“In an industry where trends and fads are seemingly king, it can sometimes be a difficult and daunting prospect when trying to figure out which diet is the one you need to be following to achieve the results you want!”
In the first of a new ‘diets explained’ series, I want to highlight a diet which is seemingly ‘in’ for 2018, why I personally love this particular diet and also what I found to be its pros and cons!
The Ketogenic Diet
Firstly, I hate ‘trends’… I have to get that on the table straight away!
I’m not one for following something just because it’s the fashionable thing to do or because every body else is doing it. In my early years of dabbling with training and nutrition I did sadly fall into this trap once or twice in pursuit of the magic solution, with not much success it has to be said, so with over a decade of trial, error and proper education, I’m here to make sure you don’t have to, by giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice…
The Ketogenic diet is not a new thing by any means!
In the world of bodybuilding for example, it’s been around since before the 1950’s and 60’s with the likes of Vince Gironda and his ‘Steak and eggs diet’ (Vince famously trained guys such as Larry Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Arnold himself often talked of the Ketogenic diet being the ‘standard way of eating’ for all bodybuilders in the 70’s, with stories of half-dozen egg omelettes and burger patty with cheese after burger patty with cheese being devoured every day in local diners after long hard sessions in the world-famous ‘Golds Gym’ in California!
The Ketogenic diet is also a key player in medical circles too where it is seen as a valid method to treat and help with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and seizures and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
So what is the Ketogenic diet and why is it so popular?
The Ketogenic diet is essentially a high fat, moderate protein, low to zero carbohydrate diet with the aim being to force your body to operate on dietary or stored body fat as fuel as opposed to glucose.
Ketones are produced in the liver when fats and fatty acids are being utilised for fuel and the body can no longer call on glucose as its main energy source, or equally when there are periods of starvation (e.g. when following an intermittent fasting protocol).
This process is otherwise known as being in a ‘state of ketosis’.
The reason this is so popular within the fitness industry is because it’s a sure-fire way to blitz body fat!
Okay, let me try to simplify this…
When you partake in a diet that is abundant in carbohydrates (which turn to glucose in the blood stream when digested and in turn form glycogen to be shuttled into the liver, your muscle stores, and/or fat cells) your body prioritizes those above anything else as it’s main energy source, thus making it harder for you to tap into your already stored body fat!
Now, please do not think for one moment that I am dismissing carbohydrates, far from it… In fact, I would hasten to add that I believe carbohydrates play an absolutely crucial role in any diet where the participant is undertaking strenuous exercise, but ONLY in the right conditions! You have to create the right environment to welcome carbohydrates into your nutrition plan in a way that make them benefit you, not hinder you!
Someone who is already walking around with low body fat, is active and athletic and who is emptying their glycogen reserves regularly is an ideal candidate for increased carbohydrate intake, whereas someone who is overweight or obese and who leads a very sedentary lifestyle for example, isn’t!
See, your liver and muscle stores can only hold a certain amount of glycogen in them (there are various numbers out there that suggest this to be around the 500g mark on average although this literally is a ballpark figure and depends on the individual in question).
Once your liver and muscle stores are full, any further ingested carbohydrates processed into glycogen will then ‘overflow’ into the one place you absolutely do not want, your fat cells! This is the harsh truth of the matter and is why so many people are just not suited to eating carbohydrates regularly!
Think of your body as a car… Your car has a gas tank (liver and muscle stores) and every time you drive your car (take part in regular exercise) it’s gas tank is being emptied until you have to go back to the gas station and fill it up again with gas (carbohydrates).
Great, you fill up your gas tank, drive off and repeat! Happy days!
However, if you fill up your gas tank, stay parked on the forecourt, do not move your car for a week and attempt to fill up your gas tank every other day in between, what will happen? That’s right, it will literally spill out onto the floor! That’s exactly what happens with excess glycogen when you do not partake in sufficient exercise regularly to use up what’s stored in the liver and muscle stores, it will happily spill out into your fat cells as it simply has nowhere else to go!
Another reason that a Ketogenic Diet is popular for sustained fat loss is because you are keeping your insulin levels under complete control… Of all the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), fat is the only one that doesn’t cause the pancreas to secrete insulin when ingested! If you don’t secrete insulin, quite frankly it’s much harder (although not impossible) to store extra body fat and a lot easier to stay in the state of ketosis (fat burning mode).
A Ketogenic diet would also be my ‘go to diet’ when faced with anybody who is overweight or clinically obese. The key factors here are getting their insulin resistance under control, blood sugar stable and turning their bodies into fat burning furnaces as quickly as possible. Once insulin resistance has been corrected, the person is taking part in regular exercise and body fat has dropped significantly then it’s safe to slowly reintroduce carbohydrates into a program…
Okay, let me give you my own personal experience of the Ketogenic diet!
I first turned to the diet around ten years ago when suffering with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
I was asked to temporarily eliminate wheat (among other things) from my diet by the doctor and during research randomly stumbled across the Ketogenic diet, which by the way had absolutely nothing to do with what I was looking for ironically enough!
I began to read up more and more on it and just thought, “I’m going to give this a try!”
Like everyone who first comes across this way of eating though, I found it hard to justify eating things like fatty meat, butter and cheese as part of a so-called ‘diet’ when we as a society were raised to believe that ‘low-fat’ was the way to go if you wanted to promote a healthy body!
It actually still staggers me today in 2018 and with all the knowledge we have at our disposal when it comes to nutrition that ‘low fat’ on packaging is still being used as a positive selling point by companies! Then you check the sugar label and the item contains a quarter your recommended daily intake. This is why I always steer clear of anything that is marketed as ‘low-fat’, all they do to balance that fact out is increase the sugar… Crazy!
