The Ketogenic Diet is getting lots of attention- with tabloid websites publishing typical hype weight loss stories about vacuous celebs like Kim Kardashian, zealous bloggers pushing keto keywords to sell books about weight loss and health benefits they’ve yet to experience (you know who you are), obesity rates increasing, and an increasing portion of the populace fed up with being fat and sickly, this high-fat low-carbohydrate method for shedding excess body fat is getting lots of buzz.
Keto style diets can be a highly effective way to shed bodyfat and maintain lean muscle mass while improving health and biomarkers and it’s not just a fad- low carb diets have been used to lose body fat for hundreds of years.
Let’s talk about the basics. Without getting too much into the many health benefits that a ketogenic diet may offer, we will keep our focus on keto for body composition and fat loss.
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What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate diet where the body relies on fat for fuel rather than glucose. It is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein diet (depending on the individual and goals, 1-2 g/kg of lean body mass in protein per day is usually adequate). When carbohydrates are restricted (for many people below 50 grams per day of net carbs, carb tolerance for ketosis varies for all individuals) and the bodys glycogen is depleted, the liver begins creating ketone bodies out of fatty acids to fuel the brain. These ketones can be measured with ketone strips on a blood glucometer- over .5mmol/liter is considered “ketosis”. The small amount of glucose necessary for certain parts of the brain can be synthesized from amino acids and the body switches to burning fat, rather than glucose, as the primary fuel – this state is called nutritional ketosis and is a normal, safe physiological state.
What are the benefits of a ketogenic diet?
There are many ways to lose bodyfat, and the best method for getting lean is the method that is sustainable and healthy (physically and psychologically) for each individual in the long term…for many, keto is a great way to lose body fat and get ripped and lean, here’s why
- A ketogenic diet is very satiating. The protein and fat bring high levels of satiety and decrease hunger, this makes dieting down and getting leaner easy for many people because once you are adapted to a fat based metabolism your blood sugar is more stable and is insulin is low, this makes it very easy to restrict calories and tap into body for for energy.
- By cutting out “trigger foods” (for me it was the pastries and sweets) that spark cravings and hunger you are eliminating a major source of excess calories in the diet and after an adaptation period you may not experience the cravings you once did. This can be beneficial in the long run because if you do occasionally eat some of your trigger foods (let’s face it, for most people these are sweet carbs) you can exert some will power and self control and not give into binging.
- Ketosis is muscle sparing. Assuming the body is given adequate protein, very low carbohydrate diets seem to be very protective of skeletal muscle tissue and can even stimulate muscle protein synthesis. The mechanism behind the muscle sparing effects that ketosis seems to bring are not known, but it is likely that the availability of fuel for muscle tissue (free fatty acids) likely inhibit the catabolism of muscle into glucose.
- For many, a ketogenic diet is very easy to maintain long term. Your body adapts to the healthy fats and protein and your palate comes to crave savory foods.
- After becoming well adapted to the metabolic pathway, many people experience increased mental clarity and sustained energy levels.
- There are a wide array of potential health benefits to a ketogenic diet that are now being studied including neuroprotective effects. A ketogenic diet is even being looked at as a possible dietary intervention to treat bipolar disorder. Many people experience improved cognition and mood when they switch to a fat based metabolism and research is emerging that suggests a ketogenic diet may be an effective treatment for several neurological and even psychological issues. A keto diet won’t magically make you a happier person, but many report that it seems to improve quality of life and mental clarity.
What are the drawbacks of a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet is not ideal for everyone, there is no single “best way” to lose body fat and get ripped – the best diet for YOU is the one that you can maintain and even enjoy. Here’s why keto may not be for you
- It takes a bit of time to adapt to ketosis. For many, entering ketosis happens very quickly and they feel great on a high fat low carb diet – for others, it can be a difficult transition.
- Strength can temporarily decrease as you adapt and deplete glycogen stores. This is transient and strength will return, but this adaptation phase can make many decide it just isn’t worth the effort. I have added strength to all my lifts while in deep ketosis, and many others are also able to build muscle and decrease body fat percentage on longer body recomps in ketosis, but the adaptation period can put many off. Adaptation is key, but it takes a bit of time and dedication.
- As you dump water weight in the beginning you lose electrolytes – maintaining electrolyte levels with with magnesium, potassium, and unrefined sea salt is necessary and will help you adapt smoothly.
- If your sweet tooth is stronger than your desire to lose fat, it won’t work very well! Many employ refeeds and a cyclical ketogenic diet with 6 days very low carb and 1 day high carb, and this can work very well for some, but I recommend either giving the body enough carbs to fuel it or restricting carbs enough so you adapt to ketosis and use fat for fuel- the “limbo” zone between the two metabolic substrates is not fun. Changing metabolic states with light cycles (aka the seasons) also can be very effective and healthy for maintaining circadian rhythms, but switching in and out of ketosis all the time can result in alot of “foggy” days when in between metabolic states.
- Some people just don’t respond well to a ketogenic diet! There are people who have trouble adapting to low carb eating – this can be for a plethora of reasons (including environmental) but for some people, carbs are preferred and cutting them out just doesn’t work. There is no one size fits all method for achieving your physique goals – if psychologically it is just unbearable to cut carbs, then keto isn’t for you. Low carb isn’t for everyone. I put clients on higher carb diets often, just because keto works for me does not mean it is ideal for everyone’s physique goals. I would still recommend not cutting fat too low when using a carb based diet to lean out because certain fats, namely DHA, are crucial for health.
So, there it is – ketogenic diets can be very effective for getting shredded and losing body fat, but it’s not one size fits all.