In this fourth post in our series Our Ketogenic Diet Journey, I’ll give you a behind the curtains peek at how Barbara and I configured our ketogenic diet.
The keto diet with its amazing health benefits is finally becoming mainstream. More and more people are turning to the diet as an effective weight loss strategy and as an important means to help in the management of a variety of health problems.
However, a common criticism of the diet is that it’s extremely hard to configure and follow. I read on forums all the time people asking questions like: how many carbs can I eat? What should my maximum protein intake be? I’m eating a high-fat diet so why am I not losing weight?
People want to follow the diet. And they want the health benefits it confers, but they think it’s too complicated to follow and get right. But it doesn’t have to be. In this post, I’ll show you why.
Once Barbara and I decided what our weight loss and health goals were, we discovered an easy and efficient way to configure our macronutrient (carbs, protein fat) intake per day. After establishing those parameters, we followed a simple system that converted our macros into an easy to follow daily food plan. As we’ve shown in the last two posts, our results after following this system have been amazing.
Getting Macros Right Is Important But They’re Not Everything
A proper macronutrient configuration is the basis of a keto diet. However, before I show you how we configured our macros, I’d like to mention a few important things to be aware of. Since this diet changes the body’s main fuel source from carbs (glucose) to fat, certain physiologic adaptations will take place.
This means that certain dietary considerations other than macros are important in a well formulated ketogenic diet.
In our next post, I’ll show you which minerals and electrolytes are essential for success. Then I’ll reveal some simple but extremely important tweaks we use to deal with some of the common problems people experience.
However, in this post, I’ll be primarily concerned with how we configured our daily macros.
Okay, now with that said, let’s get on with the configuring.
What Is A Ketogenic Diet?
In order to configure a well-formulated ketogenic diet, it’s important to understand exactly what a keto diet is and what it’s used for.
Simply, a ketogenic diet restricts the consumption of carbohydrates to a degree that causes your body to adapt to metabolizing fat for fuel instead of glucose. One adaptation that takes place during this process is the production of ketones in your liver.
When your body is producing ketones, then you’re said to be in ketosis. Keto expert Dr. Steve Phinney states that to be in ketosis, you should have a minimum concentration of 0.5 mmol/l of ketones in your blood. It’s these ketones that researchers believe confer the amazing health benefits of the diet. See here.
However, today not everyone is going keto to treat a specific medical condition. This is important when configuring and adhering to a ketogenic diet.
Why Do You Want To Go Keto?
Many people today are going keto not because they want to produce ketones, but because they want the fat shedding effect of the diet.
But this is important. If you just want to lose fat, you don’t have to produce ketones.
Barbara and I had been on an 8-month quest to lose body fat. Then we stalled. Our low carb diet (100-50g carbs/d) stopped working. So we decided to lower our carbs down into the range of a keto diet (<30g/d ).
By dropping carbs into the keto range, our bodies became more insulin sensitive which allowed fat to be unlocked from cells and made available for fuel. By burning our own fat for fuel, we lost weight and fat.
This means that if you’re going keto just to lose weight, you may not be particularly concerned with being in ketosis. If you slip up one day and go over your carb limit, it won’t have a damaging effect on your overall goal. It also means that you don’t have to be fanatical in checking your ketone levels.
However, if you’re going keto to assist with a medical condition, then producing ketones is vitally important.
A Therapeutic Ketogenic Diet
If you’re going to go on a keto diet for a particular health reason such as help in treating type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, and even cancer, it then becomes a therapeutic ketogenic diet.
In this case, it’s very important that your body is constantly producing at least 0.5mm/l of ketones. This means that you must regularly check your ketone levels. The best way to do that is with a device like this one.
It also means that you must strictly adhere to your keto diet. Consuming excess carbs can kick you out of ketosis very rapidly.
Individuals With These Medical Conditions Should Exercise Caution When Considering A Keto Diet
Because of the potent nature of a ketogenic diet, certain people should use caution before jumping into it.
