You only have to take a look online to see that vast variety of diets for encouraging weight loss, one of the most popular dieting strategies is that of the super low carbohydrate diet, popularised by books such as The Atkins Diet. These super low carbohydrate diets can be categorised as ketogenic or ‘Keto’ diets. So what do we mean by super low carbohydrate diet? Well this can vary from person to person but typically these would be less than 30g of usable carbohydrate per day. Usable carbohydrate would be considered as carbohydrates that can be used for energy production, so this would not include fibres typically found in fibrous green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Large amounts of fibre are also recommended, as obviously on low carbohydrate diets large amounts of protein would also be consumed, this can leave you, diplomatically put, a little bunged up! So fibre is recommended to help keep things moving, keep you healthy and to help you absorb the nutrients from your food. These diets are usually high in fat as well, and this is the primary energy source that the body uses on a keto diet…So how does the ketogenic diet work?
Typical Keto Diet breakdown
Well, when we eat carbohydrate our body typically uses this for energy in a preference to fat stores, as it is a more easily accessible source of energy. However when we eat carbohydrate our body releases the hormone insulin, which is a great hormone for building muscle but unfortunately it can also inhibit fat loss. Insulin works in a balancing act with a hormone called glucagon, when insulin levels rise, glucagon falls and vice versa. When carbohydrate levels are low, the form used for energy in the body, blood glucose, will also reduce as the body’s storage form of carbohydrate glycogen, stored in the muscle and liver are depleted. This will be accompanied with a corresponding decrease of insulin. In this state the body obviously still needs to supply itself with energy to keep us alive, this energy is required for everything from muscle to brain function and fortunately for us, despite the elimination of glycogen stores on low carbohydrate diets, our body has come up with unique ways to keep us functioning using ingested fat and our body’s adipose tissues, our body fat, to keep us going. It is in this low blood glucose state where Glucagon, which as we recall is increased in the state, comes to the rescue. Glucagon is a hormone produced in the pancreas that promotes the use of non-carbohydrate sources for use as energy in the body through a process caused gluconeogenesis. This is a metabolic pathway that uses fatty acids, which when processed through this pathway are converted into molecules called ketone bodies, there are three types of ketone bodies and each play a role in different physiological systems for energy production. When we are fueled primarily by these ketones we are actively in a ketosis, hence the ‘keto’ diet. It is in ketosis that the body uses these ketones, derived from body fat stores, for energy and fortunately for us, this can be used in the brain and muscles to provide energy to keep us alive and kicking and burn body fat at an incredible rate. So super low carbohydrate ‘keto’ diets are great right? Well as with most diet strategies people respond to them differently, some people can stay on a keto diet permanently, feel great and have lots of energy, others can really struggle as their body is more effective at using carbohydrate for energy and reducing this, no matter how much the body adapts, will never adapt suitably to sustain this diet for long due to detrimental impact on energy and functioning. Other hormones that are also effect by low levels or carbohydrate, such as cortisol, which is elevated under physiological stress, such as during severe dieting, and is also reduced in the presence of insulin, is again great for burning fat in the short term, but long term can cause adrenal fatigue and a reduction in metabolic rate, hindering long term weight loss. So what do we suggest? Well no doubt ‘going keto’ is a strategy that undoubtedly burns fat at an accelerated rate, but can have detrimental effect on performance and long term on metabolism and health. So we suggest using this as a way of getting over sticking points when on a diet, to be used for a few weeks at a time, with intermittent ‘refeeds’, consuming higher amounts of carbohydrate for a day at least every 7 to 10 days, to keep the metabolism firing, reduce stress hormones and keep you motivated and strong. We also suggest the addition of lots of water and electrolytes to help keep you healthy and the addition of a good multivitamin, as micro nutrients can be missing in keto diets due to the lack of micronutrient dense fruits and vegetables, these are required for many functions in the body that support immune function, preventing you picking up any unwanted illnesses which can be a risk on these types of diets if immune function is suppressed. There are many types of ketogenic diet out there, with differing ratios of proteins to fats, and preferring different sources of proteins and fats to others. For example the use of medium chain triglycerides, found in coconut oil for example, over long chain triglycerides found in animal fats, would be preferred in some diets for its energy producing qualities. Hopefully this basic guide has been useful and as with all diet strategies, if you decide to use keto then log your intake and sources, manipulate these to make them the best for your lifestyle and your goals, but without doubt if you can use this dieting tool effectively, the results can be astonishing. On a final note, after long periods of dieting when your target body fat has been reached, remember to introduce carbohydrates back in to the body slowly, allowing the body to adjust its hormone levels and give your metabolism time to adjust, so as to not lay down excess, unwanted fat you have tried so hard to lose! Thanks for reading, as always if you have any questions just ask through any of our social media platforms. Peace, weights and protein shakes. Paul Rimmer (BSc, MSc).