What Exactly is Ketosis and is it Safe?

One of the most popular diet trends in the fitness community right now is the ketogenic or the keto diet, in fact you may have found this page simply by searching google for information on it. So what is ketogenic dieting? and why is it so popular right now? Well I guess that has something to do with the fact it’s a great way to maintain muscle whilst at the same time shedding the fat. Unlike traditional weight loss diets, keto dieting has a rather unique method of protecting your muscles whilst under a calorie deficit, but before we tell you how it’s done, lets dig a little deeper into how it works. That’s right, science time!

What is Ketosis and How Does it Differ from Ketoacidosis?

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body breaks down fat as its primary source of fuel, ketones are the byproduct of this process, and an indication that ketosis is occuring. Before we go on, a distinction needs to be made between a healthy ketogenic state and ketoacidosis, a metabolic disaster.

Ketoacidosis is a potentially life-threatening condition where your body produces an abnormaly large number of ketones, which are acidic compounds by nature. As you can imagine, too many of them effectively poinsons the body. This occurs primarily in type I diabetics who do not produce enough insulin but less commonly can occur in type 2 diabetics. For healthy indiviuals following a ketogenic diet, you will not produce ketones to this excess.

How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work? The Science Behind the Theory

Whilst most of the world is carb adapted (i.e. burn carbohydrates as their primary energy source), ketogenic dieting forces the body to switch to fat for its main source of energy. The diet centres on a high fat low carbohydrate composition, but protein also needs to be controlled. Eat too many carbs and the body will switch from ketosis back to its default carb burning state. The same also applies to protein.

Contrary to popular belief, the body only requires a small amount of protein. In fact as little as 0.8g per kg is plenty and levels above 2g per kg are likely wasted. Unlike fats and carbohydrates the body cannot store protein, instead via a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG), the excess is converted to glucose (a carbohydrate).

Myth: Eating too much protein will not make you fat.
Truth: No, eating too much of anything will make you fat. The body has a remarkable way of adapting to various scenarios and excess protein is no different. As mentioned above, the excess is converted to glucose, and unless this glucose is needed at the time, it is stored as fat – just like any other macro-nutrient.

So carbohydrates need to be kept mega low, <30g per day for some, and protein should be consumed in moderation (2g/kg max).  By denying your body carbs, it starts to burn fat, which then provides it with the energy it needs to fuel the body. Fatty foods make up the majority of the calorie intake on a keto diet.

Myth: On a keto diet you do not need to watch how much you eat
Truth: As mentioned above eating any macronutrient in excess results in fat stores, this includes fat. Fats and proteins do tend to be more satising than carbohydrates, consequently on this diet you may notice you eat less before your full anyway.

When you include fewer carbs and more fat in your diet, your body starts producing ketones. With time, it starts deriving its energy from ketones instead of carbohydrates and eventually enters a state of ketosis. Test your blood or urine for presence of these ketones to confirm your diet is effective.

Prepping your meals in advance will be critical. There aren’t any keto restaurants around and high carb foods are everywhere. Once you start this diet you’ll begin to notice the extent to which you previously relied on carbohydrates, but with time you’ll adapt, or fail miserably. Essentially, during meal preps ensure you do not include more than 50g of carbs per day (some may do fine on 100g others will need less than 30g). Carbohydrates should be limited to green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, kale, green beans, etc which are low in carbs but high in nutrients – this is essential to maintain healthy skin, nails and hair.

How to get into Ketosis

A keto diet is not a diet that you can whimfully choose to go on and off of at any point. Your body needs time to adjust to the change in metabolism but the time needed can be reduced. Depending on what you eat, your body type and activity levels, the process of going into ketosis can take anywhere from 2-14 days.

There are five ways to reach ketosis fast:

1. Eat more fat
Your gym meals should be full of healthy fats like egg yolks, olives, avocado, drench meats and full fat salad dressings.

2. Keep a moderate protein intake.
Large amounts of proteins can convert to glucose and spike insulin levels. High insulin levels encourage fat storage and this will delay, if not hinder, your efforts to reach ketosis quickly.

