The ketogenic diet has been trending as far back as the early 20th century. It’s a diet that induces ketosis, the state of the body when it’s being fueled primarily on fat and protein instead of carbs.
Advantages to this diet are abundant and include a surplus of energy, improved memory function, and a greater ability to manage weight.
An added bonus getting more and more folks aboard the keto train is an improvement in overall mental capacity along with a boost in performance.
If you’re dealing with unwanted mental fatigue, delayed mental performance, or bouts of procrastination, the keto diet may be a viable dietary option for you.
In this article, we’re going to cover exactly how ketosis can affect your cognitive abilities, as well as your productivity.
First, let’s bring you up to speed on the metabolic state known as ketosis and how it affects your body’s energy levels.
On a normal diet that includes carbs, our brain uses sugar as its main energy source. Carbohydrates supply this, however, when they are severely restricted in our diet and the body is deprived of sugar, it has no choice to but to use fat as its number 1 fuel source.
This process results in the liver breaking fat down into ketones—collections of fuel that the cells are able to use for energy.
When your ketone blood levels rise, this means that you’re now in the process of burning fat as fuel and that your body is in “ketosis.”
Now that we’ve covered ketosis, let’s take a look how it’s used by keto-dieters to kick-start your mental frame of mind and productivity.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of energy for your cells. A 2008 article1 discusses how ketosis activates mitochondrial metabolism, and how it actually creates more mitochondria in the brain.
Mitochondria boosts ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is what all of the body’s cells use for energy. ATP is found in all living things—plants, animals, and humans alike.
Think of it as your cell’s “energy currency.” If a cell needs to “spend” energy, this means it has to use some of its ATP.
If you go on a shopping spree and spend most of your ATP, not to worry! You can recharge this energy as you would a battery. The cell becomes recharged instead of being eliminated by the body.
The availability of mitochondria is believed to play a major part in overall brain health and function2. If you want extra energy and more brain power, being in a state of ketosis would enable this to happen.
The more mitochondria that you have in your brain, the more mental power that’s available for you to use.
An added benefit of mitochondrion is that they can even store reserve calcium supplies. You never know when you’ll need those!
A common benefit of being in a state of ketosis is that it improves your ability to focus, ultimately leading to more productivity by affecting certain neurotransmitters. Let’s dive in to the deets!
According to a study conducted on rats, the ketogenic diet has been linked with a change in the metabolism of glutamate (major brain neurotransmitter), resulting in elevated levels of GABA and improved synaptic transmission3.
How might ketogenesis impact the brain’s ability to focus? Well, when too much glutamate accumulates in the brain, it can be a challenge to focus on anything, which leads to stress.
Other symptoms could include headaches or neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism. So, this is when GABA comes to the rescue.
GABA is not at all similar to glutamate—it’s what calms the central nervous system in the body. It helps to reduce the effects of a surplus of glutamate. Once we have manageable levels of glutamate, our ability to concentrate skyrockets!
How else might a ketogenic diet help boost performance and mental cognition?
- Ketones are a neuroprotective antioxidant
- Ketones trigger BDNF – expression, a protein that acts on certain neurons in the Central Nervous System (CNS) that supports the survival of brain cells
- Ketone production helps maintain health of aging neurons (they slowly lose the ability to utilize glucose as time passes)
In addition to a ketogenic diet, any type of fasting would help speed up ketosis.
Intermittent fasting of 14-18 hours will begin ketosis, as opposed to having to endeavor on a longer, extended fast.
To be clear, this means no food for nearly a day. It takes about eight hours for your body to burn through its glucose reserves. Shortly after, it enters a state of ketosis.
Whether you’d like to boost mental function, decrease the risk of a neurodegenerative disease, or minimize the severity of a condition you already have, the keto diet is well-worth anyone’s consideration.
So, it’s important not to get discouraged when first starting out on, as dietary transitions are never easy.
You may not have the most mental and physical clarity during the first couple of days, but this will ease up as your body starts burning through more ketones.
In the meantime, you can try eating green, low-carb vegetables to clear up some of that fogginess or consume MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil if you feel tired. MCT fats are directly converted into ketones, which would provide the instant energy you need.
You can be on your merry way to ketosis soon enough, and enjoy these benefits that will last a lifetime.
 Yudkoff M., Daikhin Y., Horyn O., Nissim I., Nissim I. Ketosis and brain handling of glutamate, glutamine, and GABA. Epilepsia. 2008;49(Suppl. 8):73–75.
 Picard M., McEwen B.S. Mitochondria impact brain function and cognition. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 2014;111:7–8.
 Gano Lindsey., Patel Manisha., Rho M. Jong. (2014). Ketogenic diets, mitochondria, and neurological diseases. J. Lipid. Res. 2014 Nov.