Ketogenic Diets (more specifically, Cyclic Ketogenic Diets) are the most effective diets for achieving rapid, ultra low bodyfat levels with maximum muscle retention.
Now, as with all such general statements there are circumstantial exceptions. But done right – which they rarely are – the fat loss achievable on a ketogenic diet is nothing short of staggering.
And despite what people might tell you, you will also enjoy incredible high energy and overall sense of well being.
Despite these promises, more bodybuilders/shapers have had negative experiences than have seen positive results. The main criticisms are:
- Chronic lethargy
- Unbearable hunger
- Massive decrease in gym performance
- Severe muscle loss
All of these criticisms result from a failure to heed the caveat above: Ketogenic Diets must be done right.
It must be realised that they are an entirely unique metabolic modality that adheres to none of the previously accepted ‘rules’ of dieting.
And there is no going half-way; 50 grams of carbs per day plus high protein intake is NOT ketogenic.
So how are ketogenic diets ‘done right’? Let’s take a quick look at how they work.
Overview of Ketosis
Simply put our body, organs, muscles and brain can use either glucose or ketones for fuel. It is the function of the liver and pancreas (primarily) to regulate that fuel supply and they show a strong bias toward sticking with glucose.
Glucose is the ‘preferred’ fuel because it is derived in abundance from the diet and readily available readily from liver and muscle stores.
Ketones have to be deliberately synthesised by the liver; but the liver can easily synthesise glucose (a process known as ‘gluconeogenesis’ that uses amino acids (protein) or other metabolic intermediaries) too.
We don’t get beta hydroxybutyrate, acetone, or acetoacetate (ketones) from the diet. The liver synthesises them only under duress; as a last measure in conditions of severe glucose deprivation like starvation.
For the liver to be convinced that ketones are the order of the day, several conditions must be met:
- Blood glucose must fall below 50mg/dl
- Low blood glucose must result in low Insulin and elevated Glucagon
- Liver glycogen must be low or ’empty’
A plentiful supply of gluconeogenic substrates (carbs and their breakdown products) must NOT be available. This graphic from from Bodybuilding.com sums up the process: At this point it is important to mention that it is not actually a question of being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of ketosis; we don’t either totally run on ketones, or not.
It is a gradual and careful transition so that the brain is constantly and evenly fuelled… ideally.
Ketones SHOULD be produced in small amounts from blood glucose levels of about 60mg/dl. We consider ourselves in ketosis when there are greater concentrations of ketones than glucose in the blood.
The reality is that most people – especially weight trainers – have had a regular intake of glucose for a good couple of decades, at least.
The liver is perfectly capable of producing ketones but the highly efficient gluconeogenic pathways are able to maintain low-normal blood glucose above the ketogenic threshold.
Couple this with the fact that many people are at least partially insulin resistant and have elevated fasting insulin (upper end of the normal range, anyway).
The small amount of blood glucose from gluconeogenesis induces sufficient insulin release to blunt glucagon output and the production of ketones.
Sudden glucose deprivation will have the consequence, initially, of lethargy, hunger, weakness etc in most people – until ketosis is achieved. And Ketosis will not be reached until the liver is forced to quit with gluconeogenesis and start producing ketones.
As long as dietary protein is sufficient then the liver will continue to produce glucose and not ketones.
That’s why no carb, high protein diets are not ketogenic.
What’s so great about ketosis anyway?
When the body switches over to running primarily on ketones a number of very cool things happen:
- Lipolysis (body fat breakdown) is substantially increased
- Muscle catabolism (muscle loss) is substantially reduced
- Energy levels are maintained in a high and stable state
- Subcutaneous fluid (aka ‘water retention’) is eliminated
Basically, when we’re in ketosis, our body uses fat (ketones) to fuel everything. As such, we aren’t breaking down muscle to provide glucose.
That is, muscle is being spared because it has nothing to offer; fat is all the body needs (well, to a large extent). For the dieter this means substantially less muscle loss than what is achievable on any other diet.
