In the last few weeks, most comments and queries on this series have been around the Keto diet. This week I will try to address this topical theme, attempting an explainer and discussing its pros and cons. What constitutes an effective Keto diet.
The Keto diet is among the most effective diets for fat loss. This diet program was conceived over one hundred years ago as a solution for children with refractory epilepsy. Its remarkable efficacy underlines the regime’s utility in this specific condition in addition to its potential neurological effects. It was revived in the 20th century by bodybuilders with the aim to achieve rapid fat loss.
There are four types of Keto diet depending on your goal: Standard, Targeted (taking a carb rich meal/supplement pre-exercise), Cyclical (cycles of high and low carb meals) and Protein-rich.
Bodybuilders generally follow a cyclical pattern of weight gain (wherein they eat a lot and exercise heavy for several weeks to months, gaining muscle and some fat), followed by fat loss. Repeated cycles lead to large amounts of muscle gain with relatively little fat. The Keto diet is applied during the fat loss cycle, and especially in the final couple of weeks before competing to get into under 4-5% body fat range.
The more commonly used protocol is the Standard Keto diet, as discussed below:
The Keto diet or a ketogenic diet, is a high fat, low carb and adequate protein diet. Carbs are kept at under 30 grams (range 20-50 gram) per day, constituting up to 5-10% of the total calories consumed. Fats constitute 70-80% of all calories, and proteins about 15-25%. This leads to a situation where there is a state of ketosis in the body, i.e. excess of ketone bodies – chemicals that the body releases in times of fasting and starvation due to a shift in the metabolism from glucose burning to fat burning – are formed in the liver, which circulate in the blood and provide energy.
The daily intake in a keto diet includes eggs, meat, fish, chicken, oil and butter, nuts and seeds, salads, green leafy vegetables and a small amount of fruit, dairy and beans. Options are available for vegans and vegetarians as well, though the choices are more limited. All refined carbs, sugars, sodas, breads, rice, starchy vegetables like potatoes, desserts, bakery items, ketchups etc. are to be strictly avoided. Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of this fat loss strategy over simple calorie cutting diets. However, questions have been raised about its possible adverse effects if used in the long term – a reason why everyone is not endorsing it.
While most body organs get along just fine with ketones as fuel (after an initial difficult phase), there is constant speculation about the optimal functioning of the brain, which predominantly requires glucose. Initiating the diet is often associated with symptoms of carb withdrawal labelled as the “Keto flu,” characterized by fatigue, mental fogginess, nausea, body aches and at times, cramps. There is data to show that over a period of a few days (usually a week, less commonly 2-3 weeks) the brain can manage a large part of its functions on ketone bodies, while the essential amount of glucose required can be manufactured in the body by a process called gluconeogenesis. But there are reports of mood swings on keto diet.
A potential problem is a fall in muscle strength and decreased energy. Bodybuilders are known to shift to much lighter loads during ketosis, while increasing repetitions. This could be a major issue for athletes, as well as normal working people. Athletes can choose to take a pre-exercise drink containing 25-30 grams carbs for increasing their exercise tolerance (called the Targeted Keto diet).
Constipation is common due to increased fluid losses associated with a low carb intake, which can be overcome by increased intake of water, salads, leafy veggies and 1-2 grams of salt per day. Taking vegetable or bone broth daily is also useful.
Another problem is the rebound fat and water retention when carbs are reintroduced into the diet. The above issues, and the fact that food choices are relatively limited (especially for vegetarians), makes this a tough diet to continue indefinitely for an average working adult. Indians find it especially hard, being brought up to consider a meal incomplete without chapatti or rice. Therefore, this has largely been used as a short-term diet for fat loss, especially if there is need for rapid weight reduction, or before bodybuilding competitions.
The diet we discussed in the previous article is a low carb diet, though not as restrictive as the keto diet. Apart from greater food choices, it allows a cheat meal/day, depending on one’s goals, which makes the remaining 6 days more bearable. It is tough to resist tasty foods completely; the knowledge that all goodies can be enjoyed once a week makes the program doable, and when one starts getting the benefits, enjoyable! Moreover, you can expect to sustain a regular lifestyle without suffering from mood swings, lethargy, and a general lack of energy.
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