How to Get Into Ketosis Fast
The low-carb, high-fat keto diet has been shown to improve body composition and increase endurance performance. But getting into ketosis is difficu...
Updated October 24, 2019
With all of the talk about ketogenic diets, it would be surprising if you haven’t at least heard of the popular low-carb, high-fat eating regimen.
Since you’re here, it’s likely you have, and that you’re at least somewhat interested in learning more about keto—the lifestyle eating plan that is being proven by research to improve health, regulate appetite, and change lives.
While you may know what keto is, you might not know how to adequately formulate a ketogenic low carb diet. This is one of the most important aspects of keto, since the diet relies on a precise balance of macronutrients in order to be effective.
Sure, it’s low-carb and high-fat, but to ensure that you stay in ketosis and achieve your personal goals, a little bit of planning and tracking might be beneficial. But don’t worry, it’s not rocket science. Below, you can find all the information you need in order to calculate and uniquely tailor your keto diet macronutrients.
All of the food that we consume is composed of macronutrients, or macros for short—they give our body energy in the form of calories. There are three main macros: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Each gram of protein, carbohydrate, and fat provides a certain amount of energy, which are quantified as calories.
One gram of fat contains nine calories per gram, and one gram of carbohydrate and protein both provide four calories per gram.
However, it’s a bit more complicated than this. The actual net calories we gain from consuming a gram of any macronutrient depends on both the energy it provides AND the energy that is required to digest it. Our body actually burns calories (produces heat) in the process of digesting the food we eat. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and is different for each macronutrient.
The thermic effect of protein is about 30% - 35% of total calories consumed. This means that if you eat 300 calories of pure protein, the net caloric intake would be about 200, give or take a few calories, because your body expended about 100 calories digesting the protein. The thermic effect of carbohydrate and fat are a bit lower—about 10% - 15% for carbohydrates and 0% - 5% for fat.
While you probably know generally what types of foods provide each macronutrient in high amounts, here are some examples: meat, eggs, and seafood are all high in protein; carbohydrates, while found in all foods, are more prevalent in breads, fruits, vegetables, and anything that contains sugar; lastly, rich sources of fat include fatty meats, nuts, oils, butter, and cheese. We’ll stop before you get too hungry.
Any “diet” will be composed of the three macronutrients in one of nearly limitless combinations.
Dietary intake of macros is usually expressed as a percentage, where the macro ratio of fat, protein, and carbohydrates is referenced in terms of the total amount of calories they make up in one’s diet. The ketogenic diet calls for a specific combination of macros that are quite different from the typical pattern of eating in most areas of the world.
The typical American diet contains about 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% - 20% of calories from protein, and 30% - 35% of calories from fat.
A ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is drastically different; the diet prioritizes fat, moderate amounts of protein, and restricts carbohydrates.
Here’s the breakdown.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are kept extremely low on keto—the typical recommendation is to keep carbohydrate intake <5% of your total caloric intake.
Why the restriction? Well, biochemically, carbohydrate (glucose) restriction is necessary in order to activate the pathways involved in the production of ketones. Low blood sugar acts as a signal that leads to the breakdown of the body’s fat stores, and cues the liver to ramp up ketone production (ketogenesis). High carbohydrate intake will raise blood sugar, elevate insulin, and inhibit ketosis.
Some “keto-approved” sources of carbohydrates are leafy greens and other low-starch veggies. Examples include broccoli and brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens like kale, zucchini and squash, and asparagus. While technically a fruit, avocados are also a keto-friendly plant source of fats and several micronutrients.
Another consideration on keto is the "net carbs" you're consuming. Net carbs can be calculated by taking the total carbs present in a food and subtracting the amount of dietary fiber from this number. This gives the total carb intake for a particular food.
Protein calories should make up about 10% - 15% of your total dietary intake on a ketogenic diet. Some more “liberal” ketogenic diets might contain 20% - 25% protein. Athletes and others looking to up their protein intake might want to integrate a bit more protein into their ketogenic diet to benefit muscle mass and recovery. However, in most cases the keto diet is considered a “moderate” protein diet.
What’s the scare about protein? The first reason that protein is limited is simply to prioritize the intake of fat, which is the main source of the body’s energy (technically ketones are) while eating keto. Eating less protein means you can integrate a bit more fat in your eating plan.
The second reason is due to a fear that too much protein will kick you out of ketosis. This is based on the principle of gluconeogenesis (GNG), the process whereby the body takes non-carbohydrate sources (protein and fat) and uses them to manufacture glucose when it’s running low.
