A lot of people suffer from various health problems, such as obesity and diabetes, and the primary culprit is, often than not, the food they eat.
In fact, nutrition has a significant impact on your overall health, period.
As a result, if you eat lots of junk food, then you’ll, eventually, gain weight, become prone to cellular issues, and face a host of trouble.
And you don’t want that.
Enter the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is gathering steam like no other diet, and for good reasons.
This nutrition plan has helped lots of people shed weight, improve productivity, get healthier, and so much more.
In today’s post, I’ll explain what the ketogenic diet is, what to eat, what to avoid, and the best way to get started.
So, are you excited?
Then here we go.
The Beginner’s Guide To The Ketogenic Diet
So, what is the keto diet and why is it taking the world by storm?
Also known as low-carb, high–fat (LCHF), the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb nutrition plan.
By severely limiting carb intake—usually less than 25 net grams per day—the keto diet forces your body into ketosis, which is the purpose of LHCF.
So, what’s ketosis?
Ketosis is, basically, a metabolic state in which the body heavily relies on fat for energy instead of sugar/glycogen.
Chemically, while in ketosis, your body produces ketones by breaking down fat in the liver, then transforming them into energy instead of relying on carbohydrates to generate fuel for everyday function.
In other words, going keto forces your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
You’re Not Starving Yourself
Just don’t get me wrong.
You don’t enter ketosis by starving your body of calories, but you do so by severely reducing carb intake and replacing it with plenty of dietary fats, and a moderate amount of proteins.
When you eat fewer carbs, glucose levels, go down, which lowers insulin levels. This triggers the production of ketones that do not rely on insulin to get into and fuel the body’s cells.
Types of Keto Diets
Since people are different and have different needs and goals, there is also a wide range of keto diets to choose from.
Here are the main ones.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet
Or SKD. This is the most common keto diet that many dieters are familiar with.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet is simple and very effective, especially when it comes to weight loss.
It focuses on:
- High intake of healthy dietary fats—70 to 80 percent of total calories,
- Moderate protein—20 to 25 percent—and,
- Minimal carbohydrates—5 to 10 percent.
This diet is ideal for recreational runners, fitness enthusiasts, or people looking to lose a lot of weight as soon as possible.
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
Or CKD. This approach consists of cycling between a typical ketogenic diet, followed by a carb-loading period.
During CKD, you, in essence, you cycle between:
(1) Days of keto dieting during which you consume less than 40 grams of carbs— and
(2) Days of carb-loading during which you consume 400 to 500 grams of carbs to help resupply glycogen stores for prolonged or intense exercise. This phase may last for 24 to 48 hours.
This keto variation is often recommended for serious athletes and bodybuilders.
So, it might not be suitable for everyone.
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet
During the TKT variation, you go keto most of the day, but then consume the total allocated amount of carbohydrates in one sitting, 60 to 90 minutes before a workout.
The targeted ketogenic diet is a compromise between the classic ketogenic diet and a cyclical ketogenic diet, meaning that you can still provide your body with carbs for intense training, but not step out of ketosis.
The purpose of this is to utilize the fuel provided by carbohydrates effectively before it kicks you out of ketosis.
As a general rule, make sure to become keto-adapted first by following a strict ketogenic diet for at least six to eight weeks, before opting for TKD. This ensures that you don’t throw yourself completely out of ketosis during the first few weeks.
During the loading window, opt for carbs that are easily digestible with a high glycemic index.
TKD is most suitable for beginner or intermediate fitness runners or for those who cannot be on a cyclical keto diet for personal reasons.
So which one should you follow?
The answer depends on you. Your own needs and fitness goals should dictate which approach to follow.
But, in general, the standard diet is the way to go—especially if you’re a complete beginner and want to become keto-adapted as soon as possible.
Benefits of Ketogenic Eating
Once you get on the keto path, you’ll realize that it’s more than just another trendy eating plan.
In fact, ketogenic eating is a healthy lifestyle approach that offers a host of benefits.
Here are a few.
If you’re looking to shed the pounds and keep them off for good, then the keto diet is perfect.
In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable manner.
Since the keto diet helps tap into the fat storage, your body will begin to burn it, leading to weight loss and improvement in body composition.
In other words, your body turns into a fat burning machine.
And it works, as research shows.
Studies have revealed that ketogenic eating outperforms either a typical low-carb diet or calorie-restricted diet for weight loss.
One example is is this research.
During the experiment, participants were given a low-carb, keto diet and a low-fat diet.
