Ketogenic (Low-Carb, No Carb) Dieting

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Guides, Nutrition
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Disclaimer: Much of what I know about this style of dieting comes from the guru Lyle McDonald.  He runs a blog at and has written several books, which I suggest you buy.

I made a promise that effective dieting is simple in Everything You Need to Know About Your Diet.  For most people and most goals, this is essentially true.  However, sometimes it may seem that that diet plan may reach a point where it is no longer effective.  I have in fact reached that point.  People are in fact genetically different – some people can use a diet plan with moderate carbs and moderate fat and get to very low bodyfat levels.  Others, like myself and possibly you if you are reading this, are not so lucky.  Our bodies are well-suited to the world that prehistoric man lived in: when food was sparse and storing fat for fuel was an evolutionary advantage.  If you are one of these folks looking for a way around this genetic predisposition, read on.

Ketogenic dieting is difficult, requires a lot of attention to detail and effort, and is not worth doing if you can get lean with simpler diet plans like I have outlined in my previous diet write-up.  If you have successfully used that sort of diet plan to manipulate your weight but have been unable to burn off those last bits of fat, you may want to look into a ketogenic diet.

Remember – I only suggest this for cutting cycles.  If you’re looking to bulk up, just stick to my normal dieting suggestions.

What is ketogenic dieting and ketosis?

Ketogenic dieting broadly refers to various dieting strategies that employ the vast reduction and/or elimination of carbohydrates.  The name comes from the term ketosis, which refers to the state of carb deprivation in which your body begins using ketones instead of glucose for energy at the cellular level.  It is important to note that while this is often a side effect of carbohydrate reduction, there is no inherent advantage of being in ketosis vs. not.  Dieters for a very long were wrapped up in whether or not they were in ketosis, but this in fact not important at all.  For this reason, don’t bother buying ketostix or anything else to see if you are in ketosis because it doesn’t matter.

The matter of importance when cutting out carbs is to deplete glycogen.  I won’t go into the nitty gritty of the science here (and I probably couldn’t do it justice), but in depleting glycogen we force our bodies to use fat for fuel.  Glycogen is essentially stored glucose and we get glucose from carbohydrates.  We cut off glucose (and thus glycogen) supply via cutting out carbohydrates.  We deplete the glycogen that is already stored with high volume exercise.  In this state, big time fat burning can occur – but at a potential cost.  You may feel lethargic, cloudy-minded, irritable, or perhaps no different at all.  The more often you deplete glycogen, the better you begin to respond to it.  Personally, I never had any particularly negative reactions.

There are several different ways to structure a ketogenic diet.  The first incantation is to just go without carbs for an indefinite period of time.  I am opposed to this because you will get to a point where your athletic performance will be severely harmed due to long-term glycogen depletion.  Likewise, you will start to lose hard-earned muscle at an undesirable weight under most circumstances.  Another strategy is called Targeted Ketogenic Dieting (TKD).  This involves taking in small amounts of carbs before, during, and after exercise and going completely without the rest of the day.  I’m not a fan of this either, though I confess it may be better for people trying not to lose performance in the gym or playing field.  The kind I will be doing the most elaboration on is Cyclic Ketogenic Dieting (CKD).

CKD involves periodic “refeeds” in which you consume large amounts of carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen.  This can be a very anabolic moment and is instrumental in keeping (and possibly gaining) muscle mass during your cut.  I am a proponent of Lyle McDonald’s Ultimate Diet 2.0, which is a 7 day CKD.  You would obviously want to do several 7 day cycles to notice any real long term effect.  Go to bodyrecomposition (link at beginning and end of this article) and buy the book for more info – seriously.

What does a good CKD diet setup look like?

First of all, this will merely be a template.  I will respond to specific questions as I’m able but I can’t cover them all without rewriting one of Lyle’s books.  That said, I’m going to give you an overview of Lyle’s Ultimate Diet 2.0.

As far as big picture goes, you’re going to first deplete muscle glycogen via restricting carbs and working out with a very high volume.   Once you’re fully depleted, you are going to carb load.  This will involve taking in an astronomical amount of carbs (1000-1500 grams) in a 24 hour span to replenish glycogen stores.  This is imperative for recovery, strength retention/gain, and overall state of mind.  Due to the fact you were glycogen depleted, you will not gain fat from the carb-up because your body will actually need to use all of those carbs.  You will follow the carb-load with a couple of calorie restricted but otherwise “normal” eating days.  Let’s map this out:

Monday/Tuesday: Eat at about half maintenance calories w/ 50g or less net carbs.  Net carbs are total carbs minus your fiber intake (your body doesn’t digest fiber like other nutrients, so it doesn’t count).  Make sure you meet protein requirements, the rest will be dietary fat (yes, you need the fats).  You will be doing high volume weight workouts both days – you can either do two full body workouts or an upper/lower split.  It doesn’t matter, just make sure you’re hitting every muscle group hard with roughly 100 working reps (5 sets of 20, 6 sets of 15 total).

Wednesday:  Diet is the same as Monday/Tuesday, but no weight workout.  You can do some sort of cardio on this day, but you may find that you’re too sore from the weight workouts.

