Grandma is coming to town. She’s missed you dearly. So much so that she’s taking you out to Italian tonight.
No avocados or almond butter for you. You’re eating pizza and pasta tonight.
You’re insulin is probably spiking reading this. You’re…. breaking keto. (unless you make this keto pizza!)
What will happen?
Getting kicked out of ketosis sounds awful. Like getting kicked out of a party. Or getting kicked out of school.
But is it really that bad? Can we hop right back in after a “cheat day”? Or is our keto mission derailed, along with all weight loss and well-being?
In this post we’ll look at the science of eating carbs while in on the keto diet. And we’ll answer the burning question… what happens when you get kicked out of ketosis.
Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’ll even show you some tricks for getting right back into ketosis after indulging.
But is getting kicked out of ketosis really the end of the world?
Have you ever read something like this on a low-carb forum?
“... and then I found it had MALITOL in it. I ATE CARBS. I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight. My body just can’t handle carbs like it used to.”
Are you right to have a full-blown freakout after eatings carbs?
First understand this: ketosis and fat-adaptation. Two similar, but different things.
You can be fat-adapted, but not in ketosis.
Ketosis owns the name, but fat-adapted is what we really want.
Keto-authority Dr. Timothy Noaks explains:
“Fat adapted means that your whole body is adapted to burn more fat – from your brains to your muscles. It takes about 6 weeks.
If you become fat-adapted, you burn an enormous amount of fat during exercise. And you conserve carbohydrates. That’s how we measure fat-adaptation.
Fat adaptation is no small feat – remember you’ve been running off glucose almost your entire life.
You changed your cells, mitochondria, and liver to make this happen. An oven-toasted bagel ain’t gonna take you back. Not even a juicy slice of pecan pie. No, it would require a full return to the carb life (and who wants that?!) to spoil your fat-adapted benefits.
Much of keto’s magic is due to fat-adaptation. The fat-adapted person can:
Stay full between meals. Fewer cravings and thus excess calories.
Burn body fat and lose weight. The better you can oxidize your own body fat for energy, the easier you can lose weight.
- Improve athletic performance. Your body can store far more energy in fat than as glycogen. This is why you’ll see marathon runners slurping those gooey starchy packets on the trail. Evidence is showing fat-adapted athletes can outperform their carb-hooked competitors.
As long as the fat-adapted state is not compromised, many of keto’s benefits will continue. And it would take you weeks of dedicated “cheating” for this to happen.
Then what's the point of ketosis anyway?
Ketosis means ketones are being produced in the liver from fatty acids.
This happens when liver glycogen (stored glucose) runs low. The body goes into starvation mode and turns on an alternate fuel source.
Fasting or eating a ketogenic high-fat, low-carb diet will start this process within a day or two.
Ketosis also gives us some unique advantages. Here’s Dr. Noaks again:
“Ketone bodies are remarkable because they are the only type of fat that is water-soluble. They circulate in the bloodstream and can be used as a fuel by the muscles and the brain.”
Your body is constantly making ketones. You probably have some after waking up after a long slumber. Okay, then what’s ketosis?
Once you cut carbs, ketone levels build up in your blood. Once your concentrations hit .5 mMol, you’re in. Why .5? Because that’s what keto’s inventors decided.
So the higher the ketone level, the better, right?
It’s not that simple.
You produce a lot of ketones once you start the diet. Then as you become fat-adapted, your levels decline. This is because your muscles learn to run off free fatty acids, and no longer need ketones for fuel (but your brain still does!).
These are all good things. You’re now burning fat at a higher rate.
But that darn blood meter is showing lower levels. No bragging points for you.
Ketosis is a transient state. It’s easy to get in, and even easier to get out. Down a glass of MCT oil powder and you’re in deep. Eat a pizza and you’re out.
You can fall out of ketosis by exercising. Good ole’ stress can do it too. This is because stress raises insulin, which lowers ketones production. Ketosis is a fickle thing.
High ketone levels can be a good thing. Many claim high ketone levels enhance their mood and boost their brain.
Our advice is to go by how you feel. The ketone meter can become an obsession, a source of joy or shame based on the day’s reading.
Forget the scary-sounding “getting kicked out of ketosis” and focus on what really matters… long-term fat-adaptation.
