The ketogenic diet is a low-carb diet for weight loss, increased energy, and improved health. Your body produces ketones from eating high-fat, which becomes your main source of energy. So why are we talking about carbs on keto?
Well, because the keto diet, like any nutritional approach, is a lifestyle diet. It can account for fluctuations in your schedule and diet. And whether you want to run a race, burn fat, lift weights, or celebrate your birthday with a piece of cake, it’s good to know when (and what) carbs are best on the low-carb ketogenic diet, and how to stay in ketosis with carb intake.
Whether you’re adjusting to the diet, entering ketosis, or just interested in learning more about keto, let’s take a look at ketogenic carb intake.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Why Eat Carbs at All on the Keto Diet?</p></h4>
There are a few reasons you might consider carb intake on the keto diet.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Adjusting to Keto</p></h5>
Perhaps you are new to the ketogenic diet, or to a low-carb diet in general, and you are experiencing symptoms of the keto flu. When your body first adjusts to a low-carb diet, upon entering ketosis ― a process that can take up to ten days for some people―you may experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and more from eating fewer carbs. Eating a ton of carbs isn’t ideal if you want to turn fat into ketones (your primary fuel source during ketosis). But, as you continue to add fat, a low amount of glucose, and a low-carb approach, may help you alleviate the symptoms of the keto flu.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Post-Workout on Keto</p></h5>
While in ketosis, you might also consider adding a few grams of carbs after a workout. Science has shown a combination of protein and carbohydrate after a workout may be beneficial for increasing recovery and promoting muscle growth. This <i>anabolic window</i> opens up for forty-five to sixty minutes after an intense workout session<sup>1</sup>, which is a good time to add carbs while on a low-carb diet.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Long Distance on Keto</p></h5>
What better way to celebrate weight loss and your entry into ketosis than to sign up for a race, summit a mountain, or compete in another type of endurance event?
Even if you’re used to getting energy on keto from eating a higher fat content and producing ketones, performing in a race or event like this may go better if you have some, even a low amount, of glucose in your body.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Treating Yourself on Keto</p></h5>
Finally, a good long-term diet accounts for lifestyle changes and the occasional “splurge.” You shouldn’t feel hamstrung or forced to <i>always</i> eat a certain way by any nutritional approach, or to constantly be tracking your carbs and fat intake. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking a break from ketosis and producing ketones now and then to enjoy something tasty. Plus, research shows cheat days (ie; straying from ketogenic habits) may even boost your metabolism.
One study even showed that the occasional cheat meal boosts hormones like <i>leptin</i>, which can help suppress appetite<sup>2</sup>.
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<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How Much Carb Intake Do You Need on Keto? (How to Calculate)</p></h4>
The standard carb intake for the ketogenic diet is about 5 percent of your daily calories coming from carbs. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that is twenty-five grams of carbs or less. But not everyone needs exactly 2,000 calories, and some people need more, so the number of grams of carbs may fluctuate accordingly.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">BMR on Keto</p></h5>
One easy way is to calculate carb intake on keto is to find your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.calculator.net/bmr-calculator.html">Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)</a>. Don’t worry about the fancy term. BMR simply means how many calories you burn just being alive. Believe it or not, it’s more than you probably guess. Even the average sedentary adult male burns about 2,400 calories per day. For women, it’s around 1,800<sup>3</sup>. And remember, that doesn’t include exercise.
If your number one goal is to lose weight, do your best to follow the ketogenic diet guideline of about 5 percent of your daily carbs. But if you’re planning to deviate from ketosis for a day or two, here are some other guidelines for going low-carb.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Macronutrients on Keto</p></h5>
Remember that there are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. A gram of protein or carbs is four calories, while a gram of fat is nine.
The ketogenic diet recommends, that to stay in ketosis, about 5 percent of your daily calories come from carbs, 20 to 25 percent from protein, and 60 to 75 percent from high-quality fat sources.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">When Starting Out on Keto</p></h5>
Dropping from 200 grams of carbs per day to a low-carb range of below fifty grams takes some adjusting. If you are feeling sick from the early stages of adapting to ketosis, try a day or two of fifty to seventy-five grams of total carbs. This slight spike in carbs, as you begin ketosis, may help “wean” your body off glucose a little slower and decrease symptoms of the keto flu.
Don’t overdo it with the carbs, though. Eating a ton of carbs will only force you to start the process of entering ketosis and creating ketones over, as your body will store the carbs as glucose that needs to be burned off once more.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Treating Yourself on Keto</p></h5>
We strive to make our bodies healthy, so we can live life more fully. If your splurge is truly occasional during the ketogenic process, don’t count carbs. We don’t advocate falling asleep next to a pile of donuts either, but enjoy your cheat meal or cheat day and then get back on the ketogenic and low-carb horse the following day.
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<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Timing Your Carbs Based on Your Activity Level on Keto</p></h4>
Deciding when to eat your daily carbs on the keto diet is simple. Do it when you’ll be <i>moving</i> the most. And if you move more than others, you can probably eat a few more carbs.
