If you are struggling with losing weight, and you have tried most diets and then some without results, or you have lost weight successfully on other diets, only to gain it back and more within the first month of ending the diet – stick with me.
In this article I’m going into detail about why the diet on which you consume fat as your primary macronutrient instead of carbohydrates, commonly known as the ketogenic diet, will melt the fat off of your body, and will get you leaner than you have ever been before.
A simple and short way to explain what the keto diet is about would do it no justice, so today I would like to give you an in depth look at the keto diet as a whole and I hope this will help you understand how different this lifestyle is to your “old one”.
Whether you are an avid keto guru, or you may just be getting started – in this article I will talk all about what the keto diet is in it’s roots, and how it can benefit not just your weight loss, but your overall quality of life. Furthermore, I will cover how to efficiently and easily incorporate keto into your lifestyle, how to pair it with your exercise regimen, work life, creating sustainable meal structures, helpful tips & tricks, and the various forms of the ketogenic diet.
Why is it that consuming fats burns fats? Doesn’t that sound contradictory? Is it healthy for your other organs? Does it leave you satiated? And are there pitfalls to the ketogenic diet? – I will cover it all!
I will even go over 2 alternative forms of this diet where you can still cleverly incorporate carbohydrates!
Yep, that’s right. Eating carbs and still living the fat-burning ketogenic lifestyle, it is possible!
I will try to keep it as simple and understandable as possible. I will unveil each component of the ketogenic diet, along with other available tools in your arsenal to further enhance your weight loss and/or muscle building goals.
I will structure the post so that each segment is dedicated to a part of this revolutionary lifestyle. Starting off with the essence of the ketogenic diet itself!
What is keto?
The ketogenic diet is a way of eating where you (generally) ban carbohydrates as your main source of energy, and replace these carbohydrates(or carbs for short) with healthy fats, in order to let these serve as your primary source of energy. The reasoning behind this is that carbohydrates – and sugars(part of carbs) even more – cause the pancreas to excrete the hormone Insulin.
I may refer to what is called ‘glucose‘ several amounts in this article. When carbohydrates are broken down by the body, they are turned into tiny pieces so they can travel through your blood stream to serve as energy where they are needed and stored (Muscles and liver). This ‘fractured’ molecular version of carbohydrates is known as glucose.
Insulin is sort of a necessary evil, so to speak. Insulin opens your cells which allowed glucose to enter the cells to serve as a fuel source for your body to run on – hypothetically speaking you could look at insulin as a key to open your cells.
If insulin would not be secreted by the pancreas, or more specifically, the pancreatic isles, your blood sugar levels would continue to rise when consuming carbohydrates – which would result in eventually fatal consequences. This is why people with diabetes have to manually inject themselves with this hormone – to prevent this from happening.
Not only will the low blood glucose levels caused by the ketogenic diet make sure that your fat cells are being primed to be used as main fuel source by your body, the ketogenic diet also provides a host of other positive effects.
Among these additional benefits are an improved quality of sleep, a more stable mood(caused again by stable blood sugar levels), overall reduced inflammation in the body, reduction in appetite, improved concentration, better cholesterol levels, improved metabolic properties & the reason it was discovered in the first place: an effective solution to treat the symptoms of epilepsy.
On the flip side – there is one form of carbohydrates that you are allowed to consume. When we take a closer look at carbohydrates we are able to separate them into three categories.
Types of carbohydrate
- Starch: Generally the type of digestible carbohydrate that is absorbed and digested at the slowest rate by your body. Meaning they generally have less of an influence on blood sugar levels than sugar does(albeit still high), because less insulin is required to make these carbs available as energy. Starch is often found in whole grains & bread, vegetables that grow below ground level(Sweet potatoes, yam, white potatoes, legumes) & starchy vegetables(corn, green beans) and any type of rice, couscous, quinoa, legumes & beans.
- Sugar: A type of carbohydrate that is rapidly absorbed by the body. While this may grant you with seemingly quick burst of energy, which is caused by a massive peak in blood sugar – insulin quickly brings your blood sugar levels down to below baseline levels, creating the infamous sugar dip – only to then stabilize. Refined sugar is found in processed foods such as cookies, candy, ice cream, low cacao/high sugar chocolate, sweet sauces & fruit juices. While naturally occurring sugars in the form of fructose in fruit can be found in high amounts in: Bananas, pears, apples, mangoes, passion fruit, pineapple cherries, grapes, nectarines & papaya.
- Fiber: An indigestible type of carbohydrate, which means that it cannot be digested by the fluids of your digestive systems and be turned into glucose, and is therefore excreted through your feces. I recommend that you take in fiber in large quantities per day, as this will positively contribute to a feeling of satiety(and thus prevent over-eating), aids in digestion & helps you achieve a proper stool, slowers the rate at which your body absorbs and digests all the food you take in along with the fibrous foods. The recommended daily intake for fiber is around 25 – 30 grams.