Type 1 Diabetics
Since individuals with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin to metabolize the glucose they ingest, their bodies will turn to fat for energy. This causes an increase in ketone concentration. A keto diet may then further increase ketones to dangerous levels (see ketoacidosis). If you’re a type 1 diabetic, don’t do this diet unless supervised by a physician trained in low-carb diets.
Type 2 Diabetics
Keto diets through their limitation of carbohydrate intake lower blood glucose concentrations. Since many type 2 diabetics take glucose-lowering medication, they have to be extremely cautious not to allow their blood glucose to drop to unsafe levels while on a keto diet (see Hypoglycemia). If you’re on glucose-lowering meds, you must work with your physician as you transition off of medication.
Individuals On Anti-hypertensive Meds
A keto diet has the potential to lower blood pressure. This coupled with anti-hypertensive meds could drop blood pressure to unsafe levels. Again, work with your doctor if you go keto and you’re on meds for an illness.
What About Pregnancy?
Okay, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of how Barbara and I do the diet.
How We Constructed A Well Formulated Ketogenic Diet
You may have heard the keto diet described as a high healthy fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet. Well, that sounds intriguing, but what exactly does it mean? We now come to the trickiest part of formulating a keto diet: figuring out macronutrient (carbs, protein, and fat) intake. However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite easy.
The important thing to remember is that both carbs and protein have targeted amounts.
How We Determined Our Carb Macro
Traditionally, a keto diet requires the consumption of carbohydrates to be kept at or less than 30 grams net. Net refers to total carbs minus fiber. For example, if you consume 50g of carbs and they contain 20g of fiber, your net carbs would be 30g net.
Again, the reason carbs are kept low in this diet is so that your body will shift from burning glucose for fuel to fat. Depending on how adapted your body is at utilizing fat as a fuel, some people might be able to consume slightly more carbs and still produce ketones. On the other hand, some individuals might have to consume less than 30 grams per day.
We set our carb intake to be <30g/day net.
How We Determined Our Protein Macro
Protein consumption must be kept at adequate levels. Protein is extremely important for maintaining, repairing, and building muscle mass and for proper organ function.
The Protein Controversy
Some ketogenic diet advocates like Dr. Rosedale, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Jason Fung recommend a lower protein intake. Keto expert Dr. Steve Phinney recommends a higher daily protein consumption. His recommendation is to keep protein consumption between 1.5 – 1.75 grams of protein per kg of “reference body weight”. Reference body weight refers to optimal lean body weight. See here.
The people at Ketogains.com, who have successfully worked with many people on a keto diet, recommend protein intake to be from 0.69 to 1.2 grams per pound lean body mass. However, going over 0.8g is only suggested for people doing heavy lifting and endurance training.
In my case, I initially kept my daily protein intake to about 0.7g per lean pound. Since my weight was 175 pounds with about 77% lean mass (23% body fat), my protein intake would be about 94g of protein/day.
Here’s the math.
175.0 x 0.77 x 0.7 = 94 grams of protein/day.
This protein intake is close to that recommended by Dr. Phinney. Now, since I have reached my fat loss goal I will increase my protein intake so as to gain more muscle mass.
In order to determine your lean body percentage or, conversely, your body fat percentage, see our last post here.
Why Did I Choose To Go With A Higher Protein Intake?
I tried using Dr. Rosedale’s recommendation for protein intake which for me was about 67g of protein/day. However, I found that I didn’t feel well, and I also lost a lot of strength.
I seem to feel better and achieve consistent strength gains at between 90g – 100g of protein/day. Dr. Phinney has also pointed out that consuming excess protein provides no extra health benefit and might actually interfere with ketosis. Dr. Mercola has an excellent article on the dangers of consuming excess protein. Note that Dr. Mercola uses 0.5 x lean body mass as a multiplier for protein intake.
How We Determined Our Fat Macro
Dr. Phinney recommends eating fat to satiety. What’s important to remember here is that if you want to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body will burn in a day.
