An often forgotten discussion is the importance of a keto maintenance phase; it doesn’t matter whether your goal is fat loss or muscle gain. There should be a point where the goal should be to neither lose or gain weight, and this is why.
What is a keto maintenance phase? A keto maintenance phase or “reset phase” is a period you will bring calories up to maintenance with the goal of recovery from both the physical and psychological stress that comes with dieting.
The keto maintenance phase can almost be broken down into two types of phases:
- The Diet Break Phase
- Maintenance Phase
I’ll go over both these scenarios along with when and why you may want to implement them. Then, we’ll discuss how you can apply this knowledge to help you achieve your goals more efficiently and maintain your weight loss.
Does The Keto Diet Have Phases?
All diets should have phases, better known as nutritional periodization. You can think of these phases as mini goals to ensure long-term success is achieved.
In this article, the phases I’ll be discussing are the different types of maintenance phases you should be implementing.
When the majority of people approach dieting, it’s usually an all or nothing mentality. Many don’t have a plan; they just know they want to lose weight.
Not having a plan may lead you down the path of hitting plateaus when they could have been avoided. The worst part of not having a plan is regaining the weight after all the hard work you put in.
Ok, maybe that’s not the worst…
The absolute worst is ending up HEAVIER than when you started your diet in the first place.The reality is the 85% of people who are overweight or obese will successfully lose weight in their lifetime, but a staggering 95% will regain the lost weight within three years.
What’s more alarming is that of the 95%, almost 50% will regain more weight than they lost.
Talk about mind-blowing.
When Should You Use A Keto Maintenance Phase?
This is where the different maintenance phases come into play, and there are various reasons you may want to implement them.
Some of the reasons you may want to implement a maintenance phase are:
- Hit your goal weight
- A lot of weight to lose
- Going on vacation
- Stressful period
Why Have A Keto Maintenance Phase?
There are nearly a dozen reasons why you may want to implement a keto maintenance phase.
Depending on where you are in your journey will dictate what that reason is, but nearly everyone can and should use a keto maintenance phase, or at least some period where the goal is to maintain weight simply.
The goal of the maintenance phase(s) will vary, but in general:
- Physical Recovery
- Psychological Stress
- Hormonal Recovery
- “Reset Bod Fat Set-point”
- Planned Or Unplanned Life Event
The Importance Of Maintenance
There are two specific types of maintenance phases I want to go over.
First, the diet break, to be used during the weight loss phase. The second type of maintenance phase is the recovery phase, which happens after the diet is over.
The “Diet Break”
For those with quite a bit of weight to lose, which is all of us, this is a critical phase that shouldn’t be neglected.
Because let’s face it… we all have more weight to lose then we think or care to admit.
On the short side, I imagine you may be dieting for eight weeks, with most people in the 16-24+ week range. Some people may be chronic dieters that feel like they’ve been endlessly dieting their whole lives, I’ve been there too.Dieting is a stress on our body AND our mind. The purpose of the diet break phase is to help both our mind and our bodies recover from this stress, thus allowing you to continue dieting and keep losing weight.
Think of this as a three steps forward 1 step back approach.
By inserting diet breaks, you will be allowing some hormonal processes to recover, and help prevent any negative hormonal adaptations from occurring that arise from dieting.
You’ll also be giving yourself a psychological break, an often overlooked aspect of dieting. By mentally taking a break from dieting, you’re allowing yourself to keep pushing forward when you resume the diet.
Think of a diet as a very long multi-day road trip.
You wouldn’t just hop in your car and endlessly drive until you reach your destination. Instead, you would stop for gas, stop for food and stretch, stop to sleep at night, then resume driving after taking a breather.
Each time you stop and resume driving, you feel a little better than had you just kept pushing straight through. It may take you a little longer to get to your destination, but you arrive there safer, less stressed, and more refreshed.
The “Maintenance Phase”
Many people assume they can endlessly diet their weight off, or once they hit the end of their timeline or reach a target weight…
It’s all done.
