Benefits from becoming fat- and keto-adapted:
-Ability to operate at maximum physical exertion without food
-Elimination of appetite
-Super-human ability to concentrate
-Increased ability to burn body fat
-Enhanced ability to use fat for high-energy exercise
-Elimination of low-level inflammation
-Increase sensitivity to bodily sensations
-Body high: feeling waves of cool sensation flush the body
-Lessened need for sleep
-No afternoon lull in mental prowess
-Ability to efficiently use energy from calorie-dense foods (fats) cuts down on the amount of food weight (versus voluminous carb-laden food).
Ketosis is a coveted state for those who understand and have experienced it. Truly, it is a wonderful feeling: the body starts to strip away excess fat, the mind becomes more clear, and the connection between food and energy is fundamentally changed. It can be a difficult state to discover, but once found it becomes easier for the body to find again.
A ketogenic diet is not to be taken frivolously. I have heard people say “I’m going to do keto for a week” and wonder about their intention. If you want to lose weight quickly, cutting out all carbs will help you do so, but it is very likely you will quickly regain all the weight (and then some) once you add carbohydrates back into your diet. It is not sustainable for someone who eats primarily a carbohydrate-heavy diet to completely cut out carbs. Instead, I recommend tapering. This experience is much more enjoyable and has the highest likelihood of dietary success.
There are a few reasons I recommend against immediately switching to KETO. A carbohydrate-burning body is not efficient at burning fats, so attempting to perform a hard switch to fats as fuel will take time. Reduction of carbohydrate consumption will have difficulties, so going cold-turkey off carbs is not a sustainable solution. If you do go cold-turkey, it becomes highly likely the stress of cutting out all carbs will cause the body to revolt and desire them more, leading to a large ingestion of carbs once willpower breaks down. I have experience this many, many times. This perceived failure of willpower will often create a negative-feedback loop which will result in more carbs being consumed out of emotional stress. Again, I am speaking from experience! Going FULL-KETO is a big stress on the body and it’s much easier to make it step 2 or 3 instead of step 1 in dietary change.
Step 1 is fat adaptation. Step 2 is mitochondrial training through intermittent fasting. Only after these steps are taken do I recommend a keto-adaptation attempt.
Less than 20-50g of carbs per day
Depleted liver glycogen
Moderate protein intake (0.7g/pound lean body mass)
Additional Requirements for 6-Week Adaptation Period:
~8 Hours of good quality sleep
Low stress level (especially in relationships)
Avoid high-intensity exercise
Sodium/Potassium/Magnesium Intake Requirements:
~300 mg Magnesium
If any of these requirements are not met, the body will not be able to enter/stay in ketosis. During and after my adaptation, I found my body needs less sleep the night after hard exercise, but more sleep the following night. However, I never had consecutive nights with less than 6 hours of sleep. High levels of stress hormones from relationship problems can also destroy an effort at ketosis. During the adaptation period, chronic and high-intensity exercise can be too stressful for the body to stay in ketosis. Protein should be limited to 0.7g times your desired lean body mass if you’re inactive, 1.0-1.3 if you are active. Ketosis is muscle-preserving, so protein requirements are not high. Also, excess protein (more than ~40-50g in a sitting) will be converted into glucose which will cause a ketosis-ending insulin response. Mineral/electrolyte intake must be increased, in ketosis the body will start purging itself of these vital nutrients (and water). I recommend drinking water with Himalayan pink salt added, along with some flavor (Mio), as well as magnesium and potassium supplements in the morning and night. I found my potassium needs increased about 4 weeks into ketosis, and I take a 99mg pill about every 3-4 hours. Pickle juice is FANTASTIC for dealing with muscle cramps that come from electrolyte imbalance. Also, ketosis causes the body to flush itself, so drink a LOT OF WATER. You should be peeing a lot more than normal.
STEP 1: FAT ADAPTION
The first step is fat-adaptation: cut your daily intake of carbohydrates (hereby referred to as just ‘carbs’) to 100-150g per day. Most people eat 300+/day on the Standard American Diet (…SAD!), and when the body has such a high intake of carbohydrate energy it prioritizes them for energy instead of the more difficult-to-process sources, like fat. The body will always prefer rocket fuel (sugar) instead of solar panels (fat) because of how easily-accessible the energy is from carbs. All carbohydrates (simple and complex) get turned into glucose in the body, with the exception of dietary fiber.
