The diet that has got a lot of attention lately due to the weight loss benefits.
- Ketogenic diet is a very low carb – high fat with 20%/75%/5% – protein/fat/carbs ratio for your daily macronutrients
- There are some variations to the standard ketogenic diet
- Multiple health benefits
- Very effective for fat loss especially when used with intermittent fasting
- May be hard to stick to it because it removes completely a food group
What is it
The ketogenic diet implies eating very low quantities of carbohydrates and high quantities of fats.
What science says
The carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the human body.
When you stop eating carbohydrates and you replace them with fats, the body is adapting to the new situation and starts using the fats as main source of energy.
Reducing the carbohydrates below a certain threshold will induce the body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which the body is using the fats as the main source of energy instead of carbohydrates.
In order to turn the body into ketosis state, a person generally needs to eat below 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, but depending on your body it may require even as low as 20 grams of carbs per day.
This requires removing from your diet high carbs foods such as grains or sugar.
While maintaining a low carb diet the insulin levels go down drastically which makes the fatty acids from the fat cells to be released.
Some of these fatty acids are then transferred into the liver where are oxidized and transformed into ketones.
These ketones are capable of providing energy for the human body.
It is very well known that the brain functions properly with glucose which is provided by the carbohydrates but recent studies prove the brain’s capability to use the energy coming from ketones to function.
The human body has the capability to convert the amino acids coming from protein into glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis which also helps the brain’s function.
This theory also seems to be confirmed by the vast mass of people that are following this diet and feel very energized and healthy.
Some studies show that ketosis also appears during fasting, pregnancy or starvation.
Ketosis can be reached in 1-3 days, depending on your body composition, diet and activity levels.
In order to reach ketosis faster you can exercise on an empty stomach.
Ketogenic diet variations
There are multiple variations for the ketogenic diet:
- Standard ketogenic diet – This is the basic ketogenic diet which have been studied the most. It is a very low carb diet (5% of total calories), moderate protein (20% of total calories) and high fat (75% of total calories).
- Targeted ketogenic diet – This variation allows the consumption of 20-40 grams of carbohydrates around the training period.
- Cyclical ketogenic diet – This diet is made up around a 7 day cycle split between 5 days of low carbohydrates intake (in ketosis metabolic state) followed by 2 days of high carbohydrates intake.
- High protein ketogenic diet – This diet is similar to the standard ketogenic diet but with different macronutrient ratio: 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
The diet with most benefits and that has been extensively studied is the standard ketogenic diet.
The targeted or cyclical ketogenic diets are mainly used by athletes to have the extra energy during workouts.
Weight loss benefits
The weight loss is the most important benefit for the ketogenic diet.
There are several studies that prove the fact that high fat-low carb diets are more efficient than the high carb-low fat diets.
Another important aspect is that fatty foods are more filling and people have had results even without counting calories because they ended up eating less food just because they were not as hungry as they used to be when they were eating carbs.
Having a low carbohydrates diet is also increasing the insulin sensitivity which may further help on fat loss.
There is some evidence that the ketogenic diet could reduce the body’s inclination to store fat.
Studies show that the ketogenic diet can have benefits for various health problems:
- Reducing weight – One of the most effective weight loss diet;
- Epilepsy – The ketogenic diet was originally used to treat neurological diseases. High fat diets can drastically reduce the seizures for epileptic persons.
- Poly-cystic ovary syndrome – Low carbohydrates diets reduce the insulin level which may help with the PCOS.
- Heart disease – By reducing body fat, bad cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar, the ketogenic diet improves the health of the cardiovascular system.
- Acne – Studies show that the ketogenic diet is improving the skin health.
- Cancer – This diet is currently used to treat some types of cancer
- Alzheimer – High fat – low carb may reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
- Inflammation – Sugar is a big source of inflammation and high fats intake supports the body’s production of anti-inflammatory hormones.
a. What to eat:
- Meat: Chicken, Pork, Beef, Fish, Bacon, Ham, Turkey
- High fat dairy: Cheese, milk, high fat cream, butter
- Berries: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries – Limit the fruit consumption because carbs will add up quickly
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashew, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds,
- Sweeteners: use the 0 carb ones – stevia, erythritol – It’s a good idea to avoid them completely as they can cause more sweets cravings;
- Oils: Extra virgin oil, coconut oil or avocado oil
- Low carbohydrate vegetables: Mostly green vegetables, pepper, onions, tomatoes
b. What to avoid:
- Grains and starches: rice, pasta, wheat-based foods, cereals, oats
- Fruits: Small portions of berries are the exception
- Beans: Lentil, chickpeas, beans, peas;
- Low fat products: your goal should be to eat less processed foods and it’s probably a good idea to eat high fat products if you have trouble reaching your fat target for the day.
