She paused, stunned, mouth half open, staring at me in disbelief as she sat across the table from me.
“No carbs?!” she asked. “As in… “like” none?”
“Well, not technically,” I responded. “You’ll be getting some from your dark, leafy greens but other than that
about 5-10% or around 50 grams will be residual carbs, yes.”
She glanced up, eyes narrowed and said flatly, “Is this going to make me fat?”
“Nope. Unless you eat outside your calorie range.”
Glumly, she blankly stared off into space and then muttered, “I don’t know if I can do this..”
This was the reaction one of my clients gave me when I suggested that she use a keto diet.
When people hear the phrase “no carbs” it’s like they go into panic mode. Literally.
“Eject!! Eject!!” they think.
So, before you panic and hit the eject button, let’s take a look at this frequently misunderstood method of eating.
I first encountered keto in 2012 when experimenting with Carb Backloading, which is a nutritional protocol using keto as the basis. It required coconut oil, heavy cream, and dark leafy greens with fattier meats for the initial phase of the diet. It seemed foreign. It was intriguing to me because it was something that seemed “underground” or covert, which made it all the more enticing.
It’s only recently that keto has become more mainstream.
When I first started, I remember the constant barrage of criticism and comments from family and friends like, “That sounds miserable”,“You’re going to die of heart disease,” “You’re going to give yourself a heart attack”, “You’re poor kidneys”, “Aren’t you worried about your cholesterol?”…all the while maintaining sub ten percent bodyfat.
This past year while preparing for one of my contests, I used a completely ketogenic diet to shed bodyfat and achieve that contest-ready condition. Since then, I’ve dabbled in and out of keto a few times between shows, mostly to prevent the dreaded “rebound” in fat gain that can occur after being in such a nutrient deficient and calorie deficient state while preparing for contest time. I would definitely credit keto (and the discipline to not exceeding calorie intake) to being a reason why I’ve been able to maintain a healthy weight and body composition coming out of a show. I also credit keto to increasing my nutritional knowledge and experience.
So, what is a ketogenic diet (keto for short)?
In layman’s terms, keto is basically a ketone-producing diet whereby the body being (as i like to think of it )“the best hybrid machine period” transfers primary fuel sources from carbohydrates to fats. This transfer of fuel sources begins to take place within just a couple days of cutting out carbs and raising fats. At that point, ketone concentrations in the blood rise and the brain will begin using them for energy preferentially. This initial keto-adaptation process usually takes about four weeks to complete, at which point you’ll reach peak fat-burning adaptations and full-on keto. HOOAH.
Initially used as a form of treatment for childhood epilepsy, ketogenic diets became popular when researchers saw the potentially beneficial effect they had on keeping blood sugar levels low, meaning they were then used as a treatment for obesity, before gaining popularity in the mainstream. Another benefit is seen with its tumor reducing effects, as insulin feeds tumor growth.
While many people in the bodybuilding world think that a ketogenic diet just means going “low-carb”, this isn’t actually the case.
A true ketogenic diet is supposed to be around 60-80% fat, 5-10% carb, and just 10-30% protein.
That means that even if you’re consuming 2,500 calories per day, protein will only be at a maximum of 187 grams – and probably even less.
BUT…WHAT ABOUT PROTEIN?
I know, I know. You’re worried about losing those “gains” you’ve worked you hard for and to maintain. So, then, why so little protein, you ask? This is a difficult pill to swallow for some, especially if you’ve been used to eating at or above your bodyweight in grams of protein. “Am I gonna shrink?” I can hear you ask.
Not even bruh. So, how is this possible? It’s because ketones have a ‘protein sparing’ effect. Conversely, if you consume too much protein, the protein and certain amino acids in certain amounts will act as carbs and will kick your body out of ketosis through gluconeogenesis (the body literally makes glucose out of different substrates or resources).
ALL ‘BOUT DAT FAT LIFE
So, this is the obvious question on everyone’s mind:
So, if I can’t have carbs, what can I eat?
Here are some of the staples you should build your diet around:
- Fatty nuts and seeds: Cashews, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds and any other nuts in general
- Whole eggs
- Full-fat cheese
- Beef: Ground chuck (80/20), filet mignon, porterhouse, ribeye
- Chicken: Thighs and legs
- Vegetables: Spinach and other greens, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, mushrooms, bell peppers
- Pork rinds
- Olive oil
- Coconut Oil
- Salted grass-fed butter (Butter from grass-fed cows is also much higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2, compared to butter from grain-fed cows )
- Heavy whipping cream
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
- Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies
- Bacon (!!!)