After six months, researchers concluded that the low-carb group shed more weight—about 10 pounds—compared to the low-fat group.
For more on weight loss related studies, check this link.
Research found that when subjects were put on the low-carb diet, they reported reduced appetites.
Further, research has found the keto diet to be super useful for prediabetes people and those with Type II diabetes.
Since carb intake is curbed, you’ll limit your body’s production of glucose, which, in turn, keeps sugar levels at bay.
This can help reduce cravings that can lead to binge eating, even without deliberate calorie restriction.
Ketogenic eating can also increase mental performance.
Ketones are not only an excellent source of energy for your body, but also a source of fuel for the brain.
When you eat fewer carbs, you also avoid blood sugar spikes, which, in turn, can also improve your focus and mental clarity.
Further, research has also shown that increasing fatty acids consumption can have a positive impact on the brain’s function.
One common myth associated with the low-carb high-fat diet that it increases cholesterol levels, leading to clogged arteries, heart diseases, and, eventually, death.
Here is the truth.
The myth that dietary fats are the culprit in the rise in cholesterol is just that, a myth.
Most of the recent research conducted on the effects of keto eating has found that it can actually optimize cholesterol levels, and, in reality, improve heart health.
Here is one example:
In a meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers looked at the impact of ketogenic diets on important metrics of cardiovascular health, including HDL cholesterol and their findings were quite promising.
In short, the researchers concluded that a low-carb high-fat diet is effective in rising HDL cholesterols —good cholesterol—while reducing LDL—bad cholesterol—levels when compared to standard weight-loss eating plans that preach reducing fat intake.
Other health benefits
I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to the many benefits that keto diet offers.
In fact, studies have now revealed that this diet can fend off against many health ailments.
Some of these issues include:
- Heart diseases
- Brain injuries
- Alzheimer disease
- Parkinson disease
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
I can go on and on.
For more on that, here are a few sources.
Who Shouldn’t Be on A Keto Diet?
As with any drastic change in dietary habits, there are a few safety issues you need to be mindful of if you’re serious about making it down the ketogenic path.
So, if one of the following cases applies to you, then be extra careful.
- People on hypo-causing meds such as Insulin, Sulphonylureas, and Glinides
- People on medications such as high blood pressure.
- Breastfeeding women
- People with gallbladder diseases
- People who have had bariatric surgery
Also, be sure to discuss with a doctor or a certified nutritionist any significant changes in your eating habits before making it, especially when it comes to super carb-restricted ketogenic diets.
How to Get Started With Ketogenic Eating
The keto approach means a drastic shift in the way you eat, especially if you have never tried any low-carb eating approach.
For that reason, taking your first few steps can be intimidating.
But it’s feasible, none the less, provided that you’re willing to experiment, are motivated, and patient enough.
Here is the good news.
You don’t need (nor should you strive) to know everything there’s about ketogenic eating to get started.
All you need is the basics.
Then, learn as you go, and be willing to make lots of mistakes—that’s, after all, an integral part of the learning process.
So, let’s get down to the keto details.
The ketogenic diet is relatively simple when it comes to the rules to abide by.
The fundamental tenets of ketogenic eating are as follows:
- Eat Lots of Fats
- Eat moderate amounts of proteins
- Eat little carbs
That’s it. No more. No less.
Now, let’s delve a little deeper into these simple (yet elusive) principles.
How to Reach Ketosis?
While you don’t have to enter ketosis as early as possible, most consider doing so as their first successful milestone on the ketogenic path.
But achieving that can take some work and planning. It does not happen overnight, nor it’s just as simple as cutting junk/processed foods.
In general, it can take a few days up to a week of consuming no more than 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day to get into ketosis.
Factors to consider include; your conditioning level, training intensity, body type, and what you’re eating.
Five days is the conservative estimate, according to my experience. But your case might be different.
What to Eat?
This eating approach is by no means a restrictive plan.
But that does not mean you can eat whatever you want—even when it comes to standard healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits.
Note on Vegetables & Fruits
That said, when it comes to the keto diet, vegetables can be quite tricky.
Sure, veggies are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but almost all of them contain carbs, in one form/quantity or the other.
That’s something to look out for if you’re serious about reaching a full state of ketosis as soon as possible.
In general, the ketogenic diet includes plenty of leafy green vegetables rich in micronutrients, as well as some of the above-ground veggies, like broccoli, and cauliflower.
Be careful when eating fruits since most score high on the glycemic index. Keto friendly fruits include avocados and berries.
I hope this comprehensive ketogenic friendly food list will help you make the right choices.
