Lastly, if you're active, you might need to make some adjustments to take that into account. "For the first one to two weeks, temporarily reducing your exercise load can be helpful as your body adjusts to being in ketosis," he says. "Additionally, for those who have an intense workout schedule, carb cycling may be a good option." Carb cycling essentially means you'll increase your carb intake on the days you're doing exercise, ideally just two to three days per week. "While low-carb days may be around 20 to 30 grams of net carbs daily, high-carb days can range all the way up to 100 grams, although it can vary based on your size and activity level," says Dr. Axe. (Related: 8 Things You Need to Know About Exercising on the Keto Diet.)
You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
As mentioned, there are a few reasons why the keto diet usually equals weight-loss gold, says Keatley. For starters, people usually reduce their daily caloric intake to about 1,500 calories a day because healthy fats and lean proteins make you feel fuller sooner—and for a longer period of time. And then there’s the fact that it takes more energy to process and burn fat and protein than carbs, so you're burning slightly more calories than you did before. Over time, this can lead to weight loss.
Ready to head out the door and start buying groceries? Slow down there, chief. Go through the pantry, fridge, freezer, and secret stashes under the bed, and get rid of foods with any significant carb content. In the first few days, you could end up craving them—badly. This means fruit, too. Even carrots and onions are too high-glycemic to work with keto, Wittrock says.
Lots of apps and websites offer keto diet challenges—basically, a blueprint for the keto diet with a fixed starting and ending point (they typically last for a week to a month, though some may be longer). Speaking of apps, plenty of keto-centric ones are right at your fingertips (a.k.a., your smartphone), like the KetoDiet app, which can help you calculate your macros and track your keto diet effectively.
Endurance Performance: Traditionally, endurance athletes tend to consume a high amount of carbohydrates in order to “fill up” their fuel stores (i.e. glycogen) for competitions. Thus, a diet where carbohydrates are restricted seems counter-intuitive for these individuals. However, Dr. Jeff Volek’s research showed that once an individual is keto-adapted, not only is their performance the same or better than those consuming high levels of carbohydrates, but their glycogen “fuel stores” are the same as well. Despite consuming a diet lower in carbohydrates, these athletes are able to adapt and utilize a nearly limitless supply of fat as their primary fuel source.
First reported in 2003, the idea of using a form of the Atkins diet to treat epilepsy came about after parents and patients discovered that the induction phase of the Atkins diet controlled seizures. The ketogenic diet team at Johns Hopkins Hospital modified the Atkins diet by removing the aim of achieving weight loss, extending the induction phase indefinitely, and specifically encouraging fat consumption. Compared with the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet (MAD) places no limit on calories or protein, and the lower overall ketogenic ratio (about 1:1) does not need to be consistently maintained by all meals of the day. The MAD does not begin with a fast or with a stay in hospital and requires less dietitian support than the ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates are initially limited to 10 g per day in children or 20 g per day in adults, and are increased to 20–30 g per day after a month or so, depending on the effect on seizure control or tolerance of the restrictions. Like the ketogenic diet, the MAD requires vitamin and mineral supplements and children are carefully and periodically monitored at outpatient clinics.
There exists great debate on how to quantify the macronutrient ratios and percentages for a traditional ketogenic diet. Despite numerous opinions, the common and ultimate objective is to develop a diet that is sustainable in achieving the desired outcome (i.e., a state of ketosis). As such, while it is suggested that 65–80% of the total calories come from fat, and 15–30% from protein, these numbers will be optimized according to every individual’s unique metabolic needs. For example, an individual who is trying to achieve a state of ketosis might have a different ratio of macronutrient requirements than someone who is using a ketogenic diet to improve their body composition. Once the body begins to use fat as its primary fuel source, metabolic “keto-adaptation” characterized by increased production of ketones takes place. It is important to note that there is no “optimal” level of ketosis, nor is there a standard macronutrient profile to achieve a ketogenic state, because factors such as activity level, body composition, and desired health and performance outcomes will influence these variables. Although individualized, Ketogenic.com currently offers a Keto Calculator that can help provide you with a starting point on your macronutrients.
