Cyclical ketosis, glycogen depletion, and nutrient partitioning

Meal & exercise timing in the contexts of “damage control” and nutrient partitioning are frequent topics on this blog.  I generally opt for a pre-workout meal, but nutrient timing hasn’t panned out very well in the literature.  That’s probably why I’m open to the idea of resistance exercise in the fasted state.  A lot of pseudoscientific arguments can be made for both fed and fasted exercise, and since a few blog posts have already been dedicated to the former, this one will focus on the latter.

The pseudoscience explanation is something like this: since fatty acids are elevated when fasting, exercise in this condition will burn more fat; and chronically doing so will increase mitochondria #.  The lack of dietary carbs might enhance exercise-induced glycogen depletion, which itself would bias more post-workout calories toward glycogen synthesis / supercompensation.  Much of this is actually true, but has really only been validated for endurance training (eg, Stannard 2010, Van Proeyen 2011, & Trabelsi 2012; but not here Paoli 2011)… and the few times it’s been studied in the context of resistance exercise, no effect (eg, Moore 2007 & Trabelsi 2013).  However, there are some pretty interesting tidbits (beyond the pseudoscience) which suggest how/why it might work, in the right context.

Exercising fasted or fed for fat loss?  Influence of food intake on RER and EPOC after a bout of endurance training (Paoli et al., 2011)

John Kiefer, an advocate of resistance exercise in the fasted state, mentioned: “the sympathetic nervous system responds quicker to fasted-exercise. You release adrenaline faster. Your body is more sensitive particularly to the fat burning properties of adrenaline and you get bigger rushes of adrenaline.”

Much of this is spot on.  That is, ketogenic dieting and glycogen depletion increase exercise-induced sympathetic activation and fat oxidation (eg, Jansson 1982, Langfort 1996, & Weltan 1998).

The question is: can this improve nutrient partitioning and physical performance?  Magic 8-Ball says: “Signs point to yes.”  I concur.

Contrary to popular beliefs, glycogen depletion per se doesn’t harm many aspects of physical performance.  A lot of fuel systems are at play; you don’t need a full tank of glycogen.

Effect of low-carbohydrate-ketogenic diet on metabolic and hormonal responses to graded exercise in men (Langfort et al., 1996)

High-intensity exercise performance is not impaired by low intramuscular glycogen (Symons & Jacobs, 1989)

Increased fat oxidation compensates for reduced glycogen at lower exercise intensities (eg, Zderic 2004), and ketoadaptation may do the same at higher intensities.

Kiefer further states “empty* glycogen stores also seem to have no bearing on resistance training’s ability to stimulate muscle growth, and might be advantageous for accelerated fat loss.”

*I take “empty” to mean “low” or “not full,” because there is no “empty” in vivo.

Influence of preexercise muscle glycogen content on transcriptional activity of metabolic and myogenic genes in well-trained humans (Churchley et al., 2007)

“…any differences in basal transcription are completely abolished after a single bout of heavy resistance training. We conclude that commencing resistance exercise with low muscle glycogen does not enhance the activity of genes implicated in promoting hypertrophy.”

Indeed, heavy resistance training is a robust stimulus.


Fat adaptation in well-trained athletes: effects on cell metabolism (Yeo et al., 2011)

Fat adaptation

This review article supports increased 24-hour fat oxidation induced by glycogen depletion and fat adaptation, but in the context of endurance training (low intensity; ie, not conducive to muscle hypertrophy)… the authors even speculate a negative impact on high intensity performance, although this would be less relevant in the context of ketoadaptation (which isn’t mentioned).


Influence of pre-exercise muscle glycogen content on exercise-induced transcriptional regulation of metabolic genes (Pilegaard et al., 2002)

“These data indicate that low muscle glycogen content enhances the transcriptional activation of some metabolic genes in response to exercise, raising the possibility that signalling mechanisms sensitive to glycogen content and/or FFA availability may be linked to the transcriptional control of exercise-responsive genes.”

Thus, he concludes [rightfully, imo]: “glycogen depletion won’t hold us back during low-carb training.”  And furthermore, “a combination of enhancements to the CNS and sympathetic nervous system create [this effect]; enhancements that may be more of a result of the absence of carbs rather than the addition of added fat and protein for fuel.”

