Knowing how many carbs on keto you can eat is key to properly implementing the diet and achieving a natural state of ketosis. However, you may have also heard that some people on keto can tolerate fewer or more carbs.
The reality is that although the keto diet limits require staying within a specific limit (which we’ll get into in a while), people respond to keto differently. This may be due to personal factors like physical activity and stress levels, among others.
Doing self-experimentation helps you to figure out your unique keto carb limit. Read on to learn how many carbs are allowed, tips on determining your personal limit, and a list of carb sources to eat and steer clear of.
Carbs on Keto
On a keto diet, you typically need to consume only 20-50 grams of carbs per day. This carb range usually applies to someone on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, although it works for most individuals wanting to get into ketosis (*).
Some would count net carbs, which allows them to get fiber from leafy greens and other low-carb veggies, while others who follow a keto carnivore diet or do keto for therapeutic reasons count total carbs.
A helpful tip:
The lower your carbs are, the quicker your glycogen (the stored form of glucose) gets depleted, and the sooner you enter ketosis. That means 20 grams per day or lower favors ketosis better.
If you’re a beginner, you can start with the upper limit of 50 grams per day and stay on it for weeks instead of drastically cutting out carbs. This approach is more manageable, and it may reduce the unpleasant symptoms which are expected in the first few days of carb restriction — known as the keto flu.
Why Everyone Has a Different Carb Limit on Keto
As mentioned earlier, the keto diet carb limit may sometimes vary from one person to another. If 20-50 grams of carbs per day isn’t keeping you into ketosis or you’re easily kicked out, you might want to look into these personal factors:
Your previous high-carbohydrate diet
For those who have followed a standard high-carbohydrate diet for many years — meaning that their bodies primarily burn carbs for fuel — it may be necessary for them to cut their carbs further to reach ketosis sooner.
In contrast, individuals who have reached keto-adaptation or fat adaptation after sticking to their diet for many weeks use fat more effectively. As a result, their bodies are able to shift to ketosis more quickly. This is termed metabolic flexibility (*).
While being in a keto-adapted state sounds great, cutting carbs altogether isn’t practical or sustainable for most people. Help your body adapt by taking things slowly.
In the meantime, you’ll want to focus on eating more fat from healthy sources like fatty fish and avocados, which will help decrease your carb cravings and improve your energy levels.
If you regularly engage in prolonged and intense workouts, you may be able to go over 50 grams without getting kicked out of ketosis.
According to a 2014 research article, “Low carbohydrate ketogenic diets decrease the ability to perform high-intensity work, due to decreased glycogen muscle stores…” (*)
Given that increased exercise depletes glycogen stores faster, having slightly more than 50 grams of carbs will help you push through the workout while still enjoying the benefits of ketosis.
Unless you’re an ultrarunner who may need more glucose to maintain optimal performance — stick to the recommended carb limit of up to 50 grams only and consume this around your workout times. Consider implementing a targeted keto diet.
Moreover, low-intensity steady-state workouts, such as walking, swimming, biking, and gardening are better for improving your fat-burning capacity. These are doable even when your glycogen stores are low.
Stress levels and sleep
Cortisol, which is a hormone released by your adrenal glands, has a number of essential roles in our bodies. For example, it boosts energy in times of stress so that a person stays alert (*).
Although cortisol is beneficial, having high cortisol levels for too long due to constant stress (related to your job or an illness in the family) has consequences. Being chronically stressed also disrupts the HPA or hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, which explains your difficulty sleeping.
When it comes to the keto diet, elevated cortisol leads to increased blood sugar. Furthermore, it may contribute to insulin resistance, stress eating, and weight gain (*). It could also be the reason you’re getting thrown out of ketosis.
For people leading stressful lives, it’s important for them to avoid added sugar so their bodies can respond to stress better. Another thing that would be helpful is to monitor your blood sugar as this allows you to check how your stress is affecting you.
Remember at the end of the day, that no amount of carb restriction helps if you don’t control or reduce your overall stress.
Tip: Consider implementing stress reduction strategies that complement the keto diet, such as regular exercise and meditation.
Protein on the keto diet is consumed moderately. As 20-30% of calories must come from protein, someone on a 2,000-calorie-per-day plan would need 100-150 grams of protein to maintain muscle mass, weight loss, and multiple functions in the body.
Although protein is extremely important, there is a possibility that eating too much protein than you need may lead to an increase in insulin, particularly among those with type 2 diabetes. Research shows that dietary protein promotes insulin secretion, which can lower your ketone levels (*).
So while you’re keeping carbs under 50 grams, remember to pay attention to your protein intake and note its effect on ketosis. You might want to check how much protein your body can get away with by checking your ketone levels 2-3 hours after a meal.
Older adults are prone to developing type 2 diabetes due to increased insulin resistance, which makes a very low-carb diet a good option (*). Keto can improve glycemic control and lower inflammation, thereby also lowering the risk of inflammatory conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease and heart disease.