Should you avoid all carbohydrates then? – While it is your job to avoid as many starches and sugar(even fructose) carbohydrate content as possible on the standard ketogenic diet, it is advisable to consume ample amounts of fiber to aid digestion, give you a feeling of satiety & lower blood pressure. Since fiber is indigestible it will not be converted into glucose – and thus will not affect your blood sugar levels or cause insulin to be produced.
Carbohydrates(especially sugars/fructose) cause chronic amounts of inflammation in your body, they rapidly add up to your body fat stores, may disrupt your sleeping pattern & cause sluggishness.
The effect of Insulin is that when this hormone enters the blood stream and reaches your cells, it unlocks them so that glucose can enter your cells and serve as a fuel source. As long as glucose is present in your cells your body will always turn to this as it’s primary source of fuel, since it is very easily broken down by your body – because of it’s molecular structure.
This means that your body fat stores will remain untouched.
A Metabolic Work-Around – Burning Fat For Fuel!
However, there is a work-around available to tip the scale(s) in your favor. The molecular structure of fat is composed in a way that it barely effects your blood sugar levels when consumed, preventing insulin from being secreted – and therefore preventing it from letting glucose entering your cells – which will lead to your body burning (body)fat for fuel during the entire day!
When you cease the consumption of carbohydrates, and your muscle and liver glycogen(stored carbohydrates) become depleted during the first week or so(depending on how active you are this will go either slower or faster) – your body enters a state that is known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body learns and prefers to burn fat as it’s main source of fuel. If we then schedule our diet in such a way that we are in a slight caloric deficit(Consuming fewer calories than you burn), we will be solely burning our own body fat stores as energy, which is exactly what we want!
A good rule of thumb is to consume 30 grams of net carbohydrates per day, or less. The exact carbohydrate tolerance varies from individual to individual, but 30 grams per day is a general guideline that is ‘safe’ for everyone.
What are net carbohydrates you ask? Well, since you are allowed fiber on the ketogenic diet, and fiber is listed as a carbohydrate(check any food label) net carbohydrates is the sugar and starch content.
So if you see a total listing of carbohydrates – subtract the fiber from it and you will know the net carbohydrate value.
Below is an example of the nutrient label for my keto avocado brownies recipe, which by the way – I highly recommend you check out! In this case we have 8 grams of total carbohydrates, 2 grams of it is sugar, and the remaining 6 is fiber content. There is no starch content in these brownies.
8 – 6 = 2 grams of net carbohydrate – which is very acceptable on a keto meal or snack since you are allowed roughly 30 grams of it per day which will not be enough to have any negative impact on your blood sugar levels.
The Keto Flu
When you switch up your diet, and change your main macronutrient from carbohydrates to fat – your body may enter a period of transitioning, in which it learns to burn fatty acids, and your own body fat for fuel. This phase does not occur for everyone, but when it does it usually lasts for anywhere from a few days – up to around two weeks.
So, I get sick from eating fat? – Not really. Your body is a bit confused at this point. All your life your body has used the easily broken down carbohydrates to run on, and now all of a sudden it gets deprived of it’s good old friend – only to get loads of this new fuel inside, which it doesn’t know how to use effectively.
Think of it as a car with a diesel engine that suddenly gets gasoline as it’s fuel. It has no idea how to keep itself running on it at that point. Fortunately, contrary to cars – our bodies learn to adapt to anything new we throw at it. After these first initial weeks your body will effectively burn fat for fuel, and you won’t even miss the carbohydrates.
The symptoms you may experience on the keto flu vary from person to person, but these are some of the most commonly experienced:
- Increased fatigue
- Brain fog
- Carb cravings
These symptoms are by no means dangerous, or harmful to your health. It is simply your body adapting to this new source of energy.
You may think ‘But I’ve eaten loads of fat over the course of my life, next to the carbs. Why am I not adapted to both?‘ – The answer to that is simple. Since your body breaks down carbs in the form of glucose faster than it does fat. When carbs are present, it will always choose to prefer to burn those prior to switching over to fat.
So you will more or less have burnt fat for fuel in your life, but only when you ran out of carbs. And you likely have never burnt (dietary) fat in the amount that your body has become fat adapted.
One thing I would like to tell you if you haven’t started the ketogenic diet yet is; Don’t fear the keto flu, while it can be a bit uncomfortable, it is only very temporary and it will be worth it in the end. Once you experience the fat-burning effects, along with all the other beneficial factors keto provides you – you will thank yourself for dragging you through this tough initial phase.
For a more in-depth look at the keto flu, it’s symptoms & how to fight it’s symptoms as effectively as possible, I would like to refer you to my article: What are the symptoms of the keto flu?