…I don’t disagree with this particular effect – yes, it seems specific to glycogen depletion – however, when it comes to body composition, nutrient partitioning, and physical performance, dietary protein shouldn’t be discounted.  

Relative effects of glycogen depletion and previous exercise on muscle force and endurance capacity (Grisdale et al., 1990)

“glycogen depletion… does not influence the shift in the EMG frequency distribution [during exercise].”  In this context, EMG reflects the rate of ATP hydrolysis and electrical activation in muscle, and is proportional to force production.  This suggests that any theoretical decrease in muscular force production induced by glycogen depletion may be adequately compensated by increased sympathetic activation.


Moving on: “Whenever you train, your body releases catecholamines, which increases fatty acid release, energy production, and strength. The response of your muscular system depends on how much adrenaline is present, how fast it’s released and how sensitive cells are to adrenaline.  Going low-carb does something to intensify each of these components.”  Truth.

The effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on performance, hormonal, and metabolic responses to a 30-s bout of supramaximal exercise (Langfort et al., 1997)

“The main conclusions of this study are: (1) a low carb diet is detrimental to anaerobic work capacity, possibly because of a reduced muscle glycogen store and decreased rate of glycolysis; (2) reduced carb intake for 3 days enhances activity of the sympathoadrenal system at rest and after exercise.”

Wingate test

Max power output wasn’t affected, but mean power output was lower.  This is likely due to the fact that the intervention only lasted 3 days – not nearly long enough for ketoadaptation… more likely, they weren’t able to match the energetic demands due to inadequate mitochondrial proliferation.



Diet induced changes in sympatho-adrenal activity during submaximal exercise in relation to substrate utilization in man (Jansson et al., 1982)

“Exercise-induced increases in noradrenaline were more pronounced after the carbohydrate poor than after the carbohydrate rich diet.”

This has been well-established, and is likely due to glycogen depletion (not necessarily exercising in the fasted state per se).


The effect of low-carbohydrate diet on the pattern of hormonal changes during incremental, graded exercise in young men (Langfort et al., 2001)

“It is concluded that restriction of carb intake does not affect the pattern of changes in plasma adrenaline, growth hormone, and testosterone during graded exercise but lowers norepinephrine threshold, indicating increased sensitivity of the sympathetic nervous system to exercise stimulus.


Short-term low-carbohydrate diet dissociates lactate and ammonia thresholds in men (Langfort et al., 2004)

3 days of carb-restriction increased the lactate threshold, possibly due reduced muscle glycogen and increased reliance on fat-derived fuels, although it also lowered the ammonia threshold.  This might not bode well because one potential source of increased ammonia is skeletal muscle proteolysis, which would suggest increased amino acid oxidation.  This is also one of the reasons I advocate a pre-workout, protein-rich meal… to prevent the loss of lean mass.


Effect of low-carbohydrate-ketogenic diet on metabolic and hormonal responses to graded exercise in men (Langfort et al., 1996)

“Stimulation of the sympatho-adrenal system, and cortisol secretion with reduced plasma insulin concentration seem to be of importance for preservation of working capacity.”


Comparison of sympatho-adrenal activity during endurance exercise performed under high- and low-carbohydrate diet conditions (Sasaki et al., 1991)

“In conclusion, sympathetic activity to endurance exercise during which blood sugar was kept over a preexercise level was elevated more in the low than in the high carb diet. It was suggested that the more elevated sympathetic nervous activity would have resulted from glycogen depletion in the working muscle due to the low carb diet and would have increased FFA mobilization from the adipose tissue.”


Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state (Deldicque et al., 2010)

“Our results indicate that prior fasting may stimulate the intramyocellular anabolic response to ingestion of a carbohydrate/protein/leucine mixture following a heavy resistance training session.”

No one is arguing against peri-workout nutrition (I bet even most anti-nutrient timing gym bro’s slam a post-workout protein shake).  There seems to be separate benefits of pre-workout nutrition, but also pre-workout fasting with post-workout nutrition.. compromise?  or must we choose a side.  YMMV

My take

1) a lot of the theoretical benefits of resistance exercise in the fasted state seem to be due to glycogen depletion, which would be similar on a low carb diet sans carb-loading.

