Ketogenic diets (aka the keto diet) are growing in popularity throughout health and fitness subculture. The term ketogenic refers to the process of the body creating ketone bodies. This serves as an energy source (along with fatty acids) when glucose availability is low.

Therefore, ketogenic diets inherently are based around high fats and moderate proteins with low amounts of carbohydrates. As a result, the body is forced to utilize fats and ketone bodies for energy instead of sugar (glucose).

While the keto diet is popular in the fitness community, medical doctors may implement it for treating certain conditions, such as epilepsy.

In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the physiology behind keto, the different types of keto diets, and finally how to set up your own keto diet.

How the Keto Diet Differs from Typical Low-Carb Diets

Many readers may be wondering, “What makes the keto diet different from other low-carb diets?”

Most of those on keto state that the keto diet is only effective when the body enters a state called ketosis and starts to produce ketones for energy, hence the name.

But to reach a state of ketosis, you must restrict carbohydrate to an extreme degree (even moreso than standard low-carb diets).

However, whether or not your body is in ketosis is not a huge deal for benefiting from the keto diet. Research suggests ketone bodies are therapeutic even in small quantities. [1]

When carbohydrates are limited in the diet, the body derives its energy from fatty acids and ketone bodies, making this type of diet superb for losing body fat.

Choosing Your Keto Diet Variation

The variation of the ketogenic diet you use will differ based on your goal and body tendencies.

It is typically advised to use the standard ketogenic diet for the first few weeks to see how your body responds after adapting to ketosis. After the initial few weeks, you can assess which diet to stick to in the longer-term.

Read below for a short overview of each ketogenic diet variation and the factors to consider when picking one:

Standard ketogenic dieting (SKD)

If you live a sedentary lifestyle and find that you don’t respond well to high-carbohydrate diets, the SKD is probably your best bet.

SKD is also ideal for individuals who don’t exercise very often and intensely. Their body’s demand for carbohydrates is much lower than more active individuals.

Targeted ketogenic dieting (TKD)

If the SKD makes you lethargic and unable to train vigorously throughout the week, then it is prudent to incorporate intermittent carbohydrate feedings a la TKD.

Cyclical ketogenic dieting (CKD)

Cyclical keto dieting is often considered a progressive form of ketogenic dieting. It takes considerable trial and error to really nail the precision of your carbohydrate refeeds.

It is wise to first and foremost give both the SKD and TKD a try before putting yourself on a CKD. If you don’t make much progress on the SKD/TKD, or you don’t perform well, then consider the CKD.

Setting up Your Own Keto Diet

Below are the necessary steps to take to calculate your personal energy needs and macronutrient intake. This will give you the recommended macro amounts for an SKD.

If you’re going to use either the CKD or TKD then you will have to take a few extra steps to construct your diet plan.

As a rule of thumb, if your goal is to lose fat, then you want to aim for roughly a 700-calorie deficit each day.

That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all calorie intake for fat loss. Some people will have to adjust this number higher or lower depending on their rate of fat loss.

Note: your calorie intake will fluctuate from day to day if you decide to use a CKD.

How Many Carbohydrates to Eat on a TKD/CKD

For TKD:

  • Training days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown and add in 0.25g of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass pre-workout and post-workout (combined)
  • Rest days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown

For CKD:

  • Once or Twice a Week—Add 1.5g of carbohydrate per pound of lean body mass to your SKD diet and cut your fat intake in half

Possible Drawbacks to a Ketogenic Diet

As with almost any diet program, there are pros and cons to be considered. That being said, the drawbacks associated with ketogenic dieting tend to be rather benign and will most likely improve as you become more adapted to the routine.

The most common side effects to be aware of when following a ketogenic diet include:

1. Electrolyte imbalance

Electrolytes commonly become depleted when you’re on a ketogenic diet due to increased urination and low water content in the body.

Carbohydrates are water-attracting molecules; thus, eating a high-carbohydrate diet tends to leave people feeling bloated. Naturally, ketogenic diets do the opposite. When you’re holding less water in the body, electrolytes drop as well.

    • Remedy: It’s important to understand how to avoid electrolyte imbalance when following the keto diet. Consider ingesting an electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte, or taking supplemental minerals (specifically calcium, potassium, and sodium). If you’re urinating a lot, you’re likely losing a lot of electrolytes and should consider a supplemental form.

2. Halitosis (foul-smelling breath)

Once you follow a keto diet for a few days/weeks, you will likely notice your breath smells rather foul. As your body becomes used to metabolizing fat, acetoacetic acid and BHB may cause bad breath. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent this, but you can manage it.

    • Remedy: Chewing gum, mints, and rinsing with mouthwash is your best bet this remains a nagging issue. Also, make a habit of brushing your teeth after each meal (or as much as possible).

3. Gastrointestinal distress (flatulence)

Gastrointestinal (GI) distress is, unfortunately, a rather common issue for individuals following a ketogenic diet. It is hypothesized that a lack of dietary fiber and increased fat metabolism can throw the gut a bit out of whack. However, any discomfort should resolve once you acclimate to eating a ketogenic diet.

    • Remedy: Over-the-counter anti-laxatives, such as Pepto Bismol, are good short-term remedies (but should not be used habitually) Moreover, antacids like Tums can help in the interim. A prudent solution is to simply supplement with a dietary fiber product, such as Metamucil or Benefiber.

4. Hypoglycemia

A ketogenic diet can reduce blood glucose significantly. However, it’s unlikely that you will notice the usual symptoms of hypoglycemia. When your body adapts to ketone bodies as a fuel source, your brain will use those over glucose (its usual substrate for energy).

    • Remedy: Don’t worry too much about this unless you start to feel the usual symptoms of hypoglycemia. If you notice that feelings of hypoglycemia become an issue than it might be best to incorporate a periodic carbohydrate refeed into your diet plan.

5. Decreased insulin sensitivity

Most people on a ketogenic diet tend to eat a disproportionately large amount of fat (especially saturated fat). Excessive saturated fat intake may induce insulin resistance and other metabolic maladies. So going overboard on your saturated fat intake is certainly not what you want even if on a carbohydrate-restricted eating regimen. [1]

    • Remedy: Limit saturated fat intake to no more than 20% of your total fat intake. Make sure you’re getting in plenty of “healthy” fats as well, such as EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids). It’s okay to eat some saturated fats, but just not the absurdly high amounts that you may see by larger individuals.

As you can see, the drawbacks of a ketogenic diet are somewhat minimal and easy to resolve.

If you find yourself extremely uncomfortable on an SKD, then you may perform better on a CKD or TKD. Remember to listen to your body and adjust as necessary. If you haven’t had the chance to read our overview article about ketogenic dieting variations, you should check it out

Wrap-Up

There you have it, ketogenic dieting 101 is complete! You now have a better grasp of what exactly this type of diet entails and how to set up your very own ketogenic diet plan.

Give it a shot and see if you propel your fat loss efforts. Be sure to leave comments below if you have any feedback or questions!

More Readings:

How to Use Exogenous Ketones for Weight Loss – The Complete Guide

The Keto Flu: What is it and How to Fix it

How To Track Weight Loss on Keto: A Step-by-Step Guide

The Ketogenic Diet Plateau: Weight Loss Plateau’s & How To Fix It

References:

1. Kraegen, E. W., Clark, P. W., Jenkins, A. B., Daley, E. A., Chisholm, D. J., & Storlien, L. H. (1991). Development of muscle insulin resistance after liver insulin resistance in high-fat–fed rats. Diabetes, 40(11), 1397-1403

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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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