Types of fat
Fat can be separated into three primary categories. Saturated & unsaturated fat, and trans fats.
Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados, fatty fish and meats. Unsaturated fats should take up around 50% of your overall fat intake.
Saturated fats are often found in meats, butter, coconut oil, eggs and in lesser amounts in certain nuts(cashews, almonds) Saturated fats should take up around 50% of your overall fat intake.
While saturated fat has wrongfully earned a bad reputation of being the cause of heart disease & increased blood pressure and other negative effects on your overall health in the 70s this has since been scientifically debunked time after time.
Trans fats are the fats that we intend to avoid at all costs. They are detrimental to your health, and are responsible for a variety of health problems ranging from cardiovascular disease to dementia. These are found in processed foods like margarine butter, vegetable oils, cookies, cake, potato crisps, frozen pizza, a lot of cheap prepared & packaged meals.
For the best results, and effect on your overall health a combination of saturated and unsaturated fat is required. Mix up meats, fish, poultry, nuts, olive oil, eggs, butter, bacon, avocados & coconut/MCT oil. Avoid trans fats at all costs as they are detrimental to your overall health and well-being.
Consuming around 1 gram of fat for every pound of body weight(2 grams per KG) will result in an optimal environment to enter the metabolic state of Ketosis.
While protein, another essential component of the ketogenic diet, will in fact create a minor disruption in your blood glucose(less than carbs, more than fat) – combining protein with fat in your meals will dampen the blood sugar response. In other words – protein alone has the ability to create mild spikes in blood glucose however, the consumption of fat along with protein will flatten out the blood sugar – and thus the Insulin response.
Protein is an essential macronutrient on the ketogenic diet. It is made up of essential amino acids(essential means the body can’t produce it itself) that are labeled as the building blocks of your cells. Make sure you consume ample amounts of high quality protein. Around 0,5 grams per pound of body weight( or 1,4 grams per KG) is a solid indicator for a sedentary or moderately active lifestyle.
If you lift weights regularly you can up your protein intake to about 0,7 grams per pound of body weight. You will need the extra protein to (re) build your damaged muscle cells.
In general – on a regular bodybuilding routine it is recommended that one consumes at least 1,2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
So why this reduction in protein intake on the ketogenic diet? Because the ketones that your liver produces when you are in the state of ketosis(as a result of starving your body from carbohydrates) are very muscle sparing!
The main sources in which you will find protein are: Meats, dairy, beans, legumes, nuts & nut butters, scale & fatty fish, and eggs.
As you may know – depending on your age, gender, activity level, amount of muscle mass, you have a certain caloric need per day to keep your body up and running. The recommended macronutrient ratios for the standard ketogenic diet are 70% fat, 5% net carbohydrates & 25% protein.
If you want to know more about calculating the amount of grams of eacht macronutrient you need per day, as well as the amount of calories you need to consume per day in order to burn body fat, maintain your current weight or build muscle – check out my in-depth article ‘How To Figure Out Your Macros On Keto‘
Carbohydrates On The Ketogenic Diet
So carbohydrates are evil?… Not really… while they are under no circumstances recommended being consumed above 30 grams on the standard ketogenic diet – there are 2 variations of the keto diet, on which you actually can consume carbohydrates.
I would not recommend that you try these diets out until you are at least a month into the standard keto diet, as your body needs that amount of time to adjust to the copious amounts of fat you take in per day. It has to recognize fat as it’s main source of fuel in order to keep producing ketones.
However, if you have been following the keto diet for at least a month, or preferably longer, and you feel sluggish on a regular basis – you may not be the most efficient fat burner. This is definitely not a reason to panic, you can strategically implement carbohydrates in a way that it may temporarily remove you from ketosis during the consumption of these carbs, but it will present you with an energy boost. If you experience these energy crashes on the keto diet after the initial stages of keto(after the first month, having gotten past the keto flu etc.) – chances are that your body is simply very good at burning glucose for fuel, and maybe a bit less efficient at burning fat.
This does not mean you have to quit the ketogenic diet by any means, we will simply have to make a slight adaption.
This also goes for those of you who are avid weightlifters, bodybuilders, power lifters, or if you are practicing cross-fit. Again, this doesn’t count for everyone. I personally train great on solely fat and protein, with the addition of some salt as pre workout you can even experience an amazing pump.
If you don’t – you can try out the following two variants of the ketogenic diet.
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
On this version of the ketogenic diet – know as the cyclical ketogenic diet – you will choose 1 day per week when you sort of switch the fat, and carbohydrate ratios up.
You will bulk up on ‘good’ complex sources of carbohydrates for around 65% of your macronutrients that day, protein can stay the same at 25%, and the remaining 10% will be fats.
