production necessary for maximal performance from running their bodies on ketones. Same goes for fitness-minded individuals who perform significant training at a high intensity, such as weight lifting and interval training. If this is you, you may benefit from consuming carbs around workouts regularly.

Targeted carb cycling generally has you eating less than 50 grams of carbs on rest days but higher carb on intense training days (anywhere from 50 to 150 grams). Carbs should be consumed around workouts: Almost everyone using this approach can benefit from having carbs post-workout because the muscles will be starved for glycogen and super insulin sensitive. Having carbs at dinner is another option that can promote exercise recovery and improve sleep.

Depending on quantity and frequency of carb re-feeds, you may not be in a ketogenic state because it takes several days of low-carb eating to achieve ketosis. Even though you are not technically in ketosis, your body will still be fat adapted and able to access fat stores when glucose levels run low.

In addition to benefiting athletes and serious recreational trainees, targeted carb cycling may be useful for people who are countering low thyroid function and anyone who finds keto too restrictive.

Option #3: Transition To A Healthy Whole Foods Diet With Planned Macros

Athletes, leaner individuals, and even overweight folks who have reached their ideal body weight can benefit from coming out of ketosis. The key to making this work is full commitment during the keto intervention, followed by a well thought-out transition plan that allows you to sustain benefits.

Identifying the nutrition plan you want to transition to is best achieved with a dietitian, doctor, or coach and will depend on many factors including goals, physical activity, preferences, and diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease. We often recommend a variation of the Mediterranean Diet that is designed around the same whole foods that make up the majority of your keto diet but with a different macronutrient composition. Typically, this approach increases carbs into the 30 to 40 percent range, decreases fat to 30 to 40 percent, and increases protein to 20 to 30 percent of calories.

When reintroducing carbs and decreasing fat, do it slowly. Remember that carbs increase insulin, which is a storage hormone. Insulin can store the energy in carbs as fat or as glycogen in muscle and the liver. The body prioritizes glycogen storage, so if those stores are empty, carbs will be stored as glycogen. It is only when glycogen stores are topped off that energy is stored as fat.

Increasing carbs too quickly after a keto diet will trigger a large increase in insulin, making it more likely that fat storage will occur. Therefore, you want to increase carbs gradually while taking fat away. Fat provides roughly double the calories of carbs (fat has 9 calories and carbs have 4 calories), making it easy to calculate. For every gram of fat that you remove, you can add two grams of carbs.

The speed and amount with which you reintroduce carbs should depend on several factors, including carbohydrate tolerance, goals, and physical activity levels. Here is an example of a transition plan from a keto diet that supplies roughly 1600 calories a day, 40 grams of carbs, 80 grams of protein, and 124 grams of fat. The goal is to reach 43 percent fat, 25 percent protein and 32 percent carbs. This can be achieved with a 20 percent increase in carbs each week, with the seventh week increasing carbs by only 10 percent to reach the goal. This example also increases protein by 5 grams every two weeks in order to reach 100 grams of protein and reap the body composition and appetite-dampening effects of the extra amino acids.

Carbohydrate Grams Protein Grams Fat Grams
Pre Transition 40 80 124
Week 1 48 85 120
Week 2 58 85 115
Week 3 70 90 109
Week 4 84 90 102
Week 5 100 95 94
Week 6 120 95 84
Week 7 132 100 78

As you reintroduce carbs, pay attention to body fat. If you find you are gaining fat, make sure that you are hitting your macro and calorie goals by doing a food journal and weighing portions. If your fat gain doesn’t stop, drop back to the previous week’s macros until you find that your body fat stabilizes. Ideally, you should measure body fat with calipers or a reliable bioimpedance assessment because your scale weight may increase because the body holds onto more water when your carb intake increase.

Final Words: Coming off of a keto diet can be exciting and scary. Changing your eating patterns dramatically can be difficult when you are used to having so many restrictions.

By developing a long-term strategy for your nutrition, you can sustain the changes you made with keto while enjoying the flavors and benefits that healthy carbs have to offer.

For more tips on going keto, check out our Keto Diet Handbook that gives you everything you need to know for success.


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