Yet another in a long line of controversies, within the keto world, centers on the idea of “carb ups.” Because the ketogenic diet is based upon the concept of lowered dietary carbs, the subject of carbs becomes a touchy one, indeed. Especially so when someone advises another to “carb up,” but provides no context to the recommendation.
According to Drs. Phinney and Volek, from whom we get the term “well-formulated ketogenic diet,” a daily intake of less than 50g of carbs is more than sufficient to achieve and maintain ketosis… in some people. I think it is a safe assumption to state that neither one of those intelligent, rational gentlemen would admonish someone if they took in 55g of carbs in a day, even though, technically, that’s a carb up.
Of course, anyone who’s listened to or read what I’ve published will know that I advocate for 20g or less per day of dietary carbs (this is the direct result of Mary Roberts convincing me that 20g is better, from a keto perspective, than 50g per day). This, I’ve found, works very well for just about everyone. Of course, I also advocate for mostly a carnivore-style diet, so dietary carbs for me are far lower than even 20g per day.
However, if I eat only steak for an entire week (which is not unusual for me), and then enjoy one meal wherein I have beef fajitas with grilled onions and bell peppers, and I eat several of those vegetables, then I have technically done a “carb up.” I don’t think any rational keto person would argue that my little “carb up” was a problem. I mean, I would, because the stupid vegetables got in the way while I was trying to eat beef, but that’s a different argument.
Or, if I were to eat some avocado with my steak- not an entire avocado, mind you- the consumption of that obviously keto-approved food would drastically increase my carb intake. That is also a “carb up.”
Is that bad?
I gotta say, “No.”
And I gotta say that because it would intellectually dishonest to say anything else.
So why do people freak out over “carb ups?”
One word: context.
If someone means something similar to any of the examples I supplied above, then there is no problem. However, if someone says they had a “carb up” and they mean they downed a box of donuts, bag(s) of candy, and/or other junk food, in a free-for-all manner, then a “carb up” in that context is rightly deserving of negative consideration. There is nothing healthy about that kind of behavior, and the problem with it is that other people who learn about that kind of behavior will attempt to mimic that behavior. Most of those who jump on that bandwagon won’t get any closer to their goals, because it’s not healthy.
The kind of eating that I describe in the previous paragraph is commonly called “Cyclical Keto” or CKD, and it’s not beneficial. If the body’s preferred fuels are fatty acids and ketones (and I believe they are), then putting your body into that kind of metabolically stuttering position is not good for any sort of healthy improvement. Sure, you can find a handful of predisposed athletic folks (and some wannabes) who swear, up and down, that it’s great for them. That’s cool, but I would never advocate for it. I would always suggest that if CKD is working, real keto will work even better.
What does it all mean?
When confronted with the idea of carb ups, the first thing that needs to be clarified is: What do you mean by “carb up?” From how many grams to how many grams? What kind of carbs? Vegetables? Fruits? Sugar? Refined grains? If the carb upper limit is still within the range that satisfies a “well-formulated ketogenic diet,” and the source of the carbs is adherent to ketogenic-approved foods, then the controversy should be put to rest.
If, however, the source of the carbs is sugar, grains, or any other high-glycemic foods, that’s something that should be shunned, avoided, and dropped.
So there are two things to consider when dealing with “carb-ups.” First, what is the source of the carbs? Second, how much “up” is “up”? Asking for and providing these kinds of contexts will help with clarity and understanding of the individuality of each person’s diet.
One last point of consideration, and that is of athletes and long-term, fat-adapted people. These folks are more carb tolerant, so they may be able to withstand a higher dosage of carbs. But, again, it’s all about the context.
Either way, though, sugar is the devil and it should be treated as such. Carb up or no carb up.