After an initial period of ‘switching over’ from being a glucose burner to a fully fledged fat burner, I felt that my mental clarity had been given a huge turbo charge, I had long-lasting and stable energy throughout the whole day, I wasn’t experiencing bouts of extreme highs and horrible energy crashes (caused by regular insulin spikes after eating carbohydrates) and I was able to regulate my hunger a lot more too because of this factor…
I was feeling way more satisfied after eating higher amounts of fat and not craving sugary goods every few hours which is what happens when you’re constantly spiking insulin in your body!
After a few weeks on the diet, I found that my skin became a lot softer, tighter and younger looking, I wasn’t suffering with sporadic breakouts any more (I was an acne sufferer as a teen!) and the best part of all, especially as a guy, testosterone levels had shot up (the extra saturated fat in my new found Ketogenic diet played its part in this) and I was able to maintain my muscle mass way better and the body fat was literally melting off of me!
Wow, this was too good to be true! Well yes, it was… There were a few drawbacks!! (Always the way isn’t it?)
At first, I didn’t take into consideration the lack of fiber that was now apparent in my diet and as a former IBS sufferer this wasn’t going to help me much…. I did have a few bloating issues but soon corrected this by upping my green vegetable intake and also introduced other high fiber ‘fatty’ foods such as nuts and avocados meaning that problem soon went away!
Also, the first 10 days on this diet were pretty much hell because I just wasn’t prepared for the headaches and the brain fog, which I was told were caused by my body getting away from being dependent on sugar and switching over from being a glucose burner to a fat burner… This is otherwise known as the ‘Keto flu’.
I did find a solution to cure that eventually though whenever I was restarting a Ketogenic diet in future, keep my sodium levels high! Bone broth or even a simple beef stock cube in hot water are great ways to ensure this… Your body is losing vital electrolytes when you eliminate certain carbohydrates and if you don’t take the steps to replace them, you will become dehydrated a lot quicker! Also, glycogen is good at holding on to water in your body, so when you are eliminating carbohydrates, stored water in the body isn’t being held on to as easily and these two factors combined go some way to explaining why I felt the headaches and the brain fogs along with that initial ‘switch-over!’
This also helped to solve another issue I had in the gym, flat muscles and a ‘lack of pump!’
I soon had those ‘Spider-Man’ veins back though with the increased water and sodium…
***At this point I would like to point out that I exclusively use Himalayan pink salt as my sodium source when salting my foods… it’s packed full of minerals and health benefits, so please stay well clear of those industrially produced, chemical ridden table salt mimic’s!
I also like to keep my liver nicely cleansed with the use of lemon water on a daily basis as it’s working a lot harder on this type of diet and for those of you having seizures right about now with the amount of cholesterol involved, fear not, the Ketogenic diet is widely known to increase your GOOD cholesterol (HDL) and actually decrease the amount of harmful VLDL cholesterol in the blood! Yes, I have had my blood work done to prove this to myself once or twice too!
When setting up a Ketogenic diet you want to aim for around 70-75% of your daily calories coming from fat, 20-25% from protein and 5-10% from carbohydrates… Some people don’t factor in the fiber when counting their carbohydrate calories, but I do, just to be on the safe side… The way I see it, the less ‘carbs’ the better and less will certainly not hurt me!
My typical Ketogenic diet would mainly consist of high fat, grass-fed or organic cuts of meat, ‘fatty’ oily fish such as salmon or mackerel, free range or organic whole eggs, grass-fed ghee or butter, MCT (medium chain triglyceride), virgin coconut or avocado oil, organic cheese, high fat/low carb nuts such as macadamia or walnuts, sunflower seeds, heavy whipping cream, avocados, my beloved fibrous green veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower and finally cacao (which I use in my morning ‘Keto coffee!’… I’ll put the recipe up on the website very soon!)
I do keep my water and salt intake higher than usual to ensure I’m always hydrated as any ‘low carb’ diet will undoubtedly cause extra sodium and water secretion as mentioned earlier…
If you’re wanting to know if you are actually in a state of ketosis you can check by using urine strips from the pharmacy (which turn a certain color when you’re supposedly in ketosis, the accuracy of these is debatable though…) or with the use of a much more accurate blood ketone meter).
by james fox
I hope this article has gone some way to explaining my own personal experience with the diet and any questions you may have had surrounding it… The thing about this type of industry is there are a lot of so-called ‘expert’ opinions, but I’m not here to tell you that something is right or wrong or set in stone! Neither do I have the attitude of “my way is the only way!”
I’m here to try to bring all the facts to the table to help you make an informed choice of your own… I would also never force a client of mine to follow a certain diet if they didn’t feel comfortable doing so either which a lot of trainers/coaches will do just to benefit their own goals.
Of course, with my knowledge and experience, I can and always will suggest the best options for you to get the best out of your time and effort, but at the same time, you have to feel at total ease with your lifestyle which is what we are trying to create here…
My overall opinion of the Ketogenic diet is that it is an amazing diet if followed correctly with great holistic and body altering benefits attached to it… I personally find it the easiest diet to adhere to when reducing my calories to cut body fat too as it’s way more fulfilling than a carbohydrate rich diet and you can be a little more relaxed when watching your calorie intake because of the lack of insulin spikes you are promoting…
Of course you still have to be mindful of this factor in the main, but as an every day diet, it suits me down to the ground!
The only time I would go away from a Ketogenic diet is when my body fat levels are getting low (around the 8-10% mark) and I no longer have much body fat left to burn… I tend to find my energy does wane slightly at this point and I will then adopt more of a ‘carb cycling’ type of approach into my programs…
All things considered, I would give this diet a very respectable 8/10!
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**Please note that when considering any drastic changes in your diet it is best to consult with your GP/Doctor first to notify them of your intentions and have yourself checked out to determine your suitability.