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The typical American diet consists of pizza, pasta, French fries, sandwiches, cereal, and burgers served on buns (not to mention sweet treats like cookies and cake). All of these popular food items have something in common: They are all laden with carbohydrates. When you first shift from a typical American diet to a ketogenic diet, the dramatic reduction in carbohydrates can be a bit of a shock. You may crave carbs for a while as your body and mind adjust to your new way of eating. However, you can rest assured that once you do get accustomed to the keto diet, your cravings for carbs and sugary treats should diminish. One of the first steps for switching to a keto diet is to figure out exactly how many carbs you can really eat each day. You can use the following guide to build your perfect diet plan and figure out how many carbs on keto are right for you.
The Differences Between the Keto Diet and Low-Carb Diets
If you’re wondering how many carbs on keto a person is typically allotted, you may also be wondering what sets keto apart from any other low-carb diet. First, let’s take a look at the low-carb diet. There are actually many versions of the low-carb diet, such as Atkins, Dukan, low-carb Paleo, and the South Beach Diet. However, most low-carb diets are pretty similar in that they instruct dieters to limit their carbohydrate intake to 50 to 150 grams of carbs per day.
To compensate for the reduction in carbs, most low-carb diets are fairly high in protein. This can sometimes be problematic. If you have kidney disease, for example, consuming too much protein can damage your kidneys further. Another common problem with low-carb diets is that they are based on your total carbohydrate intake. Since fiber increases the total carb intake, low-carb diets are often low in fiber. This can lead to digestive problems, including constipation.
The ketogenic diet is different in a number of key ways. First, most versions of the keto diet instruct adherents to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates each day. However, fiber doesn’t count toward your daily total. Keto differentiates between the total carbs and net carbs. You can calculate your net carbs by subtracting your grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates. This is crucial because it offers more leeway. You can fill up on high-fiber foods like leafy vegetables to support your digestive health while still sticking to your carb limits.
Another key difference between keto and low-carb diets is the intake of protein. Unlike low-carb diets, keto diets recommend a moderate intake of protein. This is because the primary goal of keto dieters is to go into ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body burns fat for energy. It can be an effective way to lose weight and stabilize your blood glucose levels. However, consuming too much protein can prevent the body from going into ketosis, or throw you out of ketosis if you are already there. Instead of eating lots of protein, keto dieters get the bulk of their daily calories from high-quality sources of healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats).
If you want a quick reference guide on how to incorporating some healthy fats into your diet check out our Free Peanut Tips and Recipes Downloadable.
The Types of Keto Plans: Will a Modified Keto Plan Work for You?
One of the benefits of eating the keto way is that it can be customized to the individual. Not every keto eater follows the exact same diet plan; there are actually several different versions of it. For example, the standard keto diet is typically defined as consuming 75% of your daily calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs. There is also a high-protein version of the keto diet, which may be more appropriate for people who are concerned about building or maintaining their muscle mass. On the high-protein version, people generally eat 60% of their daily calories from high-quality fats, 35% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.
Note that some dieters choose to modify the standard version so that it is 75% from fat, 15% from protein (compared to 20% from protein), and 10% from carbs (compared to 5% from carbs). Many dieters prefer this modified version because they find it very difficult to stay on a very low-carb diet. However, the only way to determine whether this modified keto plan will work for you is to try it for a while. If you go into ketosis and stay there, then it’s safe to assume that 10% carbohydrates will work well for you. If you are not achieving ketosis and you are also having trouble meeting your weight loss or overall health goals, then you should transition to the unmodified standard keto diet.
There are other people who can benefit from a keto diet that takes a more forgiving approach toward carbohydrates. Athletes, for example, need more carbs to fuel their higher activity level. On the targeted keto diet, athletes generally consume about 65% to 70% of their daily calories from fats, 20% from proteins, and 10% to 15% from carbohydrates. Depending on the athlete’s total calorie intake, this can amount to 70 to 80 grams of carbs per day, which is far more than the 20 to 30 grams that other keto dieters eat.
