Ask Andrei: When to Have Carb “Reload” Days --> How To Optimize and Cycle A Ketogenic Diet
Have you heard of carb cycling and the keto diet? If you’re looking to gain muscle, lose excess fat, and still follow a sustainable and always nourishing meal plan...read on.
*Bonus: the following nutrition approach goes above and beyond plain chicken breast + veggies, and furthermore allows you to enjoy a real social life.*
The benefits of a keto diet are becoming well-known due to the current ketogenic diet craze. The Founder of Gini and a friend of mine, Gurjot, summarized this diet perfectly in his one of his past blog posts (side note: his blog is officially > my blog) perfectly - hence I will simply use his explanation:
A ketogenic diet is high in fat, has a moderate level of protein, and includes a very low amount of carbohydrates. It’s a popular choice because the basic guidelines are easy to follow, and many people see excellent results. It’s also one of the more encouraging diets because many people begin to see results within a week of starting this diet (read more here).
BUT if the idea of never eating a banana again gives you as much anxiety as it does for me, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve found a kinder and just as efficient way to follow it.
Allow me to introduce the concept of carb cycling. In particular, I’m referring to having “carb reload” days, in which you allow your body (and soul) those glorious carbohydrates (don’t kid yourself, avocados can only get you so far... good #avotoast requires, well, toast).
While I’ve followed a strict keto diet in the past, and it certainly holds scientific weight as a healing diet for various conditions, it should only be followed strictly if you’re working with a specific condition and alongside a nutritional and medical professional.
Otherwise, a lower carb, higher fat diet, most of the time, is likely your best bet.
Essentially, I’m referring to a certain dietary regime that my trainer at New Element Training, Andrei, has introduced me to - technically labeled as the “TNT Plan E” from the book Targeted Nutrition Tactics by Jeff Volek PhD, RD, and Adam Campbell. I was attracted to it as many of the points and evidence aligns well with what I’ve already learned from thought leaders and nutrition experts in the space that I trust, such as Dave Asprey and Dr. Mercola.
Without getting into the nitty gritty, certain TNT plans advocate for having “carb reload” days throughout your otherwise ‘low carb, high fat’ week. A life that contains both Bulletproof Coffee AND Maca Salted Date Caramel Smoothies?! Sign me up.
I’ve learned that “banning” anything from your diet is not a life that’s sustainable nor worth living, so having the option to “reload” so to speak, on items you may otherwise be mindful about limiting is what I consider the perfect recipe for long-term success. There’s certainly no doubt that a lower carb diet is one of the best nutrition protocols for longevity and overall health, with plenty of scientific evidence to back it up. There’s also no doubt that pizza is flipping delicious. Let’s embrace both and live a full life my friends!
Now let’s get to the main question I wanted Andrei’s expertise on...
WHEN to time these “carb reload” days for - in regards to workouts, in order to optimize training outcomes.
While the general TNT diet suggests that you have these days planned for the weekend (Friday evening to Sunday morning - preferably no longer than 36 hours), this is simply due to the assumption that it’s easier to stick to a set dietary regime throughout a scheduled week, and to make room for “indulgence” with friends and family on the weekends.
BUT if your lifestyle is flexible enough...
Andrei suggests timing your carb reload days starting right after your workout.
He explains that this will allow for you to put much of the glycogen back into your muscle and liver. Furthermore, it’s ideal timing since our protein synthesis is unregulated for about 24 hours after a good full body strength training session.
“Do HIT, eat, rest and grow.”
Andrei also highlights that it is important to eat a sufficient amount of protein on the low carb days as well. Generally speaking, the total protein should be around 1.5 grams per kg of lean mass per day. Each meal should be at least 30 grams of quality protein, 40-50 grams may be even better (depending on your size). This will insure you get enough Leucine amino acid, which activates the mTOR pathway and consequently activates muscle protein synthesis - lasting for several hours. This will ensure that you maintain the health of your muscle even - when you don’t lift weights.
Just be cautious not to OVER-eat carbs - eat only until you feel full and satiated. Here’s where mindful eating and practicing mindfulness before, during, and after meals is key to success. Feel free to reference an earlier post I wrote on the subject for more practical strategies to help you get started.
As well, assuming weight gain is not your goal: on your carb re-loading days, reduce your fat intake to a minimum. As high carbs and high fat combined supports gaining weight. You will be storing more fat this way.
If the idea of “cutting carbs” - even if it’s just a reduction vs. absolute restriction - still scares you, Andrei suggests turning to an insightful concept presented by Wayne Dyer (a famous American philosopher, self-help author, and a motivational speaker):
“Think small and accomplish what you can in the here-and-now. You can’t quit drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes for the next ten years, but you can refuse to give into your addictions today, or even smaller, in this moment. That you can do.”
I also love this mindset approach for making positive lifestyle changes which may not come easy or natural, but are for the betterment of your long term health. While I’m all for intuitive eating, I do not think the idea of approaching your dietary regime in a more “moment-to-moment” light is contradictory.
Sometimes we must work hard to achieve worthwhile goals. As long as these goals come from a place of deep respect for ourselves and for those around us, I believe they are worth striving for.
Not “fighting for”, so to speak, but rather, embracing fully - the entire outcome - in good times and in bad, until the eventual desired outcome is achieved.
Anyways, without getting too philosophical here, and returning to the point...
The main takeaway is that if you're ready to explore the benefits of the scientific-backed lower-carb diet, in a way that’s “mindful” (and kind!) yet efficient, I suggest trying a cyclical “lower-carb” diet.
To maximize your success, or “gains” when it comes to muscle-building and optimizing your workouts, Andrei advises to time those higher-carb “reload” days for directly after your workout.
Remember that with the right kind of high-intensity Mindful Strength Training (MST) that New Element Training offers, these days only need to happen once or at the most twice a week, and each workout only takes around 20 minutes.
Have a follow-up question or care to get Andrei’s take on a related topic? Comment below and we will address it in a following week!