The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920s to help epilepsy patients and stabilize their seizures. Unfortunately, its use declined with the advent of antiepileptic drugs.
Ketogenic dieting used to be a bit of a fringe movement. People who did it were a bit ‘out there.’ However, in recent times it has enjoyed a resurgence, and ‘keto’ has entered into the mainstream lexicon.
In fact, it seems everyone is doing it. From your sister to your cousin’s cat. However, I had never considered doing it myself. I figured lack of carbohydrates would negatively impact both my day-to-day energy levels, and training performance. I was under the impression that I needed carbs to train hard and recover.
At least this is how I thought until I did the ketogenic diet…Last year I was at crossroads.. My diet had become a bit routine and stale and my performance in the gym had plateaued. So I decided I wanted to try something new. I said to ‘hell with it’ and decided to go “keto.”
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
It appears the applications of the ketogenic diet is far reaching, and goes way beyond symptom management for specific conditions. Indeed, it appears using fat as a primary fuel source is beneficial to your overall health.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Before we get into it, I thought it would be necessary to clarify what keto is all about. The ketogenic diet or ‘keto’ is characterized by a low carb and high dietary fat intake. And when the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy, it uses fat energy. These fat stores are broken down in the liver and converted into molecules known as ketones. In the absence of glucose, the body then uses these ketones for fuel.
Ketosis refers to a metabolic state where your body uses ketones (fat) as its primary energy source. Being in ketosis mean your body taps into its own fat stores to use as energy. This is obviously great news for weight loss, because you can become a fat-burning machine!
Many people mistakenly believe our bodies only produce ketones once we’re in ketosis. However, mild ketosis can also occur during fasting and lactation (breastfeeding) . Even when we eat a lot of carbohydrates, ketones are present in our blood at low levels, and they increase in response to a decrease in carbohydrates.
The main reason the ketogenic diet works so well for weight loss is due to the lack of insulin. Insulin inhibits fat breakdown; and the principal nutrient that stimulates its release is carbohydrate .
Most people’s diets are rich in carbohydrates, hence they are unable to turn their bodies in to efficient fat-burning machines because of the constant presence of insulin.
And let’s just clarify one thing. You don’t starve your body while on a ketogenic diet. However, you do starve your body of carbohydrates.
There are actually four different types of ketogenic diets:
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) – this is the most well-known version of the ketogenic diet. The aim here is to stay within 20-50g of net carbohydrates per day. You have a moderate protein and high fat intake. This typically consists of 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrate.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) – this involves eating 30-50g of carbohydrates 30 minutes or so prior to workouts.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) – as the name suggests, this is where you cycle your carbohydrate intake. For instance, you may go low carb for several days, followed by a high carbohydrate intake, and cycle back to a low carb approach again.
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet – in this variation you drop your fat intake and increase your protein intake substantially. In this case, the fat content is a more moderate 60%, protein 35%, while carbohydrates remain 5%.
To meet the demands of exercise and ensure muscle growth and repair, you need an adequate protein intake. Therefore, I decided to go on a high-protein ketogenic diet.
Below I share with you some of my main observations while I was on keto.
#1 Cognition is pretty damn good
My diet has been on point for several years, albeit with minor tweaks here and there. Testosterone replacement therapy has also helped with my mental clarity.
However, I have to say my overall concentration and thinking was very clear on the ketogenic diet. Whereas when I eat a lot of carbohydrates, I tend to feel sluggish.
When I eat lots of carbs carbs, I want to go take a nap and find it hard to concentrate. I never felt this way on keto.
#2 Easier to follow the diet than I thought
My biggest reservation about doing the ketogenic diet was that it would be hard to follow.
“It’s so hard to avoid carbohydrates these days!” I thought.
But honestly, it was much easier than I had anticipated.
Previously, carbohydrates such as sweet potato and oatmeal were mainstays in my diet. I couldn’t imagine life without them.
In reality however, the adjustment without carbs was quite straightforward.
I still ate plenty of protein, so that aspect didn’t change much. For the most part, I simply replaced the carbohydrates with green vegetables and added more fats in the form of avocados, nuts, etc.
Not that difficult.
Nor did this make me a social recluse unable to eat at restaurants.. It’s actually pretty simple to stay keto when you eat out. For example, a chicken salad with a moderate amount of fat is good from a keto standpoint.
#3 Fat based meals are pretty tasty
I’m not going to lie to you. One of the most enjoyable aspects of going keto was eating lots of foods that taste good –
And NOT feeling guilty for it!
A HUGE reason people fail their diets is down to guilt and shame:
“Oh no, I just had a cheat meal! I’ve fallen off the wagon and completely wrecked my diet!”
You simply don’t feel this way on a ketogenic diet, because most of the food tastes good. Therefore, there’s less compulsion to cheat and binge on crappy food.
Unless you’re a vegan, who doesn’t enjoy eating bacon, eggs, steak and cheese? Indeed, it makes a nice change to follow a diet where you look forward to every single meal.