2) another aspect of this, as it pertains to morning exercise, is dinner.  CBL proper promotes a high glycemic dinner, which enhances the insulinemic response to any breakfast.  This is likely true (eg, Wolever 1998 & Nilsson 2008), and is why CBL also promotes skipping breakfast.  Damage control.

Damage control =/= optimal.

Save that insulin hypersecretion until after the morning exercise session, when tendency to store fat is blunted (by exercise).  More damage control… but this wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t carb-load the night before.

My thoughts on this: a high glycemic dinner in the absence of PM exercise isn’t one of CBL’s strongest or more sensical points; and if a post-workout insulin spike is really critical here, I’d rather see it accomplished with something like protein, leucine, or even a baked potato (ie, not pizza and ice cream).  Also, the frequent carb-loading aspect of CBL contradicts the enhanced sympathetic nervous system activation induced by exercising in the glycogen-depleted state (regardless of exercise timing).  One alternative to this is less frequent carb-loads (as in Kiefer’s Carb Nite Solution); ymmv, and probably depends on training frequency and intensity…

I’m convinced there are benefits to exercising in the fasted state [in the context of a low carb diet], which appear to be at least partially due to glycogen depletion… and many of these same benefits might be negated by carb-loading.  Theoretically, however, they can still be had by following a relatively low carb template and resistance exercise in the fasted state sans carb-loading.

Instead of enhancing post-workout insulinemia with a high glycemic index carb load, a mixed meal higher in protein may work just as well or even better, in some contexts…  and I see little benefit to PM carb-loading prior to an AM exercise session, fasted or otherwise (John Kiefer begs to differ).  If you must combine carb-loading with fasted-exercise, then probably best to do them close together, chronologically (ie, damage control).  It’s still up for debate whether doing this in the morning or evening is superior, but as mentioned previously, the circadian regulation of adipose and skeletal muscle biology predicts morning may be optimal (despite being inconvenient).  Also, as Jack Kruse mentions in Epi-paleo Rx, going to the gym at night, with loud music blaring and bright lights blazing, doesn’t bode well for sleep quality and circadian rhythms.  So there’s that.

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For more on circadian rhythms & nutrient timing:

Nutrient timing, Op. 101

Insulin, sympathetic nervous system, and nutrient timing

Skipping meals, intermittent fasting, grazing

Carb Back-Loading and the Circadian Regulation of Metabolism

Carb Back-Loading, take II

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  • “The back and forth between yourself and Keifer, including the podcast, and the way you guys have handled (and even enjoy) technical disagreements, is an almost unheard-of (and excellent) example of how the interpretation and discussion of scientific data should be done.”

    -awesome comment from a Facebook friend.


    • Completely agree with that comment. Bill, these series of posts have been brilliant. A real credit to you for putting together such well teased out pieces. A fascinating read.

      I also listened to your appearance on Kiefer’s podcast. Thought is was brilliant. So refreshing in comparison to the snarky, condescending insults exchanged between others in the nutritional science space who disagree with each other.

      • Thanks, Danny! I enjoyed chatting with Kiefer and Rocky – two smart and friendly guys with a lot to offer.

        • For sure. It really was a fascinating conversation as it was completely different to most podcasts which end up as “standard interviews”. This was literally like being at a table with you guys discussing science and nerding out. Hence why I loved it so much!

          I must try to get in touch with the guys and hear more from them.

        • Thomas Hemming Larsen

          It was a really good podcast. I wish that you had talked more 🙂

  • “Circadian rhythms and exercise”

    article discusses, among other things, the different benefits of exercising in the fasted vs. fed state.

    • Jack Kruse

      Good stuff yet again Bill. Cyclic is a synonym for seasonal which is a synonym for circadian alterations. Optimal health is found when you get your circadian rhythm fixed first. Then introduce Cold Thermogenesis (increasing SNS), fix the mitochondria (with DHA for electric charge) , and pour in the electrons (the current from fatty foods)

      • Thanks, Jack.

        Seasonal ketosis makes the most sense ~ except maybe for people living in extreme environments.

