There are so many misconceptions about ketosis and the keto diet—it’s not just about eating bacon and sugar-free peanut butter. Here at bariatricstation, we’ll be helping you navigate these myths.
While the concept may seem rather simple—eat lots of fats and few carbs—it can admittedly be overwhelming and somewhat confusing, even for the most experienced keto followers.
There are a few reasons for this:
- As the keto diet becomes increasingly popular, loads of new studies are being conducted. Further information is continuously being discovered, getting us closer to understanding the true power of ketosis. For example, many of us used to think it was inefficient and especially stressful on the body to continually fall in and out of ketosis, but now it seems that working in stages, or following a more “cyclical” keto diet, maybe far more beneficial. I’ll discuss more what this means below.
- Because we all live in very different bodies, it’s important to not only follow the simple rules of keto but to know how to tweak these rules to support your own needs.
Whether you’re choosing to follow the keto diet to lose weight, improve your physical performance, boost your energy, clear your mind, or feel better, it’s important to understand the intricacies of ketosis.
Keep reading to learn more about how you can make ketosis work best for you.
The 3 Stages Of Ketosis
For the most optimal effect, you’re going to want to follow three distinct stages of ketosis. These include: 1) getting into ketosis, 2) keto-adaptation, and 3) metabolic flexibility.
Following these three stages of ketosis will allow you to take advantage of all of the incredible physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come with a keto diet.
Stage 1: Getting Into Ketosis
Transforming into a fat-burning machine is, of course, your primary goal when committing to a keto diet.
To do that, you must first get into ketosis. In the simplest of terms, ketosis involves ketones.
These are by-products made in the liver when the body breaks down fat, including both the fat you eat and, when at a caloric deficit, the fat already stored in your body.
This differs from our typical fuel source, sugar (or glucose), which comes from carbohydrates.
To get your liver to start producing ketones, you need to deplete its glycogen stores.
Getting this process going is often the hardest and most uncomfortable part because you’ve probably been depending on carbohydrates as fuel for most of your life.
You may even experience what many have deemed the “keto flu.”
But once you break past this challenging period (which should only last a few days), you’ll be glad you stuck with it. You’ll start dropping excess pounds, thinking more clearly, and your energy will likely be through the roof.
How to Get into Ketosis
Here’s where your keto lifestyle begins. Your primary objective is to significantly cut your carbohydrate intake to about 20-50 grams of net carbs (fiber is not included) per day.
As you lower your carb count, you’ll need to up your fat consumption.
Your diet will now consist of 60-80% fats, 15-30% proteins, and 5-10% carbohydrates. All of those fats should come from high-quality oils, grass-fed butter, dairy and fatty fish and meat cuts.
They can be incredibly satiating, which is what makes the keto diet vastly different from the traditional steamed chicken and veggie diet of yore.
That said, it’s important not to eat too few calories, which is a common keto mistake when cutting out so many carbohydrates.
Eating too little will cause you to feel exhausted and may also lead to muscle loss.
If you start feeling symptoms of the keto flu like fatigue, headache, brain fog, irritability, and sugar cravings—you can relieve them by upping your fat and calorie count, increasing your water intake, and getting in plenty of electrolytes via sea salts, broths, leafy greens, and salty snacks.
Should You Fast to Get Into Ketosis?
The other well-documented way to kick-start ketosis is by fasting. If you do a three-day fast, you can get into ketosis quickly.
But committing to a full 72 hours of fasting can be extremely challenging for most of us, so many people prefer intermittent daily fasting.
This typically allows for a set period of 8-10 hours of eating, and 14-16 hours of fasting.
Fasting will expend your glycogen stores and force your body to dip into its fat reserves to start using it for fuel.
This process can happen even quicker if you eat very low carbs for a few days before your fast.
That said, if you’re first starting out on the keto diet, you’ll want to ease into fasting. Don’t go longer than 16 hours without any food. Your body is just not used to this type of restriction yet.
Any longer will put an extra amount of stress on your body and make it harder to switch into ketosis.
