The ketogenic diet has been getting a lot of buzz lately. While I’ve known about the ketogenic diet for a while I have never partaken until last summer. Like most individual’s I decided to experiment with a different diet to help reduce my body fat. After seeing myself in a bathing suit I decided to give the ketogenic diet a try. Keep in mind; I’m in fairly good shape. I’m a personal trainer after all! But, I had a few “lbs” I wanted off my frame. So, for the better part of a year I stuck with the ketogenic diet. This meant my diet would be 75% FAT, 20% PROTEIN, and 5% CARBOHYDRATE. Before we get to the results let’s first go over the theory and science of a ketogenic diet.
The “birth” of the ketogenic diet came almost a century ago when an endocrinologist discovered the human body undergoes a similar process to prevent epilepsy’s when one is starving or eliminates carbohydrates from their diet and drastically increasing fat consumption. So, instead of starving patients suffering from seizures the doctors would prescribe a diet very low in carbs (less than 5% of daily calories consumed) and very high in fat (as high as 90% of daily calories consumed). As the decades went by doctors began noticing this diet had a positive impact on helping those with other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s), brain injuries, and concussions (from war or sports). Years later, the ketogenic diet was adopted by bodybuilders as a way to enjoy delicious foods while prepping for competition. Why did bodybuilders adopt it? Diets low in carbohydrates means depletion of stored glycogen (energy) and with less glycogen means less water retention and more fat oxidation. In short, one could quickly decrease body fat and dehydrate the body to help show muscle vascularity. In part, what bodybuilders were doing in the 80s and 90s helped lead to the rise of low-carb diets (i.e. Atkin’s Diet) in the late 90s and early 2000s. Today, the ketogenic diet dominates the landscape as the latest low-carb “fat loss/lifestyle” trend. But, should YOU do it?
The benefits proposed by the pro-Keto crowd stems from improved health, decreased body fat, better energy levels, improved brain health, and so on. Is there any science to back up these claims? Let’s take look at each one.
Keto-proponents state following a ketogenic diet can help with treatment/prevention of Type 2 diabetes. This is partially true. Recent research has shown that following a ketogenic diet for short period of time does help improve the health of those suffering from Type 2 diabets. However, not enough research has been conducting to officially state these benefits are due to a ketogenic diet or some other factor involved in the diet. In addition, using a ketogenic diet as a method to improve one’s diabetic health should done under close medical supervision. It is not meant to be used long-term.
When it relates to seizers and epilepsy, absolutely. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and so on, most likely. Most of the research has been done on rats but results are promising. Some studies are showing the benefits to a ketogenic diet for preventive measures along with treatment. Again, this is to be done under close medical supervision.
Enough studies have been conducted to show caloric restriction does increase longevity. However, we don’t know if following a ketogenic diet is the secret. Most studies conducted that involved caloric restriction were on various types of diets. The only conclusion was a reduction of calories increases lifespan, not necessarily a ketogenic diet. You’re more than welcome to find out but it most likely won’t be a controlled study so it’ll only be for you benefit.
Increased Muscle Mass & Sports Performance
As mentioned before, the human body loves carbs for energy. This is absolutely true for strength training and athletic purposes. Only one study has shown a partial benefit to following a ketogenic diet for improved performance on long distance cyclists. However, during the study the group following the ketogenic diet consumed a carb rich drink half during the tests. When compared to the group that was carb dependent and consuming the same beverage during their training the ketogenic group showed a 2% increase after 90 min. While a 2% increase is a big deal in sports performance, it took a long time for the effects to kick in. In addition, prior to 90 minutes the carb dependent group was able to push harder and faster. Basically, the carb dependent group was winning and the ketogenic group only caught up once carbohydrates was added back into their diet. Also, carbohydrates enhance protein synthesis (the absorption of protein into the body). Without carbs the body has trouble using the protein to enhance muscle strength and size. This happens when we raise our insulin and insulin is anaebolic (muscle building). A ketogenic diet puts one in a state where the body becomes very catabolic (muscle destroying). Want improved muscle tone and performance? You need to eat carbohydrates.
In short term, let’s say a few weeks, ketogenic diet is superior to weight loss, not fat loss. In the long term, ketogenic diet has zero advantage over other diets. The reason for the initial weight loss was the same reason as the bodybuilders earlier in the article. It depletes glycogen storage and that means less water in the body’s cells. Less water equals less weight. Another misleading reason people think a ketogenic diet works is because they are actually consuming more protein than they realize. Protein helps satiate you making you less hungry. You eat less you lose weight 99.9% of the time.
Without further adieu, here’s what I noticed over 11 months on a ketogenic diet:
- Improved mood
- Better focus
- More energy (not necessarily in workouts)
- A loss of 8.5% body fat
- No muscle loss
You might be thinking, “Wow! This diet sounds amazing! I should start it right away!” Not so fast. Initially, that’s what I thought as well until the last 7 weeks. About 2 months ago I decided I wanted to do something I’ve never done before: I wanted to compete in a men’s physique competition. While I know a great deal about training and nutrition I decided to go with an expert from a very reputable organization for designing training and nutrition programming for competitions, both sport and physique. What have I seen so far? In the last 5 weeks I’ve lost 2.5% body fat and 1lb muscle gain! (as compared to 8.5% fat loss and 0 muscle gain over 11 months). Here’s the kicker, nearly 50% of my calories came from carbs! My mood is great; energy is at an all-time high, and I feel stronger in my workouts. So, why did the higher carbohydrate diet work faster? It’s simple really. Carbs equal energy.
In summary, you can give a ketogenic diet a try for some possible health benefits. Just know you can have a healthy and fit body while following a reasonable diet with carbohydrates. Plus, food will be way more enjoyable.
STAY FIT MY FRIENDS!