What is a ketogenic diet. Here’s the Twitter-friendly version.
Eat high healthy fats, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrates.
When most people hear the word diet they think of its verb meaning. “To restrict oneself to small amounts or special foods to lose weight.” With this mindset, diets become difficult, tedious, and annoying.
However, there’s another way to look at it. A more common sense but often overlooked definition. “The kinds of foods that a person, animal, or community eats to sustain themselves.”
Today’s article on the ketogenic diet will be looking at it through that lens.
Table of Contents
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KETOGENIC DIET
In the early 1920’s Endocrinology researcher Rollin Woodyatt found that the human body responded in a similar way when starved and fed a diet very low in carbohydrates and high in fat.
Some years later, Dr. Russel Wilder asked the question, “could a person still get the health benefits of fasting without the fasting part. This prompted him and other doctors at the Mayo Clinic to experiment with what is now known as the ketogenic diet.
Early experiments with the diet showed improvements in thinking, behavior, and general well-being in children with epilepsy. By the 1940s the ketogenic diet was being cited by respected medical authorities and textbooks as an effective treatment for children with epilepsy.
By 2016 the ketogenic diet was being used by:
- The aging population
- Multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain injury (concussion, explosions, head accidents)
- And as a way to improve brain and cognitive function.
HOW DOES THE KETOGENIC DIET WORK?
Most people assume that the ketogenic diet is another low-carb high protein diet. Instead, it’s a low-carb, sufficient protein*, and high healthy fat diet designed to help produce ketones in the liver to use as energy. This process is known as ketogenesis or ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process our bodies move into as a way to survive when food intake is low.
The body can use two types of ketones as energy sources, acetoacetate and D-β-hydroxybutyrate. (The β sign means “beta”.) D-β-hydroxybutyrate is a reduced form of acetoacetate converted to an alcohol group.
Perfect Keto provides a great graphic showing the differences.
*Sufficient protein consumption is determined by your activity levels. Typically, the more active you are or the more intensity you exercise with the more protein you’ll need.
I’m going to do my best to avoid getting crazy sciency on you. Basically, when you eat carbs your body produces the easiest molecule to use for energy, glucose, and insulin which acts as glucoses chauffeur taking it around your body.
When glucose is being used for energy fat is not needed and will be stored. Our bodies don’t carry around much-stored glucose because it’s rather heavy. Instead, our body prefers to store most of our excess energy as body fat. Excess energy – in this case, glucose – is stored as body fat.
The primary goal of the ketogenic diet is to induce ketogenesis not through the starvation of calories but through carbohydrates. This gets your body from using glucose as its main source of fuel to fat. To do this, you eat fewer carbohydrates as a way to store less glucose for the body to use as energy. This forces your body to use stored fat and ketones (more on this) as its main source of energy.
THE BENEFITS OF A KETOGENIC DIET
The biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet have been shown in children with epilepsy, people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer patients. Outside of disease management, the keto diet has been shown to also be helpful with:
- Weight loss and fat loss
- Controlling blood sugar
- Improving mental focus and cognition
- Heightened energy
- Reducing hunger
- Improved triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels associated with an arterial buildup
If you’re interested in the ketogenic diet for weight loss I want to note that the initial weight loss you’ll experience is often due to the heaviness of stored glycogen being depleted. Your body is dumping extra glycogen that has been stored for energy use – and is now no longer needed because it is trying to run on ketones and body fat for energy. Water, which is glycogen’s BFF and is stored along with it is also lost during this time.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF KETOGENIC DIETS
There are four primary types of ketogenic diets you can follow.
#1 – STANDARD KETOGENIC DIET (SKD)
This is a very low carb, moderate protein, and high healthy fat approach. If you love macronutrient talk it typically breaks down to 70-80% healthy fat, 20-30% protein, and the remainder coming from carbs. Usually 0-10% of your total caloric intake for the day.
An example 2,000 calorie standard ketogenic diet would look like this:
- 155-177 grams of healthy fats
- 100-150 grams of protein
- 0-50 grams of carbohydrates
#2 – CYCLICAL KETOGENIC DIET (CKD)
This approach involves increasing your carbs every few days. Also, known as “carb re-feeds.” Or if you’re a bro… carb-loading – aka pop-tart binges, aka gimme all the treats. Carb re-feeds could be done anywhere from every 3 to 10+ days. This would depend on goals, activity levels, and how easy it is for you to get and stay in ketosis.
An example 2,000 calorie cyclical ketogenic diet would look like this.
Monday through Friday a standard ketogenic diet of:
- 155-177 grams of healthy fats
- 100-150 grams of protein
- 0-50 grams of carbohydrates
Saturday. “carb re-feed:”
- 10-20% of calories come from healthy fat
- 10-20% of calories come from protein
- 60-80% of calories come from carbohydrate
You don’t have to follow these exact percentages for a carb re-feed. Most people store anywhere from 350-500 grams of glycogen in their muscles and another 100 grams in their liver. This is enough to fuel roughly 90 minutes of aerobic activity. The goal here is to temporarily switch out of ketosis to refill muscle and liver glycogen as a way to fuel training, balance hormones, and keep you from going crazy.
On Sunday another “carb re-feed” or back to the standard ketogenic diet.
This is a more advanced approach to ketosis and is typically used with hard-training athletes. For someone new to the ketogenic diet I would not recommend it. Too much shit going on.
#3 – TARGETED KETOGENIC DIET (TKD)
Honestly, I’m not even sure why this is considered a ketogenic diet. If you’re following this approach it’s hard to get and stay in ketosis because too many carbs are added too often. However, I did want to briefly touch on it.
A target ketogenic diet lets you add carbs around workouts. For example, if you eat three meals per day two of your meals would follow the standard ketogenic diet. Your other meal would come sometime after your workout and include carbohydrates.
#4 – HIGH-PROTEIN KETOGENIC DIET
Again, not sure why this is considered a ketogenic diet. If carbohydrates are restricted and too much protein is consumed. Your body converts the extra amount into glucose to be used as fuel. This could keep your body from going into ketosis. But, the internet is considering it a ketogenic approach to eating, so I’ll touch on it briefly.
It is similar to the standard ketogenic diet but includes more protein. An example of someone following a 2,000-calorie diet might look like this.
- 60-65% fat,
- 30-35% protein
- 0-10% carbs
The latter three approaches to the ketogenic diet are more advanced and would not be for someone just starting out.
WHAT DO I EAT ON THE KETOGENIC DIET?
Let’s do a quick review.
- 70-80% of total calories from healthy fats
- 20-30% of total calories from protein.
- 0-10% of total calories from carbohydrates (mostly green leafy veggies). Usually less than 20 net carbs. Net carbs are total carbs minus dietary fiber (example)
A Short And Not So Sweet (see what I did there) Do Not Eat List For The Ketogenic Diet
I’ve also created this simple grocery shopping list you can use the next time you head to Whole Foods and spend an entire paycheck. It’s a love-hate relationship.
HOW MANY MEALS SHOULD I EAT
I know you’ve heard 5 to 6 smaller meals per day is best to keep your metabolism humming and hunger at bay. But it turns out that isn’t all that true. And the number of meals you eat per day depends on your goals, lifestyle, and personal preferences.
To get into ketosis using the ketogenic diet you need to eat enough healthy fats, and calories, and keep your carbohydrates low enough. If this means 2 meals per day and intermittent fasting that’s fine. If this means 5 meals per day that’s fine too.
HOW TO EAT OUT ON A KETOGENIC DIET?
I love dining out with friends. The last thing I want to do is give up that valuable social time because I can’t follow a diet. You’ve got two options here. Say “ah fuck it” and forget about keto for the night. Or, doing the best you can.
- Stick to the food list as best you can and always 86 the starchy carbs in favor of extra veggies.
