Ketogenic Dieting – Part 1: What the hell is ketogenesis?
Often one of the most confusing aspects of a healthy lifestyle is diet. Whether you choose to follow a diet to drop a few pounds, gain some muscle or just get a healthier, with so much information floating around these days choosing the correct diet for your goals can be a headache.
The aim of this article is to present one possible style of eating, the cyclic ketogenic diet, so you may consider for yourself whether diets of this type are the correct plan for you and your goals. They are most certainly not the be all and end all of diets, and it is certainly a lifestyle that must be considered wisely based on your health and overall lifestyle, but hopefully this article will cut through any confusion surrounding these diets so you can make an informed decision when attempting to achieve a body worthy of Krypton.
So, before I waffle further ……TO THE KETONE MOBILE!
Before I launch head first into how to set up a ketogenic diet, I’ll give you a little background into the basics of ketogenesis:
When your body is devoid of carbohydrate for any great length of time, fat is release into the blood stream and used by cells (through a process call beta oxidation) to provide a fat specific fuel source called ketone bodies. These molecules can provide fuel for the cell in the same way carbohydrates do, via the Krebs cycle. Once your cells are using ketone bodies you are able to survive quite happily with out carbohydrate, using only fat for fuel in a state known as Ketosis.
Reference: A shiny easy to find Wikipedia image.
Being in ketosis quite literally has the potential to turn you into a walking fat burning inferno, and as any inferno requires fuel to burn it is time to make a very clear point about Keto diets. THEY ARE NOT SUPER LOW CALORIE. There is a huge difference between being in ketosis when you are starving yourself, and when you are following a healthy Ketogenic fat loss plan. One involves your body eating itself to survive; the other involves keeping your body healthy whilst stripping fat at an accelerated rate.
That difference is simply the amount of food you eat. A true keto diet should be comprised of at least 65% fat, with protein making up the rest (infact the “original” keto diet was up to 90% fat. Vegetables are an absolute must in any diet and can be consumed in large quantities on ketogenic plans too as long as starchy veg like carrots and root vegetables are eaten sparingly.
When following this breakdown of food, you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Most people freak out with the amount of fat they have to eat to get to this point and that phobia is completely unjustified. Fat is the primary source of fuel on this diet so therefore you must eat it!! No one has ever gotten fat by eating fat (barring unfortunate metabolic dysfunctions) it is a chronic excess of food that causes fat gain. Something that is surprisingly hard to achieve on a keto diet, as you don’t have blood sugar changes constantly tricking your brain into thinking you need food.
Many people following a ketogenic lifestyle find they are much less hungry throughout the day and eat adequate amounts of food less often, without deliberately going low calorie. In other words they eat what and when they need to, not when they think they do! This has the knock on effect of capping your food intake to what you need and not a lot else. Limiting your potential for fat storage. You can follow this style of eating with no ill effects long term providing you make sensible food choices to garner the vitamins and minerals you require. The Inuit’s are a great example of how humans are able to survive a long and healthy life whilst ketogenic, they live of a diet of primarily whale blubber!
So, what is the main benefit of ketogenics you ask? Well there are several benefits such as better management of inflammation, improved cholesterol profile and better mental focus (all relating to the effects of elevated and continuous fluctuations in blood sugar levels). In the context of modern living and fat loss the main benefit of this form of diet is the effect it has on the way the body manages Insulin. This is a hormone I am sure most have heard of, made by your pancreas that governs the uptake of nutrients by the cells of the body, and as carbohydrates are the easiest and preferred source of fuel in any situation they cause your body to release a much larger amount of insulin than either protein or fat in an effort to store them. One of insulin’s many effects is to stop the release of stored fat and promote storage of all nutrients. So if you over eat carbs and overload your glycogen stores then carbs are stored as fat – more on this later….
When you are considering fat loss, reducing the amount and frequency of the insulin you produce means that you release more fat to be burned for fuel. It maximizes the amount of fat you burn.
Now, as I have just highlighted some benefits for the for a ketogenic diet, the big limitation is whether you are prepared to be on it long term. A pure ketogenic diet held over a prolonged period is probably not suitable for most if you intend on going back to eating carbs after you have reached your desired physique, unless you plan on a life without carbs and move to the Yukon. Over time your body lowers your metabolism and stops being able to efficiently use carbohydrate for fuel. This a great mechanism for survival if you are airdropped into a baron waste ground with nothing but buffalo and whale blubber to chow down on. As usual your body is an expert at survival. Why keep your metabolism high to burn through nutrients you wont have access to? It makes more sense to slow down the usage until you find that food again! A carbohydrate based metabolism is costly to keep active too if you are never gonna see another loaf of bread, or heaven forbid a never see a chocolate bar ever again…??