- Chicken broth or bouillon cubes with at least 1 gram sodium
That last item may surprise you, but for many people, it makes all the difference. Why? When we take out carbs drastically like this, we rapidly deplete glycogen, which is the stored form of carbohydrate. For every gram of glycogen we lose, we lose three grams of water (1:3 ratio). Adding in the bouillon will help prevent dehydration and improve the way you feel on the diet.
Water isn’t enough on keto; you need enough sodium, too. So grab some soy sauce while you’re at it.
Another great thing about keto is that the body uses cholesterol from dietary fat to synthesize certain hormones. Hormones regulate and determine many of the processes that occur in the body. When there is a lack of dietary fat in the body, it pumps out cortisol at high rates, which can lead to low hormone levels, such as testosterone, which is essential for performance, muscle growth and recovery for the athlete and “weekend warrior.” Fortunately, on keto you’d be getting a variety of fats from whole food sources: Saturated fats from meat and dairy, coconut oil, fish oil, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat from nuts, seeds, and avocados and oils.
The ketogenic diet does allow room for science’s best performance-boosting supplements, like creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, and caffeine. So, if you are accustomed to taking a pre-workout, you should be just fine, as long as it’s low-carb or carb free. Be sure to drink some Pedia-Lite pre or during workouts for sodium-magnesium electrolyte insurance.
With regards for BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), they can be tricky. Valine (one of the three BCAAs) is gluconeogenic (glucose-producing) and could potentially kick you out of ketosis. Does it mean it will happen? It’s possible, but unlikely.
FAQs ON KETO
Q: Won’t I get fat from eating all that fat?
A: Nope. Unless, of course, you over eat on your daily calorie range. Remember, calories are king. Most people inherently start with a fat phobia and are scared to lather it on. We’ve been conditioned our entire lives through society hearing that fat makes you fat, fat is bad for your heart, fat causes cancer, fat, fat, blah, blah… Now, all of a sudden, you’re eating 200 grams of fat PER DAY. The issue is probably more a psychological hurdle to overcome than anything else.
Q: What are some of the the most common mistakes made when going keto?
A: A few of the common mistakes include first and foremost mistaking “low-carb” dieting for very-low keto dieting. The next few would be eating too much protein, not eating enough fats, and finally, not allowing enough time for the keto adaptation to occur.
Q: What happens if I’m doing keto and then I have pizza or doughnuts or something? If I had a whole pizza would I mess it up? Is a weekly carb-laden cheat meal or a cheat day enough to ruin someone’s ketogenic plan?
A: A whole pizza? Yep. That would mess it up. Defintely not going to stay in ketosis. Many people can’t see themselves doing a strict ketogenic diet for long periods of time. For this reason, several variations of the diet have become popular. Unfortunately, very few of these have been examined in a research setting. One method is known as “cyclic ketogenic dieting”, AKA Carb Backloading or Carb Nite developed by John Kiefer. During this diet, individuals do a strict ketogenic diet for 5 days and then “carb up” for 1-2 days (on Carb Nite) while carbing up is done daily after training and before the next day’s training using Carb Backloading. The issue with this, according to Dr. Jacob Wilson from the University of Tampa, is that the individual only achieves very mild ketosis a couple of days a week.
Q: If I’m already doing keto, how do I come out of ketosis and start eating carbs again?
A: This is a great question. Much like reverse dieting with competing physique athletes, adding carbohydrates in should be done gradually over weeks and not all at once. Dr. Wilson says to start by introducing carbohydrates at 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per week until you are back to the normal range. If you’re interested in adding carbohydrates back in, be very conservative and limit this to once a week, after a hard training day. Avoid rapid reversals to carbohydrate diets regardless.
Ketogenic dieting can be extremely rewarding for both performance and physique-based goals. Having done this myself, it’s pretty straight forward as far as what one can or can’t eat, which, for me anyway, made it easy because the options are simply fat and protein. Bacon and burgers. On top of that, the existing research definitely suggests that you can lose a great deal of fat and spare muscle while using this strategy. Shred the gnar..
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
You might love this way of eating.
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Hebeisen, D., Hoeflin, F., Reusch, H., Junker, E., & Lauterburg, B. (n.d.). Increased concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in milk and platelet rich plasma of grass-fed cows. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed
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