The Ketogenic (keto) diet is widely used around the world and marketed as a diet which leads to superior fat loss over other methods. The exclusion of carbohydrates means the Keto diet is made up of just two macronutrients – protein and mostly fats. Carbohydrates are our bodies “preferred” fuel source – meaning when carbs and fats are both present in the bloodstream, our body will burn off carbs before fats. This does not mean carbs are a better fuel source, merely the chemical process of using macros as fuel first begins with carbohydrates. Without glucose (carbohydrates) present, we are able to drive our body into ketosis.
How does the Keto diet work?
The thought process behind the ketogenic diet is simple – when we drop glucose intake below 50g a day, our body begins to become “fat adaptive” and runs off ketones as fuel. With no glucose being consumed, it results in fewer insulin spikes. With our body now being fat adaptive, we no longer using carbs as our fuel source, as glucose is no longer present in the bloodstream. Our bodies prime energy source is now that of fat and ketones.
Just because you eliminate carbohydrates and insulin, this does not mean we will lose more body fat?
Yes, you will burn more fat. Why? When you eat more fats you will burn more fat. Just like when you eat more carbs, you will burn more carbs. However, burning more fat does not mean you are burning more body fat. When we say we are burning more fat, its due to fatty acids and glycerol which is in your bloodstream being oxidised. Remember, this is not fat stored being oxidised, rather this is simply the fat you have eaten recently circulating in your bloodstream that is being oxidised.
This is crucial to understand and differentiate, eting more fat means you burn more fat, simply because we have more fat circulating in the bloodstream. Now, it also means you store more fat. Storing more fat does not mean, however, that it’s stored necessarily as body fat. Remember, energy balance is what will dictate the rate of fat loss, not macronutrient breakdown. The ketogenic diet will not lead to accelerated fat loss compared to that of a diet consisting of carbohydrates.
So who is a ketogenic diet best suited to?
Anyone who “feels better” on a keto approach.
How you feel when your diet is the most crucial aspect as this can heavily affect the rate of compliance, a happy satisfied client is a compliant client. Generally, ketogenic diets work for people who are “fast oxidisers” – simply your oxidation rate means the rate that you metabolise your nutrients. Fast oxidisers will do far better on a protein/ fat approach, as fats are metabolised slowly. The slow release of fats as an energy source allows a “fast oxidiser” a more sustained hit of energy. Generally, people who feel better on fats opposed to carbs will feel very lethargic on a carb approach as the sudden spike in insulin can lead to blood sugar levels rapidly dropping – hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar levels lead to poor energy, mood and particularly cravings for sugary and salty foods.
Physique prep clients
The second person who does well on a ketogenic approach is quite different from what most people would know. Very lean individuals seem to hold muscle mass better on a ketogenic approach opposed to a low or moderate carb diet. That’s right, The leaner we get, the harder it is to preserve muscle in a calorie deficit. A ketogenic approach seems to maintain tissue the best due to our bodies becoming fat adaptive. The increased fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream protect muscle from being broken down. Studies have shown a ketogenic diet to be superior for very lean people (males under 10% body fat and females sub 15%) fat loss not because we burn more body fat, but because of the preservation of muscle mass.
Is it right for you?
Diet systems are not magic and there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach. We at Clean Health use a variety of diets for our clients such as ketogenic, low carb, high carb, carb backloading, isocaloric. The art of being a good coach is knowing which diet best fits your client and when to phase your nutritional programs. A Ketogenic approach can work well for the right client, and poorly for the wrong client. If a person feels amazing on Keto, then use Keto! If a client feels better on more carbs, give them more carbs. Remember, the rate of fat loss is not dictated by macronutrients, rather the rate of fat loss comes down to energy balance. Create a calorie deficit, then keep your client compliant. These are the two very simple keys to a successful nutrition plan. Everything else is secondary.
Learn more about nutritional systems, program design and phasing for your clients in our Performance Nutrition Coaching certification.
By Mark Carroll