- Keep your protein serving to 1-2 palms
- Use healthy fats like olive oil on your salad
- If your going out for sushi grab the sashimi instead.
- If Mexican is on the menu ditch the tortillas and gets an open-faced fajita
- Grabbing a burger? Go protein style and get a lettuce bun
- Watch out for sauces, condiments, and beverages which can contain hidden sugars and carbs
- Pizza night? You’re fucked. I can’t help you there.
The best thing you can do is to research a little before you head out. Take a look at the menu beforehand and see what lower-carb and keto-friendly options or substitutions you can make. This way you don’t have to try to figure it out on the fly when you’re there.
Steakhouses, Mediterranean, seafood, and Chinese places are usually the easiest to get keto options. Pizza parlors, Italian, and Sandwich shops will be the most difficult.
More importantly, don’t stress out about it. If you can’t stay keto do the best you can in whatever situation you’re in. Keep your serving sizes in check and make the best choices you can.
A little dry white wine or whiskey won’t kill you. Jump back on it tomorrow.
HOW TO GET INTO KETOSIS
Before we jump into how I want to talk about what’s going on physiologically as your body begins the ketosis process.
During periods of starvation, fasting, or when carbohydrate intake is low enough your body beings to release fatty acids from stored body fat. These fatty acids enter other cells and are combined with coenzyme A to form acetyl-CoA chains.
These chains enter your energy hub known as the mitochondria. Once this happens these chains are broken down by a series of reactions called β-oxidation. This is where Walter White puts his chemist powers to use and transforms Acetyl-CoA into the ketones acetoacetate, β-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone.
These ketones are released by your liver into the blood where cells can use them for energy. Your brain is about 20% of your daily energy expenditure and taps into these ketones first.
Not to oversimplify the process of getting into ketosis – but I am. Generally, only one of 3 things needs to happen for your body to get into a ketogenic state.
- Keeping carbohydrate intake low enough
I’m not interested in starving you and you’re probably not interested in starving so let us focus on fasting and keeping carbohydrates low enough.
Intermittent fasting is going for brief periods without eating followed by “eating windows.” That sounds confusing so I made some neat graphics for you.
Below I give you two of the most popular intermittent fasting protocols:
INTERMITTENT FASTING PROTOCOL #1 – Daily 16 hour fast / 8-hour eating window
Every day you’ll fast for 16 hours and eat during an 8 hour period. This is something I’ve done in the past. Usually fasting from 8 pm to 12 pm and eating from 12 pm to 8 pm that day.
INTERMITTENT FASTING PROTOCOL #2: 1-2 times per week 24 hour fast
Using this fasting schedule you’ll pick two non-consecutive days to fast for 24 hours. I’ve used this strategy before as well and found fasting from 6 pm Saturday to 6 pm Sunday and again from 6 pm Wednesday to 6 pm Thursday to be the easiest schedule to follow.
It’s important to remember that you’ll still need to keep carbohydrate levels low enough to get into ketosis. For most, this means under 50 grams per day and oftentimes under 25 grams per day.
Because protein is gluconeogenic you’ll want to keep your intake moderate. In non-sciency talk, this means too much protein will be converted to glycogen by the liver to use for energy. To hold onto lean muscle mass and keep protein low enough to get into ketosis – around .6 to .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight should do the trick. If you’re a 150-pound person this comes out to be 90 to 120 grams per day.
Some other tips that will help:
Don’t worry about how many calories you’re eating at first. Step 1 is to get into ketosis. After that, you can adjust your caloric intake if needed to meet specific goals you may have.
Drink tons of water. When you’re body gets into ketosis you’ll be losing a lot of fluid through depleted glycogen stores. Drinking more water also helps the body to break down more fat as the ketones that are excreted in the urine are replaced by new ones.
Focus on eating 2-4 meals per day and limit snacking. This will cut insulin spikes during the day and help to speed up the process of getting into ketosis. This also goes back to the effects brief periods of fasting have on getting into ketosis.
