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Keto and Protein: What Should You Take?
When starting your Keto diet, being aware of what to eat and what not is important.
To effectively stimulate ketosis, you should get the bulk of your calories from fats while keeping your protein and carbohydrate levels low.
In the ketogenic lifestyle, one of the main food sources is protein. It is important that you do not take too much protein as it will cause a raise in your blood sugar levels through gluconeogenesis- a process that impairs ketone production. Therefor it is good to be aware that your protein intake has to be well regulated on your keto-diet.
Glucose is one of the two macronutrients that your body needs. Because some cells and tissues can’t utilise ketones, a low consumption of glucose is not good either. Incorporating a moderate amount of proteins in your diet will give you just enough glucose to fuel your body while still fully benefiting from ketosis. So, what is the right protein intake while being on a ketogenic diet?
Why protein intake is important in the Keto Diet
Protein is a crucial macronutrient necessary in most functions of the body. In addition to maintaining structures and processes of the body organs and tissues like muscles, liver, heart, and kidneys, adequate consumption is crucial for:
- Strong bones, hair, skin, and nail health
- Building and healing body tissue
- Muscle growth and recovering from workouts
- Optimal hormonal and enzyme function
- Maintaining a lean mass and healthy cells
- Lowering blood pressure, regulating cholesterol, and reducing triglyceride levels
Furthermore, studies have shown that proteins reduce your appetite by triggering the hormones that promote satiety and decrease cravings, preventing dieters from overeating.
To best understand this crucial macronutrient’s role of protein in ketosis, it’s essential to know how our bodies respond to its intake. Once digested, proteins trigger the production of two energy regulating hormones; insulin and glucagon. Individual production depends on various factors, including diet, genetic makeup, activity level, gender, and insulin sensitivity.
Surprisingly, these two hormones have opposing functions. Insulin stimulates sugar uptake, sugar-burning, protein synthesis, and glycogen storage. Glucagon promotes fat burning, glycogen breakdown, and glycogenesis. In summary, insulin hinders ketosis, while glucagon stimulates it.
Insulin to glucagon ratio greatly determines the effect that protein intake will have on ketosis. Increased insulin production will result in reduced ketone production, while higher glucagon release stimulates ketosis.
How Much Protein Should You Take on the Ketogenic Diet?
Formulating an effective keto diet isn’t always easy. As so many variables affect the amount of protein best for ketosis, calculations can get very confusing. Outlined below is a guide you can use to gauge your protein requirement:
Regularly active beginners can start by aiming to get 25% of their total calorie requirement from proteins. For those living very active lifestyles (workout more than three times a week), intake can go up to 30%.
It’s essential to keep in mind that carbohydrate levels should always be at a minimum of 5 to 10%. Additionally, they should primarily be from cruciferous vegetables and a number of keto-friendly nuts. Once you have figured out how much protein and fat to incorporate in your diet depending on your muscle mass, the rest should come from healthy fat sources.
To maintain your lean mass, we highly recommend keeping your intake to 1 gram per pound of lean mass. However, for those living sedentary lifestyles, protein intake should be 0.6 – 0.8g of protein per pound of total muscle mass.
Can You Overeat Protein?
Protein intake in the keto diet should be moderate and not excessive. Although too much can decrease your ketone levels, it’s highly unlikely to reach that point if you restrict your intake to 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight.
Below are tips on how to raise ketones and avoid too much protein:
- Exercise more. Regular workouts increase the body’s protein needs. Walking, jogging, skipping, running, and resistance training are all excellent options.
- Find your daily limit for ketosis by regularly monitoring your blood ketone levels using a ketone meter.
- Avoid sources that contain carbs, such as most nuts.
- Take an adequate amount of proteins (too little can compromise your lean tissue mass).
- Space your intake throughout the day and eat it with enough fat.
Always remember, consuming less protein can be much worse than eating more.
Best Keto Protein Foods and Snacks
Although animal-based proteins like fatty meat are tasty, easy to find, and support your keto macros, they are not the best choices for a healthy lifestyle. Instead, opt for nutrient-rich, low-fat proteins or those high in healthy fats like unsaturated fats and omega-3s. Lean meat, fatty seafood, low-fat dairy, and plant-based proteins are excellent sources. You can also supplement your intake with keto powders.
Keto dieting doesn’t make you immune to hunger and cravings. If you don’t have food at hand, you may be tempted to munch on processed carb-rich snacks, kicking you off ketosis. Therefore it is best to have ready-to-eat keto snacks on hand when hunger strikes or when you need a quick energy boost. The best snacks for keto include keto-friendly dark chocolate, keto cookies, keto nut butter,, low-carb bars, sardines, pork rinds, beef jerky, and some of the full-fat cheeses.