        • Jack Kruse

          Bill, in our modern world extreme environments are now the norm. There in lies the major problem for modern humans. No one realizes it. Volkow, Allan Frey, and Abraham Liboff work show the effect. There is no city in the western world that is immune now. You cant be “truly ancestral” and totally ignore how modern technology affects how we handle food electrons and how it destroys Cell Membrane signaling, mitochondrial signaling, and nuclear signaling. This is why circadian biology dictates the fuels we crave, want, think we need, or believe we need. EMF that is non native alters how your mitochondria work………and that is the key point It drives your cravings and behaviors and beliefs about food……….this is what ancestral health does not understand and because they do not they wont accept it………people need to read it and decide for themselves. You have to divorce yourself from their memes and medicine’s meme’s. They are as guilty as CW advice is……..and they dont see it.

          • Jack Kruse
          • Jack Kruse

            This is a critical point between the two major arms of metabolism bill. Mitochondrial cytochrome proteins are like nano MRI machines for electrons and protons. They are designed to tell the difference in the energies of electrons and protons energies and information about circadian signals. From those two physical differences, the proteins within the cytochromes dictate the pathway where those subatomic particles should flow in ECT.

            When we are in an environment that is withdrawing energy from us for any reason ( insert non native EMF), while causing entropy to rise (swelling in mitochondria), our cells and tissues want all the metabolic and hormone help we can muster to remain well. This implies that metabolism and hormone levels are optimized when our ability to separate charges in water is maximized.

            Another way to state this in metabolic biologic jargon: When carbohydrates are used consistently 24/7 in long light cycles because of the up-regulation of carbohydrate metabolism from non native EMF, this implies cytokines levels remain high (warmer); therefore, inflammation is high, proton levels are highest for mitochondria to handle, and glutathione levels inside a cell are very low. These physical and electrical differences lead to effects in cellular proteins and water to alter the molecular spin (known as Larmor frequency) of the hydration cells around your nucleic acids, proteins, membranes, and around your mitochondria. It essentially no longer allows mitochondria to sense the seasonal photoelectric effect or the Earth’s magnetic field. We fly blind and metabolism is uncoupled from the growth cycles and disease ensue’s. That is why circadian biology trumps food 100% of the time.

          • Jack Kruse

            This is where most modern people find themselves as they live their life today, yet do not realize it. Moreover, the ancestral health people live there life constantly within EMF hell. Sometimes changing your diet is not enough and they do not realize this effect. And the people that follow them are like lemmings off a cliff. The redox potential is 100% linked to the environment you find yourself in. When the information in your hormones is lacking (negative entropy), this ruins your ability to perform electron and proton transfers in your mitochondria’s cytochromes. This is why guys who look like Adonnis on the outside can have huge adrenal fatigue and crashed hormones. The same holds true for low carber’s who use technology. They are sleepless infertile and struggle with weight loss and think they need ketosis 100% of the time because their environment is driving carbohydrate metabolism under their perception.

          • Jack Kruse

            Optimal maintenance of redox homeostasis insures proper circadian cycles. When these become uncoupled for any reason at all, you are getting ill and not staying well. These cycles are of primordial importance for optimizing energy utilization and minimizing entropy, implying that glutathione cycling is directly tied to extreme low frequency EMF signaling as I laid out in my Energy and Epigenetics 8 blog. People do not understand how food and EMF impacts the epigenetic expression of RNA and DNA.

            All redox reactions in the body are tied at some level to the photoelectric effect, water, and the electromagnetic force.

          • Jack Kruse
          • Jack Kruse

            When ECT transport is slow, we make more free oxygen radicals from transition metals exposed in our cytochromes to EMF. This alters the speed of quantum tunneling of electrons. This results in causing us to rely on glucose metabolism and AMPK pathways. Calcium efflux in neurons do the same thing. EMF causes this too. AMPK is tied to carb fuels. NOT GOOD for life.

          • Biophysical evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic field effects on male reproductive pattern.
            There are possible hazardous health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiations emitted from mobile phone on the human reproductive pattern. It is more effective while keeping mobile phones in pocket or near testicular organs. Present review examines the possible concern on radio frequency radiation interaction and biological effects such as enzyme induction, and toxicological effects, including genotoxicity and carcinogenicity, testicular cancer, and reproductive outcomes. Testicular infertility or testicular cancer due to mobile phone or microwave radiations suggests an increased level of ROS. Though generation of ROS in testis has been responsible for possible toxic effects on physiology of reproduction, the reviews of last few decades have well established that these radiations are very harmful and cause mutagenic changes in reproductive pattern and leads to infertility. The debate will be focused on bio-interaction mechanism between mobile phone and testicular cancer due to ROS formation. This causes the biological damage and leads to several changes like decreased sperm count, enzymatic and hormonal changes, DNA damage, and apoptosis formation. In the present review, physics of mobile phone including future research on various aspects has been discussed.


