As Ketogenic Diets have become the big news among ‘civilians’ Cyclic Ketogenic Diets (CKD) are big news among athletes. Ketogenic diets offer extraordinarily rapid fat loss with superior muscle retention compared to carbohydrate or gluconeogenic (high protein) diets. Done right, ketogenic diets are absolutely the best diets for fat loss and high, stable energy. Read what we have to say about them here.
There is already plenty of information available on the basic CKD and its rationale that is beyond the scope of this article. http://www.c-k-d.com is an excellent start if you are interested. What we are interested in here is how to make the CKD better.
Overview of CKD’s
CKD’s are based on a period in ketosis followed by a period of carbohydrate ‘loading’. The theory behind CKD’s is that breaking Ketosis every 5 to 10 days for 1-3 days of high carbohydrate intake will:
Restore muscle glycogen
Restore gym performance
Rebuild any lost muscle (and hopefully add some new muscle)
As a bonus, by loading in carbohydrates from a depleted base it is possible to super-saturate our muscles with glycogen. That is (in lay terms) muscles almost empty of glycogen (and water) are so hungry for glucose that they can be ‘tricked’ into taking up as much as 50% more glycogen (and water) before they realise whats happened. In this super-glycogenated state our muscles look and feel perpetually ‘pumped’ and swollen. And swelling a muscle cell to the limit is a powerful stimulus for muscle growth.
Problems with the CKD
While the original 5 day keto/2 day carb CKD works well for fat loss, only a very genetically gifted few can gain muscle on it; and even they would have done better on another diet. The problems are that, even using glucose disposal ‘supplements’:
The zero-carb period before ketosis is reached is quite catabolic
It takes most dieters 2-3 catabolic days to achieve ketosis, leaving only 2-3 days of rapid fat loss
Few people can achieve glycogen super-compensation in only 2 days and without excess carbs ‘spilling over’ into fat stores
Protein synthesis takes time and the few hours of muscle cell hyper-expansion doesn’t sufficiently exploit this powerful mechanism
Wouldn’t it be nice…?
While the problems above can be partly addressed by longer cycle CKD’s – say 7-11 day ketogenic with 3 days carb loading – the periods of anabolism are still too brief to gain significant muscle but long enough to gain back a significant amount of fat. We really want some way to exploit the fully-carb-loaded condition for a few more days without gaining fat.
Continuing to carb load is redundant when the muscles have already super-compensated – the excess carbs turn to fat. Increasing calories in the first few days of ketosis is anti-catabolic but doesn’t exploit the unique anabolic environment that we created with the carbs.
Fortunately, the metabolic to’s-and-fro’s of a CKD creates another natural muscle growth opportunity.
The Ketogenic phase requires a 70-80% fat intake (otherwise the diet will be gluconeogenic) and the carb-load requires a 60-75% carb intake; thus protein intake throughout a CKD is only moderate to low (