Sunday, 31 July 2016

Post 17: 2 Weeks Ketogenic (My Keto Review)

Hi Guys,

I’m back again this week, but not quite the same as before. Again I have been transformed into a human guinea pig for your benefit…

For the past two weeks I have been trying out a ketogenic diet for you guys, and I’m here to provide my results, my thoughts, and the challenges I faced. I write this while simultaneously sipping on a freshly brewed coffee blended with 50g of Kerrygold Pure Irish butter and 20g of organic extra-virgin cold-pressed coconut oil. I’m losing weight at the same time. How? Let’s read on...

I’m closing in on the end of my dieting phase, and I really want to cut away at those “last few pounds” and see how far I can push myself. These are those famous “last few pounds” that actually can be lost around my abdomen because I have mostly used up my fat stores elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong: I feel great, I’m in great health, and I look great, but I want to see where I can go if I really dig deep and try out advanced weight loss methods. This puts me in a great position to review these sort of methods for y’all!

It’s true that ketogenic dieting and going into sustained ketosis is an advanced technique, and I doubt someone eating a standard western diet would be able to just dive straight in. That’s why I conclude this article by giving you a solid plan for working your way into a ketogenic diet.

I’ve been in this game for a while, and I know I’ve gone further down the path of fat adaption (the efficiency with which your body utilises fat stores) than a lot of people out there, so launching into the lifestyle wasn’t too hard. In fact, as you operate in ketosis more often, you actually become better at it! This is because your body becomes better at producing ketone bodies.

Ketone bodies!?... wtf…

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself because first of all we need to address…

What is ketosis?

Straight off the bat, I think it’s best to introduce what ketosis is and what ketogenic dieting entails.

Briefly, ketosis is a state where your body primarily burns fat for energy. It does this by mobilising fat stores and shuttling them around in energy packets called blood ketones (rather than blood glucose). Sounds good right?

You enter ketosis when liver sugar stores (called liver glycogen i.e. stored glucose) are low, and you can induce this through fasting and very low carbohydrate diets. Once carbs are low enough, you are effectively in a ketogenic diet. In times of starvation and famine, ketosis ensured that we could still function at a high level and focus enough to hunt or gather that next meal. In fact, many people report having a much better and more constant energy level while in ketosis.

This makes a lot of sense: when there isn’t much food around, our bodies move up a gear in order to aid us in finding food!

To get deeper into ketosis beyond the overnight fast, and to maintain it beyond an intraday level (i.e. not moving in and out during the day), you need to eat a very low carbohydrate diet, with the consensus being less than 20g of carbs a day.

This is why I consider it a technique that most people aren’t able to dive straight into. You’re taking people who might not be well fat adapted and simultaneously removing a staple macronutrient from their diet (carbohydrates). It’s hard enough to get people to break off their tumultuous relationship with grains as it is! In the plan I’ve included at the end of this post, I give you an idea of how to ease yourself into a ketogenic diet.

How did I achieve ketosis?

To enter ketosis I did two things, one of which I was doing already. The one I was doing already was intermittent fasting (described here) or more specifically bulletproof intermittent fasting (described here). By eating either nothing or purely fats for an extended period - 16 consecutive hours every day - my body is forced to swap into “fat burning mode” because liver glycogen stores are depleted.

The other thing I changed is what truly made this a ketogenic diet. In order to be in ketosis all day, rather than just in the fasting period, I needed to heavily limit carbohydrate intake. To do so, I cut out all starchy carb sources and all fruit. This meant that my only carb source were leafy green vegetables, and a limited consumption of nuts and very dark chocolate.

While I didn’t religiously count my carbs, they were definitely around or under 20g for the vast majority of days. On a couple of days, I ate a lot more nuts than I should of, in which case I estimate my daily intake for those days to be around 40g.

