There seems to be a fair bit of confusion around what difference there is between keto diets and carb cycling. The confusion happens because both of these ways of eating involve keto as a baseline, however, carb cycling means that at regular periods you will replenish your body’s glycogen stores by eating some carbohydrates.

There are different ways in which you can ‘carb-up’. And people who decide to integrate carb cycling into their eating can choose which one suits them the most.

Examples are:

  • Weekly carb replenishing.

    Once a week, or every few days you have a day where you shift your fat and carb macros around so instead of eating 80% fat and 5% carbs, you swap them around to 80% carbs and 5% fat. Some people do this through out the whole day, and others will just do this for their evening meal.

  • Carb loading

    This is where you anticipate a time when you will be pushing yourself hard physically, and you load up on carbs in advance. Some people swear by this and others claim that carb loading is a load of nonsense, and you’re better off eating some peanut butter and coconut oil.

  • Daily carb replenishing.

    This is where you eat mainly fats and proteins throughout the day and at your even meal you add in some carbs. This means your carb intake for the day is likely to be between 75g-100g, but you eat it in the evening, so you are running on ketones during the day.

So in essence, the difference between whether you stay in full keto, or you use carb cycling is up to you. Every one is different and what works for one person might not work for someone else.

I recommend you spend some time solely eating keto to make sure you are adapted, and then at that point, you can try out one or other of the carb cycling methods to see if they work for you. You might find that you feel brilliant when you add in a few carbs periodically, or you might find that it’s just not for you. Either way, the only way to be sure is to test it out for yourself.

When to Use Carb Cycling and/or Keto to Your Advantage

When would you stay in full blown keto?

People who do best in full blown keto without carb cycling are those who do not have any issues with their thyroid gland or their adrenals. They have probably been on a clean diet for a while and do not have much healing to do. Also, people who are suffering from cancer, epilepsy or diabetes would benefit the most from sticking with full keto.

When would you practice carb cycling?

If you have metabolic derangement, adrenal fatigue, hyper/hypothyroidism or imbalanced hormones, you will most likely benefit from replenishing your carb stores. In fact, if you’ve got any healing to do at all you are far better adding in some carb cycling to your keto diet. Try out evening carb meals and weekly/every few days and see how you feel.

Incidentally, if you are healing, it’s best to stay away from intermittent fasting until you are in tip top health too. Get some nutrients in at breakfast time.

If you do have some healing to do, the most important thing is to get in as many nutrients as possible on a daily basis to help your body do what it needs to do. Carb cycling means that you regularly have access to more nutrients from starchy vegetables.

Some women find that at times of ovulating and menstruating, the difference between carb cycling and not is pretty big and having a carb-refeed produces positive results. These are times of the month when we really need to support our hormones.

Overall, the thing is to listen to your body and test, test, test. Find out for yourself which way of eating gives you the best results in both physical and mental health.

Framed image linking to ketogenic diet guides and plans

8 thoughts on “Carb Cycling and Keto – What’s the Difference?”

  1. I love that there are people looking into Keto and Carb cycling for women like you. But there are women like me who are on BC so we don’t have a cycle or women who’ve had hysterectomies or have gone through menopause (early or not) and I wonder if and how that might affect our bodies on Keto or with Carb cycling. I’m on day 7 and only down 1 lb. I know I must be doing something wrong not sure what though. I’ll stick with it for a bit longer to make sure but I’m considering switching to carb cycling. Mostly because I love to lift weights and energy for that is just as important to me as losing this fat. Well maybe a little less 😉

    1. That’s a very interesting point you bring up – thank you, and I won’t claim to be an expert in the subject as I’m not! However, even on BC or following hysterectomies, women still have a lot of hormones that need to work in a fine balance. It seems to me that a diet that helps with hormonal balancing and health can only help in situations like these too. Don’t worry about only losing a 1lb in the first week. The first week’s weight loss is nearly always water weight, and although some people experience quite a ‘whoosh’ of weight loss straight away, some women don’t. It’s depends on what your diet was like before you started. Also, the body will always heal itself before it sheds excess weight. It could be that your body is doing a lot of good work right now, putting all those nutrients and good fats to use – but you just can’t see it on the outside!

      It would be good to stick with keto for another week or so before adding in carb cycling. I have found this works best (for me at least), to really help get your body used to burning fats first. All the best, Joan.