- Meats—red meats, steak, lamb, sausage, ham, bacon, chicken, turkey, etc.
- Fatty fish. Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, etc.
- Eggs. Mainly omega-3 or pastured whole eggs.
- Above grounds veggies. Such as cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
- Low carb vegetables. Most green vegetables, spinach, kale, onions, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
- High-fat dairy. Hard cheese, butter, high fat cream.
- Nuts and seeds. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Low glycemic fruits. Such as avocados, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
- Cheese. Mainly unprocessed cheese such as goat, cheddar, blue, cream, or mozzarella cheese.
- Healthy Oils. Such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, high-fat salad dressings, etc. Opt for “cold pressed” options when using vegetable oils, such as olive, soybean, safflower, or flax oils.
- Condiments. Salt, pepper, spices, and some herbs.
- Sweeteners. Such as erythritol, stevia, monk fruit, and other low carb sweeteners.
What not to eat?
Now that we covered what to eat, let’s look at what you MUST avoid.
As a rule of thumb, when it comes to ketogenic eating, carbs are the enemy.
In fact, it’s virtually impossible to enter a state of ketosis when your body has a supply of glucose to burn.
For that reason, you MUST follow a stringent eating plan, which involves consuming less than 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day.
That means even if your daily required allowance of carbohydrates is 31 grams, you’d still want to stay below 30 grams.
Here is a comprehensive list of foods to be eliminated or severely reduced on a keto eating plan.
- All grains. Including whole meal (wheat, oats, rye, millet, corn, bulgur, rice, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, amaranths, etc.)
- Grains products. That include bread, pasta, pizza, crackers, cookies, etc.
- Sugar and sweets. Mainly table sugar, agave serum, cakes, honey, maple syrup, ice creams, sweet puddings, etc.
- Sugar-free and low-fat diet products. These tend to be highly processed and may contain many artificial additives that can affect ketone levels.
- Starches or grains. Mostly wheat-based foods, such as pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
- Factory farmed fish and pork. These tend to be low in nutrients and high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
- Alcohol. Sweet wine, beer, cocktails, etc.
- Fruits. Except for small portions of avocados and some berries.
- Tropical fruits. Including mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, etc.
- Legumes and beans. Such as kidney beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
- Root veggies. Such as carrots, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, etc.
- Unhealthy fats. Such as processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
- Refined oils. Including safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, corn oil, etc.
Remember that the more you restrict carbohydrates, the faster you’ll enter ketosis.
That said, these extreme restrictions might not be sustainable for everyone.
If you’re a serious runner, logging serious miles every week, then your carb intake might be higher, depending on your training volume and goals.
More on that below.
Getting Your Macros Right
Ok. I have just shared with you a comprehensive list of the foods to eat as well as what to avoid, but how much food should you consume from each major food category?
This is where ketogenic eating can get complicated since it involves calories counting. Yes, there is no way around that.
But it’s not rocket science.
Know your macro ratios.
Macros comprise the primary sources of calories in your diet.
They consist of the following:
The majority of your daily calories on a ketogenic diet will come from healthy sources of dietary fats.
Here is the exact macro breakdown of a ketogenic diet:
- Dietary fats—70 to 75 percent of total calories.
- Proteins—15 to 20 percent.
- Carbohydrates—5 to 10 percent.
To put the this into perspective, if you consume 2,800 calories a day, you’d ideally eat:
- 270 to 300 grams of fat,
- 105 to 140 grams of protein, and
- 35 to 70 grams of carbs.
That’s an extreme shift from the typical high-carb that most people are familiar with.
Am I in Ketosis?
The simple way to check whether you’re in ketosis or not is to assess ketone levels in your body.
This can be done using ketone urine test strips, or a blood analysis.
Urine (acetoacetate) testing is the most common way people measure their level of ketones. This is usually done using ketone strips, such as Ketostics, Urisan, and other urine detection strips.
This method is cheap—thus why it’s so common—costing roughly $10 for 150 strips.
The bad news is, urine testing is not reliable as it only shows excess ketones bodies expelled via acetoacetate, but say nothing about blood ketone levels.
Blood testing assesses blood ketones—or beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB, usually considered a good sign of ketosis and whether your restrictive keto eating is working.
Nevertheless, this method can be quite invasive and expensive over time.
To give you an idea, the monitor used retails at $40, and the test strips cost around $5 each. So, they can be relatively expensive if you intended to measure your ketones on a regular basis.
So, what are some of the other ways of telling you’re in ketosis?