#4 It’s easy to go overboard with dietary fat
Going keto comes with a BIG caveat:
It’s EXTREMELY easy to go overboard with the fat content. You can convince yourself that eating anything with fat in it is “good” for you. As a result, you end up splurging on things like cheese and nut butter.
Because they’re healthy fats right?
You convince yourself it’s good. Then when you punch in your calories into My Fitness pal, you realize you’ve ate wayyy too much.
It’s like those people who take two tablespoons of cream and butter in their coffee. It’s keto!! No, that’s called being fat.
On keto, I can eat two large meals and I’ve already hit my fat target for the day. The amount of calories in fat is quite deceptive – nine calories per gram to be precise. Whereas there are only four calories per gram of protein and carbohydrate.
#5 You have to eat plenty of vegetables
The fiber and nutrient content from the carbohydrates I ate used to help me feel satiated. When I removed them on the ketogenic diet, I noticed I get hungrier quicker. Eating fibrous vegetable can help you feel fuller and stop you snacking.
Snacking and grazing is like kryptonite to your diet.
If you follow keto to the letter, it’s not necessary to eat vegetables. You can eat a high fat meal such as bacon and eggs without them.
However, it’s important not to miss out vegetables on the ketogenic diet. Otherwise, you can become deficient in specific micronutrients. Vegetables are crucial for their vitamin and mineral content. Particularly for ones that your body cannot manufacture itself.
#6 Eating this way made me even more vigilant
I’ve long had the habit of looking at nutritional labels on all food. However, when I went keto, I became extra vigilant. To remain in ketosis, as a rule you cannot exceed 25-40g (at most) in a day of carbohydrates.
I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at eating an avocado in the past. On keto though, I had to take it into consideration due to its carbohydrate content. You start to become hyper-conscious of carbohydrate content in foods.
You start to find them in places you would have never expected. Trying a ketogenic diet is great just for this lesson alone.
#7 Training performance was as good, if not better
As mentioned, one of my reservations about going keto was my performance in the gym. I always assumed that I needed plenty of carbohydrates to train hard at the gym and for strength and size.
Not for the first time, I was wrong.
While I could perhaps train more intensely with carbohydrates, I certainly had more stamina on keto. I could do six or seven intense exercises in a row and still feel energized.
By comparison, I would normally be tapped out by the end of a training session on a diet with complex carbohydrates. And because I train hard, doing creative tasks after training was OUT OF THE QUESTION. But after going keto, for the first time I was able to go home and write after training.
#8 Recovery was slower
I still reserve judgement on this one because I only did keto for four months. Subjectively however, I noticed I did feel sorer for after training.
Where when eating plenty of carbohydrates, I would be sore for barely a day. This could be a mental thing. To make it more quantifiable, I’d have to track my heart rate every morning when I woke up.
Nonetheless, I don’t care much for tracking every single aspect of diet and training. What matters most to me on a diet is how you feel. And for the most part, I felt pretty damn good on keto.
#9 My body composition was even better
Another concern I had about going on keto was that I was going to lose muscle. I thought that the lack of carbohydrates would make me look flat.
Bodybuilding lore states that you need carbohydrates to gain muscle. So I never expected to gain muscle while on the ketogenic diet.
But take a look at my before and after pics. I look bigger and fuller. And I actually weighed less! The picture on the left is me three months I started keto, and the one on the right is four months later.
According to most gurus, you need a ton of carbs to grow muscle. On the weekend I would allow myself to have a meal with carbohydrates. Because guess what? I wanted a life! If it’s not keto adapted, who gives a shit. But one thing’s for sure – I gained a ton of size withourt the need for carbohydrates.
It goes to show – we take so many ideas for granted, particularly when it comes to health and fitness.
#10 You don’t need carbohydrates to function
I got a bodpod done when I finished with the diet. I was surprised with the results. It was the leanest I’ve ever been – 7.7% body fat in total.
I felt better and looked much leaner on the ketogenic diet. However, I don’t think that’s because keto is some magic bullet. It’s simply a question of calories in, calories out. Eating more fat made me feel satiated for longer, so I didn’t need the additional calories.
When I started the ketogenic diet, I was worried eating less carbs would impair not only my training, but my focus in general. The truth is, I felt absolutely fine without them.
In fact, I felt better than ever before. I’ve since reverted back to eating carbohydrates. But as a result of going keto, I’ve dramatically lowered my intake. I simply don’t need them in the way I thought.
You do have to be a bit more picky and methodical in your planning – especially when you eat out. You also have to be assertive when friends and family on plying you with carbs!
It’s important to remember why you chose this lifestyle in the first place. Yes, it’s harder to do this, but what’s the alternative – feel and look like shit? No thanks!
I followed the ketogenic diet for around four months. It wasn’t difficult at all. In fact, I quite enjoyed it and I learned a SHIT TON about nutrition in general.
There is no better way to learn than to roll your sleeves up and get in the trenches.
To find out more about the ketogenic diet or whether following it could be right for you, get in contact with me about my 1on1 coaching.
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