The aim of taking an a fitness plan, no matter what your goals may be, is ultimately to change your body. Typically, the top two reasons to make changes to your body lie within the appearance of yourself, or to improve its performance. While a multitude of ways to meet this end exist, there are basically two key changes you must make: diet and exercise. Exercise is key, for sure, but a lot of your hard work and dedication may go unrewarded without the proper diet. What is the point of grinding away in the gym for hours upon hours when the foods you eat can completely reverse all of the progress you have made?
More than anything, you can think of your diet as a tool to be used in the end-goal of your quest to body recomposition. This being said, there exists a multitude of different diets, all with different pathways to meet varied and drastically different goals. With that in mind, we present to you today with a diet that we feel accommodates fitness-enthusiasts, athletes, and bodybuilders alike: Keto.
Keto, or a ketogenic diet, derives its name from the state of energy expenditure within your body, which is known as ketosis. Ketosis occurs when your body is forced to break down fats as a source of energy. Normally, your body will go straight to glucose, or blood sugar, as its preferred source of energy. A ketogenic diet is one that is either completely free of any carbohydrates, or very little. Ketones are produced when your body begins burning fat for energy, hence the name ketosis. Medically, tests are performed to track the levels of ketones in a person’s urine to measure the impact of conditions like diabetes, or when a person is very ill and is unable to eat and/or digest food properly as a result of vomiting or diarrhea. Checking urine for ketone levels is an excellent way to see how deeply into ketosis you currently are. This is a key indicator of the amount of fat your body is breaking down for energy.
Ketogenic diets, while conceptually amazing for maintaining a lean-looking physique, were first developed for medical applications. Initially, it was discovered to be helpful in treating refractory epilepsy in children, that being a particular manifestation of epilepsy that is more difficult to control than it normally is. It has also been used to treat diseases, such as:
Before we go any further, we strongly encourage you to consult your primary care physician before making any adverse changes to your diet.
Keto and Bodybuilding
So we have gone over the medical applications and uses of keto, but where does this leave you when it comes to meeting your fitness goals?
For most of us, we learned all about the food pyramid in grade school, whose base consists mainly of carbohydrates. To a young elementary-schooler, it sounds solid. Eat bread and grains, run around, take a nap, repeat. Unfortunately, this is widely seen as a gross misrepresentation of an actual nutritious, healthy diet. These food guidelines come from the same government that considers pizza to be worth a serving of the daily allotment for fruits and vegetables. It’s ridiculous.
Often, people begin to read about what foods and sources of nutrition are commonplace while on keto and the reactions are those of disbelief. Meats, fat, bacon, cheese, etc. How could anyone possibly lose any weight eating this kind of stuff? It has been ingrained into our minds that these foods are to be avoided and will make you fat and lead to a host of medical conditions later in life. While technically correct, if fatty foods are consumed in concert with the right other foods, amazing things can happen to your body. This only goes to show how little is actually known about the body and its abilities to derive energy and nutrition from what it is given.
In the absence of carbs, fat is essential for energy. While on keto, you must consume what would normally seems like a staggering level of fats. Initially, you may balk at that sentiment, but keep in mind that a lot of the fats that you are consuming are not going to stick around for long once digested. On its own, fat is an excellent energy source. This can be attributed to the reason why we crave fatty foods. Glucose is more readily available and easier to break down, which is why your body goes right to it for energy, despite fat being a better source. It takes less resources to break down glucose for energy. If your diet contains a lot of carbs, and also fats, then you will more than likely have trouble keeping your weight down. Your body continues to run off of the glucose you are feeding it, while at the same time storing the fats you are consuming to be used later, if ever. In keto, you are eliminating glucose as an option, therefore forcing your body to make use of fat for energy. Your body will absolutely make full use of your stores of fat before allowing itself to perish, which is good for the both of you; body and mind, that is.
For bodybuilders and athletes, this creates a two-front battle for body fat to fight its way out of. For people looking to put on pounds of muscle, there is no question as to how important eating the right food is.
Anyone who is serious about bodybuilding knows how important monitoring your macronutrient intake is. This basically means that you should be paying very close attention to what the foods you eat are made up of. Read labels, log everything in a journal. One of keto’s drawbacks is that it is rigid in its application and leaves little room for cheating. With discipline, you can absolutely lose an incredible amount of weight in a relatively short span of time. The hardest part is staying the course and not varying from the required macronutrient guidelines.
Getting into ketosis can actually be much harder than what is initially expected. Cutting carbs out of your diet drastically can take its toll on you. A bevy of bothersome side effects can occur when starting keto as it is a drastic change to how your entire body operates. Headaches are probably the most common of these. In keto, sugar is an absolute no-go. A lot of people do not realize, however, that sugar is an addictive substance. Drastically cutting off a substance like this can, and probably will, cause withdrawal symptoms. While not as harsh as some other substances, the symptoms of sugar withdrawal are akin to caffeine withdrawal. The most prominent of these being massive headaches along with, queasiness, brain fog, and “keto-flu,” which is a general feeling of malaise. All of these, again, are akin to withdrawal symptoms.