In addition, there are medical conditions that should make you think twice about starting keto — or at least talk to your doctor before trying it out. Those include people on insulin, as well as those on oral and noninsulin injectable medications for high blood sugar or high blood pressure, says Hultin. Even struggling with GI issues may be a barrier to starting. “One of the side effects of a ketogenic diet is constipation, so if that’s a struggle, there’s serious reason not to go on this relatively low-fiber diet,” says Hultin. Last consideration: If existing personal dietary restrictions require you to avoid foods like soy, eggs, nuts, dairy, or seafood, a ketogenic diet may be too limiting for you. Coming from a place of elimination in an already restrictive diet can make it incredibly tough to follow, she says.
In terms of weight loss, you may be interested in trying the ketogenic diet because you’ve heard that it can make a big impact right away. And that’s true. “Ketogenic diets will cause you to lose weight within the first week,” says Mattinson. She explains that your body will first use up all of its glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate). With depleted glycogen, you’ll drop water weight. While it can be motivating to see the number on the scale go down (often dramatically), do keep in mind that most of this is water loss initially.
As with other facets of the keto diet for beginners, the optimal ketone levels will vary on an individual basis. However, literature typically suggests that mild nutritional ketosis will begin once blood ketones are around 0.3–0.5 mmol/L. Upon “keto-adaptation,” this value may increase to around 1.0–3.0 mmol/L; however, that’s not always necessarily the case. If an individual is following a ketogenic diet strictly for therapeutic reasons, one may consider trying to achieve a deeper level of ketosis, but even those with a strict regimen may see only slight elevations in ketones due to rapid uptake into tissues.
Keto for Epilepsy: The ketogenic diet originated in the 1920s as an effective treatment for children suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy. Since then, its highly successful applications have expanded to treat adult epileptic patients as well. This was an important progression in treatment because, despite the introduction of anticonvulsant drugs in the 1930s, at least one third of patients suffering from epileptic seizures are still fully resistant to anticonvulsant drug therapy. Early studies found that, when placed on a ketogenic diet, 12% of children suffering from epileptic seizures experienced full remission and 42% saw a reduction in seizures.
Kristin Parker is an American temporarily living in South Korea. Her role with Team Diet Doctor is customer service. If you have a question or a comment on our social media platforms, website or our Facebook group, she will likely be the one to answer you back! Kristin cooks for a family of four, including two hungry teenage sons. Her keto meal plan yields generous servings of substantial, hearty meals that they all like.
While a keto diet for beginners is also low in carbohydrates, it is NOT synonymous with traditional low-carbohydrate diets seen in popular media or even some scientific research. Since there is no strict definition of a “low carbohydrate diet,” some research studies utilize 30–40% carbohydrate diets and indicate that they are “low-carb.” However we now know that is roughly the same percentage as a standard American diet that has plagued our society with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Thus, while lowering carbohydrate intake in general is beneficial, it must be reinforced that traditional low-carbohydrate diets DIFFER from a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
Keto for Diabetes: The ketogenic diet can be an extremely effective therapeutic treatment for diabetes. Since type 2 diabetes is hallmarked by insulin resistance, a ketogenic diet may improve insulin-resistance, associated pathological state via the following: 1) lowering and stabilizing both blood glucose and insulin levels, 2) improving insulin sensitivity, and 3) providing an alternative fuel source through ketone production. Virta Health recently published a report showing patients could rapidly improve glycemic control through reductions in fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, and medication use after 10 weeks of treatment. Patients lost 7% of their body weight on average and reported less hunger. For more information, please visit our friends at Virta Health who are actively working with diabetics (https://www.virtahealth.com).
Keto and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Research involving TBI has found that upon immediate trauma to the head, the brain takes up massive amounts of glucose. However, soon thereafter, the brain becomes resistant to taking up and utilizing glucose. This damage leads to insulin resistance and inflammation of brain tissue. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of ketones have been shown to not only reduce inflammation but to reduce glucose uptake in the brain as well. The ketogenic diet may also be a therapeutic treatment option for those individuals who have experienced long-term ramifications of a TBI by providing ketones as an alternative fuel source that can be readily taken up and utilized by the brain following these traumas.