- Unhealthy fats: mayonnaise, vegetable oils
- Alcohol: it must be avoided as much as possible.
These are just some general lists with foods.
Eating too many berries or vegetables can throw you out of ketosis phase.
If you want to make sure you don’t break your ketosis phase, all you have to do is to read the labels of the food you eat and sum up the carbs. As soon as you hit the required carbs for the day, you just have to stop eating carb containing food.
It’s a smart idea to not eat all your carbs in 1 meal and have no veggie left for the day.
If you had to choose when you eat your 20 g of carbs, I suggest you to eat them 30 mins – 1 h before your workout.
There is a big debate whether the physical performance is negatively affected by the carb restriction.
Once your body is adapted to using fats as energy (you are in ketosis phase), it no longer needs carbohydrates from the outside.
The little carbohydrates that your body needs can be converted from the protein throughout the gluconeogenesis process.
Gluconeogenesis is the process where the body is converting the amino acids from the protein into glycogen.
That is why on a cutting phase, athletes raise their protein intake, so they make sure they have enough protein for their body to use to repair the muscle tissue as well as use for glycogen production.
This study shows that the performance of well-trained cyclists doing aerobic endurance exercise was not compromised by their ketogenic diet.
Another big topic is whether you can build muscle while on ketogenic diet. The simple answer is yes as long as you follow the basic rules for building muscle:
- Eat in caloric surplus – you cannot build muscle unless you eat more than your body consumes. High fat diet can easily help you eat in a caloric surplus.
- Eat enough protein – your body needs to repair the muscle tissue after exercising. You should aim for 1 g / pound of body weight.
- Train properly – Work every muscle group with proper exercises, sets and reps.
- Rest properly – 7-8 h per night to give your body time to recover.
Carbohydrates do boost performance but only during explosive exercises. If you plan doing such exercises you can eat 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates 30 minutes before working out.
You can even make your own experiments and eat set grams of carbohydrates before an workout and evaluate your performance.
The next session you can just skip eating the carbs before workout and see the difference.
How to tell if you are in ketosis
If your body is in ketosis state, you will most likely experience some of these signs:
1. Bad Breath
The reason for the bad breath is because your body is producing more acetone which leaves your body through urine and breath.
For most people this side effect goes away in few weeks.
A quick fix for this is to brush your teeth constantly during the day as well as use sugar free chewing gum.
2. Increased Focus and Energy
While in ketosis state you will not feel the energy crush during the afternoons which might come as a miracle.
As soon as you get past the “keto flu” you will feel more energized.
When you cut the carbohydrates from your diet, your body experiences some sides effects defined as “keto flu” characterized by brain fog, tiredness and feeling sick.
This is a short term side effect and it only lasts as long as your body gets used to using fat as energy.
3. Weight loss
Cutting carbs from your diet will make you lose a lot of water.
An interesting fact is that 1 gram of carbohydrates will make you retain 2.5 – 3.7 grams of water.
That is why at the beginning you will lose a lot of weight and it will not be fat.
After the first weight drop you should be able to maintain the weight loss but a slower pace. Make sure you don’t eat carbs!
4. Loss of appetite
The ketogenic diet can reduce the appetite and hunger. If you don’t need to eat as often as before or you feel full for a longer period you might be in ketosis state.
5. Increased ketones in urine, blood stream or breath
The ketones levels can be measured with some test kits.
Testing the ketones level in the blood stream is the most accurate method to determine whether you are in ketosis or not.
6. Digestive issues
The digestive issues appear mostly due to lack of fibers.
It may also take some time for your body to adapt to the totally different type of foods that you are eating while on ketogenic diet.
In order to diminish the digestive issues make sure you eat plenty of low carb green vegetables and drink a gallon of water a day.
Everyone is different and not everybody is going to have exactly the same side effects.
Most important thing is to be consistent, always evaluate your current situation and adjust accordingly.
As soon as you pass the first 2-3 weeks you will feel completely different and probably had lost a nice amount of weight.
- Due to low carbohydrates it is harder to stay hydrated – Try supplementing with sodium, potassium and magnesium or just take a electrolytes blend to help stay hydrated and also avoid cramps
- When eating out select a meat/egg/fish based dish and add some green veggies instead of carbs or starches. For desert you can have some berries with cream
- Try ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting – this combination is a fat destroyer
- Drink plenty of water – 1 gallon a day
- Use a fiber supplement – for digestion purpose
- Other supplements I do not consider they are mandatory for the ketogenic diet. The fish oil which is very very popular now, can be easily be replaced by the salmon since it will help you with the fat intake also.
- If it happens to cheat one day, do not stress too much, just forget about it and start fresh the next day. Make sure you don’t transform a cheat day into a cheat week.