The results

Over the last two weeks I’ve lost 2.4 lbs, which by my reckoning is pretty darn good! Considering that since I started to diet my average weekly loss is 1.27 lbs, including all the initial water weight, this is an awesome result. There exists diminishing returns to dieting, so over time you can expect to lose less weight as each week goes on, so to lose roughly the average amount over the last two weeks means that I’m not slowing down at all. This also highlights why trying out these advanced techniques are very important if your current goal exists outside of whatever homeostasis you’re headed towards. Furthermore, like I said earlier, I’m at an advanced stage of dieting, a stage where the fat loss can actually be noticed around my abs. It’s quite cool to be able to lose weight and actually see the change in my body quite quickly.

What about other, more subjective markers? I didn’t feel like I lost my energy during the period. I wasn’t tired, and I wasn’t hungry. Remember that being in ketosis or going on a ketogenic diet doesn’t mean limiting calories, just limiting carbs.

I was able to complete all of my sets during my workouts, and still put my all into my weekly five-a-side football match (my cardio effectively). Although, I did rest for a little longer in between sets for my weight lifting sessions. An interesting result I came across was that for one leg day, I ate a lot more beforehand, and felt considerably stronger during the workout. This would be what you would expect, had this been extra food from carbohydrate sources. However, as I was limiting carbs, this extra food came from fats and proteins, and therefore would not have been refilling my muscle glycogen (muscle energy) stores.


Two other things happened to me during my experience. My first regards to sugar: it was only when I did eat a little dark chocolate (85+ %  cocoa solids), that I actually felt any desire for carbohydrates and sugars. It was as if I was reminding my body of them. Otherwise I didn’t want them at all. Therefore to contribute to the sustainability of a ketogenic diet maybe someone should avoid these foods in their entirety, or eat them before a workout or before going to bed. That way they won’t experience any cravings (the workout would dominate headspace or you’d be asleep).

The other thing I craved was salt. Looking into this a bit more, it makes a lot of sense. When you don’t consume carbs, your body will hold onto a lot less water weight, and therefore you’ll need to urinate more. This leads to the expulsion of electrolytes, hence the craving for salt. In contrast to the sugar craving, this is one which you should satisfy! Your body doesn’t need sugar, but it sure as hell needs salt! Listen to what your body needs in this case, and don’t be afraid to add salt to your food.


I really liked the results I got from this two week trial period, so I think I’m going to continue for another two weeks and take stock. If it carries on giving me the same results and I stay healthy and feel good, then that’s fantastic.

You need to remember that in no way is eating carbohydrates essential to life. Your body can actually produce glucose by converting dietary proteins through a process called gluconeogenesis. But then again, it does feel good to have some carbs now and then, and you will rock your next workout when you have some! So to make this practice a long term one, I would recommend having a carb refeed every 10-14 days. I realise not everyone is as nuts about this schpiel as I am, so you need to address your own psychology (this is where the refeed comes in). I’m planning on having one in the next few days, where I’ll take in roughly 200g of clean carbs (white rice and sweet potatoes), and some fruit.

As always, you need to know the positive and negative effects of the refeed. As I said, your next workout will be awesome, and you’re contributing to the sustainability of such a diet. The consumed carbohydrates are going to go straight to muscle and liver glycogen stores (i.e. not to fat stores), which is another benefit of ketogenic eating. On the other hand, you will temporarily drop out of ketosis, and for a time not burn as much fat. You might see your energy levels fall off of that fat-burning induced peak, and you might experience some cravings in the next three days following the refeed.

This is something I want to stress when it comes to health and food, in particular. Each action has a set of positive and negative consequences, some more positive, and some vastly negative. You need to expect and manage the negatives to get to the point which suits you best.

Ketogenic diet plan

As promised earlier, here’s a plan you could follow which would ease you into a ketogenic diet. Along the way, you’d also get used to fasting and at the same time you’ll be cleaning up what you ate. I’m confident that you could easily lose at least 10 lbs (/5 kg) over this five week period.

