The Ketogenic Diet is a Perfect Way to Energize your Active Lifestyle Without Risking Fluctuating Weight
The Ketogenic Diet is a recent reincarnation of the low-carb diet. While it may seem like another trend, this particular version of the diet has promising science behind it. And speaking personally, I have had tremendous success using it.
My experience with the ketogenic diet started when I noticed my weight slowly creeping up over the last five years. With all the backpacking, running, hiking, skiing, biking and other outdoor activities I do, every pound really matters. At my most heavy, I realized I was weighed an extra 30-35 pounds than my ideal, healthy weight. That's like loading up my backpack with an extra 35 pounds every time I step out to exercise. I knew I had to make some radical changes.
So when I found the ketogenic diet, it really seemed to be a missing pillar to my active lifestyle. It's allowed me to easily control my weight, even during inactive periods. I'm sure a lot of active people living in the mountains have experienced weight fluctuations during off seasons, or during a seasonal shift. It's hard switching from summer activities to winter activities and the other way around. It was always during fall or spring that I would put on a little extra weight. If that's a problem that resonates with you or even if you just want a new tool in your arsenal to control weight, the ketogenic diet could be very beneficial.
Since there's an overwhelming amount of technical and science-y information about ketogenic diets, I'll forgo most of the technical and biological details. Instead, I'll focus on what's worked for me and others that I've researched. Use this as a simple guide on how to get started with your ketogenic diet and see if it's something that you can make work for yourself.
The Idea Behind the Ketogenic DietTo me, the main idea of the ketogenic can be put very simply. The goal is to trick your body to think it's not getting substantial carbohydrates and protein. You do this by taking in the majority of calories you ingest from fat. Ideally, you could take in something like 60-70% of your total daily calories from fat. Conversely, you try to only get about 5-10% of your daily calories from carbohydrates. The remainder will come from protein. In consequence, your body will start a process that utilizes fat as it's main source of energy.
If you want a quick overview on the concepts and ideas of a ketogenic diet, check out this infographic from Positive Healthwellness.
How Does a High-Fat Diet Help you Lose Fat?
The answer lies in a metabolic process that the human body uses in times of extreme conditions. We all know that given water, humans can sometimes survive weeks without food. This is because in absence of carbohydrates and protein, the body starts to break down fats for energy. This state is called "ketosis". It's a kind of evolutionary survival tool our bodies use to help us survive in absence of consistent carbs. So by taking in a diet of mostly fats, your body adjusts and starts using fats as its primary
So to trick our bodies to get into ketosis, there's a pretty simple process. First, identify your daily calorie intake to reach your ideal weight over some period of time. If you aren't sure how to calculate this, here's a great resource. Once you know this number in calories, try and makeup about 60-70% of this number from fat, and only 5-10% from carbs. The remainder (about 25%) will be from protein. If you consistently achieve these percentages, your body will start to adapt. It will trigger a response as if you were starving. However, the truth is that you are getting enough calories through your fat intake. But your lack of carbohydrates – and therefore low blood sugar – will cause your body to adjust. It will start the process of breaking fats down into glucose as it's primary source of energy.
To summarize, you are essentially tricking your body into triggering its fat burning mechanism. You aren't necessarily starving yourself though. Rather, you are taking in all the calories you need for sustenance through fat, which causes you body to make a metabolic shift. That way, when you do have a caloric deficit during a workout or just eating less, your body will much more easily break down fats for energy.
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet, Beyond Weight Loss
Weight loss and body fat regulation are not the only benefits to a ketogenic diet. One of the most important consequences of the diet is control over blood sugar levels. In fact, much of the development of the ketogenic diet came form the search for a natural method to cure diabetes. Whether or not you have diabetes, lowering your blood sugar level can have amazing long-term effects, such as lowering your risk for coronary disease.
Additionally, many people in higher states of ketosis report feeling better brain functioning. Some even describe a sense of elation.
More striking perhaps, recent research has demonstrated that a ketogenic diet may also help slow growth in cancer cells. The theory is that without readily available glycogen, cellular growth at the scale of aggressive cancer cells is restricted. Finally, evidence from studies and anecdotal reports indicate that symptoms of epilepsy can be subdued in epileptic patients on a ketogenic diet.
The Three Simple Ways to Kickstart Ketosis
So far I've mostly been talking about diet as the way to reach ketosis. However, in my opinion there are three distinct ways of kickstarting ketosis. The more we enter into ketosis, the easier it is to do again. Therefore it can be harder to achieve in the beginning. So the goal is to have as many factors working in your favor as possible. Here are the three ways I believe are the fastest way to hit ketosis. I've also organized them in order of most effective for producing quick, lasting effects.
Long- or short-term fasting
Either long- or short-term fasting may be the quickest way to hit ketosis. And it doesn't have to involve suffering or starvation. Regular short-term fasting can work wonders. This could mean fasting throughout 18-20 hours of the day, and eating 90%+ of your daily calories in the same 4-6 hours. During the other 18-20 hours, maybe you have a small fatty snack of some nuts. Meanwhile, your body's blood sugar should hit very low levels, encouraging ketosis.
Long-term fasting of several days or even more doesn't have to be involve suffering either. In theory, you could still take in a few hundred calories per day of fat during times when you need a boost. Even though this might not be a fast strictly speaking, it's more than enough to boost you into ketosis.
I never really mess with long-term fasting, but I short-term fast almost everyday. Usually, I'll snack a bit just gulp down a spoon or two of coconut oil during the day, but 80-90% of my calorie intake happens in a window between 4pm-10pm.
By far, diet is the simplest way to maintain ketosis for long periods of time. If you want a ketonic diet, there's one simple rule: quit all carbs, and limit protein to your normal levels. Make up the rest with fats. The best fats to use are coconut oil, and oils from nuts and seeds. Though dairy fats and other animal fats will be fine too. The "best" fats for a ketogenic diet are "MCTs" and are a specific kind of fats. Coconut oil, certain nut oils and exogenous compounds contain some of the highest concentrations of MCTs. You can buy concentrated supplements through brands like KetoCaNa. Though I don't find these to taste great or make a big difference in the diet. Plus, they are expensive.
You can find a ton of great ketogenic meal ideas (as well as a ton of other good info) at this very informational website curated by a nutritionist Ellen Davis ketogenic-diet-resource.com.
Cardio exercise for 45-60 min+ (depending on body type and weight) is a great, fast way to boost you into ketosis. For typical exercise, your body uses glucose and glucose stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. This is the sugar referred to as "blood sugar". It's also the amount of energy that you have readily available to you at any given moment for normal activity. When this runs out, your body will need to use backup energy in the form of breaking down fat. During extended work outs, you will eventually run very low on glucose (stored as glycogen). When this starts, your body will need to start breaking down fats for energy, and your body will get a ketosis boost.
Notably, there is a major caveat. If your body isn't already in ketosis or accustomed to being in ketosis, you may get a big "bonk" when you hit the end of your glycogen supply. That's why I put exercise last in this list. Unless your body is already prepared to start breaking down fats for energy, exercise alone will not get you into ketosis. It will however give you a nice jump start if you find that dieting and/or fasting are not yielding results quickly enough.