Intro To The Philosophy
If you are a carb lover, and the thought of saying goodbye to those precious carbohydrates may be too painful to even fathom, then you are exactly like myself, and I urge you to read on.
To most people, a low carbohydrate diet is quite self-explanatory, however the subtle manipulation of macronutrient ratios will be the difference between a standard low carb diet, and the ever so popular Ketogenic diet.
So, what is a Ketogenic Diet?
A Ketogenic Diet involves minimizing carbohydrates as much as possible, increasing dietary fat intake, and keeping protein at a moderate level to achieve a desired state in the body known as ‘Ketosis’.
When in ketosis, the body produces chemicals called ketones as a byproduct of burning fat that act as a new fuel source for the brain. For years, the human body has adapted to using glucose as its primary energy source and fat as a last resort, therefore, the purpose of entering ketosis is to then switch the body’s preferred fuel source from carbohydrates to fat, enabling you to become what is known as ‘Keto Adapted’.
To become Keto Adapted, generally you will need to be in ketosis for at least two weeks. Signs of enhanced mental clarity, improved satiety and an increase in energy will demonstrate the body efficiently switching its preferential energy source to fat and BOOM; you are now a successful Ketogenic Dieter.
The modern day Ketogenic Diet for athletes involves a specific macronutrient breakdown that most people fail to adhere to, so, listen carefully-
You should consume 20-25% of your total calories from protein, 70-75% of your total calories from fat and approximately 5% of your total calories from ‘Net’ carbohydrates.
Now, I understand that if you are coming from a conventional bodybuilding diet consisting mainly of protein, these numbers may shock you and perhaps even upset you, but hear me out.
‘Net’ carbohydrates are kept to a minimum and are achieved through total carbohydrates minus fiber. Protein is also kept at a moderate level for a couple of reasons:
1. Ketones themselves are protein sparing, meaning they will be used as an energy source and in turn, preserve muscle tissue.
2. If protein intake is too high, the body will convert it to glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis, which can throw you out of ketosis.
Ensuring your fat intake is high enough, this will enable your body to get used to burning fat as fuel, so once you are in a calorie deficit, the ability to tap in to your own body fat has never been easier.
Application For Fat Loss
Let's say a person holds 15kg of fat (arbitrarily speaking), each gram of fat has 9 calories, therefore, this person holds 135,000 calories of unused energy.
The purpose of ketogenic dieting is to enable you to easily tap in to this abundance of stored calories!
Obviously, you must first ensure that you are eating at a calorie deficit to begin with, otherwise there will be no energy imbalance to burn your own body fat.
In addition to making the chemical fat burning process easier, the ketogenic diet offers other invaluable fat loss benefits, such as:
¥ Improved satiety and an increased feeling of fullness.
¥ Improved energy levels. Due to the ability to maintain steady blood sugar levels in the absence of huge insulin spikes.
¥ The ability to eat tastier foods, usually cast out as ‘forbidden’ in traditional approaches, such as bacon or butter.
¥ The ability to use intermittent fasting principles in conjunction with a ketogenic diet, to further speed up fat loss due to decreased food cravings.
If you are wondering what I meant by ‘bacon’, that is exactly what I mean… Full fat, streaky, delicious bacon.
This is one of the most popular aspects of the ketogenic diet.
Foods high in saturated fat are actually ENCOURAGED. In layman's terms, in the absence of insulin, a high saturated fat intake will not negatively affect blood cholesterol levels (more on this later). So, if that alone hasn’t sealed the deal yet, maybe the other benefits of a keto diet will…
Other Useful Benefits
Aside from the fat burning advantages, a ketogenic diet may also boost mental clarity, increase testosterone production in men, aid in bulk phases, assist in maintaining muscle/strength, and even reduce the risk of developing health issues such as diabetes, brain related diseases, heart disease and some forms of cancers.
Here is how:
¥ Once the body has adapted to using fat as fuel, the brain will rely on ketones as an energy source; resulting in improved cognition, increased mental focus and even enhanced mood.
¥ Testosterone is a hormone constructed by cholesterol. In conventional diets, eliminating fats and cholesterol in turn eliminates the precursor to one of the most advantageous hormones for building muscle and burning fat. It’s no secret that when in a calorie deficit, natural testosterone production declines, however through consuming adequate cholesterol, a high fat diet may prevent this from becoming an issue.
¥ Keto Dieting for 2-3 weeks during a ‘Bulk Phase’ can be used to prevent insulin resistance as a result of a prolonged period of increased carbohydrate intake. Reducing body fat and improving the way that your body utilizes carbohydrates will then ensure a more successful ‘Bulking Phase’ when you return to a calorie surplus.
¥ The muscle sparing effects of ketone bodies can be seen through an increased ability to retain muscle in a dieting phase and as a result, maintain strength.