However, not all older adults can sustain the keto diet due to the unpleasant keto flu symptoms. In that case, there may be a need to gradually cut carbs instead of doing it abruptly.
Important: If you already have diabetes, which may put you at risk of having hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) episodes, consult your doctor or dietician first. They may recommend adjusting your medication dosage and testing your blood sugar levels more often. This will also help in coming up with a personalized plan that works for you.
Carb cycling can be integrated into a keto diet or any other diet. The idea is that you include some higher-carb days in a week for specific reasons. Advocates of this approach claim that adding more carbs temporarily helps with:
- Hormone support
- Muscle growth
- Overcoming a weight loss plateau
- Long-term adherence to a keto diet
- Boosting sports performance
You could go as high as 100 grams of carbs during periods of high carb consumption, which is twice as much as the recommended keto carb.
Remember that the quality of carbs you eat still matters. With that said, focus on whole food sources like leafy greens, zucchini, peas, potatoes, and whole grains. Not all of these foods are technically keto-friendly; however, these are fine since carb cycling isn’t supposed to keep you in ketosis.
Before trying carb cycling, you should know that it isn’t for everyone. Don’t experiment with it if you’re completely new to the keto diet (because this is when you’re still overcoming carb cravings). Another reason to avoid it is if you’re struggling with diabetes.
How to Find Your Keto Carb Limit
In case you’re wondering how many carbs can you have on keto to truly maintain ketosis — the best approach is to test your ketones each day. You can start with 20 grams of carbs each day and then check your ketone levels. Then, slowly increase your carbs by 5 grams and check again.
Do this using a blood ketone meter, which measures beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in the blood. It’s the most accurate way of testing, but because it involves pricking your finger, it may not appeal to everyone. Alternatively, you can use Perfect Keto ketone test strips which measure acetoacetate in your urine. It’s hassle-free and travel-friendly.
Here’s a chart that will serve as your reference so you’ll know what your reading means using our ketone test strips:
- No change in color – Negative ketones
- Light pink – 0.5 mmol/L or trace ketones
- Hot pink – 1.5 mmol/L or small ketones
- Magenta – 4.0 mmol/L or moderate ketones
- Red violet – 8.0 mmol/L or large ketones
Keep in mind that the sweet spot for weight loss is between 1.5 to 3.0 mmol/L and that you do not need to be in deep ketosis (or have higher ketone levels) to succeed on the keto diet.
What about athletes who follow the keto diet? If you lead a more active lifestyle, which means you’re burning more glycogen, you can probably have higher carbs on your training days. However, the same rule applies — test for ketones while experimenting with different amounts of carbs.
Can Your Keto Carb Limit Change Over Time?
Earlier, we discussed various factors that may affect how many carbs you can eat. Yes — your activity, stress levels, and sleep can increase or decrease your carb limit on any given day. For example, being less active means you will need fewer carbs while increasing activity allows for more carbs.
It’s a good idea to write down or record your ketone readings in an app or notebook, which would allow you to notice trends and patterns. It does take getting used to this approach, but it helps with staying accountable!
Types of Carbs to Consume and Avoid on Keto
Ideally, choose foods with the fewest possible carbs per serving. As a general rule of thumb, Most vegetables that grow above the ground and fruits that aren’t very sweet are keto-friendly. Also, when you’re grocery shopping, be sure to look at the carb count on food labels.
Carbs to consume on keto:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Shirataki noodles
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
Carbs to avoid on keto:
- Bread and other baked goods (except for those made with low-carb flours)
- Traditional sweeteners (honey, white sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar)
- Fruit juices
- Sweetened yogurt
How Do You Go Into Ketosis Without Cutting Carbs?
Minimizing your carb consumption intentionally — or following the keto diet — is an effective way to reach ketosis faster, but it’s not the only option. Fortunately, there are other strategies that will ensure you’re burning body fat.
Intermittent fasting or switching between periods of eating and not eating can increase your ketone levels. If you’re totally new to fasting, you can start with a 12-hour fast and then slowly progress to a 16-hour fast. Here’s a guide that explains intermittent fasting in detail.
Another technique is ramping up your physical activity. Exercise, especially strenuous exercise, depletes glycogen stores. Combine it with fasting (meaning, you work out in a fasted state) and you’ll reach ketosis faster.
The Bottom Line
Carbs are reduced to 50 grams — and sometimes, 20 grams or lower — on the keto diet. Besides choosing between total carbs (for therapeutic reasons) and net carbs (for people who consume more fiber in their diet), you need to figure out your unique daily keto carb limit.
As you’ve learned in this article, different factors can influence your carb limit. These include your activity level, stress, sleep, how adapted you are to keto, and carb cycling (for more experienced keto dieters).
With so many things to consider, make sure to check your ketone levels to confirm that you’re still in ketosis. Experiment and see what works best for your lifestyle and goals.