Here is a short list of the ketosis physical symptoms:
- Changes in mood and alertness.
- Increased urination.
- Dry mouth and increased thirst.
- Sharp and smelly breath.
- Improved sleep
- Reduced appetite and hunger.
- Increased energy and mental focus.
Running Performance and The Ketogenic Diet
One of the concerns many runners have is that keto will negatively impact running performance.
And that’s understandable.
Carbs, after all, are a runner’s best ally. They’re the body’s preferred source of energy. I have stated that in the past and still believe so today.
But what if you want more?
What if you want to drop the carbohydrates and go full keto? Will doing so hurt your performance?
The answer is not black or white.
During the early stages of the keto diet, expect to experience drastic drops in performance.
Once your body has adapted to ketosis (and is using fat as its primary source of energy), your running performance should return to normal.
This, according to most experts, may take up around three to four weeks for your body to adapt to low-carb eating and using fat for fuel.
It took me about six weeks to be able to run normally on a keto diet. It will happen, but you need to stay consistent enough and play the long game.
Running Will Feel Like a Drag—And There is No Way Around it!
Running on keto will suck for the first few weeks. In fact, the first week on the diet will be a nightmare. You’ll feel exhausted every day from the lack of carbs, and the cravings will be, at times, too much to handle.
That’s a part of the process, and a sacrifice you’ll have to make if you’re serious about making it down the keto path.
Be patient. And do not let your ego stand in the way.
During the first few weeks, reduce your weekly mileage, go very slow, and walk, if you have to. Stick with the diet and keep working out.
During this whole time, consume more dietary fats, while keeping your protein intake moderate, drinking plenty of water, and replenishing your electrolytes.
The Research: Keto and endurance
Most of the published studies I’ve come across have found that a keto diet might help with endurance sports.
One example is an experiment in which trained cyclists were put on a ketogenic diet for four weeks.
The researchers found that aerobic endurance was not compromised at all and that participants muscles mass was the same as when they started.
Further study on professional gymnasts reached similar results.
Here are some links to check out.
When Not To Keto
The only exception where ketosis can hamper performance is in sports that require bursts of explosive power, such as sprinting and powerlifting.
So, if you’re preparing for a race, or logging serious miles every week, then the amount of carbs you can consume and still be in ketosis can be higher than recommended.
In such case, consume 20 to 30 grams of fast-digestible carbohydrates, such as fruit, within 30 to 60 minutes before your workout. This helps ensure that your muscles have the proper amount of glycogen to perform during training.
One Week Sample
Here how a week of eating looks like on the ketogenic diet.
- Breakfast:Eggs, bacon, and tomatoes cooked in coconut oil
- Lunch:Burger with cheddar cheese, guacamole, and nuts.
- Dinner:Salmon, egg, and mushroom cooked in coconut oil.
- Breakfast:Egg, basil, avocado, and cheddar cheese omelet.
- Lunch:Chicken salad with olive oil and avocado.
- Dinner:Mackerel with asparagus and spinach cooked in butter.
- Breakfast: Omelet with peppers, broccoli, salsa, and spices.
- Lunch:Shrimp salad with feta cheese and olive oil.
- Dinner: Romaine lettuce with low-carb, high-fat dressing
- Breakfast:Cheese omelet with vegetables and avocados.
- Lunch:Ham and cheese slices with almonds.
- Dinner:Salad greens with high-fat dressing
- Breakfast:Fried eggs with mushrooms and onions.
- Lunch: Shrimp salad with feta cheese and olive oil.
- Dinner:Low Carb Salmon Patties
- Breakfast:Eggs, bacon, and tomatoes.
- Lunch:Four ounces of baked fish with butter sauce
- Dinner:Steak and eggs with vegetables.
- Breakfast:Coffee with heavy crème
- Lunch:Burger with cheddar cheese, guacamole, and nuts.
- Dinner:Three cups shredded cabbage sautéed in butter and onions
Healthy Ketogenic Snacks
In case hunger strikes before one of the main meals, keep it at bay with any of the following options.
- Cheese with olives
- Two hard-boiled eggs
- Strawberries and cream
- A handful of almonds and nuts.
- One avocado with pepper and salt
- Green bean fries
- Kale chips
- String cheese
- Celery filled with cream cheese
- Lettuce or cucumber smeared with peanut butter
- Radishes smeared with butter
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So, should you give the ketogenic diet a try?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s really up to. It depends on you.
So you decided what works the best for you. Just be willing to keep an open mind and experiment.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.