Then, they go back to whatever they were doing before their “diet.”
The problem with that is, what you were doing before you started dieting is what landed you in this predicament in the first place.
Then, the cycle starts all over.
This is what makes this maintenance phase so important. We want to keep the weight off, and NOT have to diet for the rest of our lives.You can think of this phase as a reset phase because it’s during this time that we want to attempt to get your body used to your new body fat level, and hopefully create a new body fat “set point.”
Think of your body fat set point as the thermostat in your home. Your body works in very much the same way in that it tries to regulate how much fat you carry on your body.
If you go above your body fat setpoint, your body combats this by making you less hungry, and you may non-consciously begin to move a little more.
The same thing applies in the opposite direction, if you drop under your body fat setpoint, then your body increases hunger and may cause you to be more sedentary than usual.
How To Maintain Weight After Keto Diet Or Implement A Diet Break
This is the part where we go over how to implement the maintenance phases along your journey.
Diet break implementation
Let me start by saying that even though it’s called a diet “break,” it doesn’t give you an excuse to go hog wild. By diet break, I simply mean a break from eating an amount of food that causes you to lose weight.
Since it’s a caloric deficit that allows us to lose weight, we can also refer to this period as a “deficit” break.
Therefore, the goal is to bring calories up to maintenance for an extended period, usually between 3-14 days. The longer or more aggressive you’ve been dieting, the longer this time should be.
There are no set rules on how long or how often to take these diet breaks, but I’ll provide you with a general recommendation.
The calorie increase should ideally come from fat and/or protein since you’re following a ketogenic diet.
Whether you raise calories from fat or protein is up to you. What’s most important is that you’re feeding yourself enough food to maintain your weight, give or take ~2 lbs.
With more food, we might expect to gain a little weight due to increased water and food volume in the stomach, but if you haven’t gone off the rails, I can assure you this is just transient weight. You should quickly lose this weight plus more once you resume dieting again.
Diet breaks or “maintenance phases” became popular due to the MATADOR study in which more significant weight and fat loss were achieved by alternating periods of dieting (caloric restriction) with maintenance phases (energy balance).
The Matador study also found that interspersing these periods helped reduce some of the mechanisms your body down-regulates in response to weight loss and caloric restriction. 1
How to stop losing weight on keto, the maintenance phase implementation
So if you’ve reached your goal or don’t care to diet any longer, this phase is for you.
If you’re instead looking to transition off keto or move to a different diet, I’ve written about that as well. This section is for those who still want to maintain a ketogenic lifestyle, though the principles are still the same for any diet.
Ok, so you’ve reached your goal… now what?
After you achieve your goal weight, we want you to stay there. This phase is so important but often overlooked.
The same way we went about a diet break will be the same way you’ll implement the keto maintenance phase. You want to raise calories enough to where you are maintaining your weight, give or take ~2 lbs.
Now, we can add a few calories from fat and protein each day, or you may want to stick with your current deficit but add in 1-2 days of higher caloric eating. Now, I’m not saying to have a cheat day, but some people prefer 1-2 days of higher calories than seven days of medium calories.
Just remember, you can still go overboard and gain weight by greatly overeating 1 or 2 days a week.
In the end, it all balances out.
For this maintenance phase, I would suggest maintaining your weight for a minimum of 4-6 weeks before attempting to slowly titrate your calories up, almost like a “reverse diet.”
Briefly put, the reverse diet is another phase where our goal is to bring calories up further to our new maintenance slowly. Just like the metabolism can adapt and slow on the way down, your metabolic can adjust and speed up.
During this reverse phase, the goal is to add a small amount of calories week to week, allowing your weight to maintain or creep up slightly. You then begin to add calories if weight remains the same, or in some cases, even begins to drop – Yes, while eating more.
How Do you Find Maintenance
Since our different maintenance phases require you to eat… at well… maintenance, how do we find what that is?
If you’ve been tracking your calories and macros, you’re already ahead of the game, but if you haven’t, I have ways to figure that out as well.
