Updated: Mar 12, 2019
I first investigated the ketogenic diet after reading of the benefits for people with degenerative brain conditions and controlling epileptic seizures in Children. When I learned how the body could learn to live, and indeed thrive on a very low carbohydrate diet I had to give it a try myself..
There is a common misconception that the Ketogenic diet is high protein, high fat. Incorrect, Keto is high fat, moderate protein, low carb.
It's all about managing your macro nutrients, ie. Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate. In the Western world we have been told that we should aim for 60-65% carbohydrate intake for health and maintaining energy levels. It is now known that we are able to thrive, and indeed are much healthier on a much lower percentage than that.
High Fat – 60%-80% of total calories come from fat.
Moderate Protein – 15%-35% of total calories come from protein.
Low Carbohydrate – 5% or less of total calories come from carbohydrates.
So I gave it a go for whole year.. what happened?
Initially the transition was hell, I won't lie! But then I always jump into things feet first to same time.. a little impatient perhaps?! I had no idea how reducing carb intake to around 5% (25g) a day was going to affect me, and Holy Moly did it affect me! Taking aside the initial carb cravings which I was prepared for (and had plenty of coconut chocolate 'Fat Bombs' in the fridge ready to go), it was the Keto Flu I hadn't bargained for. I literally thought I had flu; I ached all over, my head hurt, I couldn't think straight and all I wanted to do was sleep. After 2 days of this I was very close to giving up, but never a quitter I read all the blogs and info I could find and assured that it wouldn't last much longer I pressed on drinking lots of water, taking electrolytes and much more salt than I had been used to. This is necessary because the kidneys no longer need it (salt) to help regulate blood sugar levels, they excrete more than usual which leaves you with low blood pressure, fatigue and dizziness.
Once I'd got the hang of balancing body chemistry, drinking more water than ever before and eating more salty foods, I began to feel human again.
Next came the low performance phase...
Obviously being an active cyclist, my demands for energy are huge and after the flu had gone, even though I felt ok, when it came to anything other than light activities, there was nothing in my legs at all. Being competitive and loving hill climbs this posed a big problem for me, but I pressed on, encouraged by the already staggering fat loss results (7 lbs in the first 2 weeks, despite consuming around 2,500 calories a day), and I was really enjoying the diet once the cravings for carbs had gone.
A typical day would be eggs and bacon on avocado with spinach for breakfast, nuts and seeds for snacks, tuna mayo salad and walnuts for lunch, 75%+ dark chocolate and 'fat bombs' as treats and a creamy coconut curry with coriander cauliflower rice for dinner. Other favourite dinners included duck breast on a bed of buttered mashed broccoli and cauliflower with leeks, and Pesto Salmon or Chicken with Courgette Basil noodles.
After about 6 weeks I started to notice energy levels improve, and provided i didn't push myself too hard, in other words become more dependant on anaerobic energy metabolism, I found I could exercise for much longer without refuelling.
I remember the first time I was really aware of this: I cycled around 75 miles (this meant being out on my bike for about 5 and a half hours) on a cup of black coffee and a few almonds.. and that was only because I was simply hungry! My bike buddy during this time had consumed cake, sandwich, 2 energy bars and a gel and couldn't believe I hadn't 'bonked'!
After about 8 months I started to incorporate a few more carbs as Spring had arrived and I really needed to get more climbing into the legs; I still found I couldn't do this at my previous level of fitness without extra carbs. I read up on the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), and started to feed on the bike when extra efforts were called for. This worked great, in-fact sugar acted as rocket fuel as I'd not had it for so long. However, not being totally savvy with the use of specialised sugars and exogenous Ketones (and to be frank not being able to afford some of the very expensive supplements), I found that incorporating carbs back into my diet triggered cravings again.
Had I been able to, I would have dealt with this and continued with Keto, but as I was leaving for the Pyrenees in June I had to focus on packing up my home and moving to France for the summer. Life got in the way as they say, but I still kept my carbs as low as I could, and found for some time that I could ride my bike for a few hours without feeding (fasted rides), and consume far less sugar than my peers.
Three years on I still use a low carb diet to control my weight when needs be, but haven't yet returned to managing ketone and glucose levels which is crucial to become and remain in a state of ketosis. However, keeping up with the amazing scientific research out there, and with the benefit of experience, I am considering embarking on another Keto experience after the summer.
I would recommend anyone looking for a healthy way to lose weight to try a low carb diet.. perhaps not as low as 5%, but just lowering carb intake to 100g daily can have amazing metabolic benefits.
NB. There are some people with certain medical conditions that should not embark on a low carb diet.
If you need some help with this, please do get in touch with me.