GNG occurs because, while dietary glucose is non-essential, our body does need to maintain a certain blood glucose concentration to serve as an energy source for cells and tissues that can’t oxidize fats/use ketones. For example, our red blood cells and retinal cells can only use glucose.
There is a claim that eating too much protein will increase GNG, lead to high blood glucose and insulin, and inhibit ketosis.
While valid in theory, many studies have failed to support this claim.
Great ketogenic sources of protein are mainly fatty meat, eggs, and cheese—all of which are high in protein but also saturated and unsaturated fats, plus many essential micronutrients.
Fat is the mainstay of a ketogenic diet, and should make up anywhere from 70% - 80% or more of calories on a ketogenic diet.
The reason why fat intake is such a priority is because fatty acids serve as the substrate for the production of ketones in the liver.
Thus, adequate fat intake is necessary to support ketogenesis and provide adequate energy for the brain, heart, muscles, and other tissues that can oxidize ketones.
There are several sources of high-quality fat that keto dieters enjoy: coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil, butter, peanut butter and other nut butters, cheese and other full-fat dairy, MCT oil, and high-fat meats like fatty fish and beef. These should make up the majority of your dietary intake on a ketogenic diet.
What might a typical macronutrient breakdown for a keto diet look like? Let’s say, for instance, someone has a typical dietary intake of 2,500 calories per day and is eating a “classic” ketogenic diet of 80% fat, 15% protein, and 5% carbohydrate. Their caloric and macronutrient breakdown would look something like this.
Protein: 375 calories (2500 x 0.15). At four calories per gram, this equates to 93 grams of protein (375 / 4).
Carbohydrates: 125 calories (2500 x 0.05). At four calories per gram, this equates to 31 grams of carbohydrates (125 / 4).
Fat: 2000 calories (2500 x 0.8). At nine calories per gram, this equates to 222 grams of fat.
Enough with example situations. We’ve explained enough about macros to hopefully get you interested in calculating your own recommended intake. Before making any calculations, however, let’s talk about why tracking macros is a good idea in the first place.
Making calculations might sound like a waste of time, tedious, or too technical of an issue to worry about on a diet.
However, since keto is designed around a certain macronutrient profile, tracking and calculating macros is one of the best ways to know you’re doing it right. If you want to get into ketosis and stay in ketosis, following a macronutrient plan guided by your specific needs is a must. In addition to tracking macros, ketosis can be “confirmed” and tracked by testing for ketones.
Calculating and tracking macros is also super beneficial if you have a specific goal in mind—whether it be fat loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance.
Maybe you want to build muscle. Calculating macros that are tailored to your specific goal will tell you if you need to eat more calories, fewer calories, or keep your caloric intake as it is, in order to meet your goal. It will also tell you how much protein, fat, and carbohydrates you need to get to your caloric goal.
Finally, calculating macros ensures adequate nutrition. Whether you're concerned with athletic performance, trying to gain muscle or lose fat, or eating a vegan ketogenic diet, you must ensure that you're getting an adequate number of calories in your diet and hitting your daily macro needs.
Maybe you’re not so good at estimating how much fat or protein is in a particular food. This may result in you not eating enough fat, for instance, and compromising your ketogenic ability. Not eating enough fat is actually one of the causes of keto flu—symptoms experienced by those just getting started on a ketogenic diet. If you have some hard numbers as a reference, you can easily meet your macro goals and avoid falling short.
Macronutrient calculation takes the guesswork out of keto. You can use it to calculate your keto meal plan. Here’s a look at how the macro calculator works.
Before inputting your info into the keto calculator and getting your macronutrient output, we need to talk about all of the components that go into the calculator in order to determine how and why it works.
The keto calculator takes into consideration individual factors like age, sex, height and weight, physical activity levels, and your specified goal of losing / maintaining / gaining weight. Personal factors will heavily influence your daily energy expenditure and will play a role in the number of calories your body needs per day (and thus your macronutrient needs).
The keto calculator uses pretty simple concepts in order to give you the recommended intake of the nutrients you need. The calculator takes into consideration all of the factors that influence how many calories you burn in a day, both from resting metabolism and physical activity.
Then, given your calorie needs, the calculator is guided loosely on the principle of “energy in, energy out.” While this model (also known as “calories in, calories out,” or CICO) has received substantial criticism, energy balance is what ultimately governs weight loss and weight gain.
For instance, if you want to lose weight, this will ultimately require an calorie deficit. On the other hand, if you're looking to maintain weight, you'll need a net calorie balance. For weight gain, a calorie surplus is the goal.