Stage 2: Keto-Adaption
After the first few weeks of getting your body into ketosis, you’re going to want to teach it how to adapt.
See, just being in ketosis doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in full fat- and ketone-burning mode yet.
Your body needs to build up to this, which means there’s a bit more involved than just eating your fair share of fats.
You’re going to need to get moving.
Exercising to Become Keto-Adapted
Now it’s time to realize your peak levels of energy, performance, and mental clarity.
By two weeks into the keto diet, you’ll likely be feeling its positive effects already; your cravings will be gone, your skin will glow, and your mood will boost.
This is your body transforming into its new role as a fat-burner.
To assist in the keto-adaptation process, you’ll want to start incorporating some physical activity.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to go sweat your butt off at the gym for hours at a time. Your body will better respond to lower-intensity movement.
Try a low-impact aerobic or yoga class, or HIIT (high interval intensity training), which only requires about 20 minutes of high-powered movement daily.
This seems to counter what many of us think about exercising. The more pain, the more gain, right? This is one of the biggest mistakes when keto dieters get into the gym.
Going too hard for too long will put too much stress on your body. It will also push it to go into gluconeogenesis. This is when your liver starts to break down amino acids (the components for protein) and turn them into glucose for energy (1).
This will not only stop you from using fat for fuel and lower the number of ketones in your bloodstream but also chip away at your muscle mass.
Long, intense cardio is also just hard on your joints, and there’s no beneficial reason for it.
Being Strategic with Your Carbohydrates
Keto-adaptation doesn’t happen overnight. It may take several months for your body to adjust fully.
However, the good news is that once you’re keto-adapted, your body wants to stay that way—it much prefers balance and routine (or homeostasis) over massive changes.
Because of this, if you drop out of ketosis at any point, it doesn’t mean your metabolism is going to go back to what it was as a carb-burner swiftly.
You’re not going to lose everything you worked hard for; you just need to be strategic about it.
It’s more beneficial to shift in and out of ketosis occasionally. These slight fluctuations allow your metabolism to become stronger and more flexible.
It’s just like any strength or resistance training that goes through adaptation and recovery stages to avoid exhaustion.
This means you can start adding back in more carbohydrates. There are a few ways to do this:
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet or Carb Cycling: This technique will have you adding in high-quality carbs like sweet potatoes or whole grains once a week. This seems to be highly beneficial for your metabolism and can even help push you out of a weight loss plateau (2). See, following a rigorous keto diet can be stressful for your body. Adding in some healthy carbs once a week can refill glycogen stores in your muscles and help reinvigorate you.
To carb cycle, you’ll want to dedicate one day a week for a carb refeed.
On this day, you’ll eat roughly 60-70% carbohydrates, 15-25% protein, and 15% fats. The rest of the week, you’ll be back to eating your low-carb diet.
Note: The quality of your carbohydrates is crucial.
Carb cycling is not an excuse to scarf down a full pizza and top it off with an ice cream sundae.
Instead, you’ll want to enjoy low-sugar whole foods like sweet potatoes, whole grains, lentils and legumes, starchy vegetables, and berries.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet: This technique is best for workout warriors who regularly exercise at high intensities or for long periods of time. Simply put, your carbohydrate intake will revolve around your workout schedule. So, any day you exercise, you’ll consume more carbohydrates. You’ll also want to lower your fat intake on these days, so you’re not loading up on too many extra calories.
You can try this by eating 25-50 grams of carbohydrates 30 minutes before exercise. The types of carbs you’ll consume are different from those on the cyclical ketogenic diet.
Here, you’re looking for simple carbs that are easy to digest, things like glucose gel packets, sports energy drinks, or maple syrup.
This is because your muscles require glucose when training at high intensity for an extended time (think: marathon runners).
Feeding them glucose before you get started should help boost your performance.
Whether you prefer the cyclical or targeted keto diet, being strategic with your carbohydrate intake has some significant benefits.
