When most people hear “no carbs” they automatically assume misery and think of horror stories they have heard.
Utilizing the ketogenic diet plan doesn’t have to be miserable, and yes you can still consume carbohydrates!
I have had great success using a form of ketogenic dieting. When introduced to the diet I was very skeptical. How could someone not be skeptical when carbohydrates are taken out of a nutritional plan for days? This plan isn’t for everyone. I will explain to you how I go about the plan and give you the pros and cons.
No carbs (high fat and protein)
The first 2-4 days of the plan call for no carbohydrates (except for 20-60 grams simple carbohydrate post workout). Calories still need to be counted while using this plan.
5-6 meals of high protein/fat (80/20 ground beef is my choice for meals) per day. Many vegetables (spinach, broccoli, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, anything lower glycemic) can and should be eaten with the protein/fat meal. It is very important to consume the vegetables with these meals!
20-30 minutes post workout 20-60 grams of carbohydrate should be consumed to prevent muscle cataolism. Keep this carb simple, and this is the only caloric source of carbohydrates during this time. The macros should be 50-70% of calories from fat, 25-45% from protein, and 5-10% from carbohydrates.
After 2-4 days of the high protein/fat a one day carb load is needed. On this day only carbohydrates are consumed. Very little protein and fat if any. 5-7 meals of more complex carbohydrates will be consumed.
Good examples: rice, sweet potatoes, cheerios, oatmeal, apples, bananas, or grapes. Essentially any carbs but keep fat/protein to near zero.
No post workout simple carb is needed but a whey protein shake can be consumed. This protein will help activate protein synthesis around the workout and help keep the body in an anabolic state.
Cycle and Length of cycle
I would suggest only going two days with the high protein/fat and no carbs initially when starting this plan. After a few weeks extend the cycle to three days. After 4-6 weeks the cycle can be extended to up to 4 days before a carb load day.
Example: (Weeks 1-3) 2 days no carbs, one day carb load, and repeat. (Weeks 3-5) 3 days no carbs, one day carb load, and repeat. (Weeks 5-8) 4 days no carbs, one day carb load, and repeat.
Theory of Effectiveness
The theory behind this plan is that the body will utilize more fat as a source of energy when glycogen levels are lowered.
Glycogen is stored energy in the body that can be utilized for quick energy. The body will use more body fat stores as fuel and also use fat consumed as an energy source.
Just like any diet though calories must be counted to get the most out of the plan. Starting with a good number (500 calories below baseline/maintenance) is the best way. Many online tools can give a rough estimate of maintenance calories. This is only an estimate though but gives a good place to start. Baseline/maintenance calories=the body does not lose nor gain weight.
Carbohydrates are very muscle sparing. Carbs are used first as energy sources by the body. This is why it is important to not skip the carb load during this plan.
Carbohydrates are a non-essential macronutrient. The body can convert fat and protein into all the energy it needs to survive. This is an important fact but retention of the most muscle possible requires some sources of carbohydrates.
I would suggest only doing this plan for a maximum of 8 weeks at a time to help prevent muscle loss. The longer this program is followed, the higher likelihood that muscle will be lost at some point. The risk to reward ratio is good with this plan.
I have never had a noticeable muscle loss from using this plan during any of my contest diets for bodybuilding. I have also always used this plan at some point during all but one of my contest preps. Overall muscle mass is definitely a strong point for me and I don’t think this plan will take away any muscle if done correctly.
Pros of the Ketogenic Plan:
- Simplicity – the plan is very basic and easily prepared
- Efficient weight loss
- Less hungry feeling -the high fat/protein keeps hunger symptoms very low
- Less meal prep time – time taken to prepare meals is far less than other traditional diets
- Good for “on the go” – On the no carb day simple things like nuts, beef jerky, and whey protein shakes can be consumed as meal replacement, on carb load day fruit (apples/bananas) can be bought or packed for meals.
Cons of the Ketogenic Plan:
- Diet – it is a diet so it cannot and shouldn’t be followed for a long period of time
- Health Standpoint- depending on foods consumed it may not be the healthiest of options. The sources of fat can be changed to be healthier option.
- Performance- with the absence of carbs performance in the gym my suffer at times, initially before the body can begin to fully use fats as sources of energy, and after long use when body fat levels drop and glycogen stores are very low.
- Mood and energy levels- mood “happiness” may suffer from long use of this plan along with energy levels at times.
- Deficiency of micronutrients: proper supplementation of certain micronutrients must be done to prevent deficiencies (calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and others)
The ketogenic plan is great for efficient weight loss.
Many different carb sources can be used as listed above. Fats and proteins can be changed during the plan.
It is important to keep fat levels high during this and not just consuming protein. Ground beef is my choice while on this plan. Other choices could be chicken thighs, chicken breast along with (avocado, any type of nuts, coconut oil, several types of cheese, olive and other oils), pork products, fish, and many other options.
The main thing is to still count calories and reduce calories throughout the plan. I would suggest not starting calories too low and finding out where the caloric number needs to be to properly lose 1-2 pounds a week. A healthy weight loss is ½ -2 pounds a week. Never lose more than two pounds in one week because the chance for muscle loss becomes even greater. Don’t become discouraged if only ½ pound of weight loss occurs. Any weight loss is great and should never been seen as a failure.
Obviously calories for each person will vary depending on bodyweight. I highly suggest most individuals to consult a registered dietitian before dieting or making any nutritional changes. This plan isn’t for everyone but I feel this is a good approach if this type of plan is chosen.
Sample Ketogenic Plan
High fat/protein Day: Around 2700 Calories (180 P, 32 C, 216 F)
- 6 meals of 80/20 ground beef 6oz each (with vegetables)
- ½ scoop of Gatorade powder post workout
Carb Load Day: Around 2650 Calories (73 P, 542 C, 20 F)
- 2 meals of Sweet Potato (18 oz. each)
- 2 meals of bananas (3 medium bananas each meal)
- 3 meals of cheerios (84 grams each meal)
- 1 scoop of why protein post workout