Note: If you’re counting carbs and eat a food with 8 grams of carbs, but 6 of them are dietary fiber, the food has 2 overall net carbs. Dietary fiber is not digestible and these carbohydrates will not cause a progress-stalling insulin response.
There’s more to fat-adaptation than just restricting carbs; if you just cut carbs but don’t increase your dietary fat intake, your body will freak out and assume it’s starving. You have to coerce your body into preferring fats as fuel. Having made the mistake of eating low-carb and low-fat in the past, it’s not fun. You have low energy all the time, and the body starts breaking down muscle tissue to fuel itself and holds onto fat tissue, which is absolutely counter-productive! Muscle is more energy-costly to keep around than fat, so it makes metabolic sense to sacrifice muscle first if the body doesn’t know how to use its own fat for fuel.
Healthy fats like eggs, avocado, cheese, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil/butter, macadamia nuts are essential for fat-adaptation. Basically, eat all the fat you want, so long as its not laden with carbohydrates. Polyunsaturated fats should be avoided because the body’s mitochondria has a difficult time using them for energy (think of a wood stove burning damp cottonwood versus dry oak; there’s a lot of free-radical byproduct to get at the energy). Also, the body cannot make ketones from these oils, so what’s the point? (they’re cheap to make, that’s the point!)
Avoid These Oils:
It takes about 21 days for the body to switch fuel sources from carbs and to prefer fat, and no “cheat days” are allowed. This is to allow your body’s cell mitochondria to adapt to using a different fuel source, it cannot happen overnight. You don’t have to moderate protein much, but if you eat more than 40-50grams in one sitting it is likely the protein will be converted into glucose and will cause in insulin response. After 21 days, I recommend you stick with your low level of carb consumption and increased fat consumption. It takes the body closer to 3 months to become “fully-adapted” to using fat for fuel, and you can get to a next-level fat-adaption when you go KETO. The initial changes to the body are hormonal, and long-term are genetic. However, even doing a 21 days of fat-adaption will be life-changing because hunger sensations will essential cease and energy levels will be more constant through the day.
STEP 2: INTERMITTENT FASTING
Once you are past the 21 day fat-adaptation period, I would encourage you to continue this level of carb intake and slowly lower it towards 50-75g/day. If you’re feeling energetic with this level of carb consumption, try to limit your eating window to 12 hours (this means no calories at all). “Intermittent fasting” is step 2 towards KETO.
Folks have a weird perception of “fasting” (not eating), and done incorrectly it can be an awful experience. Once you are fat-adapted, your body has become efficient at accessing its own fat stores for energy. I found once I became fat-adapted I rarely got hungry, at least, I rarely experienced the gurgling, ravenous hunger of my carb-consuming days. There’s a wide range of sensations you may find emanating from your gut; I used to think they were all hunger, but there is a subtle-but-important difference between hunger and thirst, as well as the body craving salts and/or minerals. I find emotions most-strongly influence my cravings for food and try not to eat out of emotion.
Regardless, if you’re still regularly feeling the rumbling-stomach hunger cravings, you are not fully fat-adapted. The more time you spend fasting after becoming fat-adapted, the less you’ll be hungry. Restriction of carbohydrates and increase in fat consumption changes hormonal and genetic switches in the body that regulate hunger. When the body is not constantly riding the blood sugar highs and lows of carb consumption, energy levels become more stable and the body needs food less often. Calories matter when losing body fat, but the hormonal effects of food (carbs vs fat) are more important when adapting to a new fuel source. Ultimately, these changes will greatly assist in future fat loss efforts
Fasting increased mitochondrial efficiency! Mitochondria multiply when the body understands food will not be incoming at all times and it realizes it must extract as much energy as possible from the sparse meals. While the benefits are amazing, the actual body-feeling of being a fat-burner may disappoint you in some ways. Running on fat doesn’t always feel like much, whereas burning sugar can give one a real body high! Usually followed by a low…
I have found ingesting carbs naturally dulls the bodily senses and the fewer you have in your diet, the more subtle bodily sensations you’ll notice. You will also likely lose a fair amount of water weight, since carbohydrates cause the body to retain water in a way that is known as “low-level inflammation”. Your body will feel more streamlined and circulation will improve. My carpel tunnel decreased in intensity after becoming fat-adapted. In my opinion, once you can comfortably fast for 16 hours and exercise efficiently (not feeling like total shit) in this state, you’re ready for full-keto!