A carb meal will kick you out of ketosis, but it will not kick you out of fat-adaptation. Think of ketosis as a number on a screen, a point-in-time reading, while fat-adaptation is a long-term change in your metabolic function.
The longer you stay in a fat-adapted state, the less you need to worry about getting kicked out of ketosis. But if you are just starting out, save those cheat days for a rainy day!
And if the thought of a cheat day gives you anxiety, just know there are clean, delicious keto snacks you can turn to. A great option is our Keto Trail Mix made with sprouted nuts, savory cheeses and low-sugar fruits (yum!). Beyond that, we put together a list of the 27 cleanest keto snacks you can buy on Amazon right now. No cheat days required!
What happens when you get kicked out of ketosis?
You lick your lips as that last bite of pasta goes down the hatch. Fettuccine alfredo, your favorite. Hey, at least you a healthy dose of fats in that cream sauce.
As those sweet carbs hit your system, blood glucose levels rise, and the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin stimulates enzymes that store blood glucose in the liver as glycogen.
You are now in the “fed” state. And ketone production has ceased (boo!).
The carbs you take in will stop ketone production until they're used up, or stored away in muscle. The good news is your liver can only store ~100 grams of carbs in glycogen. When carbs are removed again, your blood glucose falls, and the liver signals the release of the glycogen. This takes 12-16 hours depending on the activity level.
Once glycogen is depleted, ketogenesis resumes.
The return to ketosis is no different than when starting the diet. It just happens faster.
What are the downsides to getting kicked out of keto?
While breaking keto isn’t the end of the world, it can make you feel crummy. And we’re not just talking about guilt (which let’s be honest.. there shouldn’t be any!).
Here are a few of the big negatives people report when breaking the diet:
Carb cravings. Insulin spikes force energy into your cells but can leave other cells in a starved state depending on how insulin resistant you are. Starved cells crazy more… you guessed it… carbs. It can be a vicious cycle that can take you off the rails.
Fatigue. Ah, the carb crash. Remember those?! Insulin levels can leave you with low blood sugar and exhaustion.
- Brain fog. Ketones are your brain's preferred fuel. Now back on glucose, you may feel a bit foggy up in the head.
These symptoms vary considerably person-to-person. There are reports of people being bedridden after a single carb indulgence. Remember that keto flu you worked so hard to get over?
Our best advice is to listen to your body and understand where your carb tolerance lies. Try to avoid sweeteners – even in keto-approved products – as these sneaky foods can increase your cravings. Since you won’t need much stimulation to satisfy cravings while on keto, clean snacks naturally sweetened with real fruit (like our Keto Trail Mix) can be a great way to “indulge” without worrying about getting kicked out of ketosis.
Can you have carbs AND keto?
What if it was possible to devour your pasta AND stay in ketosis? Can you have your pasta and eat it to?
Sounds too good to be true…
But it isn’t. All you have to is bike 110 miles leading up to your Italian dinner. Make sure to climb at least 6,000 feet of elevation too...
Kidding aside, our story comes from Dr. Peter Attia. If you don’t know (and you should...) Dr. Attia is a longevity doctor, an ultra-endurance athlete, and one of the leading thinkers on the ketogenic diet.
On the last day of his ride, Dr. Attia consumed 351 g of fat, 243 g of protein, and 321 g of carbohydrates. That’s enough to make anyone on keto cringe.
Yet the following day he tested his ketones and… 2.2 mMol. Almost deep ketosis.
All that riding created a glycogen deficit in his body. And those carbs went to pay off his glycogen debt while the liver kept cranking out ketones.
You don’t have to be this extreme to kickstart ketosis. Almost any form of exercise will deplete glycogen and speed the return to ketosis.
The higher the intensity, the better. Cardio interval training or circuit training is best.
Heck, you could even do air squats in the bathroom before your second course. You’d be in good company – Tim Ferriss has been known to do this.
The Bottom Line
Forget what the ketone meter says. If you’re looking and feeling better, keto is working for you.
Carb breaks can be speed bumps along the way. You might feel crummy. But you can always pick it back up the next day.
And hey, life is short. Indulge every now and then.
To your health,
Ben & Brandon
Disclaimer: This website provides general information and discussions about health, nutrition and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Ben & Brandon are not doctors, registered dieticians or registered nutritionists.