It can help:
- Boost your energy levels after moments of stress or overexertion
- Rebalance any hormonal fluctuations, especially for those with an underactive thyroid
- Increase the levels of good bacteria in your gut
- Promote better sleep
- Offer more variety in your diet
Stage 3: Metabolic Flexibility
Phase three is when you become a master over your metabolism.
Metabolic flexibility allows you to take advantage of different fuel sources while continuing to reap all of the benefits you’ve gained through ketosis and keto-adaptation.
This is your body able to use both glucose and fat for fuel in the most optimal manner.
This means you’ll still be following the keto diet; you just won’t have to be so rigidly strict with it.
At this stage, you’re going to want to stay in ketosis the majority of the time, and you’ll continue to do this with a fast-forward keto diet, exercise, carb cycling, and keto supplements like MCT oil and exogenous ketones.
That said, once you’ve reached metabolic flexibility, your body won’t respond if you happen to eat a few more grains than intended or accidentally consume sugar.
Instead, it will be able to use those carbohydrates effectively while maintaining keto-adaptation. Here’s how.
Eating for Antifragility
Only in the face of stress or failure can our bodies learn to adapt and evolve.
This is the concept of “antifragility,” a term coined by professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and it perfectly describes the idea of metabolic flexibility.
Many of us have dealt with a pretty fragile metabolism for most of our lives, and it’s only led to fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, and frustration.
But once we’ve managed to attain keto-adaptation, our metabolism shifts to being “antifragile.”
In other words, it can handle whatever is thrown at it and will take full advantage of it all.
At this point, your body will be able to pick and choose whatever fuel source is most beneficial for it at any given time, whether that be fats, ketones, or glucose. It can even thrive under no calories at all because it will be able to go straight to your body fat for fuel.
To even get to this point, you need to fully commit to following a keto diet, so that your body starts burning fat and ketones.
If you’re only sticking to a high-carb diet, you’ll never be able to access this other very valuable fuel.
Making Your Keto Diet Work For Your Metabolism
Once you’ve achieved metabolic flexibility, you’ll need to continue to tweak and fine-tune your keto diet to extend its health benefits for the long-term.
You’re already feeling fit, vibrant, and clear-headed, now it’s time to focus on your gut health.
For optimal well-being and vitality, diverse gut microbiome is crucial, and this comes with a well-rounded diet.
This also comes with some relief, as now you can start getting a little more creative with what you eat while still mostly following a keto diet plan.
Here are some surefire ways to support a healthier gut to improve your metabolic flexibility:
- Get Your Fiber: Aim for about 30 grams of fiber per day. The easiest way to do this is with a colorful array of vegetables and especially dark leafy greens. Keep it keto-friendly by adding a healthy dose of olive oil to your salads or grass-fed butter or coconut oil to your roasted veggies.
- Enjoy Fermented Foods: Add a whole lot of good bacteria to your gut with fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir. I recommend adding sauerkraut or kimchi to your morning eggs or alongside a side of meat and enjoying a cup of full-fat plain yogurt or kefir for a snack.
- Supplement With Probiotics: Build up an even more diverse microbiome with a daily probiotic supplement.
- Add in Some Resistant Starch: On any day you’re consuming more carbs, consider adding foods that are high in resistant starch, including cooked and cooled rice or potatoes, oats, green bananas, and legumes. This is starch that helps feed the good bacteria in your gut.
- Diversify Your Diet: Following an extremely restricted diet of any kind for an extended period may lead you to develop intolerances or allergies you never experienced before. If you’ve chosen to avoid common allergens like soy, gluten, or dairy (and not because of any existing allergy), you’ll want to keep eating these foods on occasion so your body can continue to respond to them positively.
Don’t Give Up!
Making it through each one of these stages—from the initial weeks of getting into ketosis to the following months of becoming keto-adapted to the long-term goal of attaining metabolic flexibility—may seem a bit grueling.
And while it requires a lot of hard work, it’ll all come pretty naturally soon enough as your body starts to adjust, adapt, and excel.
After all, once you get a taste of the power of keto, it’ll be hard to look back.