          • Jack Kruse

            Somebody should mention this study to the low carb podcaster/blogger………

  • Zach

    Hi Bill! I am new to the blog, but have really enjoyed the posts I have read. Nice work! I am just curious where I can find what template you recommend for most people? Do you recommend keto? I know this may vary a lot person-to-person, but let’s assume the person is relatively healthy and looking to optimize health, body composition, and strength/muscle gains.


    • Thanks, Zach!

      The template would depend highly on individual context, goals, health status, etc., etc.

      I wrote some very general recommendations here: Only recommend keto for obese insulin resistant, or for therapeutic reasons, like epilepsy, mood disorders, etc.

      For “optimal,” gotta consider a lot more than diet 🙂

      • your last sentence is brilliant bro. it’s much more than diet alone.

        • Dan Ordoins

          I agree….

      • Zach

        Yes, I completely understand. i guess I am just curious where you would have someone start (very rough guidelines) if they were generally healthy (not obese)? I understand it will take a lot of experimenting to determine what works best for a person.

        Maybe you could give us an outline of what your current template looks like. Again, I know this will not work for 90% of people, but I think it might help with a starting point.

        • sure… but not sure if you want something more or less specific than the template outlined here

          • Zach

            Yeah that was helpful, but maybe a little more specific if possible. Maybe just a sample day or two of your eating?

  • Gašper Grom

    I usually take a combination of HMB / Leucine / Creatine and some salt when I train on an empty stomach. Recently, almost every day, after about 16 hours without food.What do you think?

    • That’s not a lot of calories, but modestly insulinogenic & anabolic… so maybe your reaping some benefits of both fed *and* fasted exercise (if glycogen depeleted). Nice!

  • Daniel Welch

    Hi Bill,

    In reference to carb backloading the night before fasted AM training – I believe Kiefer uses it as a tool when necessary, not all the time. For example, if your AM training is ‘goal orientated’ (e.g. your training load has lead up to you attemping a new PB on deadlifts that morning) then you want to be at your peak with as close to full glycogen stores. The opposite being if you just were going to train fasted in the AM to promote fat burning then you wouldnt CBL the night before.

    • Yeah, there are a lot of exceptions & contexts which affect the general template. I think carb-load frequency is one of the biggest “YMMV” variables. I suspect many would probably do better with Kiefer’s CarbNite Solution, which is ~1 carb-load per week

  • This Old Housewife

    Hubby is doing much better, thanks to your diagnosis (BTW, how much do I owe you?). He’s seeing more muscle in his arms, and is stronger, but still no weight loss (that’s okay–the BG control is much more important at this point). Saturday, his FBG got down to 73, and he WASN’T shaky or jittery like before.

    He now peaks at 101, and spikes last only an hour. If this keeps up, in about a month or so, weaning off the chromium will begin.

    We may have found his dietary happy place. I’ve informed his brothers about your finding, gluconeogenesis, and how meat can contain as much as 50% glucose, depending on how the animal was fed. I also stated that there is a GOOD chance they inherited this gene as well, and may have passed it onto their children. I told them diet alteration should begin NOW in order to avoid future health problems for the families.

    • “*+1!*”

      • This Old Housewife

        Not only is Hubby under better control, but I’ve lost 10 lbs. in a month (after a near-year stall) by joining Hubby in increased fart/fiber intake, and “protein cycling.” Walking the neighbor’s dog helped too.

        The neighbors are going away this weekend, and I offered to keep Molly the Manchester Walking Machine while they’re gone–this means walkies for an hour @ 3X/day.

        Here’s to ANOTHER 10 lbs. lost in a month!

        • epic!

          • This Old Housewife

            Fat intake, not fart intake! 🙂 And Molly wants to go walkies RIGHT NOW (7 A.M. Friday).

  • Dan Ordoins

    Bill, Great Right Up!
    So my understanding of your thoughts is that perhaps a back load of a protein rich meal either after workout of evening….
    I do a ketosis based diet based around the leangains model of fasting 16-20 hours a day. I work out before noon in a fasted state and then break my fast shortly after….. I like to keep my diet fat based and perhaps on workout days post workout or that evening have a higher protein to fat ratio…..
    Also what are your thought on whey and or BCAA’s or would lean meat serve the same or better purpose sense it it whole food based rather than supplement?

    Also your thought on BCAA’s 10g per fasted workout…. any benefit from your research or is it not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things?


    • Hi Dan,


      In general, meal timing is tricky. Many studies have tested this in the absence of exercise and have shown skewing more calories earlier in the day is better for body composition (eg,

      But resistance exercise is a robust stimulus, so timing most calories around then (regardless of AM vs. PM) should be more advantageous.

      As mentioned in our podcast ( lean vs. fatty meat may not matter very much (aside from caloric density), because the intestine secretes stored fat with every meal… so maybe go with lean meat only if you want more calories from protein relative to fat.

      Due to the calories and insulinogenicity of BCAAs, taking them prior to exercise may make it less of a fasted-exercise session, but this may not be such a bad thing (eg,; definitely better than pre-workout carbs.

      …nutrient timing is a small piece of a big puzzle 🙂

      • Dan Ordoins

        Bill what is your thoughts on a full time ketosis based Epi-Paleo diet for performance over cycling in seasonal carbs much like a CKD, CBL or even Leangains approach.

        Do you feel carbs are needed for performance at some point or would a full time nutritional ketosis diet be as or better in the long run?

        Wanted your thoughts?


        Also thanks for the reply!

        • Great questions, Dan. I’ve many thoughts on these issues! and few are black and white.

          To date, ketoadaptation hasn’t failed in any performance-related studies, even ones at fairly high levels of intensity (eg, &…

          Chronic keto seems A-OK in this context. Further, I see CBL and regular carb-loading as major impediments to ketoadaptation proper; but you need one or the other… no glycogen + no ketoadaptation = no bueno.

          • In a sense, CBL is kind of like damage control…
            if you love junk food, here’s how to make
            it less fattening: high intensity resistance exercise in the fasted state, and then indulge immediately after exercise… combine this with prolonged intermittent fasting and voila!

            Many of the SympNS effects are due, in part, to glycogen depletion. So regularly repleting glycogen might even negate them..?

          • Daniel Welch

            Hi Bill,

            If I could share my experience with regular carb loading – i find that up to twice a week does not affect my ketoadaptation. Mind you I did do a lengthy run at ‘full keto’ for many almost a year before I found Keifer’s work.

            Worst case is I carb overload and I wake up with a headache the next morning haha.

            For a average person, do you agree the ketoadaptation (after a carb backload) could be hastened by morning fasting and/or MCT consumption?

            I cant help but feel this eventually becomes a ‘time of exposure’ issue. If you are only exposed to exogenous carbs for a few hours a week – the rest of the time under restriction forces the ketoadaptation.

            Get point below on the SympNS effects!

          • “For an average person, do you agree the ketoadaptation (after a carb backload) could be hastened by morning fasting and/or MCT consumption?”

            Fasting is the fastest way to establish ketosis… “Ketoadaptation” is different, and requires about a month of VLC/ketosis (eg,

            While there is probably some gray area, for example in elite athletes, regular carb-loading is incompatible with ketoadaptation. You may re-establish ketosis a day or two after carb-loading, but this doesn’t tells us what’s happening at the mitochondrial level.

          • The more you carb-load, the less ketoadapted you become, the more you’re gonna need to carb-load.

          • Daniel Welch

            I Agree 🙂

            Short of tesing the only way I judge my ketoadaptation post carb loading is my ability the next day/s to function and resistance train while in severe carb restriction (need to invest in blood ketone meter).

            Have you seen any good studies showing any down regulation of ketoadaption after ingesting carbohydrates? If so could you please point me in the right direction? Thank you.

