Making Sense Of The Ketogenic Diet
Simply put, the Keto Diet is changing your body’s preferred energy source (fuel for the body to function) from carbohydrates to fats. This is done through a process called Ketosis.
If you have been on social media recently or even on Google (I don’t know who hasn’t been on google, it’s so easy to use) you may have come across the ‘Keto’ Diet or ‘Ketogenic’ Diet.
Firstly, I am writing this to give you a balanced view on the biggest diet around at the moment. I am not trying to sell you a Keto product at the end of this article. I am purely giving you the facts and my professional opinion (as a certified Personal Trainer). More importantly making sense of the ‘Keto’ diet so it is easy to understand. That way you can make your own informed decision if it is right for you or not.
Secondly, I hate the word ‘diet’ as it insinuates restricting yourself from certain foods, I prefer the word ‘nutrition’ as it has positive connotations. Now let’s get into the detail.
How does it work?
Let’s start with the list of your body’s preferred energy source (in order):
- Alcohol (yes, alcohol) - although it does not make it a good choice. We all know the result of too much alcohol; ever tried to function properly with alcohol? How did it go? Not great I bet.
- Carbs (Carbohydrates)
Your body would prefer Carbs as an energy source (after alcohol), the Keto diet works by reducing the intake of Carbs so Fats have to be used as a fuel.
The Science Bit
The body would normally break down Carbs into glucose during the digestion process but instead through Ketosis the body can’t use Carbs as an energy source so it will go to the next available energy source which as we now know is Fat. Fat is released from cells and turned into Ketones hence the body has gone into ‘Ketosis’
FACT: Ketosis is a natural process for the human body but has been used as a diet and not for what is it designed for, helping the human body to stay alive. If you have ever seen anyone sadly starve to death or look malnourished. Humans use all available Carbs as energy in the body then Fat and lastly Protein. Protein is used as a last resort. This leads to a reduction in muscle mass (muscle wastage) and this in turn causes the muscles to 'waste' away. Evenutally leading to death as the human body has run out of energy sources.
The idea of Ketosis is that the body ‘starves’ itself of Carbs (NOT calories) so it uses Fat as an energy source instead.
Where did the Ketogenic diet come from?
I highly recommend reading this article if you really want to get into the detail, a great read, 'The Ketogenic Diet: One Decade Later'.
It has been around since 1920s and was used as an alternative method instead of fasting to treat epilepsy. It was made popular by John Mark Freeman (American pediatric neurologist specializing in epilepsy).
Later it was abandoned in favor of anticonvulsant drugs.
What can I eat on Keto diet?
The big categories are:
- Whipped Cream
- Salad Dressing
- Eggs (also contain Healthy Fats)
- Fish (Oily contains Healthy Fats)
- Leafy Greens
- Above the ground veg (think non-starch based mainly)
What can't I eat on a Keto diet?
- Starch based Carbs (Bread, Potatoes, Grains, Rice etc)
This is where I believe most people would struggle with the shear amount of fats you need to eat. It is a tough ask to not eat any of the above.
How Much Do I Eat On The Keto Diet?
This varies slightly depending on where you look but generally these are the numbers needed to go into Ketosis:
Fats - 70-80% of your daily calorie intake
Protein - 25-15% of your daily calorie intake
Carbs - 5% of your daily calorie intake
This would typically look like (taken from dieting well):
Breakfast: – 3 Egg Omelet with Spinach, Cheese, and Sausage
Lunch – BLT Salad
Dinner – Baked Salmon with Asparagus
In terms of 5% Carbs, if you were on 2000 calories a day that would be the equivalent of 100 calories (smaller than one medium banana).
The Ketosis rules
- Carbs must be no more 35g of ‘net-carbs’ per day (Net carbs = total dietary carbs - total fibre)
- Protein between 0.6g - 0.8g
How do I know if I am in Ketosis?
- Increased Urination (due to Keto being a diuretic)
- Dry Mouth - short term, you need to drink more water
- Bad Breath - short term, don’t panic
- Reduced Hunger
- Increase energy
What is ‘Keto flu’?