You can dive in at the deep end if you think you can handle it, but if you misjudge your own character you’re unlikely to find it sustainable. This is quite a big change for most people.

Carbs (g)
IF eating window
What to eat
Focus only on limiting carbs to the set amount
Cut out all grains and refined carbs
Reduce fruit intake to 1 portion a day
Reduce carb intake to 1 small portion a day
Keto: <20
Cut out starchy carbs and fruit entirely. Refeed every 10-14 days using 200g of carbs.

To begin with you focus only on getting a handle on the grams of carbs you’re eating each day. Focus on counting the grams of carbs coming from starchy and sugary sources (including chocolate, sweets, and fruit). You then progress to cutting out carb sources in your life which are low in micronutrients; at this point I would get all of my starchy carbs from white rice, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Next take your consumption of fruit down to one portion a day, and have low sugar berries such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. For a full discussion on fruit consumption check out my article here. In week 4 you’ll be at a point where you don’t feel like you need many carbs, and you’ll be well on the way to fat adaption. This movement is completed in week 5, where starchy carbs and fruit are cut out entirely.

Throughout the process ensure that you are eating lots of leafy green and other low carbohydrate vegetables to get your micronutrient and fibre intake

Also, over these five weeks you’ll be able to build a healthy intermittent fasting pattern, which will aid you in getting into ketosis. Don’t eat anything outside of the eating windows except for fat.


So, there you have it, my ketogenic dieting review. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Did I get good results? Yes. Am I going to continue it for the time being? Yes. Would I recommend it for others? Yes, and you should ease yourself into it if you’d like to try it. Overall it is an interesting place to put your body, somewhere where you might never actually have been before. In the long run, if you don’t like it, then you really haven’t given up much just to try it out.

Here are the takeaways for this week:
  1. Ketogenic diets involve going into long term ketosis i.e. “fat burning mode”
  2. This is achieved at a greater than intraday level via fasting and very low carb diets
  3. Try out a ketogenic diet by easing yourself in over a month long period

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that you find the research useful. If you have gone keto before, or decide to try it out, leave a comment below.

Until next time,

P.S. I’ve started snapchatting what I get up to on the day to day, so add me on snapchat (username: tomcowlin) for daily updates

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Post 16: Making Gains Fast(ed) (plus should women fast?)

Hi Guys,

Today we are going to be addressing something fast and furious; something which is going to swap your diesel out for some rocket fuel!* Today we are going to look at fasting and intermittent fasting, how it can fit into your fat burning, how it can contribute to your muscle gains, and the gender differences of fasting.

* I thought I would name this article “The Fast and the Furious”, but fasting contributes to your fury and I don’t want to mislead...

The conventional wisdom

Let’s take a quick look at what conventional wisdom says: you should eat six small meals a day to maximise metabolism, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, breakfast stimulates your metabolism, if you don’t eat every few hours you will lose your muscles, and if you don’t eat every few hours you’ll lose your energy and experience brain fog.

That’s what the conventional “wisdom” says, but wait a second, let’s think about these statements a little more. There can only be a constant amount of energy in a confined space (i.e. the universe), so how could eating six small meals a day increase the amount of energy in the universe (via a higher metabolism)?

Your metabolism is not an on/off switch and it increases in proportions to the amount of food you eat.

Consider this: if you think that eating breakfast “turns on” your metabolism, does that mean that pre-breakfast your metabolism is non-existent? Therefore your basal metabolic rate is zero? Therefore all that breathing and general living that you’re up to is powered by nothing but dew and air?

Next: breakfast being the most important meal. Either a) this is meant in a time sense i.e. a meal in the early morning is the most important meal of the day. In that case, why is it that people who fast can see so many benefits when they don’t eat before midday? We already know that eating in the morning won’t stimulate your metabolism any more than eating the same food at other times. Or b) this is in reference to the first meal of the day, i.e. the one that breaks your fast. This would imply that the statement “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” actually is saying “eating food is the most important meal of the day”.