As a bonus, ketones yield only 7 calories per gram. This is higher than the equal mass of glucose but substantially less (22%, in fact) than the 9 calorie gram of fat from whence it came.
We like metabolic inefficiencies like this. They mean we can eat more but the body doesn’t get the calories.
What’s even cooler is that ketones cannot be turned back into fatty acids — the body excretes any excess in your urine! Speaking of which, there will be quite a bit of urine; the drop in muscle glycogen, low Insulin and low aldosterone all equate to massive excretion of intra and extracellular fluid.
For us that means hard, defined muscularity and quick, visible results.
Case in point: my sister, who got serious about her nutrition last year. She was 38 pounds overweight before turning to keto. After 24 weeks of ketogenic diet (and lots of exercise), she started to see abs for the first time in her life.
But the benefits of keto go far beyond physique. We get tons of mental benefits, as well.
Regarding energy, our brain REALLY likes ketones so we tend to feel fantastic in ketosis – clear headed, alert and positive.
And because there is never a shortage of fat to supply ketones, energy is high all the time.
Usually you even sleep less and wake feeling more refreshed when in ketosis.
Doing it Right
From what’s said above you will realise that to get into ketosis:
- Carbohydrate intake should be nil — zero!
- Protein intake should be low – 25% of calories at a maximum
- Fat must account for 75%+ of calories
With low insulin (due to zero carbs) and calories at, or below maintenance, the dietary fat cannot be deposited in adipose tissues.
The low-ish protein means that gluconeogenesis will quickly prove inadequate to maintain blood glucose and, whether the body likes it or not, there is still all the damned fat to burn.
And burn it does.
The high dietary fat is oxidised for cellular energy in the normal fashion but winds up generating quantities of Acetyl-CoA that exceed the capacity of the TCA cycle.
The significant result is ketogenesis – synthesis of ketones from the excess Acetyl-CoA.
In basic English: the high fat intake ”forces” ketosis upon the body.
This is how it’s done right.
Now you just have to throw out what you thought was true about fats….
Firstly, fat does not ”make you fat”.
Most of the information about the evils of saturated fats, in particular, is so disproportionate or plain wrong anyway; on a ketogenic diet it is doubly inapplicable. Saturated fats make ketosis fly.
And don’t worry — your heart will be better than fine and your insulin sensitivity will NOT be reduced (there is no insulin around in the first place).
Once in ketosis, it’s not necessary, technically speaking, to maintain absolute zero carbs or low protein.
But it’s still better to keep it as low as possible you want to reap the greatest rewards.
Besides, assuming you are training hard, you will still want to follow a cyclic ketogenic diet where you get to eat all your carbs, fruit and whatever else, every 1-2 weeks, anyway (more on this in another article).
Don’t be mistaken; ‘done right’ does not make ketogenic dieting easy or fun for the culinary acrobats among you.
They are probably the most restrictive diets you can use and not an option if you don’t love animal products.
Get out your nutritional almanac and work out a 20-0-80 :: protein-carb-fat diet.
Yeah, it’s boring.
You’re in this to feel better and look better, not satisfy your taste buds.
As an example, your writer’s daily ketogenic diet is 3100 Calories at 25-0.5-74.5 from only:
- 10 xxl Whole Eggs
- 160ml Pure Cream (40% fat)
- 400g Mince (15% fat)
- 60ml Flaxseed Oil
- 30g Whey Protein Isolate
1. Alpha Lipoic Acid (r-ALA) and Chromium
While not insulin ‘mimickers’ as many claim, both Chromium and ALA (as well as r-ALA) increase insulin sensitivity resulting in lower insulin levels, higher glucagon and a faster descent into deeper ketosis.
This is why biohackers like Tim Ferriss recommend bringing them to conferences; taking r-ALA after a few drinks (or slices of cake) mitigates the damage.
Side note: turmeric is equally-if-not-more powerful at curbing the glycemic spike and balancing insulin levels.