The best time to eat your carbs is pre-workout and post-workout. Eating your allotted grams of carbohydrates before a training session will provide energy for your workout, and research shows that eating carbohydrates after a workout promotes recovery<sup>4</sup>.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">For a Race or Post-Workout on Keto</p></h5>
Maybe you have a 5k on the calendar or want to go extra heavy in the gym once a week. If weight loss is still your primary goal, we don’t recommend carb loading (intentionally eating a lot of carbs at once before an event) <i>every</i> time you go for a long run. But, a low-carb boost may help increase performance.
For a race or long distance event, you’ll likely need 150 grams or more of carbohydrates to top off the tank so you can run off glucose instead of ketones. In this case, it may be better to just deviate from the ketogenic diet completely for a day or two. Getting caught halfway between ketosis will only confuse your body and not improve performance.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Schedule Your Carb Intakes Around Your Workouts on Keto</p></h4>
If you want to feel more energy and increase performance for your workouts while on a low-carb diet, it will benefit you to take in most of your carbs before and after you train. Twenty to twenty-five grams is low-carb, but even that is bound to give you a little boost of energy in the gym while you are in ketosis.
But if your goal is to add muscle mass, and you’re happy with your current weight, you might take a different approach.
Before a big workout, consider adding an extra twenty-five to fifty grams of carbohydrates. Add another twenty-five to fifty grams after your workout with some protein to help promote recovery.
Remember, if weight loss is the goal while on a low-carb diet, this shouldn’t be an everyday thing. In fact, you’re eating more than 5 percent of your daily calories in carbs, so it’s not the ketogenic diet, and you may need to re-enter ketosis. But if your goal is to convert fat into muscle or lift heavy occasionally, this approach of being on the higher end of low carb, may help.
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<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">The Best Types of Carbs to Eat on Keto</p></h4>
One more question to tackle about carbs and keto: <i>What carbs should you eat?</i>
There are different kinds of carbs. Two types of carbs that you should know are called <b>simple carbs</b> and <b>complex carbs</b>. Simple carbs, such as sugar, spike the blood sugar and cause stress to the body, which is especially dangerous for insulin-related conditions such as diabetes. Complex carbs, including foods like whole grain rice, have a lower <i>glycemic index</i> (GI), meaning they digest slower and don’t spike blood sugar as much. This makes them more tolerable with moderate intake.
On keto, you will be eating low amounts of carbs, if any carbs at all. If your goal is to lose weight using the ketogenic diet, check out the options below. If you are deviating from ketone production for a day or two depending on your goals, stick to complex carbohydrates that won’t stress your body.
Here are some popular carb options for keto dieters and for your low carb keto meal plan.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Veggies on Keto</p></h5>
Vegetables are foods that are full of fiber, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-micronutrients-why-they-are-important/">micronutrients</a> like vitamins and minerals, and yes, even low amounts of carbohydrates. Green vegetables are regarded as staples of the keto diet because they are generally low-carb and high in fiber, which prevents <i>cortisol</i> (a stress hormone) from spiking when blood sugar rises quickly.
While root vegetables won’t spike your blood sugar that high, their carbohydrate count is not as low as green vegetables.
Basically, if it’s green, give it the green light. When you add keto recipes with greens like kale, spinach, cucumbers, etc, you’re getting <i>net carbs</i> (factoring in fiber as well as carbohydrates). Starchy vegetables, on the other hand, won’t throw you off like the high amount of carbs in cookies will, but they may not fit depending on your current keto goals or activity level.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Fruits on Keto</p></h5>
Fruits are also nutritional powerhouses that contain glucose and are generally low-carb. On the keto diet, foods like berries are probably your best bet for getting a few carbs in without overdoing it. Blueberries, considered a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/what-are-superfoods-top-7-for-your-keto-diet/">superfood</a> in the nutrition world, are packed with antioxidants and are low on the glycemic index.
If weight loss is your keto goal, eat fruit in moderation.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Yogurt on Keto</p></h5>
High-fat yogurt (such as Greek yogurt) has a few carbs in it, too. Adding fruit into your yogurt is a tasty way to get some good fat in that will slow digestion and prevent your blood sugar from spiking.
<h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Best Time to Eat Carbs on Keto: Wrapping Up</p></h4>
The best time to eat carbohydrates on a low-carb diet is before and after prolonged periods of movement. Whether you lift weights, run, or work a demanding job, give your body a little bit of energy to tackle the task at hand while in ketosis.
Keep in mind that the keto diet is a low-carb diet, which focuses on the production of ketones from eating high amounts of fat. To keep producing ketones, you need to keep things low carb. Anything more than about fifty grams of carbs per day is technically not keto, and you likely are not in ketosis. However, keto is a lifestyle diet that can easily account for adjustments to your day to day meals. When you deviate from keto, still think about your carb count (unless you’re on a cheat day), and stick with low-carbs. Make sure you are eating complex carbs full of fiber, and avoiding blood sugar-spiking carbs full of simple sugars.
<h5><p style="color: #000000">Resources</p></h5>
1. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/">Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?</a>
2. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11126336">Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding</a>
3. <a target="_blank" href="https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/typical-calories-burned-sedentary-lifestyle-5270.html">Typical Calories Burned by a Sedentary Lifestyle</a>
4. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-after-workout">Post-Workout Nutrition</a>