The past few years I really been having fun with diet self-experimentation. For roughly a decade since realizing my bouts of eczema and IBS were tied to food, I’ve been gluten-free and Paleo (ish). It works well for me. I feel well, perform as expected in work and fitness and generally consider it a lifestyle, not a diet I think much about.
But the last few years I’ve been interested in fine tuning the lifestyle. What happens if I start messing with macros? What benefit, if any is there to throwing the body some curve balls? And so with my wife’s next book underway, I set out to help her (taste test) and see what this Keto thing was all about.
I always set my ‘WHY’ in any challenge or change from routine. If I don’t have a clearly defined why, I won’t stick to anything. While The Keto Diet (short for Ketosis) has a lot of purported benefits including weight loss, brain health, therapeutic use in seizure disorders and cancers, I had a few specific reasons for ‘going keto’.
Forced Adaptation – I believe there is a lot of evidence in evolutionary biology to support the idea that humans are well designed to have a lot of variety in their lives. The body loves having to adapt to new stressors, whether diet or movement. It would be a very rare scenario in our hunter gather ancestors lives in which they ate the same way year in and year out. Rather, seasonal availability of local flora and fauna would likely shift from month to month. Keto is a way to force our bodies to shift energy use from the typical modern diet (carbohydrate metabolism) to utilizing the byproduct of fat metabolism – ketones. Shifting to a high fat (60%), moderate protein (30%) and low carbohydrate (>10%) diet will result in ketosis whereby our cells with utilize these ketones for energy. What happens when we force this shift? That’s what I wanted to feel for myself.
Cognitive Benefits – Almost every report on the Keto Diet refers to an improvement in mental clarity and other cognitive benefits. With my family history of degenerative brain disease, this topic interests me very much. More and more research is implicating blood sugar dysregulation to neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By shifting away from the ups and downs of blood sugar seen in typical a ‘normal’ carbohydrate centric diet, blood sugar can expect to be well regulated during Ketosis.
Because I want to – The most obvious of all reasons. I enjoy the experimentation. I’m also helping my wife as she creates a resource for others. It’s all research. And it’s fun!
The First Two Weeks
As with any diet that includes a dramatic reduction in carbohydrates, the inevitable ‘low carb flu‘ hit me predictably during days 1-3. Most notable was the low grade headache. Fortunately, by day 4 I awoke clear headed feeling supercharged. If you’ve never experienced the rush of being a fat burner, it’s worth the 3 days of pain. I also quickly learned the importance of staying hydrated on keto. Almost everyone who has written or talked about Keto will note the importance of staying hydrated and taking in plenty of electrolytes as well. I upped my water, salt and bone broth intake and made sure to use Equip Pure-Wod pre-workout to get some extra electrolytes from the coconut water powder.
Speaking of water…the most obvious change I noted in the first two weeks was a 7 lbs. weight loss and significant ‘leaning’ out look in my face and abdomen. Keep in mind, carbohydrates are hydrophilic (water loving) and when you cut down on them, weight loss from decreased water retention is likely. This also leads to a decrease in abdominal bloating for most people.
The only other notable change in the first two weeks was digestive. My typical morning bowel elimination routine was initially disrupted. It took about 2 weeks to get back to ‘regular’ which included a few instances of urgency. Keep in mind, upping the fat intake will affect everyone differently. On the plus side, I’ve noticed less episodes of gas.
I’m not one to track macros, but certainly with something like Keto, it’s wise to track and / or use test strips to confirm ketosis. As I’m a well seasoned diet ‘fidgeter’, I decided to track only a few sample days in Fitday at the beginning to make sure I was hitting my macros and then not stress about it going forward. (see picture). Nailed it!
Keto Part 2: Fitness
The second half of the experiment was fairly uneventful. It all became pretty routine and honestly wasn’t difficult at all. The biggest benefits I’ve seen have been less hunger / more satiety between meals, less need for snacking and less brain fog. Pretty awesome, eh?
However, I do want to talk a bit about working out on Keto.
Depending on your chosen fitness and movement routines, you may or may not need to adjust expectations. As an avid weight lifter, I felt totally great lifting heavy on keto. However, as an regular crossfitter, high intensity intervals need some consideration. Diane warned me before we started to temper my HIIT conditioning bouts to less than 6 minutes or so. You see, going ‘all out’ without any glycogen stores gets extra spicy in a hurry. I know there are fat adapted athletes that can perform HIIT at a high and even competitive level. So it’s certainly possible that with time you could become well adapted and even experienced enough to time a few extra grams of carbohydrates pre-workout to make this successful. But as a newbie, sure enough I simply could not push into anaerobic threshold for more than a few minutes without totally crashing and feeling wrecked.
However, if I maintained my heart rate and respiration just below threshold I felt like I could go all day. This is similar to what many ‘new school’ LCHF endurance athletes are discovering. The benefits of being fat adapted allow for a nice long slow burn of energy without having to constantly refuel with carbo-goo packs. You can maintain aerobic levels very nicely. But be warned dear HIIT junkie, you may have trouble keeping up with your typical performance in mid length max efforts especially early on in a Ketogenic trial.
In the meantime, I did add additional carbohydrates on my 2 harder HIIT days (sometimes called a “Carb Up“) as my last meal. This still never got more than 60 grams net for the day and seemed to subjectively help my recovery.
Treats and Cheats
I took 2 days out of 30 off from Keto. We had family in town visiting and during a nice dinner out I ate whatever I felt like including a cocktail. It was my first drink in about a month. The next morning I felt stiff, groggy and generally ‘off.’ However, by mid afternoon back on Keto, I was back to normal. I think it’s one of the things people in Keto land talk a lot about. You can get back into ketosis pretty quickly. So taking a day off even as much as once a week will not derail the total benefits. I found that to be true as well. As far as ‘cheating’, I don’t really do it, nor do I like the language and implication it suggests. I’m either on a plan or off. In my opinion, the more we remove moral judgement from food choices, the better we all are.
Doc’s Keto Essentials
Kasandrinos Olive Oil, avocados, Arugula, batch cooked clean protein (bone in, skin on chicken thighs are a favorite), Eggs, Full Fat Coconut Milk, Epic Chicken Sriracha Bars, 4505 Chicharrones or Epic Cracklins, Perfect Keto MCT Oil Powder, Equip Pure Wod, Eating Evolved Keto Cups.
Final Thoughts & Next Steps
Overall I’ve had a very positive experience on my month of Keto. I love feeling satiated throughout the day from meal meal and even beyond. I had a few long work days and golf outings where I would normally feel hangry that just simply didn’t happen this month. Similar to how I felt more blood sugar stable on Intermittent Fasting, Keto allowed me to stay focused and productive even during times of stress or longer bouts between meals. I rarely felt the ned to snack and I had one of my most mentally alert months I can recall. And certainly, leaning out and seeing abs is a nice bonus. I went from 195 bls. body weight to 188. But again, weight wasn’t really part of my goals. My one regret was not doing a pre/post body composition measurement, nor any blood work. It would have been interesting to have some numbers for comparison.
There were a few notable downsides. The aforementioned inability to train really hard in the anaerobic zone is one. I also found myself less interested in food and eating in general. The emotional component to food, social interactions and general quality of life is important to me. Something about focusing on macros makes me fairly apathetic, or joyless about eating. Whereas I normally do happy dances around the kitchen, I often found myself shrugging my shoulders about food choices. Keep in mind, you may have a totally different emotional relationship with food and thus a different response to a new way of eating. For me, I love the results, but don’t necessarily love having to track everything (who does?!). I think that’s pretty normal, but noteworthy.
Going forward I will be extending my Keto phase. The general plan is to shift to a regular 6 on, 1 off strategy for a month and see how regular ‘off’ days feel. Having the flexibility built in to celebrate with friends or have a date night out and not have to significantly plan or alter the menu choices will undoubtably improve my mood around Keto. I also have goals of increasing my total body mass in advance of a Powerlifitng Competition so I’m going to be diving into some Keto bodybuilding resources as my next self-experiment! This will require upping my overall caloric intake significantly and will definitely be a challenge considering how satiated I already feel.
Overall, I can’t ignore the upsides of Keto. There are too many and they are too interesting. Plus, I feel like I’m just getting started, so onward we go!
For behind the scenes, meal ideas, and many more thoughts, check out the video of Instagram highlights from my Keto Diary. And if you prefer audio versions of my recap, check out Episode 81 and Episode 83 of Full Body Fix Radio.
Yours in Health,
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Last modified: July 24, 2018