STEP 3: KETO-ADAPTION
Step three is keto-adaption. This process will teach your body to make ketones for fuel as a byproduct of burning body fat. In order to get your body to burn its own fat effectively, you must be fairly fat-adapted. Fasting encourages the body to burn more of its fat to create ketones, as does fasted exercise.
This may be the most difficult transition because, to truly experience the benefits, you’ve gotta commit to a minimum of 6 weeks of extreme carb restriction to adapt your body’s mitochondria to another fuel source (ketones). This means consuming no more than 20-50 net carbs per day, depending on your level of exercise. Some people can maintain a state of ketosis with 50g of carbs per day, for some people that will knock their body out of ketosis. Protein must also be controlled, as excess protein will end ketosis because of the resulting insulin response.
My typical day during adaption period:
1.1 mile run to work
—Fast until noon— (coffee is okay to drink)
Break fast with Mega-Salad: kale, spinach, cauliflower, green onions, broccoli, bleu cheese, avocado, salmon, pickles, collagen peptide powder, apple cider vinecar, mtc oil.
1.1 mile run home
60-100 minutes xc ski
Dinner: scrambled eggs with cheese, cauliflower, asparagus squash, onions. Dark chocolate square
—Fast starts anywhere after 5-8PM and goes until the next day—
I found this schedule landed me squarely and easily in ketosis. I have the advantage of simple tastes, so I ate pretty much the same thing every day. Exercise pushes the body towards ketosis, especially fasted exercise. As my keto-adaptation has continued past the 6 week mark, I have found I am gaining the ability to use fat for higher intensity exercise. I noticed this has happened around 9 weeks and I am continuing to work on improvement by performing fasted explosive exercise.
There are a few goals to this 6 week keto-adaption period:
1) Teaching the brain to run on ketones
2) Increasing muscle’s ability to burn fat and ketones (fat and keto-adaption)
3) Increasing liver’s ability to create ketones at an efficient rate (not too much, not too little)
4) Keep insulin levels as low as possible.
The end-goal of keto is to have fully fat-adapted muscles and a keto-adapted brain, as well as a trained liver that is capable of using the body’s stores of fat to burn and create just enough ketones for the body’s current fuel requirements. In a state of sustainable ketosis, food isn’t really necessary as long as energy demands are medium to low. The body may not ask for fuel anymore, and you’ll notice this effect because you won’t get hungry. It’s important not to snack during keto-adaption, because if the body keeps getting fed it won’t make its own ketones from body fat. However, you can still get the benefits of becoming more fat-adapted if you decide to eat more than your body needs.
1) The brain can run off two fuel sources, glucose and ketones. By restricting carbs, the brain is denied a source of glucose and must compensate by making and using ketones. In a carb-restricted state, the liver and muscles will become depleted of their internal glycogen stores and the body will start producing ketones from its own body fat to make up for the lack of incoming energy.
2) At first, neither the body nor the brain will be efficient at using ketones. The liver might over-produce what is needed until the body has determined it’s base-demand over time. The liver will also learn when it needs to increase fat-burning during fasted exercise. Ketones will be excreted though the breathe and urine, and urine may have a distinct funk to it. Muscles will be forced to use dietary fat, as well as internal muscle fat and produced ketones for fuel. The brain and the body will fight over ketones for a while, and neither of their cells can use the precious ketones efficiently. Until your brain and muscles can, you may experience a cloudy mind, sometimes paired with headaches when the muscles are “winning” and by fatigue and light-headedness when the brain is “winning”. Eventually (3-4 weeks), the muscles become better at using fat for fuel by increasing the number of mitochondria in its cells. At week 8, I still notice this to a lessened effect after passing 14 hours of fasting. The DNA of the mitochondria can improve and increasing their fat-burning efficiency even as the number of fat and ketone burning mitochondria increase.