Keto flu can occur when you first start the Ketogenic Diet. Symptoms include:
- Needing the bathroom as Keto is a diuretic (encourages urnaitation)
- Cramps (due to the lack of water)
- Constipation (due to lack of fruit, water and starched based Carbs)
- Heart Palpitations (due to lack of electrolytes (mainly sodium, potassium and magnesium))
This usually lasts up to 7 -10 days.
What are the benefits of the Keto Diet?
Weight loss - This is one of the biggest benefits by far as you are using fat as a energy source therefore you become a fat burning machine
Control of blood sugar levels - Since glucose is not being used as an energy source this means that there are little/ no spikes in sugar levels therefore your levels remain stable.
Epilepsy - There is enough research and supporting evidence that it can reduce the number of epileptic seizures. Since the 1920s, in general, 10%–15% of children who initiated the diet were seizure free 1 year later, 30% had a 90% reduction in seizures.
Does The Keto Diet Work For Athletes?
There are 3 variations of the Keto Diet:
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) - All the above I have already covered which is used by most people on the Keto Diet.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) - This is for anyone who works out regularly and it is advisable to take Carbs 30-60 mins before your workout. Avoiding high frutose foods (mainly fruit) and go for starch based foods. This is due to potentially coming out of Ketosis. Ideally between 25-50g of net Carbs. After a workout, high Protein and low Fat should be consumed to optimise results.
- Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) - This is where it gets tricky, if you are an athlete/active person suggestions range from 1 day a week which is given for "Carb-loading". Basically eating more Carbs which can range from 50g for the first 24-48 hours then 450-600g of Carbs during the "Carbs-loading" phase.
Big Coach says...
In my opinion, the Keto diet has some clear benefits but it is really worth it? In a nutshell, I would say no and here are my reasons:
- The same benefit of the Keto Diet also have a huge pitfalls ’40% to 50% found that the diet was either too difficult to continue or insufficiently effective and therefore discontinued it during the first 6 months.’ This is taken from The Ketogenic Diet: One Decade Later.
- For me, it is the ‘too difficult to continue’ statement that screams out to me. How long can you really last with so very little Carbs? I understand the research and can see the benefits but I do not see the benefits if they are short lived and unsustainable.
- The numbers are too hard to track and maintain, MyFitnessPal is a great tool and I see it truly working here but it feels like you would have to spend a considerable amount of time working out all the number and eventually it could end up being a huge mathematical nightmare.
- The Fat options just do not appeal to me as much as having a nutritionally balanced plate of food which contains all three Marcos (Carbs, Protein, Healthy Fats). At least I have a choice.
- The biggest one for me as an athlete in my sport is the the variation of the Keto Diet, Cyclic Ketogenic Diet whereby you need Carbs to workout, surely this is not new.
This is why diets are fundamentally flawed, it is always about taking food away. It feels like diets are always too extreme. Too little carbs, too much fat in this instance rather than finding a balance of all three Macronutrients.
This is why Farah and I have spend so much time putting together, Making Sense Of Nutrition. A more balanced way of eating.
Will it last?
Who remembers the Atkins Diet, which was popularised in 2003, again another Low Carb Diet.
As with anything in life, time will tell. I am sure there will be another food craze coming up.
I am interested on hearing your views on the Keto Diet, have you tried it or thinking of trying it? (please comment below). Also if you would like me to make sense of another 'diet' please let me know below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and if you found this article useful and think others would please share it on your social media (all tabs are on the right on desktop or on the bottom left hand corner on mobile).
Co-founder of Big Coach Little Coach
Here are some other words/terms that are associated with the Keto Diet that I thought you might find useful:
Acetoacetate - One of the three Ketone bodies
Acetone - The other one of the three Ketone bodies
Electrolytes - Are chemicals that conduct electricity when mixed with water. Many bodily functions require a small charge to function which is provided from the electrolyte
Tubers - Vegetables which grow underground on the root of a plant (e.g. sweet potatoe). These are usually high in starch
Net Carbs are Net carbs = total dietary carbs - total fibre
DKA - Diabetic Ketoacidosis, is a serious condition that can occur in diabetes when ketones build up in your body