For example, if your body’s maintenance energy intake is 1400 cal/day and you’re fat consumption is causing your calorie intake to exceed this amount, you will not lose weight. The trick is to get your body to use your own body’s fat for fuel.
Some people feel you have to wildly increase fat intake in order to produce ketones. This is not true. A well-formulated keto diet, with fat eaten to satiety, should provide enough fat to produce a sufficient amount of ketones.
So exactly how many grams of fat should you eat in a day? As I said, Dr. Phinney recommends eating fat to satiety.
However, this didn’t work for me. I love coconut oil, and I was eating it like candy thinking the fat was okay. But it wasn’t because I wasn’t allowing my body to burn its own fat.
I’ve found that the simplest way to figure out my fat limit and my other macros is to use a macro calculator. Barbara and I use this one made by the really cool people at Ketogains.com. Thanks, Luis and Tyler.
How To Use The Ketogains.com Macro Calculator
The ketogains.com macro calculator is a convenient way to set up your daily macronutrient intake. Barbara and I have used it with great success.
The calculator allows you to choose three scenarios according to what your desired goals are. All the scenarios are designed to keep you in ketosis.
You can decide if you want to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain muscle. Remember that not everyone will achieve or stay in ketosis at the same macro intake. But the calculator is designed to keep your carb intake below 35 grams/net.
Barbara’s goals and mine initially were to be in ketosis and lose more body fat. In order to do that, we had to have the right macro balance. Here’s how we used the calculator to achieve that. These numbers are from when we first went keto in August 2017.
I’ll show you how I used the calculator to configure my macros, and then I’ll show you Barbara’s target macros goals.
As I explain how to use the calculator, keep in mind that my specific weight loss goal was to lose 10 pounds of fat around my waist.
John’s Macro Configuration Using The Ketogains Calculator
Here’s a screenshot of step one.
As you see, I first set my current body weight data. The next step was to set body fat percentage (BF%). A quick way to find out your BF%, though not the most accurate, is to compare yourself to some pictures of people with varying BF%s. This method worked reasonably well for my purposes.
Since I sit most of the day, I set my activity level at sedentary. The information in the gray boxes will be set automatically.
The next step is to set my diet goals and exercise data.
Since my goal was to lose body fat, I set my calorie goal accordingly. As you see, my calorie intake will be at a 20% deficit to what my total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) would be to maintain my current weight. I perform heavy strength training for about 20 minutes, 5 days a week, and power walk at least 20 minutes/day.
The next step is to set my protein intake.
As I mentioned before, my protein intake is 0.7g/day of lean body mass. After setting this metric, voilà, my daily macros pop up.
Protein Intake: 94g
Net Carbs: 25g
Results After 3 Months On A Ketogenic Diet
After consuming the above amount of macros for about three months, I lost 10 pounds and 2 inches off my waist (37” to 35”). My BF% dropped to 20%. I lost a little strength at first but gained it back within a few months. I had great energy most of the time (some fatigue left over from CFS recovery) and a lot less body fat.
Currently, my waist is under 34.5” so I’ll adjust my macros to start putting on more muscle mass. We’ll see how that goes.
A Note About Quick Weight Loss
People who go keto experience quick weight loss. This is probably due to an initial loss of water. However, after this, weight loss will be progressive and sustained. Since I was already low-carb (<50g of carbs/d) before going keto, I had already lost significant weight, but I had plateaued. Keto allowed me to lose an extra 10 pounds of fat quickly.
What About Hunger?
As I said, this diet left me with a 20% calorie deficit. While this is a significant decrease in calorie consumption, I personally had no problem with fatigue or hunger. If I did get hungry, I’d just eat some healthy fat (EVOO, coconut oil, butter etc.).
The following are some screenshots of Barbara’s macro breakdown.