Thursday AM: This is a tricky day.  You will restrict calories and carbs to begin the day.  Consume a small amount of carbs prior to a PM workout, which will be described shortly.

Thursday PM/Friday: After the small carb drink/food,  do an intense full-body workout.  We’re looking at 6-10 rep range, and just 2-3 sets per exercise.  You can choose exercises as you please.  Immediately following the workout is the carb-up.  Between this time and the time you go to bed Friday, you should consume 7-8g of carbs per pound of lean body mass.  At first you may have some sugars, but try to focus on starches and complex carbs as time goes on.  Of utmost importance is that you limit fats as low as possible.  This keeps fat gain from happening.  Ideally, you’d consume zero fat.  More than 50g or so is too much.  No work out on Friday.

Saturday: Carb-up has ended.  Don’t worry about your weight being up, you’ve taken on a lot of water.  Today is the power workout – maximal strength.  This is a full body workout with compound movements, primarily.  Looking at 2-3 sets in the 3-6 rep range.  This is the day to build strength because you’re completely well fed.  For diet, do a normal diet.  About 2g carbs per pound bodyweight, normal high protein amounts, and try to restrict fats.  Calories should be roughly 500 below maintenance, though you can increase it if you’re more worried about losing muscle.

Sunday: This is another rest day.  You may be sore from yesterday’s workout.  Again this is a more normal dieting day.  You can eat about your bodyweight in grams of carbs in the morning, but as the day goes on begin restricting carbs again to prepare for the low-carb days ahead of you.  The same variability on total calories from Saturday applies today.

And repeat.  You won’t want to do more than 4-6 cycles in a row.  Eat normally as I described in the intro to eating for a couple weeks and resume this diet if you want to cut further.


You may want to supplement during this diet, though it isn’t necessary.

First, there are staples – fish oil is hugely important, read the Supplement Guide for more info.  You may want a multivitamin since you’ll be missing out on foods like fruits.  Low-carb protein powders may help with your protein intake, though they won’t do much for satiety (killing appetite).  Quest bars are also a great option for protein supplementation/meal replacement.

For enhanced fat-burning, an Ephedrine/Caffeine stack will work.  Getting ephedrine is tricky, though.  It is not allowed as a dietary supplement and you have to buy it in the OTC asthma medications Bronkaid or Primatene.  Your drugstore may have a generic as well.  You want to dose 25mg Ephedrine Sulfate or HCl 3 times daily with 200mg caffeine.  This is not only an excellent and cheap fat burning stack, it also will keep your energy up on low-carb days.  Do NOT take this on carb-up days, it interferes with the insulin response that is key to the whole process.  Read this link for more detailed info on EC until I write a fat burner article.  Always take stimulants like this on an empty stomach!!!

Another stimulant fat burner you can try is Yohimbine.  This is extremely effective at mobilizing those stubborn fat areas when insulin is not present in the bloodstream.  When you’re low-carb, guess what – no insulin.  You’ll want about 20mg 3x a day, depending on the source of yohimbine.  You can stack this with and at the same time as Ephedrine/Caffeine.  Some people get side effects from regular yohimbine HCl, so if that is the case I suggest you check alpha-yohimbine/rauwolscine.  The best product for this is called Genomyx Alpha-Burn.  Google it, use it.  You can use this separately from Caffeine and Ephedrine if you don’t want to do the E/C stack.  Still take it on empty stomach, still only take it on low-carb days.

Final Thoughts

The biggest qualm people have with the Ultimate Diet 2.0 is that they have to abandon their weights routine.  There is some flexibility here, as the nutrition is by far the most important part.  If you want to do something like 5/3/1, just adjust your assistance work based on which day of the week it is.  You’ll also want to rotate which body parts you do on which days because doing the same lift after carb-up each time will favor that one movement too much as far as growth goes.

Eating low-carb sucks.  This is not for the faint of heart, but rather those that are frustrated by the fact that normal dieting techniques have stopped working.  You’re basically restricted to meats and cheeses and low-carb veggies like spinach.  Quest Bars are keto-friendly too.  There are some protein powders that work, but be careful of those that have carbs in them (a few will be okay).

The carb-up seems like a time to eat whatever you want, but it is very important to restrict fats.  This eliminates a lot of foods, unfortunately.  You can risk eating some fats, but it may cause you to gain some fat back.  Foods like bread, spaghetti, some cereals, bagels, and others are your best bet.  Try to spread the carb-up into as many meals as possible.  It is very important to try restrict sugars during the carb-up (try to have no more than 100g, not counting sugars from milk) and cut them out completely during the “normal” days following the carb-up.

Good luck and enjoy getting the physique you never believed you could get.

Disclaimer: Much of what I know about this style of dieting comes from the guru Lyle McDonald.  He runs a blog at and has written several books, which I suggest you buy.

  1. Low carb dieting doesn’t suck at all! I eat VERY low carb and have been doing so for 10 years and LOVE it! 🙂

    • Some of my perspective is probably related to the fact I’m still at school and I don’t have much opportunity to vary my diet while low-carb. For those that are able, it can be a fun challenge to cook delicious keto-friendly foods 😀

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