Since the ancient times, the Inuit tribes of the arctic regions have lived only on a diet comprising of meat, fish, and fish and animal oils. And these people are absolutely healthy as compared to the vegetable and farm produce eating people of the rest of the world. Contrary to the popular opinion that carbohydrates are essential for energy and that consumption of fats cause heart disease. And this has of late become a hot topic of debate for everyone in the field of dietary sciences, medicine and fitness.
How are these tribes healthy even though they eat only meats and oils – that’s only proteins and fats?
There have been theories that their genetics are responsible – but these theories have been smashed by research and studies and the pioneering effort of an explorer by the name of VILHAMJUR STEFFANSON, who actually made himself a subject to the experiment and lived entirely on an Inuit diet – without any side-effects whatsover. This diet, naturally comprising of only meats and oils is technically, a KETOGENIC DIET – a diet that almost exclusively fuels the body using only proteins and fats, with fats as the primary energy source.
KETOGENESIS: What does it mean?
The human body, as widely studied in the agrarian world today, majorly relies on glycogen (carbohydrates) for producing energy for its functions. Now when this abundant energy source of glycogen, for some reason depletes and is no longer available to the liver, the body triggers a survival function. The body then starts breaking down Fatty acids and Proteins to produce ketones that are then used for energy production. Much like switching a car engine from petrol to CNG, or an electrical source from AC to DC. This process, is called Ketogenesis.
As per the wikipdia: When glycogen stores are not available in the cells, fat (triacylglycerol) is cleaved to provide 3 fatty acid chains and 1 glycerol molecule in a process known as lipolysis. Most of the body is able to use fatty acids as an alternative source of energy in a process called beta-oxidation. One of the products of beta-oxidation is acetyl-CoA, which can be further used in the citric acid cycle. During prolonged fasting or starvation, acetyl-CoA in the liver is used to produce ketone bodies instead, leading to a state of ketosis.
How does Ketosis help in BodyBuilding?
When it comes to competitive bodybuilding, there are two stages:
The usual gain phase is where the athletes are on a high carb, high protein diet supplementing their workouts as they are trying to gain as much muscle mass (size) as possible.Though it is possible to gain muscle without gaining too much fat in the process by following a Gluconeogenic adaptation of the ketogenic diet – but I shall leave that for another article.
The cutting phase is when a bodybuilder is trying to cut down on all possible body fat so that the muscle definition and vascularity can be seen through the skin.
Therefore in the cutting phase, many bodybuilders now switch to a ketogenic diet – of only high amounts of healthy fats (especially rich in omega 3) and moderate amounts of protein – thus forcing their bodies to burn all the fat that they have accumulated for energy and in the process causing a higher rate of fat loss without losing too much muscle mass.
Can you keep switching between ketosis and a regular diet?
NO. unless you are doing it just for fun and results don’t matter. which I hope is not the case.
Because as I said before, it is like a switch in the system. Your body is switching to an alternate energy source. It takes time for your body to adapt to it. and once it has adapted to it, it takes time for your body to switch back to accepting glycogen as the primary energy source.
The exception to the rule is when you have been in ketosis for a long amount of time, and you body is in a highly fat adapted state. In that scenario, you body’s tolerance for glycogen is much higher than normal and slipping in and out of ketosis is not that much of a taxing challenge to the body.
What is Ketosis Failure?
When you consume more than approx 30 grams of carbs in a day, your body automatically switches back to using glycogen as the primary source of energy.
The 30 gms limit varies from person to person, it is an approximation – some people shift to ketosis on higher amounts too. But 30 gms is considered the usual standard for a person with lean body weight between 50 to 80 kgs.
Even when you are aiming for 30 gms, you should actually try to not consume any carbs at all – because still 30 gms will sneak into your diet. The only carbs allowed on ketosis are cruciferous veggies and green leafy vegetables once a day – like spinach, lettuce, methi, brocolli, salad leaves etc for fiber.
