So I have made a few references to it in the previous race posts, but I didn’t want to go into too much detail without first writing this post. I have been experimenting with a Ketogenic diet for the past two months and I wanted to talk about what my experience has been thus far.
Part of me trying to take control of my life and health has exposed me to a lot of new ideas. The Ketogenic diet is the most intriguing one I have come across so far. For those who aren’t familiar with the diet it is a low-carb, medium-protein, high-fat diet. When I first heard about it I thought it was quite strange. I have known for some time that sugar is awful and that it is the cause of a lot of the chronic health problems so many people suffer with everyday. Not only is it implicated in obesity and diabetes but also cancer and even heart disease. Knowing this it would seem like reducing sugar is a no-brainer. The problem with reducing sugar is that it is our body’s go-to energy source. Anyone ever suffering from a ‘low blood sugar’ moment knows how awful eliminating sugar can be. You get tired, you can get dizzy, you get cranky, it’s not a fun state to be in. This would be especially true if you were trying to be active. A single workout can wipe you out, so how are you supposed to get through the rest of the day with no energy?! I have been interested in health and nutrition for some time and while I may not have always lived the right way I felt like I had a pretty good grasp of most of the body’s major functions. For example, I knew that sugar in your body was converted into glycogen. Glycogen stored in your muscles for quick and easy access. If I went out for a quick jog, I knew that my body would be burning off that glycogen and that when that glycogen was gone I would get tired. I also knew that your muscles can only hold a certain amount of glycogen and when emptied it needs to be refilled. Eating too much sugar is bad though because once your body has filled your muscles you start converting that extra energy into fat for use later. So, if you eat a bunch of sugar on a regular basis and aren’t doing enough to burn it off you’ll end up with an ever expanding waistline. Pretty simple, huh?
If only I knew how naive I was!! It’s so interesting to me that I knew that there were two main energy sources we used: sugars and fats.Despite knowing this I never really stopped to consider where fat comes into this equation at all. In the overly simplified description above there is no mention of fat in the energy chain at all. And also, when someone does lose fat, how does that happen? How does the body use it? Is it just changed into glycogen for your muscles to use? So many unanswered questions that I never even considered! Well, the answer isn’t too complicated. The above information is still true, the body does use glycogen pretty readily for energy but that isn’t the body’s only pathway. In a stroke of evolutionary brilliance we have developed another metabolic pathway to also use fat as energy when sugars might not be available (well actually there is even a third, the phosphogenic pathway, but that’s for another blog post). When you do not have enough glycogen around to keep yourself moving your body will oxidize fatty acids for energy. Your liver breaks down these fatty acids into something called a ketone body. Your body can use these ketone bodies, or ketones, for fuel as effectively as it can glycogen. In fact, research has shown that the brain actually functions better on ketones than it does on glycogen. When your body is making ketones for fuel you are said to be in a state of Ketosis. Once I learned this I finally understood why the body would store fat and how it uses that fat for energy. Understanding this can make a huge difference in your approach to losing excess body fat.
A ketogenic diet then tries to play off of this natural adaptation we have to optimize our bodies. While most people immediately jump to it being a ‘low-carb’ diet (because that’s a term they are familiar with it) is actually more of a high-fat diet. What you want to do is to get your body used to burning fat for fuel rather than sugars. As the liver is critical in both glycogen and ketone synthesis you can’t have both fat and sugar in your diet at the same time. Eating sugar will inhibit your ability to produce ketones, so you need to keep your sugar intake low. I have read a lot of different things about what the magic number of carbs is, but the truth of the matter is that is different for every individual. One thing everyone agrees on is to keep it under 100 grams per day. Most people agree that it should be under 50 grams and it’s even better under 30 grams. Many people have had great success at 10 grams or less! It is important to remember that while ketones are used for energy there are some body functions that rely on glycogen so it’s important to get enough to keep everything running smoothly. The point here is to become healthier, not to make yourself sick because you want to look better in a swimsuit. You also want to watch your protein intake, and this is one area that the Atkin’s diet does not address. This is also a topic for another blog post, but if you have excess protein in your system your body will actually convert that protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. You should focus on eating the healthy fats found in foods like Olive oil, Avocados, and butter. Stay away from the bad fats like trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable oils.
I could go on and on about what the ketogenic diet is, but the purpose here is to identify it and give a point of reference for my future posts. I tried to keep it simple so I apologize for anything I missed or oversimplified. I also apologize if there are any errors above but I am still learning. Also, I am not a medical professional, so while I am happy to help answer questions please consult with your physician and/or do your own research before attempting a ketogenic diet. Moving on!
So far my results have been fantastic! At the time of writing I have lost around 22 pounds (around 10kg) and of that over 18 pounds (over 8kg) is solely from fat! I have been weighing myself almost every day on my Fitbit Aria scale to get my weight, body fat %, and lean mass. I wanted to be sure that the weight loss could actually be attributed to fat and not muscle or water weight so I made a spreadsheet that is tracking all of that. I will post an image of it when I am through my first three months. My energy level has improved a great deal and my brain fog is gone! When I am at work I am able to focus better and my production has increased. My hunger has decreased, I no longer get ‘hangry’ and I no longer get my low blood sugar headaches. I have been keeping up with my workouts and I have noticed no decrease in performance and I’m even finding I’m increasing reps and weight for some of the exercises. I have found my running has improved as well, which I will address in detail in an upcoming blog post. Overall, I can’t say enough about how much changing my diet has improved my day to day. It does get a little hard to maintain it sometimes in social situation or when planning dinners with my wife, who is not on the diet. Despite these challenges though I think this is something that I will likely maintain for the rest of my life, it’s that powerful! As this post was a bit more focused on what the ketogenic diet actually is I will, in future posts, explain more how it has been affecting my athletic performance.
I have included a couple of screenshots from my FitBit data to show just how dramatically things have been changing. Can you make a guess at which point in the graph I started the ketogenic diet?? 🙂
Body Fat % v. Lean Mass.