Standard vs. Targeted vs. Cyclical Keto: Which Approach Is Right for You?

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Our nutritionist explains the differences between standard, targeted, and cyclical keto.

Have you been curious about the differences between the Standard Keto Diet (SKD), Targeted Keto Diet (TKD), and Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)? If you spend any time at the gym, you may have heard other athletes using these terms in regard to their fitness goals or athletic performance.

The standard, targeted, and cyclical keto diets are all generally considered to be options for athletes, but the approach to keto that works best for you will depend on your individual fitness goals.

woman stretching for workout on standard keto diet

In most cases, standard keto has you covered.

For most people who casually exercise and want to reap the benefits of eating keto, a standard keto diet is an appropriate approach. Keep your carbs around 20-30 grams a day, your protein intake moderate (anywhere from 60 to 100 grams of protein a day), and add fat to taste.

Once you’ve adapted to the keto lifestyle, you should be able to exercise without any noticeable lag in your workouts. But if you do start to notice that your endurance or performance is decreasing, or if you want to increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, you might want to consider moving from a standard keto diet to either targeted or cyclical keto.

athletic woman stretching muscles

How are targeted and cyclical keto different from a standard keto diet?

Both the targeted keto diet and the cyclical keto diet work to provide glucose to your muscles for fuel during exercise. If you’re a competitive athlete or pushing yourself to achieve peak physical performance in the gym, you may benefit from these alternate ways of approaching keto.

Note that there is minimal research on targeted and cyclical keto diets. These approaches have more or less been developed by athletes through the process of trial and error and lots of personal experience.

man with weights in gym

What is the Targeted Keto Diet (TKD)?

The TKD is a standard keto diet with carbs consumed before exercise. The carbs provide your muscles with a boost of glucose to help you crush your workout. With the TKD, it is recommended that a person eat 25-50 grams of an easily digestible carbohydrate 30 minutes before a workout.

Examples of easily digestible carbohydrates include foods that you would normally avoid on a standard keto diet: white bread, hard candies, maple syrup, Gatorade, Powerade, or glucose or dextrose gels. You only consume the easily digestible carbs right before exercise and then follow a standard keto diet the rest of the time.

You will likely be out of ketosis for a couple of hours after consuming the pre-workout carbs. The important thing to remember with the TKD is that you need to stay on track with your standard keto eating after your workout to get back into ketosis. If your goal is to gain muscle, make sure that you’re consuming protein post-workout too.

And if you do experiment with carbs before a workout and you don’t notice a difference in your performance, then go back to eating standard keto or try using MCT oil before exercise.

woman doing high intensity rope exercise on cyclical keto diet

What is the Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)?

The cyclical keto diet is typically used for athletes who are participating in very high-intensity workouts and longer-duration workouts. The goal is to make significant gains in athletic performance while still getting the benefits of being in ketosis.

Cyclical keto usually consists of five to six days on the standard keto diet with one or two days of carb loading. The carb loading days allow the muscles and liver to be refilled with glycogen. The repleted liver and muscles can then help to fuel your high-intensity workouts during the week. It typically takes about three days to get back into ketosis after your carb-loading days.

woman standing on scale

The bottom line on standard vs. targeted vs. cyclical keto…

Ultimately, you need to look at your health and fitness goals to decide which approach to eating keto is best for you. For most people, the standard keto diet is the method of eating that helps them to achieve their desired health goals.

If you’re hoping to improve your performance during workouts, then you may want to try experimenting with either targeted or cyclical keto. If weight loss is your goal, it is recommended that you monitor your weight when experimenting with either targeted or cyclical keto to avoid weight gain.

Remember that the ultimate goal here is to find a plan that works best for your body so that you can reach your fitness goals while still reaping all the benefits of eating keto! If you would like a more in-depth look at either targeted or cyclical keto, check out this article for more information!

Read this before you cheato on keto!

About the writer:

Emily graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Idaho, holds 5 years of blogging experience, and has been featured in Every Day Health and Women's Health Magazine.

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