Barbara’s daily caloric intake ended up being 1010 daily calories. This is quite low. Generally, you don’t want to be less than 1000 cal/day. But she also had no real loss of energy or hunger problems. If she did get hungry, like me, she added some extra healthy fat.
Protein Intake: 61g
Net Carbs: 25g
You’re probably now asking, “How in the world do I translate macros into real food intake?” This takes a little bit of work, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to figure your daily macro goals pretty easily.
In order to figure out how much food was equal to the grams of macronutrients we required per day, we used a free calorie and nutrient app from myfitnesspal.com (MFP). It’s a handy tool. Once you get the hang of using it, customizing your desired daily macro intake becomes a snap.
Note: These are screenshots from my laptop. The iPhone app is a little different but still easy to use. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out.
Here’s an example of my daily goals.
As you see, my daily nutrition goals are close to those from my ketogains calculator. To set your goals, tap the settings icon and then go to goals. It will also set some micronutrient goals, but we’re not interested in those right now.
Now for the fun part: entering your daily food consumption.
Entering Food On Myfitnesspal.com
When you’re ready to enter food on MFP, from the main toolbar tap “Food” and this page will open up.
You can now start entering food for the day. If you want to add food for breakfast, hit add food at breakfast. You can even add your macros from your favorite Gluten Free Homestead recipes by clicking on the “Recipes” tab. 🙂
You’ll be taken to a page where you can search for a food you want, like scrambled eggs. The MFP database is extensive and includes a lot of popular brands. It will also keep track of all the foods you’ve added. Here’s an example of part of my favorite foods.
Let’s add some food and see what my one-day food intake looks like
My One Day Food Intake At 1500 Calories
Okay, here’s a sample of my macro intake for a day at 1500 calories. Now, you bigger fellas out there don’t make fun of my meager calorie intake lol. It worked for me.
As you can see, I came very near to hitting my macros for this day. My net carbs were low at 17 (30 – 13 fiber). I usually keep my carbs low. This is one reason I don’t check for ketones. I know I probably should. However, my carbs should be low enough to produce ketones. The only thing that could knock me out of ketosis would be excess protein, but my protein is what it is in order to maintain muscle.
The major variable here is fat intake. You have to be careful here. Remember if you’re going keto to lose body fat, you don’t want to go crazy consuming loads of fat. But you also might have to adjust your fat intake to make sure you’re getting enough calories for energy.
Consume adequate protein, limit carbohydrates, and use ‘fat as a lever’.
Again, if you are on a keto diet for therapeutic reasons (Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s or cancer), then checking ketones is a must. However, if your goal is weight loss, then checking your results (weight loss, waist size, muscle gains) might be a better strategy than constantly checking ketones.
Barbara’s Daily Food Intake At 1010 Calories
Some Things To Be Aware Of With Myfitnesspal
When entering some food portions, you might have to adjust food portion sizes. For example, you might select an 8 oz. chicken breast, but you only eat half. So you’d have to enter 0.5 to get your right amount.
Also, sometimes when entering food, you have to weigh out the portion you are going to eat. As you see above, I only ate 1 oz. of sweet potato so I had to weigh it on a food scale.
Remember, it’s hard to get this stuff exact, but you can get a close estimate of your daily food intake. After a while, you’ll get to know what you’re eating, and the whole thing will become a lot easier. After a few weeks, we seldom tracked our food. If you’re very overweight due to poor food choices, you may have to track your macros for a while before you get on the right track.
The MFP free app also has some other features. It will track some key nutrients included in the food you eat. Notice it recorded my fiber intake. Remember, this is very important for determining your net carbs.
There’s also a section for recording your water intake, daily exercise, and some key body measurements.
Okay, that’s about it for configuring macros. Now bring on the bacon!
Next week, I’ll look at what is meant by healthy fat; getting good micronutrients; the proper intake of sodium, potassium, and magnesium; the “keto flu”; and some other important aspects you need to know to be successful on the ketogenic diet.
If you have any questions, let us know. Have a blessed week.
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