Ketogenic dieting has become an absolutely viral means of losing those unwanted pounds. It has been touted as the quickest way to lose serious poundage and has been popularised by mainstream media in recent months to boot.
So what is Ketogenic dieting? How do you follow such a diet and what are some of the pros and cons of this nutritional strategy?
Ketosis is a state the body will enter in the absence of glucose from either liberated glycogen (your body’s carb stores) or from the ingestion of carbohydrates. Whilst mainstream media will have you believe this revolutionary state requires cutting-edge supplementation and extreme dieting to enter, Ketosis is actually a very normal process for the body.
This is thanks to the body’s amazing adaptive nature, whereby it will preferentially metabolise whatever fuel source is most abundantly available and easiest to burn for its energy demands. When you ingest carbohydrates, your body will burn glucose. When you consume fats or deplete otherwise available glycogen as fuel, the body will quite happily liberate and burn stored fats to meet its energy demands.
This state where the body burns fats as its primary fuel is what is referred to as Ketosis, and a diet that promotes Ketosis for the majority of the day is known as a Ketogenic diet.
Now, it should be making itself clear by this stage that a Ketogenic diet is one that does not contain a great deal of carbohydrates, thus maintaining the fat burning state of Ketosis. This is the fundamental principle of the Keto diet. So now we understand the fundamentals of this nutritional strategy, let’s look a little deeper at the pros, cons and where supplementation falls into this picture.
Benefits of Keto
Benefits are actually quite numerous in the short term for a ketogenic diet. Typically employed to assist Pre-Diabetics, those with advanced Insulin Resistance, those with symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and the obese, Ketogenic diets dramatically impact your overall health profile in a rather acute time frame.
As a last line of defence against lifestyle diseases, or to lower inflammation and digestive intolerances related to carbohydrates (ie. Gluten, wheat intolerance etc) Keto will actually go a long way in drastically increasing Insulin Sensitivity, depleting Glycogen stores and encouraging the body to liberate stored body fat for fuel instead of the sugar in that Blueberry muffin you had for breakfast!
To this end, benefits include improved Insulin response to carbohydrate ingestion, improvement of blood lipid profiles, significant lowering of systemic inflammation associated with carbohydrate ingestion and often intolerance, as well as rapid weight loss.
Now for the drawbacks!
In theory, Ketosis is a fantastic place to spend time. Unfortunately, there is a big, sugary elephant in the room!
It is god damned difficult to enter and even harder to maintain!
To allow your body to enter Ketosis, there must be no immediately available glucose to burn. This means glycogen stores must be depleted which can take days, or even up to a week for sedentary individuals. During this time you will experience lows in energy, lethargy, and cravings for sugar that your Gut Biome and system, in general, are used to gobbling up for quick, easy fuel.
So the first drawback is the difficulty to enter Ketosis, with an initial depletion phase that can prove very difficult for the average punter! Next is the maintenance phase. This is perhaps the hardest part of the whole gig. You see, your body will convert almost anything to glucose. 2 of the 3 primary Macronutrients (Protein and Carbohydrates) are easily able to be converted to blood glucose with dietary fats being the ONLY food group that will keep you in the wonderland of fat burning that is ketosis.
If you ingest carbohydrates at any time in your diet, you will be bumped out of a Ketogenic state until that glucose is burned and the glycogen stored from that meal is depleted.
To this end, a true Ketogenic diet must look something like 75% of calories coming from Fats, with less than 50 grams of Carbohydrates (this varies significantly based on body fat, exercise intensity, and timing of these carbs) and less than the same again of Protein.
Now, restriction of food choices aside, the sluggishness of energy while transitioning into an efficient Ketosis and the difficulty of staying therein disregarded, there is still another hurdle. For the sedentary population, this may not prove too much of an issue. But for active trainees, particularly those partaking in resistance training, the necessity of a high protein diet and indeed glycogen to fuel intense exercise is paramount. Depleted glycogen stores along with low protein will leave any gym goer trying to pack on lean muscle spinning their wheels, for Protein synthesis is one of the few processes that can not be performed with any other macronutrient.
Furthermore, with most bouts of maximal output in the gym floor being less than 60 seconds in length, ATP is the dominant energy system. Again, dietary fats are a very inefficient means to produce the quick reactions of the Kreb cycle required to perform at peak.
Now supplementation wise, you may be saying that whilst yes, it is very difficult to maintain or enter Ketosis, there are Ketogenic supplements now available that will act as a fuel source without disrupting ketosis. This is correct for the last part of that statement; it will provide a fuel source that won’t break Ketosis. However, circling back to the adaptive body’s willingness to burn what it can for fuel while it is present, ingesting Ketones simply means you burn Ketones for fuel until they are spent. If you are not on a diet with 75% dietary fats with extremely low carbohydrates and protein, then ingesting Keto salts will only provide a short burst of fuel before the body goes back to its abundant glucose stores. You are not actually being induced into Ketosis.
You are just burning Ketones until they are burned then you return to your dominant available fuel source available. So like almost every supplement, Ketogenic supplementation has its uses when employed at the correct time and place but it won’t magically put you into a state of Ketosis, no matter how much they spent on clever marketing material!
Now, funnily enough, this article wasn’t intended to bash Ketogenic diets or even discredit them. It is a profoundly effective nutritional strategy that can be successfully implemented to assist in rapid weight loss phases and to improve Biometric markers around Insulin sensitivity, blood sugar levels, and inflammation.
However, like most things in the media, it has been grossly under-explained and over marketed leading many to jump on the bandwagon before realising how to actually follow the strategy in its entirety.
So if you are someone who has liked the sound of a Ketogenic diet so far, then, by all means, implement the strategy. At least now, you will be armed with how to enter and maintain a Ketogenic state, how to use the Keto supplementation properly and what pitfalls to expect along the way!