Positive science on ketosis coupled with personal successes passed by word-of-mouth have driven more people to explore the ketogenic diet, says Volek. More recently, the keto diet hints at having a promising therapeutic role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Research is still early in many areas, but Volek suspects there will more definitive answers on the wider scope of the diet’s benefits within the next decade.
This can look different for everybody, but some popular forms of this are the 16:8 diet, where you fast for 16 hours (usually from dinnertime until a late breakfast) and eat all your food within an eight-hour span. Another is the 5:2 diet, where you eat less than 500 calories for two non-consecutive days a week and then eat normally for the rest of the week.
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.
The confusion between ketosis and ketoacidosis is a prominent reason why many individuals, particularly doctors, steer clear of the keto diet for beginners. It’s important to understand that these are two very DIFFERENT metabolic states. Ketoacidosis may occur in uncontrolled type 1 diabetics (DKA; diabetic ketoacidosis) due to insulin deficiencies. DKA is associated with both elevated blood glucose and ketone levels; due to little to no insulin production, blood glucose cannot enter insulin-dependent cells to be used for energy, and as such, cells become hungry, resulting in uncontrolled ketone production. In turn, a highly acidic environment is created that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health, possibly resulting in death. It must be echoed that the ketogenic diet, which induces “nutritional” ketosis, is vastly different and should never be confused with DKA. To put this in perspective, a normal state of ketosis, as achieved via the keto diet for beginners may elevate ketones anywhere from 0.3–5mM, while DKA results in ketone levels of about 15mM or higher.
The easiest macro to calculate in the ketogenic diet is fat. Once you've got your carbs and protein set, simply fill the rest of your daily calorie needs with fat sources. If you find yourself wanting to gain a bit of weight, add approximately 500 calories, or 55 grams. If you want to lose weight, cut down on your fat intake by 200-500 calories, or 22-55 grams.
No matter what your diet has been before now, keto will be a big change. If you're coming from a standard American diet (SAD), your carbs will go way down, your protein may either go up or down, and your fat will go way up. If you're coming from a bodybuilding-style diet, your fat intake will jump to alarming levels, and your protein will likely drop significantly.
"You can find a lot of "fat bomb" recipes on the Internet," Wittrock says. "These are very good at satisfying your sweet tooth, and are a great way to increase fat consumption without going over on protein. Also, I'm a huge fan of salted pumpkin seeds and salted sunflower seed kernels. Believe it or not, pork rinds are also a very good keto snack."
About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether. Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions. This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.
Everyone has to find their nutritional sweet spot for producing enough ketones and staying in ketosis, but “the core principle of the diet is to keep carbohydrate intake low enough, so your body continues producing ketones at elevated levels,” says Volek. “Your body adapts to this alternative fuel and becomes very efficient at breaking down and burning fat.”
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.
So you've decided you want to try out the high-fat, low-carb diet, better-known as the fat-burning ketogenic diet. Whether it's to lose weight, have more energy, or fuel workouts differently, going keto is a popular choice right now. But figuring out a keto diet plan on your own is no easy feat, especially since eating a diet super high in fats doesn't come naturally to many people who are accustomed to the traditionally carb-heavy American diet. (It's especially hard if you're vegan and want to try keto.) But this should help: Keto experts explain how to set yourself up for success, plus provide ideas for exactly what keto foods to eat when you're first getting started. (While you're at it, check out these Low-Carb Keto drinks That Will Keep You in Ketosis.)
One thing many people love about keto diet plans is that tracking your food is optional. "One of the biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet is that there's no need to meticulously track your calories as you may in other diets," notes Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and cofounder of Ancient Nutrition. "Because you're filling up on fat and protein, you're more likely to feel satisfied and energized all day long, which causes you to naturally eat less." This isn't to say that food tracking on a keto meal plan is discouraged. "Some people may find calorie counting a useful tool to be more mindful and aware of what they're eating, but it's not necessary on the ketogenic diet," says Dr. Axe, but there's no need to get too stressed about hitting a certain caloric goal, especially if you're not trying to lose weight. (Related: The #1 Reason to Stop Counting Calories)
Your glycogen stores can still be refilled while on a ketogenic diet. A keto diet is an excellent way to build muscle, but protein intake is crucial here. It’s suggested that if you are looking to gain mass, you should be taking in about 1.0 – 1.2g protein per lean pound of body mass. Putting muscle on may be slower on a ketogenic diet, but that’s because your total body fat is not increasing as much.5Note that in the beginning of a ketogenic diet, both endurance athletes and obese individuals see a physical performance for the first week of transition.
One downside to a ketogenic diet for weight loss is the difficulty maintaining it. “Studies show that weight loss results from being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months tend to be the same as being on a normal, healthy diet,” says Mattinson. While you may be eating more satiating fats (like peanut butter, regular butter, or avocado), you’re also way more limited in what’s allowed on the diet, which can make everyday situations, like eating dinner with family or going out with friends, far more difficult. Because people often find it tough to sustain, it’s easy to rely on it as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle.
If you need to eat more or fewer calories per day, you can adjust accordingly by simply taking out or adding a bit more of the ingredients already included in a recipe. For example, adding/removing a tablespoon of olive oil or butter will add/remove about 100 calories. If you like or dislike certain recipes, feel free to shift things around. Make sure to keep an eye on the calories so you’re still falling within an acceptable range of your daily goal.
Restricting your calories may be important for some individuals depending on their goals. Additionally, it may aid in the initiation of ketosis; however, not everyone will require calorie tracking to maintain a deficit. It is not uncommon for caloric-restriction to occur inadvertently as a ketogenic diet tends to be satiating, leaving individuals satisfied with fewer calories.