Keto Land Part 3: The Pros and Cons of a Ketogenic Diet
Welcome back, friend. Thanks for sticking with me through this series!
Tonight's focus is on the advantages and disadvantages of a ketogenic lifestyle. Here's a list I put together of pros and cons of choosing to go full on keto (remember, I always look at both sides... I wanna know what to expect so I can get a big picture image).
Let's start with the good stuff! I like the good stuff first.
1) Ketogenic diets have been shown to help with epilepsy. This is relevant for both children and adults who have suffered stroke and do not respond to conventional therapuetics used to prevent epilepsy. Neal, et al., "The ketogenic diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy: a randomised controlled trial." The Lancet, 2008.
2) Going Keto can teach you more about how much protein you need, as well as educate you on different sources of fats. Removing carbs from your diet means you'll be spending more time focused on a variety of protein and fat sources you otherwise wouldn't have paid attention to prior to your break-up with carbs. Prioritizing protein is also beneficial because it can help you to realize how much of it you really need per day in order to maintain your muscle mass. SCORE! Further, protein and fat are the most satiating macronutrients-you'll feel very full. DOUBLE SCORE!
3) You'll de-bloat pretty quickly. A lot of people I know who have gone Keto rave about a large weight loss in their first 3-4 days. Sure it's weight loss. It's just not fat loss. Carbohydrates cause your body to retain water. If you stop eating them, guess what happens? You start peeing like a racehorse. It's that simple. Always do the math. There are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. Unless you've cut out 14,000 calories from your diet in 3 days (pretty sure that's impossible, but that's the point), you didn't lose 4 pounds of fat. You lost 4 pounds of water. Typically a 3-10 pound loss of water weight (this is dependent upon your starting body mass of course) can be seen within the first week or so of beginning a very low carb diet like keto. However, keep in mind that after the first week, this will taper off and fat loss will continue on at a much slower rate with consistency. This is why I always distinguish the difference between weight loss and fat loss. When we say "weight loss", what we really mean is that we are interested in losing fat. We are not interested in losing bone, muscle, or water (all of these things make up your total weight).
4) Can improve HDL and LDL levels. Focusing on healthy sources of fats (unsaturated) as a result of going keto can help can naturally increase good cholesterol (HDL) and help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL).
Okay now for the other side of the coin.
1) A ketogenic diet is highly restrictive. Do you want to be that person who has to carry their special lunch to the lake for the 4th of July? Freak out over what you're going to eat at a restaurant with your family? There are less restrictive ways to lose fat if that's all you're interested in, which is OKAY! A lot of us would struggle with having to wipe out a macronutrient that is essentially everywhere (and really yum). When a diet regime comes in between you and your family and friends in social settings, things can get really difficult. At the end of the day, it can be really tough to abide by such strict guidelines.
2) Your HIIT workouts are gonna feel bleehhhhhh. In order to perform high intensity workouts at maximal performance, you need carbs in order to meet the high energy production demands of these workouts (carbs are 100% required for anaerobic activity-which is what HIIT is-we'll save this for a future post). Notice I didn't say that you can't participate in HIIT exercise while going keto, just be aware that you WILL perform these workouts better if you have carbohydrates in your system. Performing better = maximal performance= maximum results. That does not mean that you can't perform steady state cardio like running, swimming, biking. You just may feel tired at first when adjusting to the diet (see con #5)
3) Stay hydrated. Less carbs = less water retention in the body. Make sure you pay attention to your hydration levels, especially if you are training hard and keto-ing simultaneously.
4) Stanky breath. Many individuals (but not all-lucky you if you do Keto and don't stink) on very low carb diets suffer from pungent and unpleasant breath/sweat/urine. Ketone bodies produce a very characteristic sweet and fruity smell. In addition, protein breakdown produces ammonia. Jury's still out on whether it's the protein or the ketone bodies that's responsible for you smelling weird, but I think it's likely a combination of both since keto diets will naturally steer you to increasing both your protein and fat intake (by removal of carbs). Just get you some gum. I can't fix your smelly pee, though.
5) Adaptation period. Adjusting to the first few weeks of a ketogenic diet can be uncomfortable. A lot of participants complain of flu-like fatigue, referred to as "carb flu". This period of time would not be the time to start training for a marathon. Any diet puts stress on the body by virtue of removing calories. Your body senses this, and the result is a stress response, whether you feel it or not. Don't overwhelm your system further by putting more stress on it with heavy physical activity. The adaptation period shouldn't last more than a week or two, but total sidenote and my opinion is that if you feel like dump longer than a few weeks after starting keto, try to slowly add a few more carbs in to your diet (add a serving of grain a day, for example) until you start to feel better. Just because the guidelines state 5-10% carbs for a keto diet doesn't mean you can't increase yours to 15% to see what happens. Everyone is different, so it's important that we respect that. Listen to your body and pay attention to how you're feeling. If it doesn't feel right, you are not meant to suffer through additional days of fatigue
6) You may feel a little sad. Tryptophan is an amino acid from proteins that you eat that is required for the production of serotonin in the brain. Carbohydrates play an role in serotonin production by allowing more tryptophan to enter your brain. No carbs = less tryptophan in brain = less serotonin production in brain. Now, this DOES NOT MEAN that ketosis will make you depressed. Like I said before, everyone is different. Women tend to have lower serotonin levels than men and may be more susceptible to this effect of a ketogenic diet. Those who already suffer from depression and choose to go keto may also be more susceptible. The best bet is to let your body be your guide. If your symptoms are worse after going keto, consider adding a serving of carbs to your meal plan in the late afternoon when we all tend to get in a carb slump.
As with any diet, weigh out the pros and cons. Before you start, think really hard about what you are and aren't willing to do in order to lose weight. Use that list to guide you to find a diet that will work best for YOU. It's okay to try new things. If you're interested in keto, go for it! There's nothing wrong with trying it as long as it makes you feel BETTER and not worse. Every person is different. A keto diet may work for you, but that doesn't mean it will work for your bestie. We can all learn new things about food and ourselves by diversifying our nutritional intake.
Finally, don't get caught in the weeds. Losing weight and getting healthy is completely tangible without having to spend an arm and a leg trying to attain it. At the end of the day, what matters is that you feel better and see the benefits of getting healthier in your own life.
Oh also, you can totally lose fat (lose weight) and eat carbs simultaneously. We'll talk about what a balanced diet is in a future post.
This concludes our keto series!
As always, I want to hear from YOU. What questions do you have? How can Burke and I help you better understand all things exercise and nutrition? I'm your science Dee Jay, and the request line is OPEN.
Peace up, L-town.