This Guide Teaches You:
- About ketosis, and how it impacts the burning of fat.
- The differences between the 3 types of keto diets: standard, cyclical and targeted.
- How to properly set up and fine tune a keto diet.
- What foods to eat, and how much saturated fat intake is appropriate.
Table of Contents:
- 1. Introduction to ketogenic dieting
- 2. What exactly is ketosis?
- 3. The 3 main types of keto diets
- 3.1. Standard keto dieting
- 3.2. Cyclical keto dieting
- 3.2. Targeted keto dieting
- 4. Which keto variation should I use?
- 5. Setting up your own keto diet
- 5.1. Sample 3 meal per day breakdown
- 5.2. Sample 5 meal per day breakdown
- 6. Food selection on keto diets
- 7. Alterations for cyclical keto dieting
- 8. Alterations for targeted keto dieting
- 9. Fine tuning TKD and CKD
- 10. Saturated fat intake on keto diets—considerations
- 11. Selected recipes for keto dieting
- 12. Frequently asked questions
Intro to ketogenic dieting
Ketogenic (herein referred to as “keto”) dieting has been around for decades and garnered a somewhat strong following in bodybuilding subculture. In a nutshell, keto diets are simply diets that are high in fat and protein and very low in carbohydrate (usually <10% total macronutrient intake); given this the body is diverted to utilize fats for energy since glucose stores become depleted.
Keto diets can be effective for many individuals and tailored to suit their goals, whether it’s to build muscle, lose fat, develop strength, etc. While keto diets are often used mainly for health and fitness purposes, they are also implemented in medicine as treatment for epilepsy. 
You may be asking, “What makes a keto diet different from any other low-carb diet?” The truth is not much, other than that some people believe keto diets are only effective when the body enters a state called ketosis and starts to produce ketones for energy (hence the name “ketogenic”), which requires extreme carbohydrate restriction. However, this supposition is shortsighted and will be touched on later in this guide.
In this guide we will take an in-depth look at the physiology behind keto dieting, the different types/variations of keto diets there are, how to setup your own keto diet, provide some sample recipes to whet your low-carb appetite, and finally answer some frequently asked questions.
What exactly is ketosis?
As aforementioned, ketogenic dieting is so-named because the inherent restriction of carbohydrate intake can induce a state of ketosis in the body—a condition in which ketone bodies are elevated.
Ketones bodies are organic, water-soluble biomolecules synthesized in the liver from fatty acids when food (and specifically carbohydrate) intake is limited. These biomolecules can be used for energy once transported to extrahepatic tissues.
Ketone bodies are regularly produced in small concentrations in normal individuals, and are undetectable in typical urine assays. However, when the concentration of ketone bodies in the blood increases (known as ketonemia) they start to be excreted through urination (referred to as ketonuria); ketonemia and ketonuria together constitute a state of ketosis.
Therefore, keto diets are a method of inducing nutritional ketosis (not to be confused with pathological ketosis), which ultimately diverts the body to rely on fatty acids and ketone bodies as primary sources of energy.
The three main types of keto diets
There are three primary variations of keto diets that we will cover in this guide—standard keto dieting (SKD), cyclical keto dieting (CKD), and targeted keto dieting (TKD). The type of diet you use will ultimately boil down to trial and error and your goals (more specifics on this below).
Standard Keto Dieting—This is the most simple, basic variation of keto dieting. SKD does not have periods of carbohydrate re-feeding like CKD and TKD do. This is simply a diet that has a static ketogenic diet nutrient intake (moderate-high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate).
Cyclical Keto Dieting—This variation of keto dieting implements recurring carbohydrate re-feeds to help restore muscle glycogen stores for a short period of time after stores have been completely depleted. The timeframe between carbohydrate loads will vary based on user preference and their training intensity and goals.
Targeted Keto Dieting—The final variation of keto dieting, TKD, utilizes intermittent periods of carbohydrate intake specifically around the workout timeframe. The goal here is to provide enough glucose to enhance athletic performance without inhibiting ketosis for extended periods of time.
So which variation should I use?
The type of keto diet you end up sticking to will vary based on several factors. It is generally recommended to start with a “break in” period of SKD for several weeks and see how your performance and overall energy levels feel. From there, you should have a better idea of which diet to utilize for longer-term purposes.
You may also be wondering which variation is best for fat loss and which is best for muscle building. Well, assuming your calorie intake is where it should be to reach your goal, the variation of keto diet you use won’t play too of a factor in your progress. Some people may make the argument that CKD and TKD are more suited to individuals looking to build muscle since carbohydrates are protein sparing and insulinogenic, while SKD is best for fat loss since insulin output will be relatively low. However, these short-term fluctuations in insulin secretion won’t play as much of a factor as total calorie intake will in the long run.