The idea behind this is that you refill your muscle glycogen as a fast source of energy to fuel your workouts with, especially the first 2 workouts after the reload you may experience an increased amount of energy.
A popular day to introduce this cyclical keto day is either Saturday, or Sunday – But any day you see fit will do.
I do have to reiterate that we are talking exclusively ‘high quality’ carbohydrates here. So no candy, cake or chocolate feast 😉
Recommended sources of complex carbohydrates are: Sweet potatoes, yam, brown rice, oats, quinoa, couscous, whole grains.
Again – this variant is recommended when you experience occasional or regular energy dips & fatigue. Another scenario in which I would recommend the cyclical ketogenic diet is when you are trying to build muscle.
While the standard keto diet will be superior in terms of fat loss because it keeps insulin levels low 24/7, the cyclical keto diet is better to build lean muscle mass due to the very same hormone that stands in the way of achieving your lean body – Insulin.
While insulin does prevent you from burning your body fat stores, it is a very anabolic hormone that will aid in packing on lean body mass. Along with insulin, the temporary increased level of blood glucose will cause in increase in the hormone IGF-1, while the remaining 6 days that you are on strict keto your HGH levels will be very high(which also stimulates growth of muscle mass, and a reduction in fat mass)
This approach of one day high carb eating will make you reap the best of both worlds for building muscle by keeping insulin high when eating your carbs, and keeping HGH(human growth hormone, responsible for burning fat & building muscle) high during the days you are in ketosis.
If you reincorporate carbohydrates into your keto diet after having your body being fueled for around a month by fat alone – you may experience transitioning symptoms that are very similar to the feared keto flu you may have had when you started out on this ketogenic journey.
The keto flu, or in this case, carb flu – is basically your body telling you that it doesn’t recognize this source of fuel. Like you had to adapt to fat as your main source of fuel – this will now happen to carbs, (or glucose) that your body has to process.
It is therefore recommended that you do not introduce more than 1 day per week of eating high amounts of carbohydrates.
Anything beyond a day will greatly increase the chance of experiencing keto-flu like symptoms, as well as increased inflammation, reduced sleep quality & fluid retention(ankles, belly and hands most likely)
All in all a very clever way to implement carbohydrates if you maximize their use by doing it the right way!
For a complete overview on how many calories you need, and thus how much of each macronutrient you need to consume for the perfect ketogenic ratios I would like to refer you to my other article: How to figure out your macros on keto which contains a detailed step-by-step guide.
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)
Another alternative on consuming carbohydrates on the ketogenic diet is the targeted ketogenic diet on which you strategically target the implementation of fast sugars.
You read it right! The targeted ketogenic diet focuses on incorporating fast acting carbohydrates like dextrose or other fast acting sugars… around your workouts!
While this sounds very contradictory to what keto stands for, hear me out.
Like I mentioned before – I do not recommend you experience with the incorporation of carbohydrates before having stuck with the standard keto diet for at least a month.
Much like the CKD, The Targeted ketogenic (Or TKD for short) is for people that are either having trouble with intense physical activity or exercise on the sole consumption of fats. Another reason could be that with this spike in blood sugar your liver will produce insulin that may benefit you if you are trying to build muscle.
Due to the ‘minor’ sugar consumption you will be kicked out of ketosis for a short while, but not very long. Expect to be back in ketosis within 12 or so hours after consumption of the carbohydrates – assuming you are already ‘fat-adapted’.
On the TKD you consume around 20 – 30 grams of fast acting sugars prior to your workout
A Final Farewell To Epileptic Seizures
The ketogenic diet was originally invented as a way of treating epilepsy. By eliminating carbohydrates from your diet your body turns to it’s only other viable source of fuel it has – fat. It is unclear why the ketogenic diet has such positive effects on epilepsy by reducing the amount of seizures, but it has been recognized as a viable way of treatment.
It is believed, but not scientifically proven that the success of implementing the keto diet in the lives of people that suffer from epilepsy is caused by your brain using this alternate from of energy to run on, and thereby remaining one step ahead of epilepsy by preventing the seizures from occurring in the first place.
The brain primarily uses glucose as it’s source of energy whenever it is around, however in the absence of glucose your liver will turn the fatty acids you consume, as well as your own body fat into so called ketones.
Ketones are therefore an alternative(and very efficient) source of fuel for your brain, and body overall. The brain will always need a small amount of glucose, it is however not necessary to consume this through your diet. Through a natural process called gluconeogenesis your body will convert a tiny amount of protein into this required glucose.
The Keto Diet Food List
While cutting out an entire macronutrient of your meal schedule will obviously not come without consequences for your shopping list – there are still a lot of healthy foods you can indulge on – on the ketogenic diet. You just have to be smart about your meal structure!
Even if you find that you miss some produce you are used to on your former carb lifestyle, like rice – there are always alternatives to find to these. Rice, for instance, can be replaced by cauliflower ‘rice‘, or even zucchini grater as replacement for pasta.
