Sunday, 21 August 2016

Post 20: A Day in the Keto Life (plus updates)

Hi Guys,

I get asked a lot by y’all about what I eat, and what I do on a day to day basis. This post is going to address these questions head-on and by the end of this week’s read you’ll have a good idea of what I am up to at the moment and my rationale behind my choices. Consider this a little catchup.

If you’re reading this week in week out, first of all - thanks! - , but more importantly, you’ll know that I’m trying out the ketogenic diet. Recently I’ve been consuming near zero carbs but in the last few days I’ve been going deeper into ketosis and actually decreasing my protein intake. I have also been extending my fasts and am now fasting for up to 20 hours every day - more info on that later. We’ll also take a peek at my choice of alcohol, and how that all fared for me.

But first I have to admit: the title to this post is a outright lie! After first thinking of writing a “day in the life” post to answer reader questions, I immediately got tracking my food, calories and macros, and recorded everything I did that day. The only problem (benefit?) was that I got awesome results in my next weigh-in. Screw a day in the life, how about three days in the life!

Sounds pretty good right? Quite informative? I agreed - but imagine my annoyance when I realised that there were some drinks planned for Friday evening which had been in the works for a long time, which would send a signal to you guys that I am actually human (facepalm). However, this is part and parcel of the lifestyle I want to lead i.e. not being absent from all social occasions. So instead, I decided to stick to my guns and use this is a perfect opportunity to display what I like to drink (alcohol wise) and how I got on in general. In fact, I am writing this introduction as of Thursday, so I don’t even know yet how it is going to go! There’s no backing out now, future Cowlean; you’ve written the intro and you know you won’t want to rewrite it even if events are disastrous...

Before we chew the fat (pun intended… of course!), let’s lay out what we’re looking at today:
  • What have I been eating day to day while on the ketogenic diet?
  • How many calories did I eat?
  • What was my personal macronutrient breakdown?
  • How did I cope with up to 20 hours fasts? How hungry did I feel?
  • What did I drink on Friday? How did it impact my performance?

That seems like a lot of our collective plates (huhuhuh…) so let’s get this show on the road!

Food, calories and macronutrients

People often ask me about exactly what I eat and I want to delve deep into that question. This post will differ from previous posts such as my other full day of eating since it will shed more light on the ketogenic style.

Here are my macronutrient breakdowns in full for day 1 and 2, and for half of day 3 (after about 18:00 counting became pretty difficult…):

Wednesday’s menu included a fatty coffee, minced beef with mixed vegetables, dark chocolate and brazil nuts. As you can see from above my carbs were well within ketogenic limits at around 16 grams total. This was quite interesting to find out, to be honest, as I have never really counted my macros so religiously while ketogenic. The fact that it came out so low, after indulging in some nuts, dark chocolate, and a load of veg, is very promising. This data is showing me that even when I ate my fill of the trace carb foods, I was still easily within the ketogenic limits. The only problem I had with this day is the protein content, which came in at 90 grams. Given my bodyweight I should be getting at least 120 grams a day, and probably a lot more. Why this happened, will be explained in more detail later in my section on fasts.

Daily calories came in at 2078, and the next day I had a crazy good weigh-in! So I decided to up the calories a little to compensate.

Next day, same good stuff and same bad stuff, I’m afraid. Carbs were low and in the ketogenic range easily (good), but protein was disastrously low at only 66 grams (bad)! Given these findings, I decided that it was essential that I pay more attention to my protein intake (which I did the next day). My diet consisted of a fatty coffee, mackerel with tonnes of vegetables, brazil nuts and dark chocolate.

Calories for the day were 2400, quite a step up from the day before, and my daily weigh-in actually went up by 1.6 lbs! I’d attribute this to one smaller reason, and one larger reason. The former would be the increase in calories, which I’ve attributed little effect to because of the small increase - 300 calories really isn’t going to make as much difference. The larger reason would be our old nemesis: water retention! Thursday included a heavy legs workout, and a lunch which was higher in sodium, both recipes for retaining more water. Given this effect, I would say I’d be happy having around 2400 calories a day going forward.  

Day 3 was a little different to those that came before, and these figures only count up until 18:00. Carbs were higher, around 34 grams, which is pushing the ketogenic limit especially on a non-exercise day, and mainly comes from me chowing down a tonne of 85% dark chocolate. I figured that the night’s festivities would push me out of ketosis, although these figures would still be considered a low carb diet by anyone’s standards.  Protein (by 18:00) was around 72 grams, so if the day was to carry on as usual I probably would have hit my protein goals.