3) When the muscles are professional-fat-burners, they won’t hog the precious ketones anymore. The ketones produced by the liver will get sent directly to the brain. To me this became noticeable by a sudden extreme ability to focus, even after fasting for over 12 hours, increasing up to about 17 hours of fasting. I didn’t really start to notice this effect until weeks 5 and 6.
4) Insulin: One of the main purposes of restricting carbohydrates is to keep insulin levels as low as possible. Insulin in the body prevents it from using its own fat stores for energy, promotes fat-storage, and stops the body from making ketones, in addition to a host of other health issues. Insulin is detrimental to keto-adaptation efforts. Carbs are glucose, and having glucose in the blood requires insulin to be released, which prevents ketone-usage. Everyone has a level of insulin resistance, sort of like a drug or alcohol tolerance. The more carbs you eat, the more insulin your body will have to produce to counteract the glucose. Insulin is somewhat toxic to the body and it builds up an immunity, called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance will be lowered when you restrict carbs as your body becomes less-reliant on producing insulin. When your insulin resistance is at its lowest point, your body will be able to utilize carbs most efficiently without the detrimental effects of insulin. When I feel an insulin response, I get lethargic, cloudy-minded, and my willpower plummets.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN KETOSIS?
There’s a number of ways to test whether you’re in ketosis or not, including breath-meters, blood tests, and urine strips. I’m not going to bother explaining because I don’t have experience with the first two. I use the urine strips to determine whether or not my body is making ketones. Theoretically, if I’m producing ketones, I’m in nutritional ketosis, and that is the purpose of the 6 week adaption period. Around week 3 to 4 was when I noticed markedly increased urine ketone levels, and they have not been that high since. This is predictable: the body is getting better at using ketones for energy and is not making an abundance anymore. As my adaptation continues, my body should get more efficient at both ketone use and production and there will be few excess ketones excreted through breath and urine.
Ketosis is an elusive state to find, but once I was deep into it, I found it was hard to escape. I didn’t start noticing an increase in ketone-production until about 3 weeks in. All of a sudden, I had really horrible breathe, my urine gained a powerful, primordial smell. Constipation is also a thing, and my teeth get covered in a weird film each night. These effects are the most obvious examples keto-adaptation. Other effects are (fairly) limitless energy and suppressed appetite. The latter can be disappointing for those who like to eat when they’re really experiencing hunger. After 5 weeks, I was hooked on KETO and have decided to make it into a lifestyle.
It is somewhat important to restrict calories while doing keto-adaption, but mainly to increase the efficiency of ketone-production. If you overeat, your body won’t produce ketones of its own becaues ketones are only produced in times of need. Your body will still get more efficient at running on fat for fuel, but you may slow your keto-adaption. Fat is much more sating than carbohydrates, so you shouldn’t feel the need to overeat unless your emotions or hormones are out of balance.
NOTE: MINERAL INTAKE
For whatever reason, in ketosis the body requires a lot of salt, magnesium, and potassium. Without these nutrients, the body is prone to cramping and feeling miserable, feeling like you weigh twice as much. After 3 weeks I greatly increased my intake of these and noticed it pushed my body deeper into ketosis. There was also a marked-reduction in feeling fatigued. The sodium intake is actually hard to keep up with! I found my sodium needs have reduced around week 9, though they are still high compared to a regular person.
NOTE: ABOUT THOSE CARBS
When I started keto-adaption, I mistakenly thought the body’s muscles must be depleted of internal glycogen to enter ketosis. I have learned only the liver needs to be emptied of glycogen, which is refilled by eating too many carbs (20-50g/day) and/or eating fructose. I was fairly paranoid about eating any carbs and so I spent 6 weeks with almost no muscle glycogen and can attest it is not a desirable state or experience. I have heard conflicting reports on whether carbs should be consumed during the adaption period; my experience is they should be kept as low as possible. The side effect of muscle-glycogen depletion is a feeling not dissimilar to being sore, but the result of the feeling is explosive energy just wasn’t available. I was consuming less than 20g of net carbs per day as well as exercising a fair amount, so I may have sabotaged myself a bit. It is recommended that exercise be reduced in both intensity and duration during the 6 week adaption period, but that was particularly difficult for me to abide by.