      1. Thanks for the reply! Yea I’m sure my hormones are all over the place and some times I see signs like when my period was supposed to start though not always and if I kept a diary or record of those changes I might pinpoint my hormonal changes as if I did. But I’m lazy! Also I should point out that I’m doing something a bit stricter than keto. I started a sugar detox last week. So no artificial or natural sugars along with no dairy, grains, carbs (except the few in veggies trying to stay under 20gs per day) only water. When I’m done this at the end of the month I’ll add in some full fat dairy. And at least a weekly cup of grapefruit juice. I love the stuff and miss it more than Pepsi!

  2. Hi, I have a question. I´m following the keto diet since 3 month but my weight is still the same and my pants are more tight, than before. I gained some inches on my hips and on my thighs and but. I retained a lot of water instead of losing it. My whole body is squishy. I began with 20-25 gr carbs, now I try 35-50 g carbs since 2 weeks, but the water is still there. Do you have an idea what´s wrong here? Thanks a lot, Elli

    1. Hey Elli, I’d need more information about what you’re eating every day to hazard a guess!

  3. Hey, here are some examples:
    – Pancakes with 1/3 banana, coconut flour, egg, 10 gr macadamia, butter or
    – 60 gr mascarpone with 50 gr raspberries or
    – 2 eggs, 1/2 avocado, 50 gr bread made of almond flour, butter

    – 120 g beef brisket with butter and olive oil, lots of vegetables like spinach, zucchini, chinese cabbage or
    – 100 g chicken breast with butter and oil, brussels sprouts, cheddar cheese (30 gr)
    – Zucchini noodles in coconut milk and ground almonds

    diner (if I had not much protein for lunch):
    – salmon , 50 gr red beets, 50 gr sweet potato, spinach, cabbage, sour cream, olive oil
    – ground beef, avocado, 30 gr cheddar or
    – mixed vegetables (1 tomato, 300 g zucchini, radicchio, spinach) with sour cream or olive oil

    Occasionally, it depends on my cycle, I eat 20 g keto peanut butter cups between the meals or I quit a meal and do intermittent fasting for 15 hours.

    I´m 42 years old, 166 cm tall and weigh now 59,5 kg. My calories vary between 1400 – 2000 kcal. I first kept my carbs under 30 gr, now I increased to 40 – 50 g (to see if the thyroid is missing carbs), 60 g protein or less and the rest I fill up with fat about 120 – 200 gr.

    My whole body is full of water, I can see every seam and button of my clothes on my skin / tissue. The scale went up for 2 kg. I´m concerned..

    Maybe you have an idea? Thanks for your help, Elli

    1. Hi Elli,

      First of all that all sounds delicious and nothing sticks out as ‘wrong’ in those foods.

      One thing i wonder is if you could be a little sensitive to dairy? I see it’s possible for you to be eating cheese 3 times a day here. I have known some women to bust through weight loss stalls after dropping dairy.

      Another thing you could try is cycling your carbs… so keep them low (below 20g) for most days but add a carb up meal where you eat around 50g-60g once or twice a week.(This would probably be enough to help your thyroid unless you have a diagnosed issue here). If you increased your carb intake from the second week onwards it is possible that you are just not keto adapted yet and the water retention is simply because you are not in ketosis.

      Do you measure your blood glucose and ketone levels? If not, and this was me, I’d probably get myself a blood ketone and glucose monitor to get a better idea of what was going on.

      How are your energy levels?

      Are you able to go for a few hours without experiencing hunger?


      1. Hi Joan,
        thank you so much for your answer! I feel good with keto, have more energy than before, but still can´t start the day without breakfast. And after lunch I need to eat again 5-6 hours later. But I fixed my bowel issues. Before eating keto I struggeled with severe bowel problems. Lots of air in my gut, a sore feeling in my intestines and digestive issues. These all are almost gone. I have a very dry mouth and l´m very thirsty and drink a lot of water, at least 3,5 liters per day. And my sweat is don´t want to know. I have no issues with my thyroid, but I read a lot about trouble with hormones while eating keto. That´s why I´m a bit concerned. I will follow your advice and add more carbs for 1 day a week and try to drop dairy. I also ordered a ketone meter yesterday. But guess what, in Germany the Glucomen is no longer available. So maybe I need to buy the Precision Xtra, but this is even more expensive, urghhh. The Urine Keto Sticks show traces or middle amounts of ketones, even 1 day after a carb-up meal with 100 gr. hokkaido squash. I will tell you my results soon…..Thanks a lot for your help!! Elli.

Leave a Reply