There dear reader lays the problem. You aregoing to see those lovely carbs again, probably every day in fact, because to most of the developed world carbs are plentiful, and with them come a very large range of benefits such as hydration, a strong growth stimulus and an easily accessible fuel source for exercise. Plus they often come packed with nutrients that are hard to come by when ketogenic (like vitamin C and fiber for example).
Not to mention they have a habit of keeping your metabolism purring a long nicely… Unfortunately, after the carb metabolism is down regulated it takes a little while for carbs to be used as fuel again, which may lead to some unfortunate digest issues as well as potentially some fat gain. Also, it sucks that everyone is able to eat normal food and you are only ever stuck with a Cesar salad or a lunch box full of boiled eggs and cucumber….
Enter the cyclic ketogenic diet.
This form of eating typically allows you to gain all the benefits of ketogenic living whilst retaining the benefits and convenience of eating carbs without the worry of getting fat.
The ‘magic’ behind cyclic keto diets lies in the sensitizing effects that were mentioned earlier and the body’s rather overzealous response to burning/storing carbs and raising the metabolism.
If you reintroduce carbohydrate for a short time the very first place it will get sent is the muscle and liver for storage as glycogen, carbs will only be stored as fat if you over spill your glycogen stores and do not use the fuel immediately. This is particularly efficient if you have been ketogenic for a few days as the body stops producing the enzymes needed to convert carbs to fat after a short period of carbohydrate restriction, meaning in an ideal setting when you eat just the right amount, the carbs will ONLY get stored in glycogen containing tissue not in the fat tissue. Basically your muscles soak them up like a sponge before your body has even considered feeding those hungry fat cells….
The effect of boosted insulin sensitivity results in improved hydration as the carbohydrate carries water into the muscles. The insulin also signals the muscle tissue to use the carbohydrates for growth and repair which at the very least with result in you keeping more muscle if your calories have been lowered. This has the knock on effect of keeping your metabolism higher as muscles take a lot of fuel to run, the bigger they are the more they burn!
Lets not forget also, that having carbs in your system also keeps your metabolism high by keeping your thyroid functioning well and elevate hormones responsible for efficient fuel metabolism.
This is coupled with a fall of insulin levels following your carb intake, which stimulates a release of growth hormone (GH), which is the metabolic equivalent of taking a flamethrower to your fat cells. At this point not only are your fat cells unable to store the carbs they are also being forced to break down and shrink, these fatty acids are then used for energy and growth along side the carbs.
Put very simply, a short-term intake of carbohydrate following a period of restriction can set up your metabolism for accelerated muscle growth and fat loss, limiting the possibility of fat gain.
The essential catalyst for your journey into the world of simultaneous muscle growth and fat loss is…TRAINING.
If you train ketogenic the muscles will only have fat to burn for fuel and it will be burned even faster in an effort to power your intense gut busting workouts. Also, as I said at the very beginning, over eating anything will lead to fat gain. Although you are less likely to store things when ketogenic, if you aren’t using those ketones for something (like brain power, or movement) they will get stored. The energy in/energy out still applies to a degree, its just more difficult for the body to store fat. Training helps to prevent this by really eating through those ketones and kicks fat burning into overdrive through a greater adrenal response to the exercise.
When it comes to training on days you eat carbs you should train ketogenic as normal. This gives you that little bit extra in terms of fat burning before you really crank it up with the carbs. Training before you eat those carbs is also recommended because when muscle tissue is stressed it automagically increases the ability to soak up carbohydrate and it doesn’t need insulin to do it!
This means when you do eat carbs your muscles are extra extra sensitive to taking them up and they will do so even before insulin has started to do it’s work. They sit there and soak up the glucose nice and politely and then insulin comes along and tells them to REALLY go to town like a fat man at a Chinese buffet. Meaning you get to store (and eat) even more carbs, helping you grow and keep that metabolism high. This is a process known as glycogen super compensation and it happens every time you train. It’s just more effective if you haven’t eat carbs for a while as your muscles are so empty to begin with.
OK… so far we have covered the pros and cons of using ketones for fuel, touched on some of the benefits and downfalls of carb in the diet and hopefully highlighted why it is sensible to keep eating them somehow. Hopefully everything up to this point is clear and that everyone reading this is still conscious, I have a tendency to ramble!
In Part 2 we’ll move on to how you should set up your body through diet and training to take advantage of cyclic ketogenic diets. In the mean time fire over any questions or opinions on what you have heard so far! See you next week. Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel!