What is a ketogenic diet
Ketosis is a state of the body when , not to be confused with keto-acidosis, which is a potentially deadly condition that type 1 diabetics can get themselves into with an improper diet. Even though they sound similar, they are not. Even many medical professionals do not understand the difference.
Ketosis is a state where your body does not have enough glycogen (sugar) to operate fully so your body starts to cannibalize your fat tissue to create energy. Your body breaks down fatty acids to create ketones which your body can more readily use for energy. If you want a detailed in depth description check the wikipedia entry on Ketosis.
A ketogenic diet is pretty simple. 80% of your calories come from fat, the more saturated fat the better. 15% from protein and 5% from carbs. For the carbs you can eat as much fibre as you want, fibre does not count towards your 5% carbs. The biggest mistake people make is too much protein. Your body can convert excess protein into glycogen through a process called gluconeogenesis. Especially if you come from the mentality of you need 1g of protein per bodyweight to “maintain” muscle this will be a big step. It is actually hard to keep protein levels below required levels.
As your body becomes more accustomed to this diet you can have a little more play with the ratios. I can now have a fairly large serving of protein or carbs and still stay comfortably in ketosis, this is because my body has become so adapted and efficient at using fat that it prefers these sources of energy.
This is a brief summary of what the diet is, if you want to start this diet yourself, I would recommend reading more on it. This article is more about my personal experience with it.
But don’t we need carbs to survive?
This is the hardest part to overcome. The advertising and education we have been inundated with about how we need grains and “healthy carbs” is overwhelming. Even doctors recommend better carb choices for diabetics to help control blood sugar. A ketogenic diet would reverse their diabetes, but its considered too “drastic” for someone to adhere to, plus all that evil saturated fat. I could write a very lengthy article on how messed up our system is, but more eloquent people than myself have done this. If you are interested in some good reads here is a list of books to educate you on how most of what the government has told you is wrong, and why they think what they do.
- The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz
- Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss
- Keto Clarity by Eric C. Westman
- Why We Get Fat - Gary Taubes (any of his books)
If you are not a reader check youtube for any Ketosis video by
- Dr. Peter Attia
- Jeff Volek
- Professor Tim Noakes
- or Dr. Stephen Phinney
There are tons of other great resources out there, these are just a few recent ones off the top of my head.
The adaptation period
This is the worst part. I won’t lie, for the first couple of weeks you will probably feel terrible. Headaches, lethargic, severe drops in performance both physically and mentally. Hold on. After 4-6 weeks your body gives up on trying to live off carbs and starts using ketones as the primary source. This is where the magic happens. All off a sudden you realize you are eating because of habit, not hunger, and your mind just feels less “foggy”. I feel like my brain is razor sharp, memory is clearer and it just feels like I can operate at a higher level.
You might have heard about studies that show that fat adapted people are not as efficient as glycogen adapted athletes. The problem with most of these studies is that they are done short term, several days to only a couple weeks of low carbs. The longer you are in ketosis the more efficient your body becomes at using fat for energy. There are many articles on this, as well as an excellent review written by Dr. Attia where he was tested with the most scrutinous methods available to science and passed with flying colours. Warning, its very technical, but has some great pictures - http://eatingacademy.com/how-a-low-carb-diet-affected-my-athletic-performance and another nutritional study by Dr. Stephen D Phiney - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC524027/
Why I chose ketosis?
I decided to try ketosis for a number of reasons. The most important for me was for the cognitive benefits. The research on ketones and the brain has shown to be very positive. First off if the brain is given the choice of glycogen or ketones it will choose ketones every time. In people with traumatic brain injuries (concussions, etc) a ketogenic diet has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve cognitive function. It has become very popular with ex-athletes. Ex-NFL guard John Welbourn of CrossFit Football and PowerAthlete has been using the ketogenic diet to help offset all the damage he suffered in his 10 years in the NFL. I also know of several other retired professional athletes who have decided to try a ketogenic diet for its benefits for people who have had several concussions, all with very positive results.
As a welcome side effect, my appetite is incredibly satiated on this diet. I no longer use set times to eat, if I’m hungry I will eat, if not I will not eat. I have sometimes gone more than 24 hours without eating, having to be reminded to eat supper. Its a great feeling of not always having to search for the next meal to bring back up the roller coaster of blood sugar. I find it very liberating to be able go about my day not worrying about what my next meal is. When I was eating higher carbs I found myself thinking about my next meal as soon as I finished the one I was currently eating.
The food choices are pretty easy for me, I have always preferred a jar of peanut butter as a treat over a bag of gummy bears. My body seems to respond very well to a higher fat intake. Plus endless supplies macadamia nuts and avocado is a definitely plus in my book.
The biggest disadvantage is having to explain yourself to other people. Just wait until you go for a physical, and your family doctor will lecture you on your diet from the vast experience of one nutrition course 30 years ago. After seeing the results from the blood panels, the doctor still thinks you are hurting yourself.
Getting the weird looks when I order “more butter than you have every brought a single person” when eating out at a restaurant. Trying to explain to friends and family members that all that fat is not going to give me heart disease. Explaining why you can’t “just have a couple bites” of said sugary treat they want you to eat.
If you find food choice restrictive on the ketogenic diet, get a good cookbook. It didn’t take long for my wife to go from cooking pretty simple meals to absolutely delicious meals that if I didn’t tell a guest they would have no idea that it was ketogenic.
My personal results
I have tried the ketogenic diet several times. In college I did the cyclical ketogenic diet, which is a ketogenic diet with a big carb refeed on the weekends. The purpose was to try and gain muscle, I personally found it just too hard to adjust from no carbs to carbs and back. I tried the ketogenic diet last year a few weeks before the open, but by the time the open had started I was only a week or two in and my performance was horrible and I felt miserable so I went back to carbs.
This time it has been 9 months on ketogenic diet, probably the last 3 months where I was using my appetite to decide when I eat versus eating at scheduled times. I dropped from a high of 99kg in December, to 82kg as of this morning. I cannot remember the last time I have been this lean or light. I had my body composition done last week with 11 site caliber measurement and it put me at 2.7%. This is insanely low, absolute essential fat only is left. I am actually leaner than when I used to diet for 20 weeks back in the bodybuilding years. The biggest bonus is I don’t even have to work on it. I am not deprived, I still have a dessert after supper. But I feel AMAZiNG, I am moving better, sleeping better, looking better. I lost a little muscle (6 pounds according to the calculation, but almost 32 pounds of fat) , and being lighter means that my maximal strength is not what is used to be. I am fine with that, at my age lifting super heavy weights all the time would wear me out anyway. I still have more than enough strength to be able to perform anything I want to be able to do.
The main issue I have noticed is my glycolytic performance is not as good. The glycolytic workouts as the 1-3 minute workouts, which used to be my absolute favourite. My muscles just “get heavy” faster and I can’t move as fast I used to be able to. For me this is fine as that was my best time domain, and the longer 20-30 minute workouts seem like I have several more gears and I could keep the pace up indefinitely.
One of my favourite workouts is Isabel, 30 snatches at 135 pounds for time. The last time I did it I was 1:47. This time I was 2:38, but I have also not really done any olympic lifting in the last 6 months. Overall I will take a small decline in one area, for a greater improvement overall.
Remember, for a performance athlete, a ketogenic diet is probably not the best for excelling, but for 99.9% of us, our pay checks do not depend on our performance.
I have played with all sorts of diets during my life, for aesthetics, performance, body building, and to deal with my gut and immune issues. So far, these are the best results for overall health. If I was a performance athlete in a sport I might eat more carbs, perhaps pre and post workout with a performance start such as Vitargo, but at this point in my life, I compete to have fun, the outcome is always successful as long as I don’t get hurt. I feel and look great, which is what matters most.
Yours in health,