Saturday, 27 August 2016

Post 21: Ketogenic Q&A (Part 1)

Hi guys,

This week I’ve opened the forum to you, and gone out asking to know exactly what you want to know. The purpose of this post is to answer some reader questions on ketogenic dieting, and cuts to the core of the problems people might be facing before they dive in. This post is going answer some questions at the beginner to intermediate level, which I’m hoping will encourage more of you to at least give this lifestyle a shot, and assuage any fears that you might be carrying!

I’ve had some amazing questions from you, the readers, and I’ve organised them into four rough categories. These are, in order: questions about getting started, questions about macronutrients (fats, proteins and carbohydrates), questions about diet sustainability, and questions about hacks and cheats. The only thing is, I got half way through the Q&A, and realised I had almost written way too much for just one post.  So to counter, this week we’ll look at questions on starting out and macronutrients/calories, and next week we’ll address sustainability and hacks and cheats. This way, I get to put more answer into every question and definitely write way too much for one post!

Let’s get this show on the road!

Q&A: getting started

Starting out on any journey can be daunting, so it helps to know what to expect. These questions should address any basic issues you may be having with ketogenic dieting. While any Keto 101 found via google will probably answer the most basic questions, I’ve added personal asides to each of my answers to provide “on the ground” info.

What can you expect when you just start the diet?

I’m not going to pull punches here, but one of the first things you might experience is the dreaded low carb/keto flu! It’s called this because of its similarity in symptoms rather than an actual virus, so don’t worry about it. These symptoms draw from the fact that you’re swapping your primary energy source to fats, and your body needs a few days to adjust properly to match its previous energy efficiency (or should I say inefficiency). The cool thing is, once the “flu” has subsided, you’re going to feel better than you did before via an improvement in energy efficiency. So it can appear tough to get started, and then when you do start, your fears are confirmed. But hold fast for a few days, because the benefits are just around the corner! I didn’t personally suffer from the keto flu myself, since I was already on a relatively low carb diet before going ketogenic, therefore you might benefit as I did from easing yourself in.

You can also expect to drop a lot of water weight. This is because when you are eating so few carbs, you carry less glycogen and therefore hold less water. For each gram of stored carbohydrates (glycogen) you will hold up to 3g of water. Considering the average human holds 400g of stored glycogen between their muscle (300g) and liver (100g) stores, you might be carrying 400*4=1600g=1.6kg of water weight. This amount will quickly reduce and for some people the joy of losing weight (water or not) will counteract their flu-like symptoms. This is something I definitely experienced, going both ways. When I went ketogenic my weight dropped rapidly for a few days before settling into a steady decrease. On the other hand, whenever I consume some more carbs, I will definitely weigh more the next day. I’m comfortable with this though, because I know most of it will be going towards restocking glycogen stores and not fat stores.

Why would you choose the ketogenic diet over the paleo diet?

I wouldn’t! I won’t pull any punches here, and I’ll wholeheartedly say that, in my opinion, the paleo diet trumps the ketogenic diet hands down. You’ll lose more weight and reach optimum health by eating a strict paleo diet compared to a ketogenic diet filled with artificial sweeteners and low-carb junk food.

But then again this all depends on our definition of the diets. If we define paleo as a dedication to natural, whole foods which we’re designed to eat, compared to merely being in ketosis by going to McDonald’s and having ordering the Big Mac without the bun, then it is obvious which side is going to win.

Me neither...
This is exactly the same problem with the assumption that all vegans or all vegetarians are healthy. You can eat lots of vegan junk food and you could have a Paleo diet which was excessively high in sugar (with ease - just check out the sugar values on some of the nut and berry bars labelled as paleo...).

Plus, that’s just how I define the two diets. I see the Paleo diet as holistic whole food focus while someone else might see it purely as dropping grains, sugars, and industrial oils.

However, it’s clear that these two styles of eating are not mutually exclusive. My recommendation would be to go paleo first to optimise health, then utilise ketosis to lose any additional weight. Going keto requires more dedication (limiting carbs drastically and being hyper aware of them) and therefore you should make sure you have your long term health in place first. Relapsing from ketogenic to the standard western diet is called yo-yo dieting. On top of that, paleo diets commonly turn out low carb so it’s a much easier transition.

Should men and women approach the ketogenic diet differently?

Yes - they should, on average. There are, of course, many women out there who perform better than certain men, but I am forced to make a generalisation here to answer the question (the most specific answer to this question would then be “it depends”). This is why being lazy just won’t cut it, you are going to need to experiment on yourself.

Ketogenic dieting can be considered a form of nutritional stress, and as discussed at length in my post on intermittent fasting, women’s bodies may not be best suited to this. Therefore, if you are female, then watch out for any signs of distress, particularly those related to fertility, which will act as your canaries in the coal mine.

If you try out ketogenic dieting, man or woman, and find that it messes you up (beyond the keto flu), ease off and re-introduce some carbs (maybe an additional 25g a day in three day intervals until you feel your best). Be prepared to wait three weeks though before making this judgement, some people take longer to bed in than others.

Q&A: macronutrients

If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you might have expected this to be my favourite section (it is!). I personally love to know the mechanisms behind why the body does what it does. This section will answer questions regarding macronutrient counting, ratios, and by extension, calories. Remember you can always count calories using the following simple rules; 9 calories per gram of fat, 4 calories per gram of protein and carbs, and 2 calories per gram of fibre.