Next up in line we have the warning that you will lose muscle mass. If you eat an adequate and healthy level of protein (which you should be having already, fasting or no), this will not occur. Once in the fasted state your body will turn towards fat stores to generate energy, hence sparing muscle; and this process is even more pronounced as you become better fat-adapted.

Furthermore, fasting can even spur muscle gains (more on that later).

Having low energy and brain fog while fasting is a high-carb dieters self-fulfilling fallacy. If you eat a high carb diet (particularly a high refined carbohydrate diet), you’re setting yourself up for blood sugar peaks and troughs. These troughs send a signal to your brain: we’re starving, we need to get our blood sugar up again!

When you fast and you rely on fat stores for energy, your body knows it has fuel conveniently deposited all over your body.

Don’t forget as well that conventional “wisdom” is driven by a profit incentive: there’s not much to be gained from telling people to not eat anything! We’ve been told by marketers that small meals and a morning meal (full of “healthy” whole grains!) is good for us, and over time we’ve trained our body to expect these inputs. Remember that six meals, three square meals, and breakfast are simply constructs. We choose whether or not to accept them.

So overall I just want to assure you that fasting and intermittent fasting isn’t something to be scared of! While we need to approach it from different perspectives (gender differences later on), it can be an effective tool for weight loss and body re-composition.

Fasting makes more sense from an evolutionary perspective too: there wasn’t food available 24 hours a day when we were hunter-gatherers, and sometimes it just feels natural to skip a meal. If you’re not feeling hungry, then it doesn’t make sense to eat unless you see a famine coming. Let’s fast forward to the modern day: carrying three Tupperware boxes, fruit, protein powder, and protein bars around with us is just an inconvenience.

Today I ask you to do me a small favour: to forget what you know about meal timing and overall when to eat. Read this article, then revisit the conventional “wisdom”. Have you been blindly following what multinational corporations tell you for your whole life?

Now that we’ve shaken off what you thought you knew, we need to know a couple of things: what is fasting and what styles of intermittent fasting are there? Let’s take a look…

The different types of fasting

Eating windows:
You give yourself an eight or ten hour window a day to eat all of your calories. Commonly the eating window will be from around 10am/midday through to 8pm/10pm. You can take this to extremes, with some people compressing their windows down to four hours. In the non-eating window coffee, tea, water, etc. is fine as long as no calories are consumed.

5:2 fasting:
You don’t eat any calories on two non-consecutive days of the week. This strategy can be very effective at resetting hormonal profiles.

Alternate day fasting:
Similar to 5:2, but you don’t eat any calories every other day.

Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting:
The same as intermittent fasting using eating windows, except you begin the day with high quality coffee blended with butter and MCT oil. You can read my experience of a week on BIF here.

Cheat day and fast:
This one doesn’t have a catchy name but it refers to having a cheat day and then immediately fasting for 24 to 36 hours. It makes sense to me that you fill yourself up one day then don’t feel as if you need food afterwards, but I am not a fan of this one for two reasons. One, having a cheat day implies eating everything you can get your grubby mitts on, including foods you really should never be eating. These foods then lead to cravings in the following days when you’re supposed to be fasting. The second reason is that it makes more sense to me to do the long fast first, then workout and have the cheat day and in doing so reaping more of the fasting benefits.

My experience:
After learning about intermittent fasting I decided to try out the eating windows approach, and in the past three months I’ve been using Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting. I’m the sort of person who can jump straight into these sort of things, so it worked well for me, but it might not for others. You might have a different schedule to when I started, and you might not be as well fat adapted. I think the key is to find a strategy which you think will work well for you and ease into it over three weeks. This list is not exhaustive: find what works for you and then experiment; you have very, very little to lose.

