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When starting your keto diet, knowing what to eat and what to avoid is important. To effectively stimulate ketosis, you should get the bulk of your calories from fats while keeping your protein and carbohydrate levels low. Time to find out about the important role of protein in the keto diet. 

In this article: 

What is protein and why do you need it?

ketogenic food protein food intake

Protein is a macronutrient that supplies you with energy and is involved in most functions of the body. To be precise, your body breaks down protein into amino acids, which are very important building blocks of your body’s tissues, especially the muscles. 

Of the 20 amino acids that your body needs, you can produce 11 yourself, but 9 of them are essential, meaning that you can’t do without them, but since your body does not produce them, you need to get them from food. 

You can get your protein from both plant and animal sources, but it’s good to keep in mind that only animal protein (which includes dairy) contains the full range of essential aminos and is therefore called ‘complete’.  

Plant proteins all miss one or more of the essential amino acids. Especially if you eat entirely vegan, you need to get your protein from as many plant sources as possible to make sure that you still get the full range of aminos. 

In addition to being vital for the maintenance and growth of the body’s tissues and organs like muscles, liver, heart and kidneys, protein supports many bodily functions. 

Protein plays a crucial role in: 

Takeaway Whether you’re on keto or not, protein is an essential macronutrient that your body needs a regular supply of to function well. 

How much protein do you need?

protein drinking man

The mainstream nutritional advice for the average adult is to aim for a protein intake of about 0.8g per kg of body weight. However, those living more inactive lifestyles can do with a little less, while those on a challenging workout schedule will need a bit more, especially after exercise, to benefit optimally from their workout and sustain and expand muscle mass. 

It’s a little different for keto 

And here’s the rub if you’re doing keto. To stay in ketosis, it is very important that you do not take too much protein, as a surplus will raise your blood sugar levels through so-called gluconeogenesis. This is a complex process whereby unused protein is converted into glucose. It could even kick you out of ketosis. 

But you should not get too little protein either. As we’ve seen, it’s an essential macronutrient of which you need a daily amount. Without protein, you won’t be able to maintain your muscle mass and strength.

Here’s how you deal with protein on keto 

In the keto diet, your macros (the ratio between the calories from the 3 macronutrients that you consume to meet your daily caloric needs) are generally leading for assessing the daily amount of protein that you need. When you start out on keto, it’s usual to aim for 5% carbs, 25% protein and 70% fat as macros to reach and maintain ketosis. You can use our Go-Keto Calculator to find your personal macros.  

Protein and physical activity

Keep in mind that these standard macros are a rule of thumb. As you progress on your keto journey, you will probably finetune them at some point to reach the most effective macro’s for your individual requirements.  

This isn’t always easy, especially where protein is concerned. Many variables may affect your optimal amount of protein for ketosis, but one thing is certain: the activity level is a very important factor, since it’s during and after physical activity that you metabolize the most protein. 

Outlined below is a guide you can use to assess your protein requirement by activity level: 

Beginner (relaxed, moderate exercise) 
You can get up to 25% of your total calorie requirement from proteins.
Intermediate (workout 1-2 times a week) 
Try getting 25% of your daily calories from protein, adding a little extra on days when you work out.
Gym tiger (workout +3 times a week)
Your protein intake can go up to 30%.

It’s essential to keep in mind that no matter how much protein you take, to stay in ketosis, your carbohydrate macro should always be between 5 and 10%. The rest of your daily energy intake should come from healthy fat sources.  

Takeaway The daily amount of protein you need depends on your macros and activity level. It pays to calculate well, since too much protein might raise glucose levels while too little will impede your functioning and strength. 

Can you overeat protein?

Well, yes, on keto, you can. Protein intake in the keto diet should be moderate and not excessive; as we’ve seen, a protein surplus may raise glucose levels, making it harder to stay in ketosis. However, it’s highly unlikely to reach that point if you keep your intake under 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight. 

Below are 4 tips on how to promote the production of ketones and make sure you use as much as possible of the protein that you consume, avoiding a surplus: 

  1. Exercise. Regular workouts increase the body’s protein needs. Walking, jogging, skipping, running, and resistance training are all excellent options. 
  2. Find your daily limit for staying ketosis by regularly monitoring your blood ketone levels using aketone meter. 
  3. Space your intake throughout the day and eat it with enough fat. 
  4. Always remember, consuming too little protein is usually worse than eating too much. 

Best Keto Protein Foods and Snacks

protein powder promotion

Although animal-based proteins from fatty meat fit well within your keto macros and are tasty and easy to find, consuming them in large amounts may not the best choice for a healthy lifestyle.

For a clean, varied and more sustainable keto diet and lifestyle, opt for a varied protein consumption from nutrient-rich, low-fat sources or those high in healthy fats like unsaturated fats and omega-3s.  

Lean meat, fatty seafood, low-fat dairy, mushrooms and plant-based proteins are all excellent sources. You can also get (extra) protein from protein shakes, such as Go-Keto MCT Protein Powder Shakes, which contain pure vegan pea and rice protein plus energy-boosting MCT’s – ideal after a workout.

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When you’re keto dieting, you will probably experience less hunger and cravings, but it doesn’t make you immune to them. If they hit you, you may be tempted to grab the first processed, carb-rich snack you can find. That’s why many ketonians make sure they always have some ready-to-eat keto snacks with them. They can be great for snacking emergencies or when you need a quick energy boost.  

Takeaway For a heathy, clean and sustainable keto lifestyle, get your protein from a variety of nutrient-rich sources like lean meat, poultry, fatty seafood, dairy, mushrooms and plant-based proteins