The Basics Behind the “Keto” Diet
Let me first begin this by stating that I am not a certified keto-coach (although that is possibly in the works!), but through research and speaking with experts in the field, I have learned quite a bit about the what, why, and how of Keto. So if you are considering it, but haven’t read up on it much, or are interested about it, please read on!!
I’m sure many of you have heard of the new craze of the “keto” diet. It helps you lose weight, and fast, BUT before you go throwing out all of your carbs in the household, make sure you read below as to who this diet can benefit, how to approach it properly, and when you might need to start considering adding back carbs into your diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet? How is it different from a low-carb diet?
There is a difference between a low-carb approach and ketogenic approach. The guidelines for a low-carb diet vary quite a bit in studies and research, but usually they are classified as being 30% or lower of your calories from carbohydrates. Now for the average individual that exercises moderately, that could mean 50-100g of carbohydrates a day, but for some athletes, low carb can still be 200+g/day.
This is unlike the ketogenic diet, where your day, no matter your weight, consists of only about 30-50g of carbohydrates (for your perspective, 30g of carbs = 1 regular sized banana), and the majority of your calories instead comes from fats and moderate levels of protein. BUT, there are several versions of the ketogenic diet:
*Standard Ketogenic Diet – Extremely low carb, moderate protein, and high fat (usually around 5% carbs, 20-25% protein, and 70-75% fats)
*Cyclical Ketogenic Diet – Involves higher carb ‘refeed’ days (i.e. 5 keto days, followed by 1 high carb day).
*Targeted Ketogenic Diet – This variation you add carbs around periods of intense exercise or workouts.
During a low-carb or ketogenic approach, the body will start to use fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. The reduction in carbohydrates causes a rise in ketone production which occurs in the liver from fatty acids.
These ketones can provide energy for low intensity exercise and even the brain can be fueled by ketones. The reason that protein stays moderate is because it can be turned into glucose (sugar) through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is what provides the other energy sources for the body that it cannot get from fat/ketones.
Who might benefit from Keto?
The keto diet can be extremely enticing because of the speed it provides weight loss, but there are some health risks to following it and it is definitely something to do your research on prior to starting.
If you have 50+ pounds to lose and are at an unhealthy body-fat level (35%+ starts to get a little high), then following the keto diet or a low-carb diet temporarily to lose weight could be helpful. Being this overweight, you most likely have some insulin resistance happening, and to remove carbohydrates (mainly processed sugars) from your diet can be helpful to get insulin function back to a good place.
We are NOT saying this is your only option, because it is not, but please read the risks below before making your decision.
What are the risks?
If you perform exercise at any type of high-intensity and don’t have much weight to lose, a severe cut to carbohydrates can have a detrimental impact to your muscle recovery and performance. With high intensity exercise, your muscles love to run on carbs – there has been research that shows that any activity under 15 minutes of work (aka most CrossFit workouts) runs purely on our glucose supply (sugar/carbs). So to remove those can leave you feeling fatigued and weak during your lifting sessions.
Also, it is common for those starting this diet to experience headaches and fatigue for up to 3 weeks. This is due to the shedding of a lot of water weight first which leads to dehydration, as well as the fact that your body no longer has its easy energy source to run off of.
Lastly, some other potential risks include:
- Kidney stones
- Vitamin deficiencies (getting rid of carbs = slashing most veggies and fruits, both of which have TONS of vitamins we need!)
- Decreased bone mineral density
- GI distress
- Increased cholesterol and heart disease (Many people who follow this diet do not pay attention to the balance of saturated, unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fats – they end up taking in a lot of ‘bad’ fats via cheese, butter, fried foods, red meat, etc. which can cause your cholesterol levels to rise).
So if I want to try it, how do I start?
1. Consult your doctor. We always recommend getting a professional’s opinion before taking on a drastic change to the diet and have it monitored by your doctor as well to make sure you don’t experience any harmful side-effects (listed above).
2. The main basis of all diets should be a balance of whole, unprocessed foods. Fill your carbohydrates for the day with colorful vegetables sources, eat a variety of lean proteins, and take in a healthy balance of saturated, unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fats.
3. Make it temporary. As soon as you get to a healthier weight, and feel better, start to slowly reintroduce healthy carbohydrate options like fresh fruit, starchy vegetables, and whole grains in moderation.
- The Keto Diet is an extreme diet that removes nearly all carbohydrates and gets your body into a ketosis state that you burn mostly fat for energy.
- Always consult your physician before any major diet change, and we would recommend following a low-carb approach prior to going all-in with keto.
- If you do follow the keto (or low-carb) approach, make sure you keep lots of whole, unprocessed foods in your diet, including vegetables!
- If you are doing any high intensity activity, the lack of carbohydrates on a keto-diet may be detrimental to your performance and muscle development.
- Like any diet, it should be temporary – make sure to reintroduce carbohydrates after you have gotten to a healthy weight and body-fat percentage.