Should Bikini Competitors do a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet?
July 2016 Update: I’ve received a number of emails/inquiries from people who assumed that because I wrote this article about CKD dieting that it is the approach we take for our clients. Just want to point out that we DO NOT do CKD or Ketogenic dieting, as you will find if you can suffer through the whole article. I have knowledge of it, and have used it here and there in the past, so I blogged about it…nothing more, nothing less 🙂
I’m going to be dedicating my next few articles to reviewing some of the popular bikini competition diet strategies. This first article will cover the popular cyclical ketogenic diet, and offer a variation that may be more ideal for most bikini competitors.
Cyclical Ketogenic Bikini Competition Diet (CKD)
You may or may not know it by this name, but this is basically where you are very, very low calorie/carb for at least 3 days (e.g., depletion days), and then do a BIG carb load for 1-1.5 days. The depletion days are just that…they deplete your muscles of all glycogen and most water. And since the caloric deficit you create while doing this is so huge, you can lose a good amount of bodyfat in this stage.
You perform depletion training (high reps, very short rest periods, all major muscle groups) during this phase in order to burn every last bit of muscle glycogen. By fully depleting, you will be able to achieve what is referred to as glycogen supercompensation once you do your carb load. In other words, your muscles will temporarily be able to hold more glycogen/water than they could before you depleted. Keep in mind that this is intramuscular water…the kind that makes your muscles nice and full and your skin tight. This is NOT extracellular water, or water under your skin which makes you soft and puffy.
After your 3+ days of depletion, you refuel via your carb load. This is typically done by eating moderate protein, low fat, and super high carb meals about every 2-2.5 hours, over the course of 1-1.5 days. It’s followed by HEAVY weight training the next day…and let me tell you, your strength and endurance will be through the roof if you did it right.
When you see competitors bragging about loading up all day on donuts, cookies, etc…it’s usually because they are utilizing at least a modified version of this approach (or in many cases, dressing their binge eating up as part of a planned dieting strategy, but that’s another article). These carb loads can be very, very big if full depletion was achieved, with very little risk of fat gain. In fact, it’s been 100% established that your body DOES NOT stop using bodyfat as an energy source during a short term (~24 hour) overfeed. So as long as this carb load day doesn’t turn into a carb load weekend, then it will help with muscle gain AND won’t hurt fat loss at all.
Is this ideal for bikini competitors? The big question is, do bikini competitors NEED to achieve glycogen supercompensation. The answer is no. The benefit you will see from that 1-2 day period of higher than normal strength and endurance does not outweigh the negatives of the 3+ days of running on fumes it took to make it happen. This is because of the fact that as a competitor, your TRAINING needs to be set up FIRST, and then your diet built to SUPPORT your training. Cyclical Keto is the opposite…the diet is the center of the program, and the training is built around the diet. The 3+ days of dieting on the 1200 (or less) calories it would take the FULLY deplete DOES NOT support the kind of training you’re likely to do as a competitor.
Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with a modified version, where you deplete JUST enough, and then size your carb load accordingly. But the further you stray from the textbook version of CKD, the less likely it will be that you achieve the desired hormonal response to the carb load…and without that hormonal response, it’s basically just an unproductive binge.
What I would suggest if you want to implement cyclical dieting into your bikini prep is to first set up your training to meet the needs of your physique. So if you need to bring up your glutes, delts and arms, then figure out how you want to prioritize your training to make that happen. As discussed in my recent article on carb cycling (not to be confused with CKD), the average competitor’s training has them in the gym WAY too often for there to ever be a good period to be super low carb/calorie. So rather than going very low cal on any given day, just lower your calories more ‘linearly’ (e.g., same intake most days), and then give yourself a moderate sized carb load or refeed the day before one of your high priority training days.
You’re still going to need a few days of dieting to afford yourself even a moderate carb load, so somewhere within that few day stretch, you will likely also be training some priority bodyparts…which is why we don’t want to have any super low cal days. We want to keep blood sugar levels nice and stable, and eat JUST enough food that we can have decent energy for ALL our training days…not just those taking place 1-2 days after carb loading.
And this moderate approach is going to be MUCH easier on the digestive system, which means a tighter waistline. You will likely want to “fill out” at least somewhat pre-contest, and the safest way for a bikini competitor to do that is via a fairly conservative refeed/carb load vs the HUGE carb loads most bodybuilders (who don’t need small waists anymore) will do pre-contest. So this variation of CKD will also serve as a nice “rehearsal” of how to handle that pre-contest carb-up process. Starting something like this around 6 weeks out should give you plenty of time to get it dialed in just right, and you should be lean enough by 6 weeks out that insulin sensitivity will be high enough that you will handle the carb load/refeed very well.
Next article in this Bikini Competition Dieting Series will cover Carb Backloading (hint: I’m not just covering scientifically valid diets ;). I should have that one posted within the next week.
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