Should you/do you need to count calories?

If you pose this question as a strict necessity, then the answer must be no. You don’t need to count calories, and I personally don’t think it’s worth it. All you need to do is be mindful of how much you’re eating and watch whether the scales go up or down. Put together a week of data and you’ll have a very good idea of how much and what you eat while still dropping the pounds. As I said way (way) back in my post on whether you should count calories, it comes down to the person. Every once in awhile, though, it is useful to count them to make sure you’re not drastically under-eating. This comes with the assumption that someone who saw the scales go up would be making amends to what they ate anyway.

What is important is to count your macronutrients, at least to begin with, because you’re not going to be in ketosis if you’re eating excessive carbs and proteins. Read my ketogenic diet plan post for the correct levels of carbs and proteins to aim for. You never know where they might be adding up. When I started to count my macros I was very please with my carb intake, as it was below that 25g sweet spot even with a load of vegetables and moderate dark chocolate and nuts. It was my protein that was the problem: it was too low! That was an immediate signal to start increasing my protein. My only problem now, is that I’m enjoying my “one big meal” a day fasting protocol, which means having most of my protein all at once. This increases the risk of gluconeogenesis which isn’t conducive to ketosis! (#firstworldproblems) These are the things that are ticking through my mind...

What is the ideal macro ratio for the ketogenic diet?

Argh! This is another one of those “it depends” answers. Vary your ratios and use ketosis testing kits to assess whether you’re in it or not. Some people can tolerate more carbs and protein, and others cannot, but don’t assume your in one of these camps until you do some verified self experimentation.

What should you vary your macros around? A split of roughly 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs should be good to get you into ketosis. This is a split taken from my keto diet plan for someone weighing 200lbs, eating 0.8lbs of protein per gram of body weight, and 25g of total carbs a day.

I find that I need to keep my carbs low (under the 25g a day mark on non-workout days and under 50g on workout days), and protein around the 150g mark to keep up a steady weight loss.

What is the best app for calculating your macronutrients?

For those who are expecting me to come out and recommend something made by NASA, think again, because my preferred “app” for recording macros is a notebook , pen and calculator (okay, admittedly, the calculator is an app on my phone so those self-righteous quotation marks and only partly deserved…). Before anyone concludes that I am a luddite, perhaps you should correctly identify me as a perfectionist. Perfection occurs not when there’s nothing more to add, but nothing more to take away. There’s beauty in simplicity.

Nerd alert!
I’ve used MyFitnessPal before to count calories (not macros at that point), but I don’t like having to search for the individual food items and then being stuck when I can’t find them. Plus it drives us to rely on our phones more, which we already do enough of.

Instead, I prefer to write everything down as I prepare the food, then spend 15 minutes at some point in the day putting together the full numbers. It really doesn’t take long, which is why I prefer this method. You can save time too, by putting together a simple database of the values for the foods you eat and having it to hand for your calculations. Every time you eat a new food, just add it to the database. This way, you can set up the values for certain portion sizes, e.g. you always tend to eat a 150g portion of broccoli.

What happens when you eat too many carbs?

This question could easily have found its way into the first section of questions, but I thought it fit better here because of the “too many” part. To stay in ketosis you’ll need to eat roughly less than 25g of carbs a day or 50g if you’ve worked out, but like I said earlier, self experimentation is vital.

When you do eat more than this amount, your body will quickly swap back over to using glucose as its primary fuel. How long it takes to get back into ketosis will depend on your fat adaptation. So for someone doing ketosis for 6 months it will take (relatively) less time than someone just starting out. As a rule of thumb, it might take two to three days to return to 100%. I personally find after eating a heavy carbohydrate meal, I’ll feel bloated for the rest of the day, and it will take two days to get back to about 90% of my potential.

Why is protein intake just as important as carb intake?

Ketosis is defined by its ultra-low carb set up, but don’t forget protein. When excess protein is consumed it is converted into glucose (gluconeogenesis) which whacks you out of ketosis i.e. it has the same effect of too many carbs. That’s why it is good to experiment with different protein levels just as much as different carb levels. These can be varied on workouts days, so you might be having roughly 0.7 grams of protein a day for each lb of bodyweight, which you increase to 0.9g on workout days.

Carbohydrates get a tonne of focus when discussing keto so it might be easy to let protein levels fall by the wayside, especially since you can safely source a lot more energy from them. However, if you’re falling into that gluconeogenesis state, you’re not doing it right!

Revisiting the definition of the ketogenic diet laid out earlier, we should amend it to the following: very low carb, appropriate protein, and high fat.


I hope you enjoyed this post. Join us next week to address questions on sustainability and hacks/cheats, so stop by to learn my answers to questions such as: can you be a keto vegan? What is your number one tip for staying in Ketosis? And can you be ketogenic with sugar free diet drinks?

Before heading off to burn more fat, here’s this week’s takeaways:
  1. Self experimentation is vital; you don’t know whether you can tolerate more or less protein and carbs. Get those numbers wrong and…
  2. Measure your macronutrients for five days; you never know what you might be taking in
  3. Don’t let the keto flu stop you; endure for a few days and then you’ll start to feel terrific

That’s all folks! If you enjoyed the read, leave a like on your channel, and return next week for part 2.

Until next time,

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