What happened when we went Keto for six weeks?
So, if you are at all involved in the health and wellness scene, you have heard the keto buzz lately. It's been all the rage, especially for people looking for "quick" weight loss. I even overhead a family beside us at lunch today that didn't seem to have much knowledge about keto discuss going "key-toe." Despite the hype currently surrounding it, keto has been around since the hunter gatherer age. It's not new or really even very complicated. In fact, if you would have been walking around hundreds and hundreds of years ago, you would have likely been living in a ketogenic state.
As with any other style or method of eating, keto must be approached with the right mindset. At Fixed on Fitness, we don't believe in "quick fixes" or "fad diets." We don't promote specific, strict meal plans. For the last 10+ years, Josh and I have used ourselves as an experiment. We want to look at the latest research, try it on ourselves, and then share our experience. We have been living a Primal lifestyle, eating real, nutrient dense foods, and living without grains and processed foods for the last eight years. Six weeks ago, we decided to give the ketogenic style of eating a try. Check out our experience, what we learned, benefits we noticed, some tips we discovered along the way, and what are plans are going forward.
**Please note that all benefits, tips, and opinions listed below are strictly based on our own experience. Any thoughts listed are not meant to be used as professional advice or recommendations.**
What is keto?
A keto or ketogenic diet is your body's default mechanism. This mechanism involves burning fat for energy instead of sugar. It basically reboots your body to the way that it was meant to run for periods of time. When it comes to nutritional ketosis, it is not wise to go from a Standard American Diet (SAD) straight to a ketogenic diet. The shift straight from a SAD diet to a ketogenic diet can cause tremendous damage on a hormonal and metabolic level. It is wise to ease your way into a ketogenic lifestyle by eating a Paleo or Primal diet of real, whole, nutrient dense foods before going keto.
What exactly does "keto" mean? The ketogenic diet, keto eating, LCHF (low carb high fat) are simply methods of eating that move the body into a state of nutritional ketosis. To get into nutritional ketosis, the body must move from a state of using glucose (sugar) for fuel to using fat and ketones for fuel. This is accomplished by eating a low carb (typically under 50g of total carbs per day), moderate protein, and high fat diet.
It takes time for your metabolic machinery to learn how to go back to burning fat (its preferred method of fuel) instead of relying on the sugar (carbs) that it has been fed through the SAD for decades. When the body is in nutritional ketosis, it is burning fat for energy. A by product of burning fat is a ketone body, which is produced by the liver. The more fat you burn, the more ketones you produce. The body and brain can use ketone bodies as a cleaner source of fuel versus glucose...think about regular fuel vs. high performance fuel for your car.
For a more in depth explanation of keto, check out this article from Mark's Daily Apple.
Why did we decide to go keto?
First and foremost, in our home, we were already eating a pretty low carb diet. We have been following a Primal lifestyle for the past eight years. So, if we were already eating well, why would we decide to try keto? Personally, we decided to use keto as a tool to help increase our metabolic flexibility and see what the hype was all about. We also wanted to see how the ketogenic diet affected our performance in our workouts.
What do I mean by metabolic flexibility? We used keto to really ramp up our body's ability to burn our own fat for fuel. The longer you are in a state of nutritional ketosis, the more flexible your body becomes when you start to add carbohydrates back into your diet. Example...if you are keto for six weeks, and then you eat a meal with some carbs in it (we are talking sweet potatoes or maybe some wild rice), your body will fall back into a state of nutritional ketosis in a short period of time. This allows you to play with nutrient timing when it comes to refueling your body for workouts and performance.
I dabbled with keto when I was training for my last 50K. I had read a lot of research regarding the benefits of keto and endurance training, so I gave it a try. I noticed major improvements in my long runs, and I had the ability to run long periods without relying on my next glucose chew. This experience made me want to give keto another shot, this time with Josh by my side.
Bottom line...we wanted to run a keto experiment on ourselves. Until we had given it a try, we couldn't guide our clients on any personal experience, so we took on six weeks of the ketogenic diet.
What did we discover?
We have learned a lot over the last six weeks. Here is a list of some things we have noticed since we started this journey -
- We ate more veggies than normal. So much of what you read about the keto diet revolves around fat, fat, fat. However, the foundation of this lifestyle is vegetables. This style of eating isn't just about bacon and butter coffee (although I love both of these). It's really rooted in nutrient dense veggies at every single meal.
- We never had the feeling of being restricted. Surprisingly, we never felt restricted. We actually have felt more satisfied with each meal, even though we thought we would really be missing potatoes :). Let me just tell you...fat is so good, and it is so filling.
- We had A LOT more energy. We usually don't feel lethargic because we do eat a very clean diet. However, doing keto, we had more sustained energy than we have had in the past. It was like we were firing on all cylinders all of the time.
- Workout recovery was improved. While we both still experienced soreness, our muscle recovery was much faster than usual.
- Hydration and electrolytes are SO IMPORTANT. Since the body isn't retaining much water, you have to be really smart with your hydration. We live in Florida, we workout outside, and it's hot. Electrolytes were 100% necessary on a daily basis. Bone broth was also a great tool.
- Our cardio workouts were tough. With keto this time around, our training was not focused on cardio. It takes a lot of time to build good cardio base while eating a ketogenic diet, and your focus really has to be on slower runs in the fat burning zone. Our workouts were mostly all FOF Boot Camp or strength training workouts, so our 3-5 mile runs have been really, really hard.
- They aren't lying when they say keto improves brain function. During the last six weeks, we have been much less foggy. We have been more productive, and our thinking has been much clearer.
- Our body composition changed...a lot. We were both surprised with this one. We both eat very clean, and we workout for a living. Despite this, going keto definitely changed both of our bodies for the better. We had less bloating, and muscle definition seems to be improving. We don't own a scale, so I couldn't tell you how much weight we lost, but things definitely look and fit better.
- The quality of our workouts has improved. We have experienced an increase in strength throughout our workouts. Again, if we had runs or sprinting involved, we struggled a little, but overall strength definitely improved.
- Cauliflower is a wonder veggie. We've probably eaten more cauliflower in the last six weeks than we have in the last three years. It really has become an amazing substitute for potatoes and rice. Surprisingly, the riced cauliflower in the frozen section is my favorite!
- We haven't been ruled by hunger. It did take both of us a little longer than expected to experience the freedom from hunger. Based on our workouts, we both definitely felt hungry some days, but we had many days where we found we could easily skip a meal without feeling hungry at all.
- My skin is finally clear! I have battled adult acne on and off since I entered my 30s. For the last six weeks, my skin has been clearer than ever...woohoo!
Some tips and tricks we learned....
We are used to planning and prepping meals, so most of this shift was not a huge change for us. However, here are a few tips and tricks we picked up.
- Keto is different for men and women. While we had many of the same experiences, Josh and I had different experiences daily. Remember that every person is different, and when it comes to men and women, we don't respond the same.
- Educate yourself!!! Do not jump into this with just a goal to lose weight. You need to approach any lifestyle change with the proper motivation and mindset. You need to know what you are getting into. Learn, challenge, and then experiment. Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, LeAnne Vogel, and Shawn Mynar are great resources. You have to learn and approach this lifestyle the right way to be successful.
- Learn to get creative with veggies. The sides were probably the hardest for us. We love veggies, but we really love veggies like carrots, peppers, beets, sweet potatoes, etc. Since many of these are higher in carbs, we had to learn to get creative with greens, asparagus, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Fat bombs aren't necessary. You can definitely make these and enjoy them, but we didn't find that they were necessary. I did make a few fat bombs one week, and they were too much of a temptation for me...I'm pretty sure we shouldn't eat four in a day :/.
- The Rocket Fuel Latte from LeAnne Vogel's The Keto Diet book is a lifesaver. This is my breakfast most mornings, and it never gets old.
- Testing is helpful. When I dabbled with keto last year, I didn't test. I went strictly off of the results I was seeing and how I was feeling. While I do prefer to go off of how I feel, we did both test this time around. We used the blood test, and the results were helpful. It enabled us to see how many carbs we could actually eat, and it was interesting to see the effect of hormones on my ketone levels. We also noticed that as athletes, we tended to test at a much lower reading than those that don't workout.
- Have a support system. Anything is easier to accomplish with a support system. Talk to your family. Talk to a friend. If your family isn't on board, have a plan, and find a community that you can chat with and get support from.
The biggest question that we have been getting from our clients is, what now? What are our plans moving forward? Will we ever eat carbs again?
When we started this journey, our plan was to use keto as a tool. That plan hasn't changed. It has been a great tool. I can already see the metabolic flexibility improving. Heck, we had to eat a doughnut for a challenge at FOF Survivor which obviously shot us out of ketosis, but it wasn't a big deal. By the following day, we were back in nutritional ketosis with minimal stomach issues or negative side effects from the sugar rush.
We will likely continue the keto lifestyle and begin incorporating carb cycling. The research is pretty split on living keto long term and going in and out of nutritional ketosis. For us, we are going to move on the path of finding the balance that works best for us. That might mean that Josh adds sweet potatoes or wild rice once or twice a week. I might add some blueberries at night for dessert. If these things have a negative impact, we will evaluate and try something else.
Moving forward, I do see us using a keto reset a few times a year if necessary. We will see. If we continue to just go off of how we feel, how we look, and how we perform, we might not have a need to reset. It's all an experiment for us. In the mean time, we will keep researching, learning, and trying as much as possible.
We had a great experience with keto. We saw results, and we learned a lot. If you are interested in exploring the ketogenic diet, learn as much as you can. Don't go from the SAD diet to a keto diet overnight. The body must adjust. Carb flu is real. It affects everyone differently, but it does happen.
If you decide to give this lifestyle a go, as with anything else, give it a real shot. Don't start making excuses before you even start. Set yourself up for success. Remember that there is no "right" way. The right way is what works for you long term. Just because Josh and I had a great experience with keto doesn't mean that you will. Find what works for you and go with it. Life's a journey...enjoy the ride! Eat foods that heal and improve your health. It's that simple.