  • Wesley Hurrell

    Thanks for your tremendous contribution to knowledge in this area. I’m a biochemistry graduate with keen interest and history of working in sport supplement industry most my life. I’m also a competitive endurance athlete (cyclist/triathlete). I recently went LCHF in Jan14 (after being a carb-loving athlete for over a decade) in prep for my 1st Ironman – which I did in 9hr 58mins. I’m currently detailing my experience ( In any case, my biggest issue is rationale for cyclical use of carbs to optimise performance in events that rely on intense 1-4min bursts + endurance (i.e. competitive road cycling). I suspect I have very high insulin sensitivity and have always been below 10% bodyfat – so my only reason for going on diet was to improve performance/endurance. My hunch is that athletes with very high insulin sensitivity may require 1/wk carb binge to optimise power and endurance. Any thoughts?

    • Very cool, thanks, and congrats on the Ironman!

      “…may require 1/wk carb binge to optimise power and endurance. Any thoughts?”

      I have many thoughts on this 🙂

      Most of the studies on ketoadaptation & physical performance use very low carb intake w/ no carb binges, and the results are consistent: if the diet has been followed for at least 3-4 weeks, then power output, strength, and endurance are optimized (or at least as-good-as the control group).

      Depending on how much you’re interested in the details, I’ve written about many of these studies here:

      Also, I’ve heard about some ketoadapted athletes who take small doses of carbohydrate during an event, but no proper studies have examined this. My guess is that, it isn’t necessary if adequately ketoadapted.

  • “Higher activation of autophagy in skeletal muscle during exercise in the fasted state.”

    Activation of autophagy in skeletal muscle has been reported in response to endurance exercise and food deprivation independently. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether autophagy was more activated when both stimuli were combined, namely when endurance exercise was performed in a fasted rather than a fed state. Mice performed a low-intensity running exercise (10 m/min for 90min) in both dietary states after which the gastrocnemius muscles were removed. LC3b-II, a marker of autophagosome presence, increased in both conditions, but the increase was higher in the fasted state. Other protein markers of autophagy, like Gabarapl1-II and Atg12 conjugated form as well as mRNA of Lc3b, Gabarapl1, and p62/Sqstm1 were increased only when exercise was performed in a fasted state. The larger activation of autophagy by exercise in a fasted state was associated with a larger decrease in plasma insulin and phosphorylation of Akt(Ser473), Akt(Thr308), FoxO3a(Thr32), and ULK1(Ser757). AMPK?(Thr172), ULK1(Ser317), and ULK1(Ser555) remained unchanged in both conditions, whereas p38(Thr180/Tyr182) increased during exercise to a similar extent in the fasted and fed conditions. The marker of mitochondrial fission DRP1(Ser616) was increased by exercise independently of the nutritional status. Changes in mitophagy markers BNIP3 and Parkin suggest that mitophagy was increased during exercise in the fasted state. In conclusion, our results highlight a major implication of the insulin-Akt-mTOR pathway and its downstream targets FoxO3a and ULK1 in the larger activation of autophagy observed when exercise is performed in a fasted state compared with a fed state.

    • Lazaros

      Bill, what would you reccomend to eat in a AM workout, if the PM before, i did backload?

      • A protein-rich whole food meal. Since the insulin response is enhanced, don’t really need carbs…

  • Thomas Hemming Larsen

    Regarding the second meal effect. In your view, what would happen if you carb backload with ‘clean’ carbs like potatoes up to a maximum of 200g after serious strength training in the evening, skip breakfast and have no carbs for lunch? How much of the meal will spill over?

    • One of the justifications for skipping breakfast after a carb-load the night before is “damage control.” This would still likely hold true for clean carbs (maybe even more so for potatoes, because they’re very insulinogenic).

      No carbs at lunch would also attenuate the theoretical backlash… and I’m not sure how much of the potential tendency toward “insulin hypersecretion” would still be leftover by dinner… but I suspect this concept is more important for “damage control” than muscle gains, in this context.

      • Thomas Hemming Larsen

        Yeah, its more about the magnitude of the insulin response.

        Following on from this. One argument for carbs at dinner could be the overnight fast. For most people the time between dinner and breakfast will be the longest between meals. So again, carbs at dinner (given you don’t eat before bed) is more damage control than actual optimal nutrient timing. Just a thought.

  • Sleep onset is disrupted following pre-sleep exercise due to physiological excitement…

  • Thomas Hemming Larsen

    Regarding the optimal diet, when and how etc. I think Alan Thrall has made a very good video on supplements and when to use them

    • What did you like about that video?! …I couldn’t tell if he was joking half the time 🙂

      • Thomas Hemming Larsen

        I like that he makes a joke of it all.
        Obviously he was joking all the time 🙂 You should check out his 10,000kcal/day diet.

  • ken

    the bottom line is NO ONE has ever been able to prove you can eat more calories then your maintenance and NOT gain it will always be about calories in vs out…

  • This Old Housewife

    Well, the honeymoon’s over with Hubby–he’s creeping back up into the triple-digits for both fasting and post-prandial. I’m going to try meat meals 3x/week, with non-meat meals the rest of the time, and feeding dinner later in the evening. Even the once-fabulous potato salad therapy is no longer working, so now I’m going to focus on WHICH form of protein seems to be the problem.

    He’s also having meat cravings again, so I’m going to supplement with amino acid caps–his B-12 and iron levels are fine, so it must be the protein (or a misinterpreted glucose craving). I increased is chromium until we find the culprit.

    It seems no matter what I try, he eventually becomes immune to it. But try again we will.

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  • Dan Ordoins

    Wanted to get your insights on using a keto diet using the “Leangains” approach.
    Daily fasting 16/8
    Cycle calories with workouts.
    Used to get lean and or lean bulk.

    I have done this approach with great success in the pas but used Martin’s recommendation of macros/ carb cycling. (he coached me).

    Currently I have been doing keto for over 3 years.
    I Want to apply the leangains approach using a Epi=Paleo SKD.
    the leangains approach one would cycle calories at or above maintenance level and do a slight under feed or calorie deficit on off days.
    Usually 3 days a week lifting and the other 4 days below.
    Adjusting calories depending on goals – lean bulk, maintenance or cut.
    Question: using a SKD do you think calories need to be cycled up and down on days or just keep same calories each day depending on goals?

    idea of cycling is much like the CKD or TKD or CBL, where you put extra
    calories on workout days to offer deficit relieve and an anabolic effect
    after lifting. In the LG approach one would cycle in carbs. On a SKD
    (hybid-LG much like a TKD) one would cycle in more fat and perhaps protein on these
    days. I would imagine a bit more carbs could be tolerated and still
    remain in ketosis as a fat burner.

    My self I like the 16/8 – 20/4 hour fasting.

    wanted your thoughts on cycling calories or not when remaining on a
    100% SKD and looking for making gains, loosing fat and performance as

    thought is that with calories being equal each day perhaps this allows
    more recovery can be made on off days instead of just the lifting days.

    Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.


    • “Question: using a SKD do you think calories need to be cycled up and down on days or just keep same calories each day depending on goals?”

      In theory, I very much like the macro timing aspect of TKD & CBL. Skewing “calories” near a workout seems very much the same, in principle… small piece of a big puzzle, but definitely can’t hurt.

      However, in practice, I think this would require *very* meticulous calorie counting – because, it can’t be more than a few hundred Calories difference. Right?

      • Dan Ordoins

        Great thanks for the reply… Yes on LG, Martin had me meticulously counting calories along with macronutreints and timeing of meals relitive to workouts. Once on maintenance (to maintain 5-6% body fat) he would still have me track calories (macro’s not as important – though higher protein levels) and still have some timing around workouts. – A more relaxed lifestyle based approach with some accountability and check points.

        Going to give it a n=1 with SKD and LG but not tracking macro’s as much as more so calorie cycling with workout and circadian rhythm timing of meals and lifestyle. Macro’s will be VLC keto Epi-Paleo based along with perhaps protein cycled a bit higher post workouts or when ending fasting.

        Pretty much the diet I have been doing now for a while but now with a bit more tracking and accountability.

        Fun stuff!

        Thanks again for your insights and blogs.

    • Zach

      Hey Dan,

      I know your comment is fairly old, but just curious how the above experiment worked out for you? Are you still following it? Or, have you found a better approach?

      I am also experimenting with a similar setup so wanted to hear another n=1.

      • Dan Ordoins

        Yes pretty much do the same set up. Just a bit more flexibility in my approach and using circadian season cycles and life changes as my guide.
        Fasting is around 16/8 – 20/4 depending on sun cycles and daily life.

      • Dan Ordoins


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