Mind you, there are actually no cheat days on a ketogenic diet. But if you want to make it a longterm diet, you could take a break day every 15-30 days, followed by a fasted, intense workout the next day to immediately deplete all the glycogen so that your body can switch back to ketosis as soon as possible. Though, do expect a performance drop in your workout and energy levels right after a cheat day as the body struggles to switch from glucose to fat all over again.
What ‘to and not to’ Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?
There is a long list I provide to my consultation clients with regards to go to foods and foods to avoid on the ketogenic diet. But as a simple rule of thumb, you can follow these notes for basics:
PROTEIN SOURCES: Meats, Eggs, Poultry, Fish, Protein Bars and HYDROLYSED WHEY PROTEIN.
FAT SOURCES: Fish Oils, Ghee, Ground Nut Oil, Coconut Oil, Cheese, Peanut Butter, Olive Oil.
Ketogenic Snacks: Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts.
The Salad Hack:
One bowl of salad of cucumbers, a few rings of onion, spinach, methi, lettuce and broccoli every day works great to satiate the need to chew something crunchy while keeping the carb count at the minimum. (it would be wise to keep total carbs below 20-30 grams per day – some people have a lower tolerance for carbs and the body quickly switches back to glycolysis – to avoid that, keep checking with a ketostix every 3 days to keep on track)
Avoid having more than a cup of milk and curd per day if possible.
Salted lemonade, unsweetened ice tea, green tea, black coffee and diet coke are my recommended go to beverages on the ketogenic diet.
- No Sugar.
- No Grains.
- No Beans.
- No Agro produce.
What Supplements Enhance Fat Loss on a Ketogenic Diet?
- Whey Isolates
- Fish Oils
What are the Supplements that are Essential on a Ketogenic Diet?
A good lipase-amylase mix can help enable the body to overcome the digestion issues a few people could face in the beginning while adapting to high fats in their diet.
Switching off carbs can sometimes result in cramping of muscles during intense workouts.
Taking a potassium supplement and a zero carb BCAA mixture with salt keeps muscle cramps and fatigue at bay. If you have enough salts in your diet, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Having CoQ10 enzyme capsules can help improve digestion and bolster immunity while on the ketogenic diet.
Having VSL3 for 2-4 weeks can help restore the healthy gut bacteria that artificial sweetners may destroy.
Does a Ketogenic Diet Affect Your Fitness Levels and Performance?
Now this is a point on which many fitness professionals would argue. Professional bodybuilders that i have spoken to say that your strength reduces on a ketogenic diet – which is scientifically quite sound. You might not be able to lift the same amount of poundage on a ketogenic diet as you might be able to on a fully carb loaded day.
But research argues that not only are the inuit tribes STRONG and RESILIENT in terms of endurance, but also explorer Frederick Schwatka, pulled off one of the greatest feats of endurance (long distance sledging across the arctic) on a fully ketogenic diet.
From my own experience i can say that as my body is used to carbs as a dominant source of energy, when i switched to ketosis, the first week was a struggle. I felt drained, weak and not as strong as usual. Even my poundages (amount of weight i lift in a particular exercise) dropped considerably. But by the second week i was feeling quite normal and my poundages returned to normal – in fact i was feeling quite lighter and breezier. I don’t discount a feeling of placebo here In both situations.
Losing weight and gaining a definitive muscle definition might have made me feel stronger and more confident. While the autosuggestion of people and years of thinking that carbs give the body energy, into me believing that i got a little weaker.
Addendum: my recent studies show that my poundages are perfectly high and normal right upto my personal records even on ketogenesis.
How Does the Ketogenic Diet Affect Endurance?
Now this is a question where people generally succumb to common perception. They believe that since they have always read about carb loading and glucose refilling during marathons, you probably can’t run a marathon or do a highly intensive endurance activity on Ketosis. BUT THEY ARE NOT JUST WRONG, THEY ARE AS FAR AWAY FROM THE SCIENTIFIC TRUTH AS CAN BE.
