“Carbohydrate restriction is commonly practiced but seldom taught.”
This is the tagline of a book I was reading the other day, The Art And Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living.
This book was written by two of the leading researchers on low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets worldwide, Drs Stephen D. Phinney and Jeff S. Volek.
One of them is a medical doctor, the other a registered dietitian (one of the “good” ones – yes, they do exist).
These guys have many years of clinical experience prescribing low-carb diets for patients and are therefore in a unique position to give practical advice on how to do this diet properly.
According to these guys, cutting back on carbs isn’t enough.
To reap the full benefits and get your body into full-blown nutritional ketosis, some additional steps are required.
When your brain is fully keto-adapted and efficiently burning ketones for fuel, that’s where the “metabolic magic” happens, so to speak.
Kind of like Atkins on steroids.
1. The Fear of Fat May be Holding You Back
When you take carbs out of the diet, you have to replace them with fat.
Many people think that because low-carb is good, a combination of low-carb AND low-fat will be even better. That’s a big mistake.
All of the populations around the world that have sustained themselves with little carbs (the Inuit, for example) have eaten a LOT of fat to compensate. They choose the really fatty cuts of meat, they don’t go for the lean parts.
Fat should be your biggest source of calories on a “well-formulated” low-carb/ketogenic diet. I’ve personally aimed for 50-60% in the past but according to Volek and Phinney 70-80% might be even better.
2. Eating Too Many Carbs
“Low” carb is a pretty vague term. Someone might call 100-150 gram per day pretty low, at least compared to the Standard American Diet (SAD).
To get into ketosis, a carb intake of less than 50g per day is recommended. Even lower may be optimal, but this depends on the individual.
Personally I now aim for 20-30g per day, but I still manage to fit in plenty of low-carb vegetables like leafy greens.
3. Eating Too Much Protein
Normally, a low-carb diet restricts carbs only. Fat and protein are allowed in unlimited amounts.
This appears to be a potential issue for some folks. The thing is, when you eat very little carbs but a high amount of protein, a lot of this protein will be used for energy or turned into glucose by the liver.
According to Volek and Phinney, too much protein can keep you out of ketosis, which is the metabolic state that we should be aiming for to reap the full benefits of low-carb.
A “well-formulated” low-carb/ketogenic diet, according to the authors, is low-carb, high-fat and moderate-protein.
4. Sodium Requirements go Way up on Low-Carb Diets
A high-carb diet raises insulin levels. That we know.
One of the side effects of elevated insulin is that the kidneys start hoarding sodium, which leads to bloating and excess water weight.
This is the reason people lose so much weight when they start a low-carb/ketogenic diet. Their body “sheds” the excess sodium and water follows along.
This is a good thing, but it can become too much of a good thing when your kidneys keep dumping sodium until you become deficient.
Sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body and cells require it to remain within a tight range.
If you ever feel “lousy” on low-carb; headache, fatigue, lightheadedness, even constipation then you should add some sodium to your diet (if you have a medical condition, consult your doctor).
There’s no need to fear a little extra sodium on a low-carb diet. Your requirement goes up and you are simply replacing what is lost via urine.
What you can do is simply put more salt on your food (salt = sodium + chloride).
Or better yet, you can drink a cup of broth every day.
What I do is dissolve an organic (no MSG) bouillon cube in a cup of hot water and drink. Adds 2g of sodium to my daily intake.
It’s delicious actually. Like a low-calorie soup in a cup. Yum.
5. Not Supplementing With Potassium And Magnesium
Another two electrolytes that may need to be supplemented are potassium and magnesium.
According to most of the low-carb/keto experts, including Dr. Petter Attia, Dr. Michael Eades, Drs. Volek and Phinney and Lyle McDonald, supplementing with magnesium and potassium is a good idea.
Personally I take 200mg of Potassium with each meal and 400mg of Magnesium Citrate in the evening, about an hour or two before sleep.
6. Not Giving it Enough Time
It can take weeks to become fully adapted to a low-carb, ketogenic diet. You can expect to be in ketosis within a few days, but the entire adaptation period can take weeks.
Feeling like crap is not uncommon for the first few days, but that’s because your body is still adapting to using ketones and fatty acids for fuel instead of glucose.
Once the adaptation period is over, many people claim feeling better than before. Sharper mentally, less hunger and even improved physical performance.
Take Home Message
If you want to try this out, I suggest you sign up on Fitday and log your food intake for a few days.
Trust me, if you want to keep your macros within a tight range, this is a MUST… at least in the beginning until you get a “feel” for your portions.
Personally I’m now keeping carbs under 30g per day and protein under 125g. Before, I was eating too many carbs, too much protein and wasn’t drinking broth to add sodium.
If you’ve tried low-carb in the past but didn’t get the results you expected, then perhaps you were doing it wrong.