Exercise depletes glycogen stores in the body which can help you get into ketosis faster. A couple of HIIT sessions during the week, a strength training session or two, and daily walking can speed up the process. Because people like to be told what to do here’s how you could exercise during a week of getting into ketosis. Bonus points if you do them on an empty stomach.
- 1-2 times per week: Sprint 400 meters and then rest 90-120 seconds. Do 2 to 4 sets
- 1-2 times per week: Get in a super simple strength training routine
- Daily: Walk 20 to 45 minutes
You can also supplement with exogenous ketones. No no, not erogenous – although that would make getting into ketosis WAY more fun. Exogenous ketones simply mean supplementing with ketones outside of the body. This allows you to elevate ketone levels without having to eat an insane amount of fats.
My favorite way to do this is by drinking them. It can get a little pricey but I’ve found that supplementing with them helps speed up the process of getting into ketosis, improves focus, and increases energy levels. Perfect Keto, KetoCaNa, KetoForce are a few of my favorites.
Some other supplements that may come in handy are:
- MCT oil, unlike other fats, enters the liver directly. This means they can produce ketones at a faster rate.
- Sea salt or magnesium citrate to help with any muscle cramping
- Branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) to drink while in a fasted state or while training
- Water. Not technically a supplement but it’s pretty crucial for life and all
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M IN KETOSIS?
There are three primary ways to measure whether you’re in ketosis. Each method tests for the three different types of ketones your body produces – acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
Measuring beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is done through the blood using a blood meter. You can do this at home with a prick of the finger, squeezing out some blood onto a strip, and sticking it into a little machine.
Thinking about this makes me want to pass out.
In a few seconds, you’ll get your BHB levels measured in millimolar concentration, or “mmol”. Optimal ranges of BHB levels are between 1.5-3.0 mmol, but this will vary per person.
This is the most accurate and reliable way to measure ketone levels – it’s also the most expensive as the strips can really add up.
Acetoacetate is measured through urine. You can do this by using ketone strips. Just be careful, the chances you tinkle on your hand while doing this are extremely high. The color-changing on the strips will let you know if you’re in ketosis or not. Testing this way is good for someone transitioning to a ketogenic diet. However, once you become “fat-adapted” and more efficient at using ketones for energy you may get misleading readings. For example, you may be in a deep state of ketosis but the strips say otherwise.
You can test your levels of acetone using a breath test like a Ketonix device by breath acetone, or BrAce. In my opinion, this is a less accurate way to measure ketosis and takes longer than a blood or urine test.
You can also test ketosis using what I like to call the “WebMD method.” This is being aware of certain physical symptoms you’re experiencing and diagnosing yourself as being in ketosis. This saves you some money but also is not be as reliable. Worst case scenario you diagnose yourself with some rare form of cancer and end up going deep down the Google rabbit hole to try to fix it.
We’ve all done this…
Some physical symptoms you may experience while in ketosis are:
- Increased urination
- Dry mouth
- Bad breath due to acetone. It sorta smells like nail polish
- Reduced hunger
- Increased energy and mental clarity
- Metallic taste in the mouth and in the nose
Choose your method wisely young Skywalker.
WHAT’S THIS KETO FLU?
Well, it’s pretty much just what it sounds like. Flu-like “symptoms” related to the change in diet. Great news, it’s usually gone in a few days.
You may experience:
- Mental fogginess/brain fog
- Loss of electrolytes resulting in cramping
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Heart palpitations
- Sugar cravings
This “shittyness” is usually related to the process of becoming more efficient at using healthy fats for fuel, a loss of electrolytes, and withdrawal of sugars from the diet.
Your body has used carbohydrates, glucose, and sugars as its primary source of fuel for a while. This requires certain enzymes to help with digesting, processing, and breaking them down. As you cut carbohydrates in your diet and add in more healthy fats. Your body needs to produce more and many different enzymes.