Since most of the initial studies done on ketosis were actually endurance activities in extreme conditions, it is actually a no brainer that ketosis works perfectly well even on endurance tasks.
If there was any doubt about it still, a friend of mine who is a marathon runner – ZEEBA KHAN, recently volunteered to run marathons on a ketogenic diet. She actually managed to better her time running on a ketogenic diet since it made her lose weight without losing her muscle mass and endurance capabilities.
Infact, the ketogenic diet is now the diet of choice for the top most endurance athletes as it offer a relatively endless source of energy as compared to carbs, does not require repeated refills and bulky loads, reduces lactic acid build up dramatically and keeps away excess fat and therefore reduces the strain of carrying extra poundage over long distances.
Note: An upcoming article on Ketogenic Diet for Endurance Athletes will soon be posted here.
How Do You Prevent Binging or Control Food Cravings on a Ketogenic Diet?
One of the reasons why the ketogenic diet is optimal for fat loss is because of the high satiety value of dietary fat. The ketogenic diet also restores the leptin and grelin hormones, destroying untimely and unnecessary food cravings. For details on how that works, refer to the article on THE VICIOUS CYCLE BETWEEN BEING HUNGRY AND BEING FAT AND LAZY.
When the occassional need to snack does occur, I recommend keeping a keto snack pack at hand all day. Infact, on a ketogenic diet, when im at high performance levels, I’m constantly eating.
My snack pack contains:
- Cheese cubes
- Almond barfiis (sweets) sweetend with sugarfree
- Sugarfree fat bombs
- Sugarfree chewing gums
These hold me off very well until the next scheduled meal.
What are the FAT LOSS Results on a Ketogenic Diet?
Fat Loss is optimal on the ketogenic diet. You can lose the same amount of fat on other diets as well, but not without suffering food cravings, constant hunger and a drop in physical performance.
It is the physio-psychological sustainability of the ketogenic diet for a non-vegetarian that makes it optimal for fat loss – NOT THE DIET BY ITSELF.
I have been experimenting with the diet on my own body for over 6 years now. I have lost 4 kgs on a purely ketogenic diet in a month while already quite lean – and most of it was fat loss.– Pushkraj Shirke
My clients, who were larger than me, lost upto 8 kgs in a single month. And all of this is without anabolic steroids or pharmaceutical aids which people usually use to enhance their ‘transformation’ at the risk of losing their health, and sometimes, their life.
The best part is that when using the ketogenic diet for fat loss, most of the muscle and necessary water remains intact. Which is always the greatest challenge in the war against fat – To lose weight without compromising strength or getting weaker. Especially for athletes.
How to Speed Up the Fat Loss Results of The Ketogenic Diet?
If you are doing the ketogenic diet purely for fat loss, and want fat loss at a hyper accelerated rate and do not mind the drop in strength and muscle mass, INTERMITTENT FASTING KETOGENIC DIET is your best bet. Here you eat all your designated macro nutrients within 2-3 meals set within a 6 hour feeding window and fats for the other 18 hours of the day. This not only speeds up the fat loss without any derogatory health effects but also improves your metabolism and hormonal system by resetting the insulin release mechanism of the body on a daily basis.
As a sports performance consultant, I never put my athlete clients on intermittent fasting UNLESS he/she is on ketosis as the autophagy for energy generation becomes too high to avoid muscle loss and it becomes impossible to retain top athletic performance.
But come what may, if you plan to adopt this diet and find the need for consultation, do consult a proper nutritionist and a not a quack.
It is also reasonably expensive to maintain in areas where meat is not abundant.
So, be wise. Do your own research. And if you can afford to, consult a legitimate expert.
Author: Pushkraj Shirke
Director, Project Battlefit
K11 Trained Fitness, Strength and Sports Nutrition Consultant
Fitness Columnist – DNA, KRUNCH TODAY