Below is a short synopsis of what you should consider when picking which variation of keto dieting to use:
SKD—This is best suited to individuals who are generally sedentary and find that their workout performance is not hindered when carbohydrates have been greatly restricted. This is also a good option for people who don’t train very intensely and/or are highly insulin resistant.
TKD—If you’re someone who trains intensely several times per week and finds that your performance is worsened by chronic low-carbohydrate dieting, it is wise to consider implementing short carbohydrate feedings before and possibly after training. This is also a good option for people who are advanced trainees who can benefit from the carbohydrate intake but don’t do well with large carbohydrate re-feeds.
CKD—This is generally considered the “most advanced” form of keto dieting since it will take some trial an error on the users part to optimize the time between their carbohydrate re-feeds and the amount of carbohydrates they eat on re-feed days. If you’re an advanced trainee who exercises intensely throughout the week and still finds performance to be lacking on SKD and TKD, then consider trying CKD and seeing if that helps bring your performance back up to speed.
Setting up your own keto diet
Below are the necessary steps to take to calculate your personal energy needs and macronutrient intake. This will give you your baseline SKD nutrient intake. CKD and TKD users will still use their SKD calculations but there are a few adjustments to be made that I will touch on below.
The general rule of thumb for people who are looking to lose fat is to aim for roughly a 500-calorie deficit each day while those looking to gain muscle aim for a 500-calorie surplus. However, this is a very raw generalization and may differ for some individuals depending on their physiological tendencies and other factors. Also, if you do decide to go the CKD route, it is likely that you will have altered calorie intake throughout the week.
Here’s an example of how you would calculate SKD macronutrient intake for someone with 150lbs of lean body mass on a 2000-calorie cutting diet:
- Determine your caloric needs using this M&S BMR calorie calculator
- Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein per day
- Set carbohydrate intake at .1-.2g/lb of lean body mass: 15-30g per day (we use 30g in the calculations below)
- Since carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram, then we have (150+30) x 4: 720 calories from proteins and carbohydrates
Therefore, this individual’s fat intake will come from the leftover calories to reach 2000: 2000-720=1280 calories/9 calories per g of fat=~-142g of fat per day.
So in total, this person’s nutrient breakdown is: 150g protein/30g carbohydrate/142g fat.
Sample 3-Meal Per Day Breakdown
- Meal 1—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/48g fat
- Meal 2—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/47g fat
- Meal 3—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/47g fat
Sample 5-Meal Per Day Breakdown
- Meal 1—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/30g fat
- Meal 2—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/30g fat
- Meal 3—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/30g fat
- Meal 4—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/25g fat
- Meal 5—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/27g fat
Food selection on keto diets
There are no real strict rules on what foods are acceptable and what foods are a “no-go” while keto dieting. Some people will insist that no direct starch or sugar sources should be ingested as they will prevent ketosis but in minute amounts that is highly unlikely, especially for larger individuals.
That being said, during the SKD portion of one’s keto diet, due to the inherently low carbohydrate intake and high fat intake you’ll likely find that these foods are good options:
- Animal proteins (especially red meats)
- Eggs (whole and white only)
- Full-fat dairy products like cheese, cream, butter etc.
- Oils, preferably canola, peanut, flax, macadamia, olive, and coconut varieties
- Nuts and nut spreads
- Fibrous vegetables, especially greens like lettuce, broccoli, celery, etc.
During the carb-up portions of the diet feel free to incorporate more starches and sugar sources like fruits.
Alterations for CKD
Now we’ll take a look at how you would implement carbohydrates in a cyclical fashion on a keto diet.
For someone doing CKD, it is wise to start with a once weekly carbohydrate re-feed and adjust the time interval between re-feeds as necessary. This method will take a lot of personal experimentation, as you will have to gauge how many carbohydrates you ingest and how you feel in the days thereafter.
The main thing to consider when starting a carbohydrate re-feed is to limit fat intake; do not continue eating large amounts of fats while loading up on carbohydrates. However, protein intake should remain the same (or maybe even go up a touch for the calorie content).
Using the previously mentioned 150-lb (of lean body mass) individual’s SKD macronutrient breakdown, we’ll suggest some baseline recommendations on how they could setup CKD with a once-weekly carbohydrate re-feed based on insulin sensitivity/tolerance for carbohydrates:
- Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein per day
- Low insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 1-1.5g/lb of lean body mass
- Moderate insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 2-2.5g/lb of lean body mass
- High insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 3-3.5g/lb of lean body mass
- Now, as before, just simply calculate the leftover calories and divide by 9 to figure out how many grams of fat you should eat on your carbohydrate re-feeds
*NOTE: If you’re on a cutting diet and moderately or highly insulin sensitive, raise your calorie intake back to maintenance levels (or maybe a even slight surplus) on carbohydrate re-feed days.