The 6 week period is necessary to get the long-term benefits of keto-adaption. It takes some time for the body to make changes at the genetic and cellular levels, these cannot be accomplished in any less time than 6 weeks. I am unsure whether or not to recommend an ultra-low carb diet for this period, but I definitely recommend keeping exercise at a low intensity. No sprints! Keep your heartrate below 180-AGE, and definitely keep lifting weights if that’s already part of your practice.
TEST DRIVING FAT FOR FUEL
After week 4, I found I could perform low to medium intensity exercise for hours on end without the need for any carbs. I hauled a heavy pack for 3 days into the mountains and ate mainly cheese and coconut butter. Each day was more intense than the previous and my body met the energy challenge easily.
After 6 weeks of KETO, I found introducing about 27g of carbs per hour of cardio exercise was able to refill my muscle stores to a comfortable amount. The body cannot refill more than 40-50g at a time, so this isn’t invitation to binge on cashews or M&M’s. I have experimented with ingesting these both before and after; I found my performance was similar given my muscle stores of glycogen were already topped off. I prefer to eat my carbs afterward, mainly because I don’t like digesting while exercising.
For the first 15 minutes after exercise the body is primed to absorb carbs without turning them into body fat. This effect is dampened after 15 minutes but persists for about 2 hours. Given enough dietary carb consumption, the body will refill its muscle glycogen stores over about a 48 hour period. However, if you eat only salad and low-carb vegetables as I did, the body cannot refill properly. Supposedly the body gains the ability to make glucose over time and can learn to refill itself, but I have not experienced this effect yet. I have noticed my threshold to perform intense exercise with lower energy output has increased (IE: sprinting up a hill on xc skis, then continuing onward without getting winded). I can dip into my muscles stores of glycolytic energy when I need it, and switch back to fat-burning when the sprint is over. This ability to fluctuate back and forth was unavailable to me before keto-adaption.
Experiment with how low you can go and find what works best for you. As I write it is winter and I need explosive energy for xc skiing, so this rate of carb consumption works for me. I imagine that as my body continues to get more efficient at using fat and ketones, my carb needs will lower. I aim to keep my eating window restricted to about 8 hours a day in order to benefit from 16 hours of fasting. Writing this report halfway through week 8, I have been feeling better each week than the previous.
NOTICABLE CHANGES AFTER ADAPTATION:
Since becoming keto-adapted, I have found I rarely get hungry. I am much more in tune with my emotions, as they are the most influencing factor on perceived hunger. My body likes being in ketosis and my weight has fluctuated about 10 pounds from when I started. While I am losing and gaining water weight, I have not noticed a decrease in muscle mass. In fact, by restricting my eating window my body is able to better-utilize the nutrients from the food I eat and I am less likely to store body fat, even if I overeat. When I overeat, I find I simply can fast for longer the next day.
On the KETO diet, my overall body fat has reduced while muscle mass had been maintained. After reintroducing carbs after 6 weeks, I gained water weight so that my starting weight was about the same as my end weight. However, I have had a noticeable (to myself) reduction in body fat. Another unexpected side-effect was the clearing out of internal muscle fat. My arms and legs appear significantly more shredded and defined than pre-keto. Cool!
The limitless low-level energy of ketones has become more and more available to me as I continue nutritional ketosis. After the adaption period, I have tried to push my body to become more keto-adapted by performing workouts fasted and extending my daily fast by finishing dinner early. Early dinners are the easiest way I have found to reach 16-18 hours of fasting with minimal effort.
Recently on days where I wake up a bit sore, I have found the first half hour of a endurance workout to be rather difficult. After that time, I feel my body increase ketone-production and provide my body and mind with extra energy, after which I’ll ski for another hour with increased performance. My body-awareness has increased drastically, so that I notice small sensations inside my body that carbs would have dulled. I try to drink 32 oz of salty water each morning to jumpstart my body, I find I feel lethargic if I do not. I normally drink a lot of water, but I have found my hydration needs are hard to keep up with on KETO.
