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Can You Burn off Carbs on Keto? Here's What To Expect on a Ketogenic Diet

Can You Burn off Carbs on Keto? Here's What To Expect on a Ketogenic Diet

by Tom Davis -

Imagine enjoying a well-portioned side of hash browns made with real potatoes while following a ketogenic diet. Seems too good to be true?

We get your initial skepticism but keep reading if you've longed for the occasional side of fries or a hearty sweet potato since committing to cutting the carbs on keto but remain committed to living a sugar-free life.

Of course, we generally opt to eliminate simple carbohydrates and sugars on any ketogenic diet. Still, to the delight of recovering carb-lovers, fast-absorbing fruits and veggies that we often curb on keto have their place on keto—especially for athletes and those living a very physically active lifestyle and following a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Types of Ketogenic Diets

A standard ketogenic diet (SKD) advises consuming 25 grams or less net carbs per day, but this version of keto is only one of four options to consider incorporating into your life. Aside from the SKD, there’s also the high-protein keto diet (HPKD), the cyclical keto diet (CKD), and the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD).

The goal of eliminating or limiting carbs on keto is universal regardless of which version of the diet you choose to follow. Still, variations of the protocol allow for increased carb macros, like with the cyclical or targeted keto diet, which can prove incredibly useful to athletes and weekend warriors.

With the targeted and cyclical iterations of keto: eating fast-absorbing carbs immediately before or during high-intensity cardio, and burning it off right away during intense exercise, is standard practice.

A standard ketogenic diet advises eating about 70% of your calories from fat, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbs. However, the limits loosen a bit when cycling carbs, also known as "carb-loading," and eating periods of restricted carbs, followed by spells of laxer restriction, to fuel your fitness efforts or active lifestyle.

Here's how the suggested macronutrient profile differs from the standard keto diet when cycling carbs or bulking:

Targeted: Those following a targeted keto diet should aim for a macronutrient ratio of 65% to 70% of your daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 10% to 15% from carbs.

The premise behind the targeted diet is that incorporating higher levels of carbohydrates into the diet supports more vigorous workouts and aids in post-workout recovery.

Cyclical: A cyclical approach to keto suggests eating a standard keto diet for 5-6 days out of the week and then adjusting your macros on alternative days to allow a higher carb limit of 70% carbs—with 20% protein, and 10% fat.

Athletes and those who engage in short-distance, high-impact activities may opt to follow the cyclical keto diet as it allows for the most carb intake flexibility of the noted variations of the low-carb, high-fat diet.

What to Expect on a Keto Diet

Everyone's keto journey will be unique, but there are some everyday experiences felt by many who decide to follow a low-carb, high-fat diet. The typical course usually unfolds as follows:

Introduction: The early days of letting go of carbs may come with nagging fatigue, aches, a mild rash, and strong breath, all associated with the keto flu. But those transitory symptoms often subside within a week or so into eliminating sugar from your diet.

Ketosis: If your thoughts are super sharp, your energy feels boundless, and you have to remind yourself to eat, you're probably in ketosis!

Food cravings and keto flu symptoms usually cease at this stage, with the body comfortably running primarily on fat and ketone bodies for fuel rather than glucose—offering many health benefits and supercharging weight loss.

Fat-adaptation: Once the body is well accustomed to running primarily on fat and ketones, you become incredibly efficient at metabolizing fat and carbs when consumed, extracting and using energy from either with ease and flexibility as needed.

What Should I Eat on the Targeted Ketogenic Diet?

Consume about 15 grams of fast-absorbing carbohydrates 20 to 30 minutes before exercise for a noticeable boost of power and performance to support short bursts of high-intensity activity on keto.

Consider eating the following options to remain mindful of ketosis while slightly increasing carb intake:

  • Consider yams, sweet or white potatoes, rice, or quinoa to bump up carb intake before working out, as shared above.
  • Stay hydrated on keto to replenish balance and account for the higher levels lost daily in ketosis.
  • Add some MCT oil to your post-workout smoothie, as it can boost your ketones further, adding to the effect of increased energy offered with the dopamine-release often experienced post-workout.
  • Monitor and replenish electrolytes frequently with beverages like savory grass-fed bone broth or a slightly sweet glass of chilled coconut water to ensure balanced mineral and nutrient levels throughout the day.

Will the Targeted Keto Diet Kick Me Out of Ketosis?

A targeted ketogenic diet is a strategic approach to using carbohydrates to fuel specific forms of exercise, especially in support of the needs of elite athletes and those aspiring to use high-intensity exercise along with keto to shed some of their quarantine-15 weight.

The idea is to consume and immediately burn the higher-carb fare you eat just before working out—torching those carbs as energy and fuel to power optimal performance while engaged in high-intensity workouts.

If you're burning through the portions of carbs eaten, especially if fat-adapted and well into experiencing metabolic flexibility, your body should use the carbs you eat immediately for fuel rather than store them, and then return to a profoundly ketotic state rather quickly and effortlessly.

Will the Targeted Keto Diet Make Me a Better Athlete?

Improved athleticism is the product of many factors, like commitment and consistency. However, eating a targeted ketogenic diet is helpful for athletes since carbs provide quick bursts of energy perfect for anyone powerlifting or into CrossFit.

What Are the Primary Benefits of a Keto Diet?

No matter the version of the keto diet that you choose to try, there are some substantial benefits to enjoy. The most significant are as follows:

  • Weight loss or weight maintenance
  • Improved appetite control
  • Lower insulin levels
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Stable energy
  • Increased metabolic activity
  • Enhanced cognitive performance
  • Glycogen enhancement
  • Minimized systemic inflammation
  • Cleaner energy production (endogenous ketone bodies)

How Can I Start a Targeted Keto Diet?

If you exercise intensely several times a week and find yourself feeling a bit sluggish or lackluster on the trail, consider rotating your macros at mealtime before venturing out to add a bit of fast-acting energy to your arsenal.

Follow these easy steps to begin a targeted ketogenic diet:

  1. Try the targeted keto diet once you’ve been doing keto for a while and you’re fat adapted. A TKD is most beneficial if you’re already adapted because your body can effortlessly shift in and out of ketosis thanks to metabolic flexibility.

  2. Calculate your macros and stick to guidelines around caloric and nutritional intake direct your progress.

  3. Down about 15 grams of carbs 20-30 minutes prior to your workout.

  4. Stay hydrated and always keep your electrolyte level replenished.

The Takeaway

Eating a ketogenic diet is a fantastic way to accelerate fat loss while enhancing sustained energy levels to support a physically-demanding lifestyle—something fundamental to athletes and those who are exceptionally active.

However, elite athletes and those who live athletic lives may want to bump up their carb macros a bit more than those following a standard ketogenic diet—to provide an added boost to supercharge intense, shorter workouts.

Finding your carbohydrate sweet spot may require some trial and error as everyone’s threshold to maintain ketosis and fuel fitness efforts varies. Some can eat 50 grams of carbs a day and maintain ketosis and physical performance, while for others it’s best to restrict to 20 grams or less to prevent disruptions in metabolic ketosis and fuel optimal function.

While consuming fast-acting carbs shifts glucose levels higher swiftly, a healthy functioning and fat-adapted body is well able to return to balance without complications.

It’s best to get comfortable eating a keto diet before transitioning to a targeted or cyclical-style approach to reset the metabolic baseline for your body. However, leveraging this higher-carb, more flexible, approach to low-carb living could be ideal for maintaining your fitness demands while keeping carbs in check.


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  • Ketogenic diet: Its benefits & overall effects on adults' objectives. (2021). Advances in Nutrition & Food Science, 6(2).

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