The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that's quickly risen in popularity. Some people support its weight loss benefits, while others say it's not much better than a regular diet. If you're on a keto diet and find that you're not losing enough weight, you can try working out more or limiting your calorie intake to burn more fat.
The Rise of Keto
Ketogenic diets are very low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein intake and high in fat. The original ketogenic diet was 90 percent fat, 6 percent protein and 4 percent carbohydrates, according to an article from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
The diet was initially used to treat children with epilepsy, and it still works well in that regard. Ketogenic diets have also been used to manage blood sugar levels in patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Typical Carbohydrate Intake
Typically, the recommendation for daily carbohydrate intake is 45 to 65 percent of your diet. That means 45 to 65 percent of the calories you eat every day should come from carbohydrates, so 4 percent is an incredibly low number. So low, in fact, that it's practically unattainable. More modern recommendations typically range between 5 and 10 percent for adults.
That means if you're eating a 2,000 calorie diet, you can eat 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day, which is still incredibly small. Typical foods on a ketogenic diet are meat, avocados, vegetable oils and other high fat foods.
Read more: Ketogenic Diet Plan
Low Carbohydrate Intake
If you don't eat enough carbs your blood sugar levels drop, according to an article from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This is called hypoglycemia and can cause shakiness or dizziness. If this happens, your body will start to use fat as energy.
In fact, your brain prefers to run entirely on glucose. Without carbs in your diet, your blood sugar levels drop, and your body has to figure out another way to get energy.
Your body can either break down fat or protein in case of emergency. Fat is the first choice because it's rich in energy, and you can usually afford to lose fat from your body without any consequences.
Ketone Body Production
Your body can turn that fat into ketone bodies, which do essentially the same job that glucose does. Acetone is one of the chemicals used to turn fat into ketone bodies, which is why some people on the keto diet give off a strange odor.
This process happens primarily in the liver. The ketone bodies are then sent out to the parts of your body that need them and converted to energy. When this happens your body is in a state of ketosis.
Your Body During Ketosis
Ketogenic diets put your body in a state of ketosis, which can help you lose weight. However, a 2018 article from Stanford shows that there's no difference between low-carb and low-fat diets in terms of weight loss.
The researchers in the study above note that there were large gaps between people for weight loss. In some cases there was up to a 60 pound difference in weight loss between subjects. However, the average amount of weight loss was the same between groups.
One of the most powerful ways to study low-carb vs. low-fat diets is to keep calories consistent between the two groups. For example, both groups might eat 2,000 calories, but one is eating more fat, and one is eating more carbs. One such study, published in Cell Metabolism in 2015, showed that there wasn't a difference in weight loss between the groups.
Weight Loss From Keto
The biggest benefit to the ketogenic diet is that it makes you feel full. High-fat diets make you feel more satiated. Part of the reason is that fatty foods simply take longer to digest. If you don't feel hungry as often, you'll probably eat less, lowering your calorie intake for the day. As you lose weight, appetite naturally increases. A diet that limits this increase in appetite will ease the discomfort of weight loss.
Ketogenic Diet and Metabolism
Assuming that you're using the ketogenic diet to lose weight, you're probably wondering how to maximize your weight loss. The truth is that there's no magic shortcut to losing weight. You have to burn more calories than you take in. That means you can either decrease the amount of calories you eat, increase the amount of calories you burn through working out or both.
The ketogenic diet works well when you're trying to burn fat because it fills you up. It's also moderately high in protein. A 2018 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism shows that subjects who ate a ketogenic diet didn't lose much muscle mass even though they lost weight. Typically it's hard to preserve muscle mass as you lose weight, but the ketogenic diet seems to prevent that to a certain degree.
Preserving Muscle Mass
Preserving your muscle mass is important as you lose weight because muscle mass is linked to your metabolic rate. The amount of calories you burn throughout the day, not counting exercise, is your metabolic rate.
Ketogenic diets can help you preserve your muscle mass as you lose weight, meaning they prevent your metabolic rate from lowering. This is important because your metabolic rate makes up most of the calories you burn throughout the day.
It's counterintuitive that a high-fat diet would make it easier to lose weight, considering that fat has more than twice the number of calories per gram. Fat has nine calories per gram, and carbs have four. However, it's just as effective as a low-fat diet.
How to Burn More Fat
The ketogenic diet helps you lose weight, but it might not be enough for your goals. To lose more weight you can further tweak your diet and focus on your workout routine.
There's an abundance of fat in the ketogenic diet and scarcely little protein and carbs, so you shouldn't eliminate those from your diet. Instead, take out food made of pure fat, such as a vegetable oil. That way you don't lose any of the precious carbs or protein in your diet.
