This time last year I was weighing in right at 280 lbs. Fast forward to present day and I’m hovering around 220. That 60 lbs of weight loss has come from a number of different factors. I got off testosterone supplementation, started doing CrossFit, started running, and went through many dietary changes. In this article I’d like to share my experience with my latest dietary experiment: ketosis.
What is ketosis?
Before going into what ketosis is, it’s important to know that your body gets its energy from three different sources: protein, carbs, and fat. But the three substrates your body will use for energy are glucose, lipids, and ketones. Your body will convert amino acids into glucose through gluconeogenesis. When there are not enough carbohydrates (or amino acids to convert to glucose) present to fuel the nervous system, whether through fasting or a super low carbohydrate diet, the liver will begin to break down lipids into ketones to be used for fuel. A state of ketosis is where your body is more adapted to utilizing fat for fuel instead of glucose.
How do you know if you’re in ketosis?
When you are in ketosis the higher levels of ketones in the blood can be measured. There are a three ways that this can be done. First, the most accurate method is blood testing using a blood ketone meter and strip. The second most accurate method is with a breath acetone measuring device. This measure the amount of acetone (a ketone) that has made it’s way through your blood and into your lungs. This is the method that I used. The final method is through urine ketone strips. This is probably the easiest method but not nearly as accurate.
What are the benefits of ketosis?
Ketogenic diets have actually been shown to have positive impacts on people that suffer from seizures as well as different types of cancer. Being more fat adapted can also help with losing excess adipose tissue. In myself and several clients, I have seen a significant change in body composition while being able to take in a higher caloric amount. Being in ketosis also has a positive effect on blood glucose levels which can help prevent typical “hunger pains” that come with being in a caloric deficit. The higher fat content of the diet helps with satiety and taste. Along with this are some positive mental affects. Typically, there is a more consistent and sustained energy throughout the day and better mental clarity. There has also been some indication that being more fat adapted could be of benefit to some endurance athletes.
How do you get into ketosis?
Well the best way is to do some type of fast. Anywhere from 10 hours to 3 days (I know that sounds crazy but I’ve heard it recommended). This will typically kick start your body down the path towards ketosis. The first bit will really suck as your body starts recognizing it’s not getting the glucose it’s used to getting and will start urging you to eat. However, as your body adapts you will find that your hunger dissipates and you might even feel pretty energized. Beyond that, maintaining a diet that is high in fats, moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates will help keep you in a state of ketosis. The better your metabolism and the more you train the more carbohydrates you can eat and stay in ketosis or return to ketosis quickly. Ingesting supplemental ketones can also help with this although I didn’t find much difference from using them.
So earlier this year in February I started slowly decreasing my calories. I was eating between 7-9 times a day including my peri workout protocol and ingesting around 6000 calories a day. Once I came off of my testosterone I dropped this down a good bit to around 6 meals a day with still a decent amount of protein fat and carbs in each meal. I don’t remember the exact numbers but it was probably around 60p, 20f, 50c. I’d let my weight drop a bit until it didn’t move for a few weeks then drop the carbs down a little more. After a pretty big plateau in weight loss I decided to just say screw it and dropped my meals down to 5 meals a day and no carbs except at night and around training. This helped my weight drop a bit more but I was freaking starving all day long and by the time dinner came around it was tough to not over eat the carbs. Then when I committed to doing the Tough Mudder in September and the St Jude Half Marathon in December, I knew I needed to get my weight down and fast so I decided to give the ketogenic diet a try. Here is what a typical day looks like for me:
Meal 1: 30 grams protein from chicken breast, 30 grams fat from mixed nuts
Meal 2: 30 grams protein from ground bison, 30 grams fat from coconut oil
Meal 3: 30 grams protein from salmon, 30 grams fat from fish oil and olive oil
Meal 4: 30 grams protein from steak, 30 grams fat from grass fed butter
Meal 5: 2 pieces bacon, 6 eggs, cheese
(I’ll eat vegetables with each meal too. Broccoli, green beans, carrots, and celery)
Total calories around 2000
Like I said above, this was my approach to losing as much weight as possible as quickly as possible. I currently have a BMR of around 3000 and burn anywhere between 500-1500 calories per workout depending on what all I do. So this can put me anywhere from a 1000 calorie deficit to a 2500 calorie deficit which, if you’ve never experienced it, isn’t very fun. However, I have been able to lose 20 or so lbs in about 8 weeks. I typically lose about a lb a day to a lb every 2 days but on the weekends I’ll allow myself some cheat and gain a few back. Still, I’m losing week to week.
Being in that type of caloric deficit makes physical activity very challenging. Anything in the glycolytic energy system is a butt kick when you don’t have any glycogen stores to help. Because of this I’ll typically add 40 grams of carbs from Intra Formance during my training. The one time I didn’t and tried to run 7 miles was one of the hardest workouts in my life. It put me in the gutter. Once I get to a weight that I’m happy with, I will start adding back in more calories through fat and protein but stay in the ketogenic setup.
Who should try a ketogenic diet?
Anyone can try the diet to see how they feel on it. If you’re doing a bunch of high intensity exercise, you probably won’t want to stay on it without some type of carbohydrate supplementation around your training. I think it works great for people with insulin sensitivity issues and anyone who is struggling to lose weight from a typical caloric reduction diet. If you’ve been slowly cutting calories and/or are eating way fewer calories than would seem reasonable for your size and activity and still struggling to lose weight, then I think this would be great to try. Two clients that I have used it on have gotten really good results.
The first client had her weight stuck around the 125 lb mark for a while. Each time I reduced carbs her body would not respond and the weight would remain the same. Even at no carbs, high protein, and medium fat her body would not respond. Then I doubled her fat intake and kept her protein the same, still no carbs, and she dropped 6 lbs in a month.
My second client started with me after a powerlifting competition. Her beginning weight was 152 and I put her on a pretty moderate plan to start at only 1550 calories. So about 10x her bodyweight in calories which with her training and other activities should have been enough to cause her to lose weight but instead she gained several lbs. I reduced her carbs some more and she gained another 2 lbs. From there I consistently cut her calories down to around 1250 on her non training days and 1400 on training days. She stayed in the 150 lb range without much change. I dropped all her carbs out completely to only 1290 calories every day and she still hovered in the 150 range. When a client’s weight seems to be stuck like this despite all the signs (no carbs, very low calories, lots of exercise) that it should be dropping, it’s an indication that something needs to change. For whatever reason, their body is not responding like it should be so it’s time to switch things up. At this point I switched her to a ketogenic diet, bumped her calories up to 1500 by doubling her fat and just barely reducing her protein and her weight started to instantly fall. So much so that we decided to go for a 20 lb cut and compete in the 132 class in September. So 18 lbs of weight loss in 4 weeks with about 4 lbs of that coming from a water cut we did the week of the meet. Check out her progress below, give the ketogenic diet a try, and let me know what you think.