Alternatively you can consider some foods that are sold as ‘keto foods’. These are often designed with macronutrient ratios for the (standard) ketogenic diet in mind, which saves you a lot of calculating and thinking. An example of this, is this keto meal replacement shake that I reviewed a while back.
While such pre-prepared foods are highly convenient, and still do a good job of supplying your body with ample nutritious value – the bulk of your diet will have to consist of clean, whole food sources to remain and ketosis and burn fat as fuel.
You do still have to be wary of what you place into your shopping cart though. In my keto diet food list I leave no stone unturned as to which foods you can buy in plentiful amounts, which foods you should avoid & the foods that you can occasionally consume in controlled portions
I’ll give you a brief summary of some go-to keto staples!
Fruit On The Ketogenic Diet
Doesn’t fruit contain fructose? Does that mean I have to exclude fruit from the ketogenic diet? – While it is advisable to consume some fruit on the keto diet for it’s generally high vitamin, mineral & fiber content – not all fruits are created equal. Some fruits are off the menu for the ketogenic diet, simply because they are too high in sugar. Examples of this are bananas, pomegranate & oranges
On the other hand – Avocado on the keto diet is highly recommended due to it’s absurd low sugar content, very high amount of fiber, and it’s a brilliant source of high quality fats which will definitely support your metabolic state of ketosis. Myself, I generally consume at least 1 – some times 2 of these a day. Not only super nutritious, but very versatile to implement in sweet and savory dishes.
Which fruits can I consume then? – Other than avocado, you can consume most types of berries in moderation. While they do contain some sugars in the form of fructose – as long as you control your portion sizes(2 x 50 grams a day or so on average) they will be an excellent addition to your ketogenic journey.
Blueberries, strawberries, lemons, limes, raspberries & blackberries are all examples of fruit that you can consume in moderation.
Vegetables On The Ketogenic Diet
Vegetables will be one of the most vital components of your keto diet. They make up the bulk of fiber you will consume. I generally advise that you consume ample amounts of leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale & swiss chard – just to name a few.
Leafy green vegetables are very rich in potassium, fiber & essential vitamins that are necessary on your (keto) diet. Fiber is required in high amounts to keep you full, and aid in digestion. Since you are not consuming any starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, grains & rice – you will have to draw fiber mainly from your greens.
Other keto staple vegetables that are recommended(non-leafy greens) are: Broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, lettuce, cauliflower, zucchini & cucumbers.
A good rule of thumb is to consume at least 350 grams of vegetables, up to the optimal amount of anywhere upwards of 500 grams a day.
While that may seem a lot, an average salad already contains around 200 grams of veggies, if you can smartly implement them – you will have eaten the required amount sooner than you think!
Dairy On The Ketogenic Diet
Is it advisable to consume dairy on keto? – It depends. If you are really keen on consuming milk, cheese and cottage cheese, then yes, in controlled portions. Completely depriving yourself of it while you are craving it will likely only result in you binging on it sooner or later.
While some dairy products are allowed in reasonable amount on the keto diet, like cheese, and butter for instance – there are other dairy products that you need to exercise some caution with.
I’m a big fan of cottage cheese myself, but the average carb(sugar) value per 100 grams is around 4 grams, a bit on the high side. I still incorporate it into my diet, but only up to around 200 – 250 grams max per day. The same nutritional value generally goes for milk & buttermilk.
You can consume it, but be careful. Too much sugar will kick you out of ketosis. Keep a close eye on the label and you should be fine. Aside from the carbohydrate content dairy is an amazing source of B vitamins, calcium.
Other dairy products include ghee, yogurt, cream, kefir, milk, buttermilk, cheese, butter & cream cheese
Meat, Fish & Poultry
Your primary source of clean high quality protein, as well as saturated fats.
These three are all great components of the ketogenic diet, stick to primarily the fattier pieces. If you do prefer leaner meat, make sure you get ample amounts of fat from your other food sources.
There is no need to watch out for carbohydrates with these, only highly processed meat contains carbs – which I don’t recommend you consume on any diet & under any circumstances.
Stick to the organic, preferably grass fed beef & poultry. And try to get your hands on wild caught fish. This is essential for getting high quality meat with a dense nutritional profile.
Which meats can I consume? – Pretty much anything you can think of. Any type or variant of beef, pork, poultry, crustaceans, fatty fish & lamb will do.
Avoid processed meat such as cheap bacon, hotdogs and the like as much as possible. You can still consume this, but get them fresh, with high quality and minimal, to no additives.
Structuring your plate
So, what does a keto meal look like? – This is a highly variable factor per individual, but I will tell you what my meal structure usually looks like.
