What Is the Keto Diet – And Is It Right for You?
I live and breathe diets. I am a professional diet coach, an EXOS Trainer, and I formulate supplements as CEO of MTS Nutrition to help people hit their dietary needs. If there is a diet, I have heard of it, read about it, and in most cases I try it.
The ketogenic diet (aka keto diet), while it has been around for a long time, is currently getting a lot of play as the best diet to lose fat.
The keto diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. And while it very well might be the best diet to lose fat, it is my opinion that there is a 99% chance that it is NOT the right diet for you.
Keep reading as I explore the benefits and disadvantages of the keto diet and also point you in the direction of the right diet for you.
The truth about ketogenic diets, from MTS Nutrition Marc Lobliner.
First off, let me say that the keto diet is effective for fat loss… Like every diet that accounts for total caloric intake. Why? Thermodynamics, or calories in versus calories out, is the main (although not only) determinant of fat loss.
By removing carbs, which are 1/3 of the available macronutrients to eat (the others being protein and fat), and with most yummy treats and desserts that add calories to your diet being comprised mainly of carbohydrates, this lessens your chance to overeat and go beyond your maintenance level of calories.
This is one reason the keto diet works. I am fine with that since carbs are NOT essential.
What did I just say?
That’s right. Carbs are NOT essential. There are essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, but no essential carbohydrates. While glucose is the body’s preferred energy source, your body does not need glucose to survive. It can get energy two other ways:
- Your body can convert excess protein to glucose via a process known and gluconeogenesis.
When devoid of protein and carbs in a fat-heavy diet, your body can operate on ketones.
- When the body can’t use glucose for energy, it uses fat instead. When fats are broken down for energy, chemicals called ketones appear in the blood and urine.
Ketones are actually pretty cool.
- The brain operates extremely efficiently on ketones and due to a potential increase in mitochondria in the brain, ketones might help in the treatment of seizures and Alzheimer’s.
- Can suppress hunger.
- May help live with insulin resistance.
- Can have anti-cancer benefits.
- Lower insulin levels for more balanced energy.
This sounds like the perfect diet, right? Well, for some maybe. The main application I personally see is in pre-diabetics, diabetics, and cancer patients. Why these groups?
In diabetics, insulin resistance is an issue. The lack of carbs and having your body rely on ketones for energy is very good and can lessen the need for your pancreas to work overtime to attempt to balance your body’s insulin levels.
For cancer, there has been huge breakthroughs with Ketosis in the treatment and slowing of cancer growth. See the study here. Without glucose, cancer cells are essentially starved. This is where the most promising application of the keto diet is apparent.
This all sounds great, right? What are the downsides?
3 Downsides to the Keto Diet
#1 – Adherence
The key to any diet is to make it a lifestyle, something you can adhere to for life or at least for a long period of time. The problem with diets is once it all comes off, you go back to eating normal, in this case carbs and all.
Calories increase, you gain it all back, THEN YOU GAIN EVEN MORE!
The keto diet is NOT long-term because – I suspect – a large portion of the world cannot say no to pasta and bread for life. And imagine a birthday without cake?!
#2 – Performance
In the post-workout period, delaying carb intake by just two hours has been shown to reduce glycogen replenishment by 50%. It is important to replenish glycogen because glucose is needed to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
ATP, the biological currency of energy, is responsible for many actions in the body including muscular contractions. The faster you can get this replenished, the faster you can start the recovery process. So obviously, the keto diet isn’t the best for recovery and performance.
#4 – Not enough protein
A lot of the “keto kDiets” espoused by trainers are not really keto diets. They are high protein, low carb diets.
In the beginning we spoke of gluconeogenesis, where protein converts to glucose. In order to reach ketosis, fat needs to be high, usually over 70% of your caloric intake, to reach ketosis.
Thus, based on the ISSN (International Society of Sport Nutrition) recommendation of one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to optimize lean body composition, you will not be getting enough protein to maximize your gains in the gym.
Controlling carbs is not a bad thing. It can help control insulin and provide steady energy throughout the day. I personally like to eat carbs mainly post workout to replenish glycogen stores and ATP and before bed, since the serotonin benefits and energy benefits are optimal at that time.
I know carbs before bed are usually taboo, but try it, you’ll love it. You can read more about my diet theories in my book available here.
For some segments of the population, the keto diet is probably the best thing, period. But for the rest of us, probably 99% of the population, it is probably not the best simply because it doesn’t allow dietary freedom, and adherence is the number one variable in fat loss.
So find a diet aka LIFESTYLE that you enjoy and you feel you can adhere to for a lifetime and enjoy life while getting results. After all, you should not have to suffer to be healthy!