Though popular, creatine is a bit of a waste. At most, 30% can be taken up by the muscles that, without glycogen, cannot be meaningfully ‘volumised’. Nevertheless, there’s a ton of research showing that creatine improves athletic performance (about 5-15%).
Always buy creatine monohydrate and always buy it from a trusted vendor. I personally take this creatine brand, which is cheap, pure, and gets the job done.
3. Hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB)
HMB is a BHB Salt, a popular type of keto supplement in recent months. It would/should be an excellent supplement for minimising the catabolic period before ketosis is achieved (if it works — the science is out on that).
HMB (and BHB) are both exogenous ketones. When you’re actually in ketosis, levels of BHB are raised in your blood and urine — a good sign if you’re a ketogenic dieter. The idea behind taking BHB salts is that you’re artificially providing ketone fuel before your body’s natural production kicks in, thus easing the transition from carbs to no-carbs.
Check out KetoCana from Prototype Nutrition for a great source of HMB. It’s by Patrick Arnold, the long time evangelist of the ketogenic diet and its benefits.
Marketed as a testosterone booster, Tribulus is an excellent supplement to the ketogenic diet. Many keto dieters highly recommend Tribulus, saying that it magnifies the testosterone increase of ketosis.
Note: Tribulus seems to work really well for some guys (and gals), or not at all. YMMV.
There’s a lot of Tribulus brands out there; I take this Tribulus powder.
Daily Keto Macros
- 2 boiled eggs and bacon – 320 calories, 2g net carbs, 0g fiber, 26g fat, 31g protein
- Veggies and ground beef – 490 calories, 5.2g net carbs, 4.2g fiber, 33g fat, 42g protein
- Almonds – 200 calories, 4g net carbs, 3g fiber, 18g fat, 7g protein
- Chicken salad with bacon – 490 calories, 4g net carbs, 11g fiber, 36g fat, 17g protein
Optional: Quest Bar – 190 calories, 4g net carbs, 17g fiber, 9g fat, 21g protein
Daily Nutritional Totals without Quest Bars:
- 1500-1690 calories
- 15.2g of net carbs
- 113g of fat
- 97g of protein
5. Carnitine (in L or Acetyl-L form)
Acetyl L-Carnitine is an almost essential supplement for ketogenic dieters. It’s been a popular energy-booster since the 1990s, but recent research shows that L-Carnitine is necessary for the formation of ketones in the liver.
Which means, as your metabolism shifts from glucose/glycogen to ketones, ALCAR should help facilitate the transition.
I take this L-Carnitine supplement, which seems to have an added metabolism boosting effect.
In their free form, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are worthwhile for pre and post training. Just don’t overdo the glutamine as it supports gluconeogenesis.
Intermittent fasting legend Martin Berkhan recommends to his clients to take 10g BCAAs prior to fasted training.
If you’re super strict about sticking to keto, 3-5g of BCAAs will do the trick. You’ll be able to hit your lifts and not worry about breaking out of ketosis.
This is my preferred Glutamine supplement will serve as your partner in getting that desired physique form in no time.
7. ECA stack (ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin)
ECA fat burners are very useful and important though don’t worry about the inclusion of HCA.
Like creatine, they’re not essential.
However, the ECA stack is a proven energy booster and can help ease the transition into ketosis.
Flaxseed oil is a great but do not think that you need 50% of your calories from essential fatty acids. 1-10% of calories is more than sufficient.
Whey Protein is optional. Protein is good, but remember — your main source of energy will be ketones, so your diet should be mostly fat.
Lastly, I suggest taking a soluble fiber supplement that is non-carbohydrate. This goes for anyone, but especially keto dieters who tend to lack dietary fiber.
Ketogenic diets offer a host of unique benefits that cannot be ignored if you are chasing the ultimate, low bodyfat figure or physique.
However, they are not the most user friendly of diets and any ‘middle ground’ compromise you might prefer will be just the worst of all worlds.
Your choice is to do them right or not at all.