For someone who has been a slave to his sugar tooth, it’s wonderful and liberating not have sugar cravings anymore and instead crave fatty foods. When I was merely fat-adapted I would still crave sugar. After keto-adaption my taste for sweetness is much-refined and sensitive, I can taste even a small amount of sugar in foods and dressings. Coconut butter has been one of the best fuel sources I have found, as it doesn’t take much work to get my body to turn it into fuel. MTC oil and butter are also great energy sources. My sweet tooth has been also sated by the purchase of various keto-friendly brownie mixes and cookies!
Ketones don’t have to be produced internally; you can buy ketone salts that are the most readily available form of ketones. They will be used for energy in the body as ketones within 15-20 minutes of ingestion. While these may have benefits, during the adaption period they will not stimulate the body to produce more ketones. In fact, they may be counterproductive and the liver could compensate by shutting down ketone production while the exogenous ketones are used as fuel. Exogenous ketones will get the body better at burning ketones, but you can achieve the same result by burning excess body fat. I use exogenous ketones if I am exercising after a particularly long fast, or trying to prolong a fast when natural hunger ensues (usually around 15-18 hours). Exogenous ketones won’t technically break your fast, but if your body is using its own fat for energy this will cease while the exogenous ketones are burned.
10.5 WEEK UPDATE
I did the Tour of Anchorage, a 50K skate ski race, with very few carbs consumed during most of the race. I only drank coffee with butter and some MTC oil before the race. The first 2 hours/35k felt great, I felt the first dip in energy around 90 minutes in. I used exogenous ketones at the 60 and 90 minute marks. I had sugar at the 2 hours in, and that gave me enough instant energy to ski to the end feeling strong. My strategy for energy expenditure was the same as last year’s Tour: keep my heartrate below 180-AGE for the majority of the race so I stay fat-burning. Though my finish time was slower than the previous year, I felt better and more energetic this time around.
I definitely dropped out of ketosis for a few days after the race because of consuming more carbs than my body needed after the race. However, after re-entering ketosis I found my body felt great! Even ‘upgraded’. I think my body needed to get out of ketosis for a bit in order for some hormones to balance out. Since re-entering, I haven’t dropped out. I’ve been pushing my mitochondria during week 10 with longer bouts of fasting, including three 24+ hour fasts (easy to do when your partner is traveling, harder when you eat joint meals). It’s hard to believe, but I felt amazing after the first 24 hour fast. I was able to XC ski for an hour, even though I had no food in my system for over a day. I did notice a small decrease in power output, but for the most part I much still prefer to exercise in a fasted state, though I think my optimum fasting time prior to exercise (as of week 10) is 12-16 hours. I have noticed lifting weights and fasting for a few hours afterward really ramps up my body’s ketone production, as well as human growth hormone. More on HGH below! This increase in ketone production correlates with an increased need for salt. I have found my potassium requirements have dropped after week 10, but my sodium requirements are still elevated. Himalayan pink salt has been the best source of electrolytes and minerals.
SIDE NOTE: HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE
As I’ve chased the dragon of KETO, I’ve started to notice when my body has had a human growth hormone spike, mainly because it feels AMAZING. My first experience noticing HGH was after a long mountaineering trip (week 5 of keto). I ran to work the next morning and felt GREAT (too great, as I texted my climbing partner). As soon as I woke up I noticed moving was incredibly easy. My body felt lubricated and I could tell it wanted to move!
There are a few ways to get the human body to release more HGH, one is through fasting, both long and short term. There are a few HGH releases throughout a 24 hour fast, with the largest occurring around the 24 hour mark. I usually fast for at least a half hour beyond the 24 hour mark to ensure I get this burst of HGH goodness.
Another way to get that HGH release is to fast after exercise. For an hour after exercise, HGH levels are elevated, and the benefits last for a few hours. I’ve realized the old myth of eating protein immediately following exercise is complete bullshit once you are keto-adapted. The body will NOT start eating its own muscle after exercise if it doesn’t need glucose to fuel itself. So if you wait a few hours to eat protein after lifting, you will likely benefit more than if you slam a protein shake before leaving the gym. Get that natural HGH!
There are a number of other details I could add to this, but I feel this is enough information for now. Feel free to ask any questions and I will update this guide.
I found a lot of good information here: