What is the Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet is one in which carbohydrates are restricted, fat is eaten liberally, and protein is eaten in moderate quantities. A ketogenic diet is achieved when one enters a state of sustained nutritional ketosis; that is, they are burning fat and fat derivatives (ketones) as their primary fuel source, rather than glucose. Fat is broken down in the body as the ketones beta-hydroxybutyrate (B-OHB) and acetoacetate, which are rapidly oxidized as fuel by a variety of tissues. Nutritional ketosis is achieved when blood serum ketones (B-OHB) reach the 0.5 to 5mM range, as indicated by urine, blood, or breath samples.
What are the potential benefits of the diet?
- Rapid Weight Loss
- Greatly reduced hunger cravings
- Fat loss while retaining lean muscle mass
- Enhanced exercise recovery
- Increased focus, concentration, and energy throughout day
- Raising HDL “good” cholesterol and increasing “bad” LDL particle size, both associated with decreasing risk of heart disease
- Decreased free-radical production
- Medical Uses include: treating epilepsy and seizures, reversing metabolic syndrome, managing type-II diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease
Is the diet safe?
Yes, a well-formulated ketogenic diet is safe! Nutritional ketosis should not be confused with diabetic ketoacidosis, in which B-OHB blood serum ketone levels reach the 15-25 mM range. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an unstable and dangerous condition that occurs when there is inadequate pancreatic insulin response to regulate serum B-OHB, while nutritional ketosis is simply a state in which fatty acids and ketones are safely being used as a fuel source by the body.
Ketogenic diets can meet all of the body’s energy demands: the brain can adapt to using both ketones and glucose as energy source, the skeletal muscles can use ketones and fatty acids for energy, and other organs of the body adapt nicely as well.
How do I get started on the ketogenic diet?
Getting started is relatively simple! But, there are a few important considerations to make.
First, the kidneys secrete much more sodium along with extra fluid; low sodium content can cause headache, fatigue, weakness, and constipation. The solution is to add 1-2 grams of sodium to your daily intake, which can be in the form of 1-2 cups of bouillon cubes. On exercise days, taking one dose of bouillon within an hour before starting can prevent these symptoms from occurring.
Second, the macronutrient ratio utilized is essential: if too many carbohydrates or proteins are eaten, then the body will convert them to glucose, shunting ketone production and therefore preventing a state of nutritional ketosis. The following macronutrient ratios should be maintained:
- Carbohydrate: 20-125 grams, 50 grams on average; 5-20%
- Protein: 0.6-1g/lb of lean body mass; 15-20%
- Fat: The rest of your daily intake of calories (65-80% of calories); 60-80%
The amount of carbohydrate eaten depends on a few factors, including medical conditions, physical fitness level and exercise routine, along with what the diet is actually being used for (e.g. weight loss, general health, medical condition). In general, the lower the amount of carbohydrate consumed, the more likely it is to produce ketones and sustain high ketone levels in the blood. In order to know what blood level ketones are, a blood-ketone meter can be utilized.
An example of a way to formulate the correct ratios is shown below:
Goal: Weight Maintenance
Weight: 168 lbs
Lean Body Mass: 144.50 lbs [Lean Body Mass = Total Body Weight – Body Fat (Body Fat % * Total Body Weight)]
Basal Metabolic Rate = 1837 Cals
Carbohydrate: 50g * (4 Cal/g) = 200 Cal
Protein: 0.6g*144.5lbs = 86.7 g * (4 Cal/g) = 347 Cal
Fat: 1837 Cals – (200+347) = 1,290 Cals * (9g/Cal) = 143 g
So, in this case, one would eat 50 grams of carbs, about 87 grams of protein, and 143 grams of fat. 280 total grams of food: Carb = 11%; Protein = 19%; Fat = 70%
Third, it takes at minimum two weeks and can take upwards of six to become adapted to a ketogenic diet (keto-adapted); that is, for the body to utilize ketones as its primary fuel source. This transitionary period can be catalyzed by the use of a ketone supplement. The ketone supplement will keep blood levels of ketones high, ensuring the brain gets the fuel it needs during this transitionary period. The use of a ketone supplement can continue to be used even after keto-adaptation as a way to augment the diet’s benefits and to allow for greater flexibility in the macronutrients eaten; one could eat a bit more carbohydrate if supplementing with ketones.
Fourth, the type of fats consumed is important. It is ideal to consume mostly saturated and monounsaturated fats, such as coconut oil, butter, olive oil, etc… Polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) such be limited to about a gram per day in a 1:1 ratio. Eating too many omega-6 fats from vegetable oils is often seen on a typical diet and should be noted.
Fifth, any major change imposed on the body will initially cause it some stress before it adapts. Therefore, it is not advisable to begin a new exercise routine or other major lifestyle change in addition to beginning this diet. Maintaining your regular exercise routine is fine, but this change in diet can hinder sports performance in serious athletes for months. The degree that this impacts is completely individualized – for some, it may take 2 months to get back to top performance, and others, six months. But once the body completely adapts, the benefits such as increased capacity to endure extended bouts of exercise without crashing will begin.
Lastly, it is important to emphasize that nutritional ketosis can only be maintained if ketone levels in the blood are at a certain level. If you try this diet for a few weeks or months and then switch back to eating a high carbohydrate diet, the benefits of the diet will be instantly abolished. This “diet” should be viewed less of as a diet and more as a lifestyle change which empowers individuals to have great control over their food consumption and body composition.
This concise start guide can be utilized to effectively begin and maintain a ketogenic diet. I would advise to read even more about the diet to getter a better grasp on how and why it works. The resources listed below are a great place to start.
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Volek and Phinney
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Volek and Phinney
Podcasts and Websites
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