To help with any “keto-flu” symptoms you may experience make sure to:
- Drink enough water to pee clear
- Salt food, water, or try taking magnesium and potassium to replace lost electrolytes (bone broth is great)
- Walk daily and exercise normally
- Make sure you’re eating enough calories and healthy fats.
- Supplement with exogenous ketones if needed
In my experience staying hydrated, walking often, and making sure I’m eating enough calories and healthy fats eliminated any “keto-flu” symptoms.
IS THIS JUST ANOTHER FAD DIET?
Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care – and do you? For shits and giggles, let’s take a look at the definition of a fad diet from The Wiki.
“A fad diet or diet cult is a diet that makes promises of weight loss or other health advantages such as longer life without backing by solid science, and in many cases are characterized by highly restrictive or unusual food choices.”
But when you look at the definition, of the word diet alone you get a couple of different things.
The way I see it if my nutritional approach or diet helps me build a body and life I’m proud of then that’s alright with me. My blood work should come back positive, I should be able to perform tasks effectively, and I can eat socially without it affecting my mindset.
I invite you to take a few moments and define what a body and life you’re proud of looks like, feels like, and what you can do with it. Your “diet” should help you get closer to that.
IF I’M NOT EATING CARBS HOW DO I GET ENERGY?
Because of the ability to turn stored fat into ketones and convert that into a substrate for the Krebs Cycle. We can live without food for 40 to 60 days. Some longer, some less, depending on the amount of body fat you have.
Most of us have enough stored fat to give us enough energy to get through our normal day and to fuel exercise. For example, I’m about 150 pounds and 6% body fat.
I know, fuck you, Justin. But I work hard to get and stay here.
That means I have 9 pounds of body fat or 31,500 calories (9 lbs of fat x 3,500 calories per pound of fat) of stored energy to use.
Now I don’t want to confuse you. Carbohydrates are useful sources of energy. But they primarily act as acute sources of energy – Providing you with what you need “at the moment.” As you sprint, as you lift, or as you rock climb your body is using them.
If you find yourself struggling with energy while doing ketosis make sure you’re eating enough calories and healthy fat. Also, supplementing with MCT oil can help your body create ketones for more usable and sustained energy.
When buying MCT oil look for C8 or caprylic acid. It’s the rarest MCT oil and is a more potent fat than lauric acid, which is what coconut oil is mostly composed of. Caprylic acid is easily used by the brain, helps support a healthy gut, and does not need your liver to process it. This means it is converted to energy faster.
IS IT HEALTHY TO ELIMINATE CARBS?
Honestly, I don’t know and the research that’s out there is too young to prove much. I can only answer this question with my personal experience. I followed a ketogenic diet for an extended period and had no issues with my blood work, physical or mental performance, or aesthetic appearance.
I’ve also eaten a higher carbohydrate diet and had no issues with my blood work, physical or mental performance, or aesthetic appearance.
So I guess the super “non-sexy” answer to this question is I don’t know, the research really doesn’t know yet, but low carbs can be good for some and not so good for others.
If that doesn’t help you let’s look at this with what we DO KNOW.
- Vegetables are carbohydrates and an essential part of any diet just like healthy fats and protein. Build your diet around these.
- Not all carbs make you fat but shitty carbs most likely will. They can spike your blood sugar and insulin which can increase your body’s ability to store fat. However, spiked insulin after eating doesn’t mean you’ll gain body fat. Insulin is a satiety hormone, which means it helps to control appetite.
- Most whole grains are not inflammatory. But some sugars and grains can be. But so too can other types of foods. For example, peanuts and soy for me equal inflammation through the roof.
Cutting carbohydrates can lead to the following, especially if you work out hard.
- decreased thyroid
- increased cortisol
- decreased testosterone
- impaired mood and cognitive function
- muscle catabolism
- suppressed immune function
While you may never experience any of these things it is important to check them when making significant changes to your diet.
✅ In my coaching practice, I’ve found that MOST people do well with some carbs in their diet.