¥ The reduction of carbohydrates in the diet will decrease excessive insulin production, which may lead to insulin resistance over time A.K.A. Diabetes. Furthermore, the combination of a high saturated fat intake AND a high carbohydrate intake will negatively affect blood lipid levels and can lead to cardiovascular diseases, however, in the absence of carbohydrates (insulin), the body will efficiently use the fat as energy and improve cholesterol levels over time.
Some of the greatest benefits of a ketogenic diet are those for brain related disorders, such as epilepsy or ageing related neurodegenerative decline. In addition to this, it is widely known that cancer cells feed on sugars, and therefore are several ongoing studies conveying the positive effects a keto diet may have on preventing and fighting cancer.
The benefits of a ketogenic diet are quite clear and may seem too good to be true, but as the wise man Stallone once said- “It ain’t all sunshine and rainbows”.
With the good, may come certain disadvantages that deserve a mention and need be clarified.
So, allow me to elaborate on the limitations of a ketogenic diet:
1. You may experience the ‘keto flu’ in the first week of the diet. As your body transitions from a carb dependent energy source, to fat. This is often characterized by headaches, brain fog and perhaps irritability. Counter this by increasing water intake and supplementing with electrolytes.
2. You may feel ‘flat’ intramuscularly, as your glycogen will become more depleted than usual in the absence of carbs. Over time, the body will replenish glycogen through conversion but in the mean-time, counter this by dosing up on coconut oil or other MCT oils pre-workout, to give you a surge in energy.
3. There is no easy way to put this, but… you will need to say goodbye to carbohydrates. Counter this by baking ketogenic sweets/desserts to curb that sweet tooth, or use cyclical ketogenic dieting to replenish glycogen through loading up on carbs once a fortnight (but this is another topic).
How I Use Ketogenic Dieting
Ketogenic Dieting has been something I have found to be particularly useful in the past twelve months to drop body fat and adhere to a diet consistently with minimal slip ups. I’ve noticed that If I am eating carbs, I am forever hungry and can snack all day long with an insatiable appetite.
However, the moment I increase fats and remove the carbs, I am able to fast for prolonged periods of time, and sometimes even forget to eat! This makes dieting a lot easier for me, enabling me to fit more calories into less meals and give the illusion that I am not dieting. Furthermore, the removal of a whole macronutrient keeps me accountable and stops me from snacking on the odd piece of chocolate, because I convinced myself that it ‘fit my macros’.
Knowing that I cannot have any carbs is a simple rule to follow and I am an all or nothing type of person, so it fits in well with my personality type.
One of the things I love most about the diet, is the ability to eat delicious food.
There is nothing worse than bland chicken and vegetables for every meal of the day in a dieting phase, believe me. If I can wake up, eat eggs and bacon, or go out and order a bun-less burger, I will be more than happy to stick to a diet consistently. Consistency is paramount to achieving your fat loss goals.
An Example of My Daily Diet:
Meal 1- 11AM: 3 Whole eggs, 2 rashers of bacon, 15g Cheese, 50g Avocado, and assorted sautéed green vegetables. Cooked in coconut oil or butter.
Pre-workout: 20g of Coconut Oil mixed in to my pre-workout shake.
Meal 2- 3PM: (Salad) Tin of Tuna, 500g Lettuce, Cucumber, 70g Avocado and Dressing (Mayonnaise, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper). Meal 3- 7PM: 150g Salmon Fillet, Hollandaise Sauce, Assorted Green Vegetables. Meal 4-10PM: Either a keto dessert, or 3 whole eggs scrambled, cooked in coconut oil with 30g nuts.
Take Home Messages
So, if you are going to try the ketogenic diet; here is a couple of take home messages to remember:
¥ You must eat 20-25% of calories from protein, 70-75% from fats and 5% from carbs, never exceeding 50g of net carbs daily.
¥ You are only concerned with net carbs which is calculated by subtracting fiber from total carbs.
¥ Get used to eating a lot of vegetables, specifically green leafy vegetables as they contain the lowest amounts of carbs. Salad will become your new best friend.
¥ Do not freak out if your protein seems too low, this is normal and you won't lose muscle.
¥ Opt for fattier cuts of meat and don’t be scared to source protein from the perceived ‘evil’ foods such as bacon or fatty beef mince.
Finally, this is not a magical diet written by a wizard with a sub 6 body fat percentage guaranteed to melt away body fat. This is just a diet like many others, that all involve a calorie deficit, strict adherence, consistency and macronutrient tracking to achieve results.
As with any diet, if you have health issues, it is best to check in with your doctor first. It’s not for everyone and it may not be for you, but I believe it certainly has benefits that make the dieting process far easier than it can be at times. After all, is it really dieting if you are able to live off bacon?