At this point, you’re not frightened to consider fasting, and you’ve got the tools to put into action. Now let’s look at why you should be using these tools.

The benefits

  • Aided fat loss and muscle gains (more on this later)
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Improved mental clarity
  • Improved energy
  • Healthy hormone regulation including ghrelin regulation (the hormone that makes you feel hungry)
  • Aids in resetting and maintaining healthy circadian rhythms leading to better sleep
  • Better time management
  • Allows for feasting!
  • Autophagy, detoxification and reduced inflammation and oxidation (i.e. anti-aging)
  • Decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol
  • Aids in the effectiveness of chemotherapy and fighting cancer
  • Neurological benefits (i.e. brain health)
  • Improved immune function
  • Resistance to stress
  • It’s quicker and simpler than preparing meals
  • You can reset and improve your relationship with food

That’s a pretty hefty list of benefits, let’s dig into the one we all know you’re here for… ;-)

Fat loss, muscle gain, and body recomposition

We can explain improved body recomposition via fasting using an understanding of  the hormone insulin, and the protein mTOR (mammalian target of  rapamycin, a name which just rolls off the tongue...).

Insulin is the hormone which regulates blood sugar levels, shuttling energy from the blood off into muscle and fat stores. Because of this its presence inhibits lipolysis. Lipolysis is the process of mobilising fat stores for use as energy.

mTOR is a protein whose presence actually increases protein synthesis, and can be suppressed by things like fasting, coffee, and exercise. Now, why would we want to suppress mTOR? Because when you release the pressure it actually springs back in much greater quantities just at the opportune moment. Insulin has a synergistic relationship with mTOR, as insulin promotes its production.

Together, insulin is going to be sending energy to your muscles and promoting mTOR production, which in itself is going to improve protein synthesis i.e. muscle gains.

Now let’s take our understanding and apply it to fasting. You fast for 16 hours and finish your fast with a heavy workout. In those 16 hours, at some point, your body switches to primarily using fat as an energy store by entering ketosis. At the same time, you are improving your insulin sensitivity because you’re not jacking up your blood sugar levels all the time, and therefore cells will respond more efficiently to insulin. You end your fast with a workout, and eat your post-workout meal. This meal stimulates insulin release and mTOR springs back, leading your body to shuttle your meal into muscles where synthesis (i.e. healing and growing) can occur.

Well done! You just stimulated fat loss and muscle gain, and hence body recomposition.

Consuming fat or practicing Bulletproof IF fits in here too. Fat is non-insulinogenic in men and only slightly in women. What does this mean? It means that consuming fats on their own, without proteins or carbs, does not stimulate insulin release. If insulin is kept extremely low, then we won’t promote the storage of fat as discussed earlier (remember that insulin sends energy into muscles and fat stores; if your muscles are full… you know the rest…). The consumed fat must therefore be used in energy output! Hello smarter and more energetic me! Fat is circulated by the lymphatic system, rather than the blood, until it is directed to the blood in the form of blood ketones. These ketones can then be used as a clean fuel for the brain to burn. You need to know, also, that our brains only truly need a small amount of glucose, and this can be taken from liver glycogen stores. Therefore, we accompany the practice with weekly carbohydrate refeeds.

Woah, that got heavy, but it’s science which is useful to know. It also segues into training intensity well...

Training intensity

So at this point you’re fasting and therefore entering workouts in a carb-depleted state. What’s great about our bodies is that they will adapt and become more efficient at using our glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates). If you consistently train in this state your body will become much better at sourcing glucose from glycerol (breaking down triglycerides) and from gluconeogenesis (breaking down proteins - but make sure they're exogenous proteins i.e. eat a health level of protein!).

At first the intensity of your workouts will suffer, but eventually they’ll come back, and at the same time you’ll be promoting fat loss and muscle gains. Also, if you’re aiming to hit that PR, you can always carb up before the workout and the results will be incredible! You learn how to train more efficiently and you will be rewarded in the long run.