WILL THE KETOGENIC DIET HELP ME LOSE WEIGHT?
Yes and no.
But that’s the same answer I’d give you if you asked will the Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, or Pancake diet helped me lose weight.
Any “diet” can help you lose weight provided it does one thing – Creates a caloric deficit.
If weight loss (or gain for that matter) is your goal then calories matter. To lose fat you need to eat less energy than your body expends. If you want to gain weight you need to eat a caloric surplus. You can’t beat the law of thermodynamics… it’s science, literally.
Eating carbs doesn’t make you fat. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Heck, eating protein doesn’t make you fat. The primary thing that leads to weight and fat gain is eating more calories than your body expends over an extended period.
Cutting carbs on the ketogenic diet isn’t the reason you’ll lose weight long-term. More likely, what’s going on is you’re cutting a significant part of your calories without replacing them. For example, let’s say a typical day of eating for you looks like this.
- Piece of toast (1)
- Banana (1)
- Coffee with a teaspoon of sugar
- Scrambled eggs (2)
- 2 slices of bread
- 1 piece of fruit
- Roast beef
- Lettuce and tomato
- Slice of cheese
- Side of rice
- Steamed veggies
- Chicken cooked in olive oil
- Glass of wine
- Granola bar
If you cut all of the carbohydrates from this example – toast, banana, sugar, bread, fruit, rice, and the granola bar and don’t replace them. You’re chopping anywhere from 800 to 1,000 or more calories. Now let’s say you replace those lost calories from carbohydrates with some extra protein and healthy fat. As long as you’ve still created a caloric deficit you’ll lose weight.
The Doc Who Lifts puts it perfectly in his Instagram post.
SIDE EFFECTS OF A KETOGENIC DIET
Whenever you eliminate a food group or nutrient you’re used to eating you’ll probably experience some side effects.
Don’t try to restrict calories. Focus on eating enough healthy fat and getting carbohydrates low enough to transition into ketosis. Eat slowly and mindfully and let fullness be your guide.
In the early stages, you may notice yourself having to pee more often. Keto is a diuretic and with the extra water, you’ll be drinking you may lose some electrolytes. These are easy to replace with magnesium and salt.
With slight dehydration and the loss of electrolytes can come cramping. For minerals, try taking 3,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000 mg of potassium, and 300 mg of magnesium per day to decrease side effects. Simply salting your food or water can help with this as well.
You may experience a loss of strength, physical performance, and stamina. This is often due to your glycogen stores being depleted. Once your body gets used to using ketones as it’s the primary source of fuel this should go away.
You also may experience constipation. This is usually due to dehydration and not a lack of fiber like you would suspect. Drink plenty of water, eat your low carb greens, and use a fiber supplement if necessary.
If you do blood work regularly or have a checkup you may notice an increase in total cholesterol. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (more on this in a few). It’s often due to an increase in your good cholesterol (HDL).
Heart palpitations, sleep disturbances, and that dang keto flu are also common side effects of the ketogenic diet. But again, they’re typically gone within a few days to weeks.
SO WHAT ABOUT CHOLESTEROL ON SUCH A HIGH-FAT DIET?
Cholesterol talk is not in my wheelhouse and I recommend you check out Dr. Peter Attia’s in-depth discussion on Cholesterol here. Most of my notes below are from dissecting his material.
Most assume the cholesterol you eat leads to high cholesterol levels. In fact, this is not the case. Also, high cholesterol isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most people just assume that it is.
One big problem is that most of us don’t really know what cholesterol is. Often when people talk about cholesterol they are actually talking about lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are what carry cholesterol to our cells. One is called low density (LDL or often referred to as the “bad” kind) and the other is high density (HDL or often called the good kind). However, one isn’t necessarily good and bad. What’s more important are the ratios between each other, your triglycerides, and other factors. All of which is beyond my expertise.
When thinking about cholesterol something important to keep in mind is that we need cholesterol to live. Every cell in our body has a membrane around it. Membranes control how a cell moves in our bodies as well as how it reacts with the other cells. Including how it transports things in and out of them. Cholesterol is the main part of what makes up these very important cell membranes.
