These days, the keto diet gets a ton of attention. This diet promises big weight loss results for those who stick with eating high-fat and low-carb foods. At face value, it almost seems too good to be true, but there is a lot of science (and real results!) to back up these amazing claims.
In a world that was once obsessed with low-fat foods and low-calorie diets, the ketogenic diet might seem foreign and unfamiliar. It has real potential for both women and men who are struggling to meet their weight loss goals. Here’s what you need to know about the ketogenic diet, including the pros and cons of committing yourself to keto, and how you can make it work for you and your specific fitness goals.
Getting to Know the Keto Diet
The keto diet is all about putting your body into ketosis by eating fat — and lots of it. Typically, the body runs on carbohydrates, burning glucose as a source of energy. However, if your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn, it will burn fat as fuel. As a result, the liver produces ketones. This process is known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a completely normal process in the body, but most people eat enough carbohydrates so that their body doesn’t enter a ketogenic state. It is possible to intentionally trigger ketosis by eating roughly 50 grams of carbohydrate (or less) each day and increasing your fat intake. This allows your body to run on fats, which means you burn more fat, and lose weight as a result.
At its most basic, following a ketogenic diet requires you to comply with a very unique ratio of macronutrients—carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Your carbohydrate intake should only account for 10% of your calories each day. 20% of your calories should come from protein. What’s left is dedicated entirely to fat. This means that 70% of your caloric intake each day should come from fats.
The Pros and Cons of a Ketogenic Diet
Like any nutrition plan, there are both pros and cons to a ketogenic diet. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, so it’s important to understand the limitations of any diet plan before you get started. Let’s look at the downsides of the keto diet first and then we’ll discuss the benefits.
Ketogenic Diet Cons
We live in a world that wants everything to be instant. But when it comes to strength training and diet, it just doesn’t work this way. There is no magic pill. It takes hard work and dedication! For many, the biggest drawback of eating keto is that it takes time for your body to adjust. Remember, ketosis is something you have to trigger in your body. Until your body knows burning fat for fuel is the new norm, it will burn glucose (sugar) first. On a high fat, low carb diet, it could take between one and two weeks to become adapted into a ketogenic state.
It’s important to know that, at face value, the keto diet looks like an opportunity to eat as much cheese, bacon, and steak as your heart desires. This is NOT the case! The truth is, this is still a diet and requires you to not only restrict your carbohydrate intake but also pay attention to serving sizes and your overall calorie intake for the day. For some, having to live even one day without high carbohydrate foods is torture!
Lastly, the keto diet requires a good amount of planning and prep work. You can’t just leave the house for the day and assume you’ll find foods that fit your needs. This doesn’t mean you can’t stick with keto if you’re busy, but it does mean you are going to have to be smart and plan ahead. Meal preparation will make or break your success on a ketogenic diet.
Ketogenic Diet Pros
The most obvious benefit you’ll experience while on a ketogenic diet is fat loss. Research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that high-fat, low-carb dieters were able to achieve significantly more fat loss than those who complied with a low-fat diet. That’s one of many studies I could mention.
When you eat fat, your body releases key hormones that trigger a feeling of fullness and satiety. This is why ketogenic dieters often report reduced food cravings, a lower appetite, and more energy. Additionally, there is research that supports the use of a ketogenic diet for reducing the risk of diabetes, because it lowers insulin resistance, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Tips for Success on a Ketogenic Diet
Without planning, it is difficult to succeed on the ketogenic diet. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.
- Meal planning and meal prep will be your best friend when you’re on a ketogenic diet. Nothing sets you up for failure like getting too hungry or too busy without easy meal options. I suggest sitting down once a week, mapping out every meal and snack, and doing as much prep work as possible on the weekends.
- For incredibly busy days, it is so helpful to have keto-friendly convenience food options. I’ve been doing the research (and testing many products!) and reporting on the best keto-friendly snacks on my Instagram account.
- Using ketone testing strips is an excellent way to make sure you’re eating the right macros to get into ketosis. You can purchase testing strips on Amazon, and this is a great way to stay on track.
- The ketogenic diet is all about eating plenty of fat. Don’t fear saturated fats, choose fats that are as unprocessed as possible, and avoid fats and oils found in processed, packaged foods that were made in a factory. The fats that get the green light when it comes to the keto diet—and good health in general—can be broken down into four categories: saturated fats, monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), and naturally occurring trans fats. The truth is that all fats contain a mixture of these types, but the one that’s dominant is how we categorize them. You’re going to want to stay away from processed trans fats, and artificial trans fats, both of these can be damaging to your health.
- When you’re eating low-carb, the water-stores in the body are more quickly depleted. This means you need to drink a lot of water to make sure your body stays hydrated. I suggest using this calculator by Bodybuilding.com to figure out just how much water you need to drink each day.
- Stick with it! A lot of ketogenic dieters experience what they call the “keto-flu.” Weaning your body off of tons of sugar and processed food is rough. And, as your body is adapting to burning fat instead of glucose, you might notice your energy is low. This feeling won’t last, I promise.
I like the ketogenic diet and have seen many people experience success. Do I follow a strict keto diet? No. Why? Because I’m constantly experimenting with new dieting trends and foods…that’s my job! To figure out where current health science is going and help guide you in the right direction! My diet currently sits in-between the boundaries of a ketogenic diet and the paleo diet. I believe both of these diets have their strengths and weaknesses.
When you look at studies, a lot of the research is biased for or against high-fat diets, low carb, high protein diets. Finding unbiased studies is tough. Most studies are looking for a particular outcome. But a lot of current nutritional science (and real results!) back up the amazing claims made by keto diet proponents.
Just like any other diet or nutrition plan, you should approach the keto diet with your individual needs and goals in mind. It may be necessary to adjust your macros or your daily calorie intake until you find what is a good fit for your body.
Be patient, stay the course, and don’t be afraid of fat! Dietary fat can be perfectly healthy and can play a primary role in a fat loss diet. Be sure to vary your sources of fat intake. Listen to your body! Eat when you’re hungry and prepare foods that taste good. You may notice you need to supplement with fiber or you may need to add a little protein to enhance your exercise performance and results. It might take time to make this change, it’s a learning process, but the potential for life-changing results on the ketogenic diet can be well worth the effort.
My Favorite Keto Resources
Bueno, N., et al. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013. 110(7), 1178-1187. doi:10.1017/S0007114513000548
Hall et al. Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 104, Issue 2, 1 August 2016, Pages 324–333, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.116.133561
Paoli et al. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013. 67(8); 789-96. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.116