So is fasting a free (delayed) lunch?

No, it’s not. What we can’t sidestep is that fasting is a stressor on the body, but it can be a beneficial stressor. Remember that stress can either be chronic and debilitating, or we can adapt and improve. Thinking about it from an evolutionary perspective again, it makes sense: not having food makes us temporarily smarter and more able to catch and find food.

Fasting has a tonne of benefits, but we can’t do it for the rest of our lives. Therefore we need to manage the stress it puts on our bodies, for example, by taking a week or a month off here and there.

Fasting isn’t a good idea if you’re ill or suffering from certain diseases (although it helps with some). You want to minimise stress on your body in these times.

It might also initially release stored toxins into your system: this is because the body will store toxins in fat cells, therefore when you open them up for energy, these toxins are re-released into the body. Until they are expelled by sweating or through the digestive tract, you will see negative side effects. But then again, it hardly makes sense to say “I won’t do fasting because of toxins making me feel bad”; they’re toxins, you don’t want them inside you!

Lastly, you need to take care of your adrenal glands and therefore consume enough salt! Salt is another demonised entity, just like fat, but it would be near impossible to get too much salt if you aren’t eating processed foods! The adrenal glands produce catecholamines which aid in fat burning, something you’ll be doing a lot of while fasting. However, the adrenals also regulate salt and potassium levels in the body, and therefore depriving yourself of salt causes them to work extra hard. If you are requiring your adrenals to over-regulate salt/potassium levels and produce catecholamines, you’re heading for adrenal burnout!

Lastly, there’s the fact that to begin with you are going to feel hungry. That’s because you’re currently part of a ghrelin pattern which makes you feel hunger at certain points in the day. This is a pattern which improves over time. Eventually you’ll only start to feel hungry when you’re eating windows begin (if you’re following that method). Or like a lot of people, you won’t start to feel hungry at all until you eat something (remember that your body has fuel stores all over itself).

Fasting and its effect on women

So at this point I hope you’re absolutely psyched to start fasting! I was too, but before you dive in heed this warning: women and men react differently to this kind of nutritional stress.

The key is in fertility and childbearing. Men have been blessed by mother nature and are actually benefitted by being able to be homewreckers. Males have no obligation to carry a child and therefore when their body’s suspect a shortage of food, it is more able to say “that’s fine”.

On the other hand, women can react more negatively to fasting done wrong. Their bodies see a shortage of food, and therefore immediately want to hang onto whatever energy stores they have. After all, a childbearing women is much more likely to die in a famine. A shortage of food can lead a woman to reduce her fertility to promote survival, and hence cause hormonal imbalances.

I still believe that women should practice fasting, but they should be even more considerate of their health going in. This is not the time to be comparing one’s self to a guy who used fasting extremely successfully; health, at the end of day, is the name of the game.

Because of women’s response to shortages of food I would recommend taking it slower to begin with, and easing into a pattern which ensures long term health. A recommendation I have made in the past is alternate day fasting windows (i.e. every other day you eat only between midday and 8pm), and to utilise Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting. This is because the person receives adequate food through their morning fatty coffee to signal to the brain that there is no famine, which also stimulates healthy hormone balance.


I hope you enjoyed today’s post. There’s some science in there, which I think is useful to know, but having an understanding of the processes which run your body is always helpful, I believe. It’s been a while since we had three nice compact takeaways, so let’s enjoy them:

  1. Fasting is not harmful if done right, so pick an approach and implement it
  2. Don’t eat before your workouts and train fasted; if you like, consume only fats before a workout
  3. Ease into your fasting approach to maximise the long term benefits, especially if you are female

As always, if you enjoyed this post, like, favourite, and share it, as it helps it to reach more people. Let’s get this message out to as many people as possible! If you’re currently trying out fasting or intermittent fasting, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear about your experiences, your results, and how you found it.

Until next time,