Without it, certain bodily functions would not happen. Vitamins wouldn’t get used efficiently and sex hormones would not work properly. This is the reason our bodies make it naturally and why we eat extra amounts through food.
The part about cholesterol you want to try to avoid is having it end up inside the wall of an artery.
ISN’T THAT TOO MUCH FAT TO BE EATING?
On the ketogenic diet, fats represent 70-80% of total calories. That feels like too much, right? Well, it depends on your goals.
If weight loss and fat loss is your primary goal it doesn’t matter all that much. What will matter most is if you’re creating a caloric deficit. Whether fats are 10, 20, or 70% of total calories isn’t as important as the caloric deficit you are or are not creating.
But If your main goal is to get into ketosis. You’ll need the extra fat in your diet to help your body switch over from using carbohydrates as its primary source of fuel to ketones.
Now let’s say your main goal is athletic performance. You may need some extra carbohydrates in your diet to help fuel short bursts of intensity.
I hope I didn’t just confuse the f*ck out of you.
To answer the question, it’s not too much fat – provided it’s mostly healthy fats and dependent on your main goals.
DOESN’T FAT MAKE YOU FAT?
It can, but only if it’s causing you to create a caloric surplus. I hate to beat a dead horse but I will. When it comes to gaining or losing weight the most important thing is if you create a caloric deficit.
Fats are the most calorically dense food at roughly 9 calories per gram. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil is 14 grams of fat and 120-130 calories (14 grams of fat x 9 calories per gram = 120-130 calories). That’s a lot of calories for a small volume of food when you compare it to 120 calories worth of veggies.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should never eat fats. I hope that from this article you can see that they’re an essential part of the diet and help regulate important bodily functions.
What matters most is being aware of how much you’re eating every day. If you’ve downloaded my free course called calorie counting debunked you know that tracking calories are an inexact science. Instead, more mindful eating to learn about what real hunger is, food journaling (no tracking), and proper portion control practiced consistently are all you need.
TWO BIG MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE KETOGENIC DIET
After talking with some of you, two big misconceptions I’m seeing about the ketogenic diet are:
- You’ll feel like you’ll lose muscle and strength
- You’ll never be hungry.
Initially, you may lose some muscle and strength but this usually because of your glycogen stores being depleted. Often, what happens is your muscles flatten or smooth out because of the loss of glycogen n them. Remember, stored glycogen holds onto the water – so when that is getting depleted on a ketogenic diet you’ll be losing water weight. A lot of that water is inside of your muscle. You may not actually be losing muscle but instead losing water which is making the muscle look smaller, smoother, or less dense.
The depleted glycogen stores along with the loss of electrolytes can also affect your strength. But as your body gets used to using ketones for energy and you hydrate properly you should be back to normal in no time.
It’s often promoted that you’ll never be hungry on the ketogenic diet. Well, that’s sorta kinda may be true. It’s not so much the ketogenic diet that’s helping with appetite but instead that you’re eliminating processed carbs and sugars from your diet. Which has been shown to affect blood sugar, insulin, and a host of other things in the body that can affect hunger? You’ll also be eating more healthy fats, protein, and veggies which are naturally satiating
SHOULD I EXERCISE WHILE DOING KETOSIS?
As your body adapts to the lower carbohydrates in your diet you may feel fatigued, loss of strength, and endurance. However, keep exercising. It will help to deplete carbohydrate stores and get you into ketosis quicker.
If you need to you can cut back on the amount of training you’re doing by reducing sets, reps, weight, or total training time. You can also cut back on the intensity. Long walks are excellent during this time.
Here’s a super simple weekly training program you could try while becoming keto-adapted.
Twice per week strength training
5 sets of 5 reps of:
- Squat movement (back squat, goblet squat, leg press)
- Bent over or inverted rows
- Flat dumbbell bench press or push-ups
Twice per week HIIT training
- Run 400 meters as fast as you can. Rest 3 minutes and repeat 1-2 more times.