I usually fast until 6 pm, to then eat until 10pm, so I typically only eat twice a day. I usually center 1 meal around eggs as my primary food for the meal, and avocado for the other. Simply because I love these two foods, and they are staples on the ketogenic diet, which makes it a double whammy for me 😉
Around 40% of my meals consist of vegetables. For my first meal I usually choose 2 vegetables to make sure I take in a wide array of nutrients. The mix will consist of either broccoli, spinach, kale, mushrooms, onions, garlic, asparagus, cauliflower or bell peppers. I try to mix it up as much as I can. I then add a source of protein, which is usually eggs(sometimes with bacon) for my first meal most of the time, but I sometimes change it up for a fattier meat, or fish as well.
I then add a source of healthy fats, for which I often use a mixture of macadamia & pecan nuts, and some 20 grams of dark chocolate.
My second meal I usually center around avocado. I love to scoop the avocado in big pieces through a mixture of some cottage cheese, to which I add a serving of keto meal replacement shake, some cinnamon, and a bit of water to thin it out.
I then usually follow that up with a big salad of arugula, lemon juice, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, pepper, a touch of pink Himalayan salt & a touch of olive oil to finish it off.
Like I said this is very susceptible to your own taste, but this is just to give you a clear picture of what a ketogenic plate looks like!
Losing Fat On Keto
So why does the ketogenic diet allow my body to tap into my fat stores? – While burning fat is an almost impossible task when your primary source of fuel are carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet makes it much easier by keeping your insulin levels low, and therefore your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day.
But… The ketogenic diet also offers some major metabolic advantages when comparing it to a carbohydrate rich diet – like for instance, the western diet.
I will try to explain this as elaborate and clear as I can: When you are dieting, or in a caloric deficit, your body down regulates it’s metabolism in order to keep as much weight on as possible. Your body always strives to reach the state of homeostasis.
Homeostasis means that your body does not lose or gain weight. Your body doesn’t want to go either way, it wants to stay exactly as it is, this is a survival mechanism that was crucial for the longevity of the human species back when we were still hunters and gatherers. Not ideal for our dreams of a shredded body!
Fortunately there is a work-around for this.
The ketogenic diet has almost zero effect on the body’s BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. BMR is simply the amount of calories you burn without any activity – The energy your body needs to keep it’s processes optimized(like sleeping, thinking, digesting, blood flow, keeping temperature up).
On a diet that is rich in carbohydrates your body tries to save energy as much as it can in order to remain in homeostasis, this will reduce your resting energy expenditure – which negatively impacts the stubborn fat that we are trying to get rid of, which makes the keto diet another winner in this regard.
In February 2018 a study conducted by the journal of nutrition and metabolism tested the effects of keto on BMR and concluded that a heavy calorie deficit had second to no impact.
Thomas Delauer, a renowned person in the world of keto, also made a very informative and thorough article on this topic. In the video below, Thomas talks about RMR – but this is essentially the same as BMR(Resting/Basal metabolic rate)
Your RMR/BMR also stays at a high level by incorporating regular amounts of exercise, which brings me to the next paragraph!
What About Exercise?
Whether you are an avid bodybuilder, or someone that is sedentary with no profound interest in physical activity, we can all agree that exercising on a regular basis is a hugely supporting factor in our overall health.
This does not change on the ketogenic diet, in fact – exercise only strengthens the effects that ketosis has on our bodies.
Studies have repeatedly shown that the ketogenic diet itself already has a large role in the rejuvenating effect on our skin, hair & nails & improves cognitive functioning. By exercising this is only enhanced to a higher degree.
Losing weight on keto
The same goes for metabolism, and fat burning. Especially weight training has a large role in supporting your lipolyse mechanisms(the process of burning fat for fuel). Weight training also supports the maintenance, or increase of muscle mass – depending on how your calories or set in conjunction with your daily expenditure. A caloric surplus will result in mass gain, a caloric deficit will result in mass maintenance – assuming your macronutrients are set accordingly.
If your protein intake is adequate, and you are in a caloric deficit – the sparing effect of the ketones and protein combined will help you maintain most of your lean mass, all while burning your fat mass for fuel.
Since the ketones your liver produces are preservants of lean mass this is another valid reason to opt for the ketogenic diet. Your protein intake has to be much higher during a caloric deficit on a high carb diet to maintain similar levels of muscle mass. The extra calories from protein that you would normally need to maintain your muscles can be used as an extra deficit on the ketogenic diet to lose more fat.
You will always lose small amounts of muscle when dieting, but this can hardly be prevented by any means. Especially extended periods of a caloric deficit(eating less than you burn) will have minor, but negligible consequences(on keto anyway) for lean mass.
The best way to lose fat mass on the ketogenic diet is by incorporating a combination of weight lifting and cardiovascular exercise – like cycling, or walking into your lifestyle.
