The Hard Truth About Ketogenic Diets

Ketogenic diets are all the rage nowadays and for good reason, well, at least some good reasons.  The following examples are some of the problems and benefits for people following the ketogenic diet.

Now to make things perfectly clear there's nothing wrong about the ketogenic diet, except in it's interpretation.  Following a version of any low carb diet (which is exactly what any ketogenic diet is) can make great improvements to both blood glucose, insulin sensitivity, resetting your bodies natural hunger response hormones and in turn allow one to burn a good amount of body fat.  No issues there.

However, it's not for everyone.  Not everyone needs to jump on this bandwagon blindly without any sort of actual background information or just some common sense.  This isn't the first time we've seen a diet like this thrown at us folks.

The premise of the ketogenic diet is to basically deprive the body of all carbohydrate intake in order to get into ketosis a state that the body will eventually get into when being deprived of carbohydrate for a lengthy period of time.  It's a basic survival mechanism and will happen every time we go to sleep and fast for a night without intaking any sort of food.

Our bodies are marvelously designed machines that are designed to run very efficiently on both carbohydrate based diets and fat based diets or a mixture of the two.  What really matters is your bodies predisposition for processing and utilizing carbs or fat.  Certain people run better on a fuel mixture composed of carbs, certain people run better on a fuel mixture composed of fats.  A lot of that definitely depends on your fitness level, training status and what you're doing all day.  If you're sitting on your duff all day at an office job, well yeah, you probably don't need a lot of carbohydrate all day.  But if you're a construction worker on your feet and moving around constantly all day you might need some extra carbohydrates to fuel your day.

The Argument

It's been a long standing argument over which is better for fat loss, low carb, high fat or low fat, high carb.  In reality it really doesn't matter in the long run as long as you're burning more fuel than you take in.

Yes, it's really a matter of how many calories are you using versus burning.  Now this doesn't consider how your body processes those calories and what type of calories are coming in, but for simplicity sake if you can stick with eating under your daily metabolic expenditure you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.

What kind of weight you lose is predominately dependent on what you're doing with your body.  Are you exercising?  Lifting weights?  Doing lots of cardio?  Or are you content with sitting on the couch and moving as little as possible.  Doesn't matter, all scenarios will have you losing weight, although the exercise group will be losing more body fat and building muscle tissue, while the arm chair warriors will be losing a lot of muscle mass and not really teaching their bodies how to burn fat effectively.

Atkins = Keto...Pretty Much IMO

Now the ketogenic diet is simply another brand of the Atkins diet that came out in the 1960's.  Obviously there are some slight differences between the two, but they're both versions of low carb diets.  Just as you have several variations of the ketogenic diet.  One where you can only eat certain types of vegetables, some where you can't eat any vegetables and some where you're even allowed some carbohydrate like fruits and berries in moderation as long as they're not loaded with natural sugar.  Blah, blah, blah...

There both one in the same with minor tweaks and quirks to accommodate differences of opinion.

The end state is that once you can teach your body how to burn fat more effectively by providing only fat for it to burn, life is easier.  You can burn more amounts of body fat, your insulin levels and sensitivity improves so you eat less, you feel full and you're not hungry since you're eating under your caloric deficit (in theory, some people can still manage to screw this up by overeating too much fat).

That's really the big key there--you're not hungry.  If you're not hungry generally you're not going to overeat.  That's a beautiful scenario.

Performance Measures on Keto

For people that are already athletic and active, the ketogenic diet can be a detriment for performance.  you simply can't supply the body with an explosive fuel like carbohydrate when you're not consuming any in your diet.  Yes, you can make carbohydrate through regular metabolism, however it is so slow and sluggish that there is no way a hard training person (ie. think explosive sports like crossfit, football, olympic lifting, bodybuilding) can keep up with the demand.

If fat loss is the only goal, yes, this strategy may work.  But if you're looking to actually perform at a high level, carbohydrates are a must to both enhance performance, but also recover adequately from hard workouts.

The real benefit of a ketogenic diet is just referencing it as a tool that can help you lose weight rather rapidly and then be able to transition to something more feasible once weight loss has been achieve.  Everyone's nutrition needs will change in regards to their body composition and physical performance needs.  But looking at this diet as the holy grail of nutrition is silly.

It's all about the principles and calling it what it is, a low carb diet.  It works.  Just like every other dietary format works as long as it's adhered to.  But if you're looking for something sustainable for life one really has to look at how long they can sustain a current nutrition protocol and perhaps just simply incorporate good habits, like eating several large servings of leafy green, fibrous vegetables a day.  Eat enough solid protein sources.  Incorporate some healthy fat with a good dose of fatty fish or Omega 3 fatty acids. And adjust your intake of fat or carbohydrate intake to lose fat or gain muscle.

The principles are what need to be adhered to in your dietary regimens.  Don't fall prey to yet another diet mishap without figuring out a plan for it to be sustainable over the long haul.

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Jess Howland

Jesse "Captain Smash" Howland is the owner of SMASH’s Strength Lab, which offers targeted personal training to reach a variety of fitness and physique goals. A natural bodybuilder, competitive powerlifter, certified personal trainer, and nutrition coach, Jesse is often the go-to resource for personal training Ottawa. He studied Exercise Science at Oregon State University and even trained at the world famous Gold's Gym. He's a former US Army Captain with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a former blog writer at Veterans Fitness Career College, and former Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM). His workouts and personal training are army-inspired to help reach your weightloss, athletic, or physique goals.