It is also no surprise that the number 1 response from people who quit keto is that “it’s too hard.” We understand, not only is making a huge change to your diet difficult in and of itself, but switching to one that is so drastically different and also comes along with withdrawal symptoms can be especially taxing. It has been widely reported that in order to go into full ketosis, it usually takes around 3 days. The body stores its glucose in the form of glycogen, which we covered in a previous article (link). It will typically hold around 20 grams of glucose as glycogen, which is released slowly in the absence of any new intake of glucose (carbs). It is during this period that most people experience these withdrawal-like effects.
Luckily, these effects can be remedied. For starters, on keto, one can never drink enough water. Be sure to drink near a gallon of water a day. You should be doing this anyways, but it is especially important while on keto and can greatly aid in alleviating the intense headaches that can sometimes come with it. Salt is another important element while on keto. Be sure to get about 5 grams of sodium (salt) per day.
There are also a few secret weapons in the uphill battle against carb withdrawal. Perhaps one of the most integral being L-Glutamine, an essential amino acid that must be derived from your diet. L-Glutamine acts as a sort of secondary source of sugar. Glutamine is very bioavailable and is broken down very quickly by your body. The brain makes use of this extensively as it is the main source of glucose consumption by your body. This will aid in the reduction of sugar cravings and also remove withdrawal symptoms. You will still need to remain steadfast in your battle against sugar, but this will make the fight that much easier.
It also is worth mentioning that glutamine is an amazing supplement to take immediately after a hard workout session. It is rapidly stored within muscles and very quickly aids in muscle recovery. It is hands-down a must-have for anyone looking to improve the appearance of their body.
Another substance to try is chromium, which can be found in a whopping dose of 200 mcg, which is 167% of your daily value, inside of Blackstone Labs’ Trojan Horse. We would also highly recommend Trojan Horse while on keto by itself as it will sway the tide of fat loss astoundingly in your favor. As we stated, a ketogenic diet is excellent for people who are concerned with burning off loads of excess subcutaneous body fat. This will also aid people looking to increase their muscle definition and appearance as well by trimming off the excess for that striated, lean, “ripped” look. Trojan Horse on its own is one of the premier fat burning supplements, which does its thing without the use of stimulants like caffeine or ephedra. Think of it like a two-pronged attack plan in a single bottle. Chromium aids by regulating glucose (blood sugar) levels, which will in turn, reduce sugar cravings. Reduce your withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and encourage fat loss all with just a single product.
L-Carnatine is another supplement that can vastly improve a ketogenic regime. It has been shown to speed up the process by which your body goes into ketosis and will aid in any metabolic resistance you may have to your newly adapted diet. Low L-Carnitine levels can inhibit your body’s ability to burn fat. Think about that for a moment. A diet that relies primarily on burning fat for energy would be absolutely derailed by its inability to process its main engine for energy. Conveniently, this is also a key element within Trojan Horse. It is really a no-brainer to strongly recommend Trojan Horse to anyone delving into keto.
The last substances to take into account are potassium and magnesium. Normally, bananas are great source of these elements, as are yogurts and whole grains, but on keto, these are high in sugar, and are, therefore, strictly off limits. It is suggested that you ingest upwards from 1 gram of potassium daily and 300 mg of magnesium.
So how do we get what we need? The means are slightly unconventional.
On keto, we will be eating lots of fatty cuts of meat. When cooking save the drippings and create a bone broth. It may sound unsavory at first, but the benefits outweigh the “icky factor.” Simply simmer the bones of your cuts of meat for 12 to 24 hours and then drink it like you would a soup. There are actually plenty of recipes available and the process is really as simple as we have made it out to be. You can even use your bone broth as the stock for any sauces you might take a stab at creating as sugary sauces like bbq and ketchup are also out of the question while on keto.
If your goal is to lose weight (obviously), specifically in the way of your body’s stores of adipose tissue (ie. fat), then you should follow the macronutrient table (there will be a forthcoming article specializing on macros. Stay tuned!) as follows:
For a 2,000 calorie diet, to stay in ketosis, your macronutrient intake of fats must consist of roughly 73% of your daily dietary intake. You will also want close to 21% of your intake to come from protein, leaving close to 6% from carbs. Most of the attitudes around here revolve around ingesting as little carbs as possible, but that remaining 6% should be obtained from eating vegetables. Check out some of the videos and information provided by our own Laurin Conlin, who boasts a master’s degree in exercise science and emphasizes the importance of staying up on your macronutrient intake. Who knows, there may even be another article like this one to get an in-depth look at macronutrients.