Eating More Fiber
Eating a ketogenic diet means you're consuming precious few carbohydrates. The best kind of carbohydrates to eat when you're trying to burn fat are high in fiber. Fiber not only aids with digestion, it fills you up more than nonfibrous carbohydrates. Fiber is difficult to digest, meaning it takes longer for your body to process. The longer you feel full, the less you want to eat.
No matter what food you choose to eat, you should measure it. The easiest way is to use a calorie tracking app like MyPlate. That way you can see exactly how much you're eating every day in terms of calories.
In order to lose more weight you have to eat fewer calories per day. However, don't go overboard. Even 100 fewer calories per day results in a 700 calorie deficit by the end of the week.
Cardio on the Ketogenic Diet
Exercising more will help you maximize weight loss in ketosis. Since glucose is the main source of energy for your muscles, it may take a while to get used to the ketogenic diet. You might feel sluggish during your workout during the first few days or weeks.
In athletes, the ketogenic diet is controversial. Research isn't conclusive, but some studies, such as a paper published in The Journal of Physiology in 2017, show that the ketogenic diet can hurt performance in the short term.
It's important to note that this study above, like many others on the ketogenic diet and performance, was performed on endurance athletes. That means you might not last as long while doing cardio on the ketogenic diet, but it doesn't say much about weight lifting.
Keto Diet and Weight Training
On the other hand, the effects of the keto diet on resistance training aren't as clear. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2017 shows that the keto diet doesn't affect strength or power. In other words, switching to keto probably won't make a difference if you lift weights.
Caffeine for More Energy
To give yourself an energy boost you can try caffeine. Drinking plain coffee or caffeinated tea gives you an energy boost that can get you moving if you start to feel sluggish. As long as the caffeine motivates you to work out, it will help you lose weight. An added benefit of caffeine is that it decreases your appetite, making you eat less.
You can try other thermogenics on the keto diet, but many weight loss supplements contain powerful stimulants that might be dangerous. Caffeine is well-researched and safe in sensible amounts.
Long-Term Problems With Keto
Short-term weight loss is great if you're preparing for a wedding, but it's always best to plan for the long term. There's nothing more deflating than losing a bunch of weight only to have it come storming back with a vengeance.
While the ketogenic diet is very exciting for its potential fat loss benefits, the effects might not last as long as you hope. According to an article from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, most research shows that even if subjects lost more weight at first on keto compared to a low-fat diet, things evened out over a year. That means keto diets aren't any different from regular diets in the long term.
Read more: The Advantages & Disadvantages of Ketosis
That sounds discouraging, but it's simply something to be mindful of. Eventually your weight loss will slow down or even stop. That's when you have to go back to the things that work best: limiting your portions to cut calories and exercising more.
Eating Carbs During Ketosis
If you decide that you've had enough of the ketogenic diet, or even if you decide to load up on carbs one day, your body will slip out of ketosis and back to normal. In other words, you start using carbs again for energy instead of ketone bodies.
When this happens your appetite will most likely come back, which makes it easy to gain weight back. This makes the ketogenic diet less appealing, because it can be difficult to stick to.
When you're traveling or going out to eat you have to avoid carbohydrates and protein if you've eaten too much already that day. Often the most challenging thing about losing weight is keeping it off.
- T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies: What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
- Diabetes.co.uk: Ketogenic Diet
- Ace Fitness: Carbohydrates
- StatPearls: Ketogenic Diet
- Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism: Ketone Bodies as Signaling Metabolites
- Stanford Medicine: Low-Fat or Low-Carb? It’s a Draw, Study Finds
- The Journal of Physiology: A High Carbohydrate Diet Remains the Evidence Based Choice for Elite Athletes to Optimise Performance
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Effects of Ketogenic Dieting on Body Composition, Strength, Power, and Hormonal Profiles in Resistance Training Males
- NTNU Open: An Investigation of Potential Variables Affecting the Physiological Adaptations to Weight Loss: Weight Loss Rate, Nature of Energy Restriction, and Ketosis
- Frontiers in Neurology: Role of DNA Methylation and Adenosine in Ketogenic Diet for Pharmacoresistant Epilepsy: Focus on Epileptogenesis and Associated Comorbidities
- Harvard Medical School: On the Brain: Sugar and the Brain
- Perfect Keto: What Is Acetone
- Obesity Reviews: Do Ketogenic Diets Really Suppress Appetite? A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Resting Metabolic Rate of Obese Patients Under Very Low Calorie Ketogenic Diet
- State University of New York College at Cortland: The Effect of Skeletal Muscle Mass on Basal Metabolic Rate in College-Age Males
- USDA: National Agricultural Library: How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Fiber
- Frontiers in Psychiatry: The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia)
- Cell Metabolism: Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss Than Carbohydrate Restriction in People With Obesity