The Keto diet wasn’t called the Keto diet back in hunter-gatherer times. It was simply how you ate when carbs were scarce.
When carbs are scarce, the human body loses its usual brain fuel: glucose. To keep us surviving and thriving, we make ketones instead.
This unique metabolic state is called ketosis, and it’s how the Keto diet gets its name.
Yet depending on your goals and preferences, there are multiple ways to eat Keto. Some even allow you to eat carbs, provided you do so strategically.
Let’s start at the beginning of modern Keto history, with the first therapeutic Ketogenic diet ever developed.
#1: Traditional Ketogenic Diet (4:1)
The traditional Keto diet (or classic Keto diet) was first developed in the 1920’s as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. Researchers noticed that as children went deeper into ketosis, they experienced fewer and less severe seizures.
When it comes to food choices, the classic Keto diet is about as flexible as a straightjacket. For every 4 grams of fat, you can only eat 1 gram of protein plus carbohydrate[*]. This 4:1 ratio entails eating about 80% of calories from fat, which leaves little room for protein and carbs.
Traditional Keto is great for boosting ketone levels, but it’s excruciatingly restrictive. Because of this, the classic Keto diet is best suited for therapeutic purposes. For example, a practitioner might recommend this diet...
- For the management of epilepsy
- As an adjuvant for certain types of cancer[*]
- To ameliorate neurodegenerative disease[*]
#2: Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD)
Most people, when they talk about Keto, are talking about the standard Keto diet. The SKD is a catch-all term for a very-low-carb diet with approximately these macros:
- 55-75% fat
- 15-35% protein
- 0-10% carbs
Keeping your macronutrients in these ratios results in a metabolic shift. Instead of relying primarily on glucose (sugar) for energy, your body shifts to fat and ketones[*]. This is called ketosis.
The key to entering ketosis is to limit your carbs. Keeping carbs low keeps the hormone insulin low, which in turn facilitates the burning of body fat.
This fat-burning state underpins the benefits of the Keto diet. One of these benefits is hunger management, which partly explains Keto’s success as a weight loss diet across different populations[*][*][*]. Less hunger means less overeating.
Another benefit of ketosis? It helps fix the problems with insulin and blood sugar that drive type 2 diabetes. In the Virta Health Study, a year of supervised Keto dieting reversed diabetes (as measured by HbA1C) in 60% of 218 patients[*].
#3: High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
The high-protein Ketogenic diet, also known as the modified Atkins diet, is a variety of SKD. This diet entails taking protein to the top of its range (30-35% of calories) and fat to the bottom (50-60% of calories). Carbohydrates remain under 10% of calories.
Some worry that high-protein Keto diets are incompatible with weight loss, but the clinical data suggests these worries are largely unfounded[*]. In fact, higher protein intakes on Keto have been shown to promote strength gains and improved body composition, when paired with strength training[*].
If you’re active, you’d do well to dial up your protein intake on Keto. You need protein to provide the amino acids (like leucine) that fuel muscle growth. Fat alone won’t cut it.
Bumping up protein also widens your dietary latitude, allowing fish and leaner meats in abundance. Because of this, it’s easier to stick to than higher fat Keto diets.
#4: Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
When you eat a cyclical Keto diet, you take a standard keto diet and ramp up carb consumption during designated periods. This is also called carb cycling.
A typical carb cycling plan is 1-2 high-carb days per week, with the remainder of the week low-carb. You might also carb cycle on a daily basis, with one meal per day (like dinner) as your high-carb meal.
On high-carb days, you eat anywhere from 100-500 grams of carbohydrates. On “normal” keto days, you drop back to 20-30 grams carbs or less.
To balance energy intake on high-carb days, adjust fat calories down. On lower-carb days, fat intake goes up again. Protein stays constant.
One application of the CKD is to fuel intense exercises like HIIT, Crossfit, or marathons. These activities demand glucose (carbs) for energy, and periodic carb refeeds refuel the body’s glucose stores (glycogen), helping athletes go harder for longer.
Carb cycling can also make Keto easier to stick with, long term. It puts rice, potatoes, and bananas back on the menu. People like that.
#5: Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)
If it seems like your exercise is flagging on Keto—and your sleep and electrolytes are dialed in—a targeted Keto diet might be right for you.
The TKD falls somewhere between the SKD and the CKD. You can have some carbs, but not many.
On a TKD, you eat 15-50 grams of fast-absorbing carbs before, during, or after a workout to provide a shot of performance-enhancing energy. These simple carbs can come from real food—like white rice or potatoes—though many athletes simply use dextrose (glucose) powder.
The type of carbohydrate is important. For instance, since fructose is metabolized via different pathways than glucose, it’s not ideal for supplying energy on the TKD. Low-glycemic carbs like beans and berries are also not ideal for this purpose, since they’re slowly absorbed.
Won’t fast-absorbing carbs kick you out of ketosis? For a little, probably. But since these carbs are consumed near exercise, you should burn them off fairly quickly. Then you can return to normal fat-burning.
#6: Keto 2.0
Keto 2.0 encapsulates the recent movement towards “clean Keto” and “plant based Keto” diets. It’s basically a Mediterranean Keto diet. Fish, plants, and olive oil.
On Keto 2.0, plants comprise the bulk of your calories. This means lots of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and nuts. Meat is discouraged, but you can lean heavily on fish and eggs to meet your protein requirements.
Carb limits are more relaxed on Keto 2.0—up to 20% of daily calories. Keep in mind, however, that carb intakes over 10% of daily energy may impede the fat-burning ketogenic state you seek.
Where Should You Start?
Unless you’re using Keto for therapeutic purposes, start on the higher-protein end of standard Keto. Thirty percent of daily calories from protein is a good target to promote fat loss and body recomposition.
If after a few weeks of Keto dieting, you’re struggling with exercise, consider experimenting with a cyclical or targeted Keto diet. Finally, if plant-based living is your thing, try Keto 2.0.
The common thread between all these Keto diets? You need to track your carbs! Make this easy with the Carb Manager app, where you can quickly log meals, get community support, and play with different macro ratios.
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