3. Cut carbs.
This is probably the fastest way to reach ketosis. Try limiting the amount of carbs you eat per day to less than 10% of total calories, eventually you want to be consuming less than 50g/day. Chose the lowest carb fruits (or skip completely) and most, if not all, carbs should come from green veggies; cover them with healthy fats for more flavour and a boosted fat intake. Snacks will be hard to come by so remember to prep in advance. You can try soaking blueberries in unsweetened heavy cream or coconut cream, carry this in your meal prep bag for a delicious snack later.

4. Exercise.
By restricting your carb intake to 30g or less per day,
increasing your water intake and engaging in a high intensity interval training routine, you will reach ketosis very fast. You can also accelerate the process by exercising on an empty stomach. The body can store enough glycogen in the muscles and the liver to sustain a 90-120 minute workout.

5. Fasting.
There are many variations of fasting but the most common one is avoiding food of any kind for 12-24 hours. This depletes the sugar stores in your body and as a result, your body starts taping into stored glucose.

What to Expect During the Initial Stages of Ketogenesis

During the first 2 or 3 days, you might experience some mental and physical fogginess – known as the keto flu. Your body will be transitioning from glucose to ketones and this might result in a foggy haze, which might make it hard to concentrate. You might also feel easily irritable, experience headaches, nausea or muscle cramps.

You might also experience strength and endurance loss especially in the first few weeks. If you are having trouble adapting, you should consider eating fresh green vegetables alongside the fats and proteins in your diet.

Dehydration and constipation is also another factor to consider when starting a keto diet mainly because it consists of a lot of proteins. The good news is that this is an issue that can be solved by increasing vegetable and water intake.

Benefits of Ketosis

1. Improved Fat Loss
When your body is not in ketosis, it prefers to burn carbs while storing fat but when it’s in ketosis, it prefers to burn fats for fuel.

2. Regulates Insulin Levels
Insulin can inhibit the body from using up fatty acids as energy. However, going on a keto diet helps to lower the level of insulin in the body and encourages the release of beneficial hormones such as the growth hormone.

3. Decreases Hunger Levels
When your body goes into a state of ketosis, it seems to suppress the appetite. A high carb diet on the other hand increases hunger levels.

Dangers of Ketosis

1. Metabolic Shift
During the first few weeks of your ketogenic diet, your body will have to go through what is known as a metabolic shift. So you will experience dehydration, headaches, fatigue and brain fog. But once your body gets used to manufacturing ketones as the main energy source, your body will adapt.

2. Blood-lipid-profile Issues
Due to the increased amounts of fats in the keto diet, most people are concerned about the blood-lipid profile. You can of course include healthy unsaturated fats in your diet but it won’t be as fun as eating an egg and cheese sandwich with bacon on the side.

3. Micronutrient Deficiency
Because you are restricted to 50g a day of carbohydrates on the keto diet, your body will experience inadequate supply of magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, folate and thiamin. The best thing to do to ensure you do not suffer from micronutrient deficiency is to take multivitamins.

Effects of Ketosis on Physical and Mental Performance

According to a study published in the journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, the keto diet does not affect physical performance of athletes including body builders. The study involved 8 gymnasts who were put on a keto diet for 30 days. It was observed that during those 30 days, the gymnasts were able to continue with their normal training. The results of the study also suggested that power and strength performance can be maintained despite the rapid fat loss.

Ketosis also makes your brain work better. Since your brain is happily deriving energy from ketones, it protects itself from a variety of diseases including Alzeimers.

Are You Considering going Keto?

The keto diet has a lot of pros and cons, but those of us that have tried it have said the pros far outweigh the cons. if you are looking to lose some weight while building some muscles, the keto diet might be for you. Remember it will take a while to get into the state; Even once you can detect ketones in your blood/urine the benefits may take a while to settle. Good Luck!

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About Author

Mehmet is a qualified pharmacist and lover of shorts, whatever the season. Whilst his background is in science his interests are in fitness, music and entrepeneurship. He is the founder of Gym Meals London and believes quality food, an active lifestyle and regular stretching is the obvious secret to good health.

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