Day 3’s food was a little different to previous, because I was meeting a friend for lunch for sushi (where I ate a load of sashimi). As well as lunch I had a fatty coffee, dark chocolate, coconut crisps and beef jerky. Taking a detour for a second: the latter two foods from that list were bought on the fly at work. When I am hungry and/or just really want to eat something I have a few rules of thumb when buying snacks: is it low carb and low sugar? How many ingredients does it contain? Is it gluten free? By answering these questions with yes, not many, and yes, it will often pass the test.

Calories by the time I stopped counting were 1700 on the nose, which I was okay with. I would have preferred to have this a tad lower considering we were going out that night, maybe around 1200. I find a good rule of thumb is always leave half your calories for the nighttime if you’re going to be doing anything, including just meeting up with friends and family for a meal. This gives you ample room for drinks and any unplanned meals.

I have to admit that this has really been an eye-opening process. By recording what I ate and then analysing it I’ve now got a great idea of what I need to do to improve my ketogenic diet. A food diary is a common recommendation for dieters, and given my own, albeit short, experience, I would  recommend it to everyone, if only for a short time to get perspective. I’ve decided to maintain my food diary until the end of the week.

Measuring in this way, has pushed me to take on two points going forward. Point 1) maintain the same level of vegetables, but restrict total carbs from dark chocolate to 10 grams, which isn’t hard at all when you’re having 85%. It works out to around 50 grams - more than enough. Point 2) increase protein intake and ensure that I am getting at least 120 grams a day, and preferably 150 grams. The levels of protein I’ve been eating are tied into my fasting protocol which I’ll describe now.

20 hour fasts

Impressive right? You betcha!... A full description of the benefits of fasting can be found here, and by extending them you can receive the benefits in greater magnitude (to a point… of course, if you don’t eat for long enough…). As you can see from the below, my fasts have gotten a lot longer with most of my calories coming from one large meal post-workout at around midday.

This has actually worked out really well, with the most immediate benefits coming in the form of time management. By doing so, you save yourself the time of cooking and eating one meal a day, since you only need prepare a large one each evening to have at lunchtime the next day. On top of that, it makes controlling macros and calories much easier, because everything is done in advance. While I have been feeling a little hungry in the evenings, around 7 or 8pm, this is just because of the adjustment to not eating during the afternoon and evening. I felt the same way when I transitioned to a 12-8 eating window so it’s just a matter of time before I’m well settled in this one too.

Here’s the breakdown of my fasting times over the three days:

Finish eating previous day
Fatty Coffee
Length of Fast
Length of Ketogenic Fast
18 hours
22.25 hours
16.5 hours
21.25 hours
17.25 hours
21.5 hours

*Denotes the first meal of the day which included protein and trace amounts of carbs

The other problem alluded to earlier has been protein intake. Since I was only eating a single large meal plus some satellite snacks, I was setting up my usual protein portion for lunch but then not having another one later in the day. This wasn’t something I expected to happen but I’m glad I tracked it and became aware of it.


This is a question I receive often: “what do I drink on a night out?”. First we need to face the truth: that any form of alcohol consumption is bad for your health. For those who pipe up with recommendations for “a small glass of red wine a day”, consider that the level of antioxidants in wine is miniscule, and is entirely suboptimal compared to fruits and vegetables. In which case, our task is damage limitation.

I focus on clear spirits and aim for the highest quality I can afford (as I do when buying any kind of produce), with minimal mixers. For example, this Friday I started with tequila, a splash of soda and lime wedges (like a margarita without the sugar) and then when I felt like I wanted something extra I switched over to gin and tonic. I think by sticking to the high quality, distilled, and low/no gluten alcohols I spared myself the hangovers of my colleagues but still got to enjoy a great night. I didn’t wake up feeling the 100% which I know I am capable of, but I think a lot of this is down to sleep (I find that it’s hard to shake your weekday body clock on weekends even after going to bed late), and the alcohol would have undoubtedly knocked me out of ketosis. I’m sure that by Monday I’ll be back to feeling 90% again.  


I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and found it interesting to see exactly what I am up to. I’m on a health/fitness/wellness journey just as much as anyone else, and I love that I have the chance to share this with people all over the globe. Given the three neat sections of today’s post, let’s have three neat takeaways:
  1. Start a food diary for five days and measure your fat, protein, and carb amounts; just a few days of data is going to make a big difference to your understanding
  2. If you’re not already fasting - give it a shot, and if you are already fasting - try out some extended fasts and watch your results
  3. For the best results, focus your alcohol consumption on clear spirits with minimal mixers

Until next time,


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