By challenging your muscles with lifting moderately(during a caloric deficit) heavy weights your body will signal this by not breaking down the muscle tissue, your body recognizes this as a need to keep the muscle mass intact as much as possible. It has to hold on to your muscle mass in order to lift the weight again in the future, and your body will tap into it’s reserves it has to supply your body of energy – in other words, you will burn fat!
Yep, Your body is that intelligent!
By introducing cardio in the form of cycling, walking, rowing, or fast circuit style exercise into our training activities we can introduce an extra calorie restriction, as well as providing us with the metabolic advantages that a strong heart gives us as a result of cardiovascular exercise.
Building Muscle On The Keto Diet
While building muscle is still very much possible on keto, I’m not going to lie. It is slightly easier on a diet with at least some implementation of carbohydrates due to the anabolic properties of hormones like Insulin and IGF-1 that are secreted with higher levels of blood sugar.
To maintain the metabolic & cognitive benefits, better sleeping cycle and reduced inflammation that you experience on the SKD(standard ketogenic diet) while still optimally building muscle – I therefore recommend that you practice the cyclical ketogenic diet.
Like I described above – by following the CKD(Cyclical ketogenic diet), you will incorporate one day of high carbohydrate eating to refill your muscle glycogen stores, as well as stimulating the anabolic hormones for an optimal environment to pack on lean mass.
This is not to say that you cannot build muscle on the standard ketogenic diet, It is simply a bit harder to do, and it may take you a while longer than if you were following a cyclical keto diet, or the targeted ketogenic diet.
Your training can stay relatively similar to what you are used to. Make sure that you challenge your muscles appropriately with preferably compound exercises(Squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, pull ups) that involve multiple joints and muscle groups.
Avoid isolation exercises like tricep kickbacks just to name one, as much as possible. While they do trigger minor hypertrophy, they won’t nearly as much as a compound exercise like, for instance, a narrow stance push up would. In my opinion isolation exercises are a waste of time in that regard, you can gain much more cellular muscle damage, and thus results, form the larger compound exercises.
An additional benefit to compound movements is that they build out your body evenly.
Take the bench press as an example. When performing a strict form repetition of this exercise we utilize not only our chest muscles, but our shoulders triceps, and trapezius as well. Meaning they all have to work hard to get the weight moving – which will result in equal muscle development for a stunning symmetrical looking physique.
The only time I would recommend that you incorporate a few sets of an isolation exercise, is when you have a lagging muscle group that is under developed, in order to get it on the same level as the rest.
As for your number of sets and repetitions – I recommend that you do at least 3 sets of around 8 – 12 reps per exercise for the best hyperthropic(Muscle building) results. Ideally you leave a single ‘repetition in the tank’ for your main sets, to prevent over training.
If you feel like it, you can take the last set of each exercise to failure in order to give your muscles an extra incentive to grow.
Think of it this way: If you don’t challenge your muscles enough to the point that they technically can’t handle the load you are throwing at them – they won’t see the need to grow. Remember that your body always strives for homeostasis(not gaining or losing weight).
Give them a reason to grow, and they will!
Exercise As A Uniting Success Factor
Exercise is an undeniable factor that plays a large contributing role in reaching both your fat loss, as well as your muscle building goals at an accelerated pace.
By incorporating short circuits of heavy compound exercises we maximize our efficiency by targeting as many muscle groups as possible, while spending the least amount of time in the gym. Trust me, this approach works.
By keeping our time in the gym relatively short we also make sure that our hormonal levels remain at a healthy level. Excess time in the gym may result in the production of cortisol. A stress hormone that leads to fat gain, among other negative consequences.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that require the cooperation of multiple joints and muscles to perform a movement. Examples of this are the squat, deadlift, bench press & military press.
When I first started training I always incorporated the so called ‘bro split’ – an exercise regimen in which you target 1 or 2 muscles per training session. Back in the day this was highly advocated by ‘experts’ as being optimal. This has since been debunked as this usually results in spending at least 4, but preferably 5 or 6 sessions of 1 hour to 90 minutes.
After switching to the seemingly basic 3 times a week full-body training plan I was convinced. Full body training definitely provides the best bang for buck. My recommendation is that you perform 3 short 45 minute circuits of moderately heavy weight training, accompanied by 15 – 30 minutes of low intensity cardio.
If you are looking to get into exercising on a regular basis, but maybe you aren’t very fond of going to a gym several times a week because of the recurring gym membership payment & long waiting queue’s – you can check out my home gym equipment article – in which i specify the best pieces of equipment to build your own home gym and workout in the comfort of your very own living room!
Another great tool in your wide array is intermittent fasting(or IF for short).
Intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like, you fast intermittently during each day. You will not eat during a certain period of time during the day, known as your fasting window, which is then followed up by your eating window – in which you take in your required amount of calories.