Athletes will consume their extra carbs (20 to 30 grams of them) immediately before and after their workouts and training sessions. Eating these extra carbs before an intense workout gives the athlete enough energy to train at a high level. After the workout, the extra boost of carbs allows for muscle recovery. Since these carbs are burned off quickly, thanks to the intense workout, the targeted keto diet doesn’t cause the extra carbs to get stored as body fat. Note that athletes will typically consume these extra carbs in the form of sports nutrition products (like rehydrating fluids and gels), dairy products, or fruits.
Another modified version of the keto diet is the cyclical keto diet. The cyclical keto diet is also a favorite of athletes because it’s thought to boost muscle growth and enhance workout recovery. Some people also use the cyclical keto diet as a gentler introduction to the standard keto diet. That is, you can follow the cyclical version until you acclimate to eating a very low-carb meal plan. Then, if you aren’t able to stay in ketosis on this diet, you can switch to the standard version.
The cyclical keto diet follows this protocol:
- 75% fats, 15% to 20% proteins, and 5% to 10% carbs on keto days
- 25% fats, 25% proteins, and 50% carbs on “off” days
There will be four to six keto days and one to three “off” days each week.
The Step-by-Step Guide for Testing Your Carb Limits on Keto
Everyone has their own individual carb limit that they can eat while still remaining in ketosis. It can take a little bit of trial and error to determine what your carb limit is. In general, most men do well on 30 to 50 grams of carbs daily. Women generally have a carb limit of 20 to 30 grams.
Keto experts recommend waiting until you’ve already been in ketosis for a few months before you test your carb limit to find out how many carbs on keto you can handle. This is because after you’ve been eating the keto way for this long, it will be easier for your body to handle the transition when moving in and out of ketosis.
If you’re just starting out on the keto diet, it may be best to do so gradually, since many people eat far more than 150 grams of carbs daily. Abruptly going from 150-plus grams of carbs to fewer than 50 grams can cause unpleasant symptoms as your body struggles to adapt. Instead, start by keeping an accurate tally of how many grams of carbs you eat each day. Do this for one to two weeks, and then analyze your results to come up with your average carb intake. Let’s say your average is 150 grams of carbs per day. For the next week, lower your intake to 130 grams daily. The next week, lower it to 110 grams daily, and so on.
If you find yourself struggling to get your carbs lower and lower each week, it may be helpful to focus on first reducing your intake of added sugar. You’ll find added sugar in everything from yogurt to marinara sauce to granola bars. Avoid consuming products with added sugar. Once your body becomes acclimated to a dramatic reduction in sugar, you may find it easier to lower your net carb intake.
Once you have successfully lowered your net carb intake below 50 grams, you will need to start testing your urine for ketones. The presence of ketones in your urine indicates you have gone into ketosis. Keto testing strips are inexpensive and easy to use; just follow the directions on the box. Be sure to test your urine at the same time each day for a more accurate comparison. For example, always test your urine before and 30 minutes after eating breakfast.
After you have successfully gone into ketosis, do your best to stay there for a few months. Then, you will be ready to test your carb limits. Here is a step-by-step breakdown on how to find out exactly how many carbs on keto you can eat:
- Day one through three: Increase your net carb intake by five grams. For instance, if you are currently eating 25 grams of carbs, increase that to 30 grams for days one through three. Test your urine for ketones. If your ketones significantly drop or are below 0.5 mmol, then your previous allotment of carbs was your limit. If you stay in ketosis on day three, move on to the next step.
- Day four through six: Increase your net carb intake again by five grams. Continue testing your urine for ketones through day six. If your ketones drop dramatically, resume your prior allotment of carbs. If you stay in ketosis, go on to the next step.
- Ongoing: Every three days, continue to increase your net carb intake by five grams. Continue testing your urine for ketones throughout this period. If your ketone level drops, go back to the previous carb allotment. If you remain in ketosis, continue gradually increasing your carb intake. Keep repeating these steps until you find your upper carb limit.
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