- Try and go for a walk every day for a minimum of 20 minutes
WHAT ARE THE NEGATIVES OF THE KETOGENIC DIET
High triglycerides can occur if most of the fats you’re consuming are nuts seeds, butter, and vegetable oils. Now don’t get all, “so I can’t eat those things” on me. That’s not what I’m saying. High triglycerides MAY occur if that’s all you’re eating for your fat sources. Diversify your healthy fats by including nuts, seeds, and grass-fed butter. But also use avocado, olive oil, and fish oil.
Your total cholesterol will most likely increase because of the higher fat consumption but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Refer back to the cholesterol section of this article.
High cholesterol along with too much exercise and lack of sleep can lead to inflammation and high c-reactive protein. This isn’t usually something to be alarmed by but it is worth monitoring through blood work.
Carbohydrates might not be an essential nutrient but they are needed to turn inactive thyroid into active thyroid. If you’re extremely fatigued for an extended time, often cold, and suffering from severe brain fog it may be worth checking out.
Ketoacidosis can occur when too many ketones enter the bloodstream. This often occurs through starvation, excessive alcohol consumption, and diabetes. In most healthy people this is very unlikely but if it does occur you should consult your physician immediately.
Some people following the ketogenic diet have found it to be socially limiting. I have not – and find it easy to get low-carb and higher-fat meals out. You may have to look at menus before you go out, make adjustments to the meal once you get to restaurants, or suggest alternatives but it can be done.
WHO SHOULD TRY THE KETOGENIC DIET
I don’t know if there is a good way to answer this. Because I’m more of a nutritional agnostic and don’t believe there is one best way to eat for optimal health and wellness. I promote building healthy habits around the basics first and then experimenting with different approaches to fine-tune.
A ketogenic diet might be good for you if:
- You don’t live a very active lifestyle or don’t enjoy exercise or being very active.
- Your favorite foods are proteins, fats, and vegetables.
- Fruits or starchy carbs are not very appealing for you.
- Don’t mind eating the same few meals over and over
- You have a good relationship with food and it doesn’t already consume your life
- You understand the basics of good nutrition and already practice them regularly
- If you’re an athlete and you know the demands of your sport
- If you don’t have a lot of stress in your life. Intermittent fasting and a lower carbohydrate approach to eating can add stress.
If you’re constantly obsessing about what you eat, live with an all-or-nothing mentality, or have a poor relationship with food I don’t suggest the ketogenic diet or any diet that restricts a particular food group. You’ll most likely only exasperate those issues.
I speak from experience.
JUSTIN’S OPINION ON THE KETOGENIC DIET
I like to ask my coaching clients what a body they’re proud of looks like, feels like, and what can you do with it.
Answering those questions will help you to determine if a very specific nutritional approach makes sense for you or not.
The standard ketogenic diet is not for me. Eating low carb all the time left me fatigued, grumpy, and with decreased thyroid production. Plus, it felt like my wiener was broken. I won’t go into detail but without getting specific my libido was down and my erections were poor.
Yikes! I’ve said too much.
However, I often follow a cyclical ketogenic diet when I want to lean out. I follow a ketogenic way of eating Monday through Friday and bump up my carbohydrates to 150 grams or more on the weekends. Mostly from sweet potato, plantains, and white rice.
Ok, maybe a cookie or two.
Overall, the ketogenic diet is not something that makes sense for me, my goals, and how I define a body I’m proud of. I see it as another tool in my arsenal to help me achieve specific goals when I have them.
Mad Love & Gratitudes
At the end of some of my articles, I like to give thanks to others who have provided amazing resources. Thank you Ruled.Me, Authority Nutrition, Precision Nutrition, Ben Greenfield Fitness, and Dr. Peter Attia. Today’s article is essentially a melting pot of those.
Photo by Matt Hodin on Behance