What’s so great about the macro calculator is that it considers you as an individual. Not everyone needs the same dietary intake, and the macro calculator considers this fact.
Below, you’ll find some information about which specific variables will go into the calculator, and then a discussion on how to enter your correct info in to the macro calculator.
Age, sex, and body composition all have a significant influence on something called your resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR is how many calories that you burn while doing “nothing”—it’s the energy required for your body to accomplish functions necessary for survival. RMR is also known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or resting energy expenditure (REE).
Age has a significant influence on RMR—RMR typically declines with age.
Sex also influences RMR. As men typically have a higher body weight and lean body mass and / or lower fat mass than females, they will also have a higher energy requirement.
Height and body weight are used to calculate body mass index (BMI). BMI is a loose correlate of body composition, although it doesn’t directly take into account body fat percentage.
In fact, the metabolic activity of muscle mass is one of the most important factors that determines your RMR. Just another reason to lift weights regularly.
Along with resting energy expenditure, the macro calculator also takes into consideration how much energy you’re using in a day to perform physical activity. This variable is known as physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE).
Someone who is highly active will need more energy from calories than someone who has a more sedentary lifestyle.
Think of it like a construction worker vs. an office job. These obviously require different amounts of energy.
It’s important to be accurate when assessing your activity and entering this into the calculator, since it may be a significant determinant of your energy needs.
After PAEE is entered, the macro calculator can then determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which is just the sum of your resting and physical activity energy expenditure.
The final variable entered into the macronutrient calculator has to do with your specific body composition goals, which will influence how many additional or fewer calories you’ll need.
For instance, if you want to lose weight, you can enter a calorie deficit goal, selecting up to a 30% reduction in daily calorie intake.
If you want to gain weight, you’ll do the opposite—you can enter a calorie surplus goal, selecting up to 15% increase in daily calorie intake.
We also have considerations for body fat percentage and desired protein intake to either gain or maintain muscle. We'll cover those below.
Now that we know HOW and WHY the keto macronutrient calculator works, it’s time to put in your information and get our your personalized and unique keto diet macronutrient breakdown. Here's a list of instructions for how to do it.
You can find our macronutrient calculator by clicking here.
This is a Google Sheet that you'll be able to view. In the Google Sheet window, click "File." Then click "Make A Copy." Now you'll have a version of the macronutrient calculator that you can begin using by inputting the necessary values. You can also come back to this document and adjust it as your goals also adjust. It's yours to keep!
The first thing you’ll enter into the calculator are your sex, age, current weight, and height. The keto macro calculator uses this to calculate your RMR based on the Mifflin-St Jeor Formula, which studies have shown provides the most accurate estimation of RMR among other formulas that exist.
Next, enter your physical activity level. The calculator has five different levels of activity. Be accurate when choosing the activity level that best represents your average activity per day. You can find a description below, used industry-wide. Your level of activity will determine, along with your RMR, your estimated total daily energy expenditure.
With this information, you'll receive your total daily calories for your current weight and activity levels, broken down in macronutrients of fat, protein and carbohydrate.
But what if you want to lose weight or gain muscle?
Think about your goal; is it to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain weight? Based on that goal, enter your desired caloric deficit or surplus. It is recommended that you never go below a 30% caloric deficit or above a 15% caloric surplus, as this may lead to detrimental results to your health. Adjusting this field will automatically adjust your total daily calories and thus, your macros.
But maybe you want to build lean body mass (LBM). This is determined through two different inputs that work together: current body fat percentage and goals for protein intake. If you know your body fat percentage, include it. And if you'd like to build LBM, you can input your desired protein intake. Normally, 0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight is required to maintain current LBM; 0.8g - 1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight should help you build LBM.
Adjusting both these fields will change your total daily calories and more importantly, your protein intake in your macronutrient breakdown. That means you won't be sticking to the normal keto macronutrient breakdown of 20% protein in your diet. The increase in protein will lead to a decrease in daily calories from fat. The carbohydrate recommendation will remain consistent with recommendations for a ketogenic diet at 5% of daily calories.
Now that you’re armed with all the information you need to formulate the perfect keto diet, it’s time to act.
Maybe your first step will involve researching the top keto-friendly foods, best keto recipes, or techniques to get into ketosis fast. Luckily, we’ve got you covered on all of these aspects. If it’s information you need, look no further than the H.V.M.N. blog.
Not much to do now except to make a shopping list and drive to the store to stock up on tasty keto food. This is the fun part.
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