EXAMPLE CKD for moderately insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on 2000-calorie cutting diet:
- Monday through Saturday—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown as outlined above
- Sunday (carbohydrate re-feed day, 2500 calories)—150g protein/300g carbohydrate/~78g fat
EXAMPLE CKD for highly insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on a 3000- calorie bulking diet:
- Monday through Saturday—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown
- Sunday (carbohydrate re-feed day)—150g protein/450g carbohydrate/~67g fat
Alterations for TKD
Let’s take a look at how to implement carbohydrates in a targeted fashion on a keto diet (e.g. pre-/post-workout).
Similarly to CKD, when starting TKD it will take some time to figure out how your body responds to certain amounts of carbohydrates and the best way for you to time your intake. Remember, the point of TKD is to ingest a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to promote performance benefits without going overboard. CKD is meant to restore glycogen levels while TKD is more for short-term energy/performance enhancement.
Therefore, assuming the person in question is training intensely 5 days a week, they would take in carbohydrates in the meals prior to and/or after training on those days. The other 2 days they would follow their SKD nutrient breakdown.
The TKD nutrient breakdown is actually the same as SKD, but with the addition of carbohydrates peri-workout on training days. Let’s take a look at TKD nutrient breakdown recommendations using our aforementioned 150-lb of LBM individual on a 2000-calorie cutting diet and insulin sensitivity/carbohydrate tolerance as the parameter for gauging peri-workout carbohydrate intake:
- Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein
- Low insulin sensitivity—add .25g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout
- Moderate insulin sensitivity—add .375g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout
- High insulin sensitivity—add .5g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout
Now, simply take into account the “extra” carbohydrate intake along with your protein intake and fill in the rest of your calories with fat (as we did before).
*NOTE: Peri-workout refers to the meals prior to and/or after training. Therefore, you can split up your “added” carbohydrates anyway you prefer as long as they are ingested around the training window. It is generally recommended to simply split your carbohydrates in half and eat them before and after training.
EXAMPLE TKD for low insulin sensitivity individual with 150-lb of LBM on 2000-calorie cutting diet:
- Training days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown and add in 37-38g of carbohydrate peri-workout
- Rest days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown
EXAMPLE TKD for highly insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on a 3000-calorie bulking diet:
- Training days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown and add in 75g of carbohydrate peri-workout
- Rest days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown
Sample 5-Meal Per Day TKD Breakdown (Training Day)
*NOTE: Values based on 150-lb LBM individual with high insulin sensitivity on 3000-calorie bulking diet.
- Meal 1 (Pre-workout)—30g protein/40g carbohydrate/20g fat
- Meal 2 (Post-workout)—30g protein/35g carbohydrate/20g fat
- Meal 3—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat
- Meal 4—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat
- Meal 5—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat
Fine tuning TKD and CKD
Bear in mind that the previously outlined recommendations for both CKD and TKD carbohydrate intake are merely starting points. It is impossible to provide an all-inclusive, optimal value for every person reading this guide as there are just too many variables that come into play.
Therefore, as noted earlier, be meticulous and open to experimentation when you try more advanced methods of keto dieting like TKD and CKD. As you go along you will find out what works best for your body. Always listen to your body and be willing to adapt to what it’s telling you.
If you eat 30g of carbohydrates and feel great in the gym, then do that; if you do better with 2 carbohydrate re-feeds per week, then do that. The suggested carbohydrate values in this guide are derived more from anecdote than they are from scientific research so they are certainly open to customization.
The last point to consider, specifically for TKD, is that you should cut back on the fats a bit in the meals that have your added carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean you should eat no fats in the peri-workout timeframe, but just eat more balanced meals and distribute your fats out a bit more to the other meals throughout your day.
Saturated fat intake on keto diets—considerations
It is inevitable that when you start a keto diet, your saturated fat intake will increase accordingly, but this doesn’t mean you should start relying heavily on saturated fat and disregard unsaturated fat intake.
There seems to be much debate over how much saturated fat is too much on keto diets. Many people that start a keto diet insist on taking in copious amounts of foods like butter, fatty animal meats, full-fat dairy, etc.
Saturated fats are correlated with sex hormone (androgen) production in males, so it is generally not a good idea to greatly limit your saturated fat intake. However, chronic superfluous saturated fat intake may induce insulin resistance and other metabolic maladies, so going overboard is not what we want either. 
For keto diet purposes, I think a safe recommendation is to try and keep saturated fat intake at around 20-30% of your total fat intake. So for someone taking 150g of fat per day, they would try and limit saturated fat to about 30-45g per day.