For those tracking macros
If you’ve been tracking, the way to find your maintenance is to determine your average rate of weight loss each week while you were dieting and do a little bit of math.
On average, a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories.
If you were losing at a rate of one pound per week, then we know you’ve been in a -3,500 calorie deficit over the week. Spread across seven days, this would average out to 500 calorie deficit you were in per day.
Protein contains four calories per gram, while fat contains nine calories per gram. If we were to split the difference and increase both protein and fat, that would equate to:
Fat = 250 / 9 = ~28 grams of fat
Protein = 250 / 4 = ~63 grams of protein
Therefore, you would increase your daily intake by 28 grams of fat and 63 grams of protein per day and monitor weight.
For those that haven’t been tracking
Even though you haven’t been tracking your calories or macros, the same method could be used as the one above.
However, you can go about this one of three ways:
- Begin to start tracking calories and macros loosely
- Increase portion sizes slightly and monitor weight
- Do a little bit of both 1 and 2
If you want a “just eat this amount,” keep reading on.
Keto Maintenance Calculator
If you want to know precisely how many calories and macros to eat, then head over to the keto macro calculator.
Enter your stats in the different fields, and when it comes to “your goal,” set that to maintain or start conservatively and set it to weight loss (10%).
Setting the calculator to weight loss (10%) may account for some of the metabolic adaptation and be more accurate depending on how long you’ve been dieting.
Another method is to simply take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 12-15.
If you’re a reasonably sedentary female, stick to the lower end (12), whereas if you’re an active male, you may want to go towards the higher end (15).
Take, for example, a sedentary female who weighs 130 lbs. She would then take her body weight and multiply that number by 12.
130 x 12 = 1560 calories per day
Keto Maintenance Strategies
After coming out of a period of dieting/caloric restriction, your body is primed to regain the lost weight.
- Hunger is higher
- Energy is lower
Our goal during this period is to implement simple strategies that we can incorporate into our daily lives to ensure we don’t undo all the progress you’ve worked so hard for.
Many of the same strategies that you’ve implanted to lose the weight should be many of the same strategies that you can utilize to keep the weight off.
Here are a few strategies you can implement.
Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Eating
Whether you’ve been intermittent fasting or not, studies show that the simple act of limiting your eating window causes people to be less hungry, thus eating fewer calories overall.
In this particular study, delaying breakfast by 1.5 hours and moving dinner up by 1.5 hours was enough to cause individuals to lose weight. [footnotehttps://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S2048679018000137[/footnote]
Increasing Protein Intake
Protein is one of the most satiating macronutrients, if not the most satiating macronutrient.2
Protein also has the highest thermic effect compared to any other macronutrient.
The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the amount of energy (calories) required to digest, absorb, and metabolize meals. Protein has a TEF of 20-30% versus 0-3% from fat and 5-10% from carbohydrates.
Increase Dietary Fiber
Start getting in those veggies! One of the successful strategies individuals use to lose and to maintain their weight loss is more fiber in the diet.
While you could technically fit anything into your net carbohydrate allotment for the day, you’re better of spending them on fibrous vegetables.
In this study, physical activity was a part of 88% of people who successfully lost and maintained their weight loss. 3
Self-monitoring, whether that’s keeping a food journal, progress photos, or periodic weight measurements is also a great strategy that helps you stay accountable and not track
How To Properly Come Off A Keto Diet – Eating Carbs After Keto
If you plan to come off of your ketogenic diet, you should expect some weight gain with the introduction of more carbohydrates.
For every gram of carbohydrate your body stores, an additional three grams of water is also stored. While this may cause some individuals to panic, it is merely water weight.
To learn more strategies on how to transition off keto and into another diet, read my article below.
Having periods of maintenance, where you are trying to maintain your weight during and/or after your diet, is both an effective strategy for continued weight loss and weight maintenance.
Dieting is both a physiological and psychological stress. Keto maintenance phases may help if you find yourself not losing weight on keto or helping you transition once you’ve reached your goals.