The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D. A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:
Tracking protein is important for anyone who has adopted a ketogenic diet. Depending on activity level and other metabolic factors, some individuals may be able to tolerate more protein. As mentioned above, at a certain level protein can be glucogenic; so tailor it to your needs. However, we would say to lean towards more, not less, especially for older individuals trying to preserve muscle mass.
Variations on the Johns Hopkins protocol are common. The initiation can be performed using outpatient clinics rather than requiring a stay in hospital. Often, no initial fast is used (fasting increases the risk of acidosis, hypoglycaemia, and weight loss). Rather than increasing meal sizes over the three-day initiation, some institutions maintain meal size, but alter the ketogenic ratio from 2:1 to 4:1.
But beyond that, experts aren't convinced that the keto diet has any other scientifically proven health benefits. In fact, it may have some distinct downsides. If you follow the keto diet incorrectly, for example (like by eating lots of saturated fats, versus healthy unsaturated fats), you're at risk of raising your cholesterol levels. “The best strategy to keep your heart healthy is to get as much fat as possible from unsaturated sources such as olive, avocado and canola oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives," says Ansel. For some people, it's possible to actually improve cholesterol if the fats in their diet are from varied and healthy sources, says Harvey.
It can take many weeks for someone to notice differences. If you’re weight training and doing the diet you may not notice weight loss immediately because you are growing muscle and muscle is heavier than fat. Elsewise, for me I went really strict starting out. I did under 30 carbs a day for the first week and measured my ketone levels with the piss sticks you can buy at cvs and was entering ketosis after 3 days. I went up to 40 carbs a day for the next 3 months and lost 60lbs of fat. I was 287 lbs and weighed in at 227 when I finished. Mind you I exercised daily doing heavy weight training and intermediate cardio. The diet does work though. I did put on lean muscle while getting down to a healthy weight for my height. It helped with my panic disorder as well as giving me a lot of energy.
It is possible to combine the results of several small studies to produce evidence that is stronger than that available from each study alone—a statistical method known as meta-analysis. One of four such analyses, conducted in 2006, looked at 19 studies on a total of 1,084 patients. It concluded that a third achieved an excellent reduction in seizure frequency and half the patients achieved a good reduction.
Conklin's fasting therapy was adopted by neurologists in mainstream practice. In 1916, a Dr McMurray wrote to the New York Medical Journal claiming to have successfully treated epilepsy patients with a fast, followed by a starch- and sugar-free diet, since 1912. In 1921, prominent endocrinologist Henry Rawle Geyelin reported his experiences to the American Medical Association convention. He had seen Conklin's success first-hand and had attempted to reproduce the results in 36 of his own patients. He achieved similar results despite having studied the patients for only a short time. Further studies in the 1920s indicated that seizures generally returned after the fast. Charles P. Howland, the parent of one of Conklin's successful patients and a wealthy New York corporate lawyer, gave his brother John Elias Howland a gift of $5,000 to study "the ketosis of starvation". As professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, John E. Howland used the money to fund research undertaken by neurologist Stanley Cobb and his assistant William G. Lennox.
Rami co-founded Tasteaholics with Vicky at the start of 2015 to master the art of creating extremely delicious food while researching the truth behind nutrition, dieting and overall health. You can usually find him marketing, coding or coming up with the next crazy idea because he can’t sit still for too long. His favorite book is The 4-Hour Workweek and artist is Infected Mushroom.
For patients who benefit, half achieve a seizure reduction within five days (if the diet starts with an initial fast of one to two days), three-quarters achieve a reduction within two weeks, and 90% achieve a reduction within 23 days. If the diet does not begin with a fast, the time for half of the patients to achieve an improvement is longer (two weeks), but the long-term seizure reduction rates are unaffected. Parents are encouraged to persist with the diet for at least three months before any final consideration is made regarding efficacy.
Electrolytes: To reiterate, maintaining electrolyte balances is critical on a ketogenic diet, in order to prevent side effects and the “keto-flu.” While this can be done exclusively through whole foods, some individuals may require additional sources. Sodium, magnesium, potassium, and in some cases, calcium, can all be replenished via supplementation.