This can be done in several ways that each provide similar benefits that go hand in hand with the ketogenic diet. That’s why I personally always like to call intermittent fasting with keto a perfect example of 1 + 1 = 3
The traditional, and most commonly used way of implementing intermittent fasting into your lifestyle is the 16 / 8 method. In this case 16 indicates the hours you fast during the day, and 8 hours of eating. In my opinion the 14 / 10 method is a great way to taste what intermittent fasting is all about, without changing too much on your current lifestyle.
A good way to start incorporating intermittent fasting is by starting out with the very mild 14 / 10 method in which you for example start by delaying your breakfast until 11 AM, and stop eating at 9 PM. This way the majority of your fasting time will take place during your sleep, which will not leave you as hungry as planning your fast during the day.
As a male you I recommend you try out 14 / 10 for a week or 2 to get the gist of it. If you like how you feel, you can then gradually extend your fasting period up to the maximum recommended fasting time of 20 hours a day, which I’m currently happily incorporating into my own lifestyle as well!
Internationally recognized chiropractor Dr. Eric Berg has made an incredibly informative video on how to stick to your intermittent fasting regimen, if you are having a hard time sticking with it.
Intermittent Fasting For Women
I recommend that women always stick to the mild variants(14, and eventually 16 hour fasts) of IF to avoid any hormonal imbalances and delayed periods which may occur when using the more extreme variants of 18 / 6 and upwards. Again, start by using the 14 / 10 method to get the hang of it – and you can eventually step it up by extending your fast for another 2 hours maximum.
The mild variants of IF are completely safe to incorporate, and will yield you the same results as for men, which are described above.
Alternate Day Fasting
There are more extreme variants on fasting like alternate day fasting – which requires you to not eat for 24 hours straight. While the results are undeniably good, you should not incorporate these too much on a regular basis as this may lead to health issues on the long term.
IF I Do It, What’s In It For Me?
So what are the benefits of depriving yourself of food for so long, I hear you ask?
Whenever you eat, your human growth hormone(HGH) levels drop significantly. HGH is responsible for the burning of fat mass for fuel, as well as stimulating muscle growth. With an average 16 hour fast, HGH levels undergo an increase of circa 2000% in males, and 1500% in females. An incredible way to promote your results.
Not only does IF directly allow you to burn more fat mass by increasing HGH levels, because of the smaller eating window, along with the satiating effect of fiber and dietary fat – you will most likely feel full much quicker, which will result in a lower caloric intake – leading to a higher amount of burned fat at the end of the day.
While you may feel hungry during the first week or so upon starting with intermittent fasting – I can guarantee you that it will quickly subside.
In fact; most people experience reduced hunger due to an even steadier blood sugar than with the keto diet alone. Even though the ketogenic diet will keep your blood sugar levels very low, regularly consuming fats and protein will still have a minor impact on blood glucose levels.
By only eating 2 or 3 times during our eating window we increase the net time per day(your fasting window) in which we keep blood sugar levels low, resulting in more fat burned for fuel.
For a full overview listing all of the benefits of this legendary time restricted way of eating, I would like to refer you to my in-depth article: Intermittent fasting with keto
The Ketogenic Lifestyle
I don’t like to use the term ‘diet‘ – the word diet indicates that it is a short term strategy, only as a means to an end in order to get to your weight loss goals.
We all know this strategy does not work, and if you only incorporate a diet for a certain period of time, only to resume eating the way you did, prior to starting your weight loss journey – you will quickly bounce back to your starting weight – and often times even higher than that.
The ketogenic diet isn’t a diet, it is a lifestyle – and a comfortable, pleasant & healthy one. Once you ditch the carbs for good, your body will thank you for it.
You will experience higher quality of sleep, no more sugar dips, constant energy, elevated mood, better cognitive functions, no brain fog, less sluggishness during mornings, an increased metabolism & of course, supreme fat burning effects.
Also, it’s so refreshing to eat other foods – which will happen now that you center your meals around fats as your main macronutrient. While it may be difficult when you just start out to figure out how to structure your meals, you will get the hang of it over time.
Your body will have no choice but to burn all of your fat, if through dietary fat – it is the only viable source of fuel it recognizes to burn. You are literally giving your body no choice!
So if you ask me ‘what is the keto diet about?’ – The ultimate way to burn fat… and keep it off for good. This lifestyle change will not just impact the foods you eat, it’s a complete overhaul of your life.
I will mentor you, guide you & supply you with all the tips & tricks I know, to maximize your results – so you can experience the same life changing benefits from the ketogenic diet that I have, all while making this journey as fun & delicious as possible whilst doing so.
Do reach out to my via the comment section below, or send me an email at email@example.com if you have any questions, or need any help at all.
Don’t forget, we are all on this journey together.