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 November 13, 2019
The ketogenic diet is currently one of the most popular nutrition strategies in America. With its low-carbohydrate emphasis, and its ability to boost how the body can use fat as an energy source, many people have turned to keto when other diets failed them.
Getting into ketosis is a process that can take weeks of dieting or days of fasting. It requires dedication and strict adherence to the keto lifestyle. However, there are a few techniques that can get you into a state of ketosis faster. Let's first explore the biological mechanisms of ketosis before diving into how to arrive there faster.
One piece of vocabulary to highlight: ketosis simply means the body has elevated ketone levels, generally agreed upon as over 0.5mM. This can happen through two processes.
The first is through diet or fasting, in which the body produces its own ketones and is in a “ketogenic” state (called endogenous ketosis). The second is when the body receives ketones from an external source (called exogenous ketosis). Though the body is in a state of ketosis through exogenous means, it isn’t ketogenic because it’s not producing its own ketones.
For years, people followed trends that said diets with a high fat intake were bad–they said fat caused cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and diabetes. Over the years, research began to suggest that this wasn’t the case.
Now, with the resurgence of low-carb, high-fat diets (first Atkins, now keto) doctors and scientists are beginning to understand that fat may have been unfairly cast as the villain in the obesity epidemic. In fact, recent studies have shown low-carb diets may even have unique benefits over their low-fat counterparts. Today we have discovered that the key to fat loss, and better long term health, may simply be eating fat itself.
Our bodies are biologically programed to run on a mix of carbohydrate and fat depending on what’s available. Dietary carbohydrate gets taken up and used as energy via blood glucose (blood sugar), or it is stored in the liver as a molecule called glycogen. Glycogen is slowly released between meals to keep blood glucose energy levels stable.
The body prefers to burn glucose when it’s present. When you eat sugar, you trigger insulin release, which signals the body to burn and store sugar and stop using fat.
So, every time you eat carbs, you slow down fat burning. In order to physiologically alter the way your body processes macronutrients and increase fat burning, you must adjust diet.
Eliminating or drastically reducing dietary carbohydrates forces the body to rely more heavily on alternative energy sources—like fat. Fat isn’t a great source of energy for the brain, because it can’t easily go from the blood into the brain itself. The brain is, therefore, a big sugar-lover, and so we need a way to make fat into brain fuel. This is where ketones come in.
When you’re in a ketogenic state, the body (specifically, the liver) converts fats into ketones for energy. When ketone levels in the blood increase over a specific level of 0.5mM, this means that you are in a state of ketosis—ketones are contributing in a meaningful way to the energy needs of the brain and body.
Most people think a ketogenic diet involves consuming absolutely no carbohydrates. That’s not entirely true though; while carb consumption is cut dramatically, each individual has a different carb threshold they can reach and still be in ketosis.
Generally, strive to consume no more than 50g of net carbs per day. If you're extremely active, increasing the amount of carbohydrates per day is allowable; some athletes have anecdotally reported eating 100g - 150g of carbs while still maintaining ketosis.
By taking a few simple steps in your general diet, your body’s natural fuel source can eventually switch from glucose-reliant to a higher use of ketones and fatty acids.
Besides potential weight loss effects, there are several other evidence-backed health benefits that may be experienced during a ketogenic diet, and others that are areas of active research.
By gaining a better understanding of how keto works, you can better expedite the process of getting into a constant state of ketosis. But there’s a barrier in the switch from normal metabolism to fat / ketone metabolism that can derail many keto dieters.
Whenever you decide to try a new type of diet, there’s always the possibility of growing pains.
You will likely have a transition period until the body is adapted to the changes that occur. Many people who decide to switch to a ketogenic style of dieting experience a common set of symptoms better known as keto flu.
The symptoms of the keto flu arise due to the effects of carbohydrate withdrawal. Some of these side effects may include:
These side effects sound similar to withdrawal symptoms from certain types of drugs— but may be due to the effects of sugar withdrawal. In fact, studies have shown that sugar consumption may have a similar addictive effect as substances such as cocaine.
If you’re unlucky and get the flu badly, these symptoms may make you think about giving up on the keto diet altogether. But if you’re smart about carb and fat consumption, ensure you get enough electrolytes, and are strong enough to move past this brief period of discomfort, the body will begin processing fat as its main fuel source and begin making ketones for energy. Although individuals vary in how long they experience the keto flu, there are certain ways to mitigate its effects in the short term.
First, listen to your body. In some cases, doing short bursts of exercise can help you deplete glycogen faster and thus speed up ketosis. But if you feel low in energy—that’s fine. While transitioning to the keto diet, the body is going through a period in which it’s learning how to function on a new fuel source.
Next, make sure you are getting adequate rest.
Although keto flu isn’t a traditional sickness, getting a proper amount of sleep may help mitigate some of the effects. Plus, no one can argue with the broad health benefits of some good shut eye!
Ensure proper hydration is maintained, including proper electrolyte balance. It’s crucial to maintain fluid balance by supplementing with electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Electrolyte needs may vary person to person, so it’s important to do some experimentation with the amount of electrolytes to get it right for the needs of your body. Thoughtful hydration and electrolyte intake will go a long way in helping to prevent keto flu.
Last, make sure you’re eating enough calories. As the keto diet leaves you feeling full for longer, it’s possible in some cases to under eat, forcing your body to go into full-fledged starvation mode while switching to keto. Instead of starving yourself, be sure to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates by eating adequate amounts of fat. The cravings for sugar and other carbohydrates will eventually subside if you simply give yourself enough time.
The goal of the keto diet is to increase ketone levels. If you’re already on keto, try these tips to help decrease the time it takes you to get into ketosis.
There was a trend in the 80s and 90s when people believed fat was the enemy. They believed that fat was the end-all-be-all cause of a majority of health related issues, especially heart disease. This led to the mass popularity of low-fat diets. People used to consume “low-fat” foods because they thought it would help them lose weight or because they held a false belief that fat in the diet was leading directly to fat on their tummy.
The main function of dietary fat is to increase energy levels and help certain body components function. For the ketogenic diet, this may mean consuming over 70% of your calories from fat. This isn’t something to be afraid of; dietary fat will not necessarily make an individual overweight.
Not all fat is created equal. There are some types of fat that will provide substantial health benefits while some should be consumed minimally. Saturated fats, for example, can be eaten in moderation with foods such as coconut oil, MCT oil, and raw butter (more on MCTs below).
Monounsaturated fats have the role of protecting the heart and fat storage. Some good food choices include avocados, macadamia nuts, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats include both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 reduces inflammation and supports healthy hormone levels and should be consumed more frequently with fatty food choices such as flax seed and salmon. Omega 6 on the other hand has an important role in brain and muscle function, but should be consumed in much lesser quantities.
The worst form of fat to include in one’s diet is trans fat. It comes by way of an industrial process that makes vegetable oils solid.
It was widely used as a food additive in restaurants and packaged goods in the mid 20th century, but is less widely used today. Check ingredient lists on packages and look out for trans fat, avoiding it whenever possible.
There are a number of keto-compliant food choices containing healthy fats, including:
By incorporating a diet containing several of these items, a state of nutritional ketosis will occur. Coupled with low carbohydrate intake, high fat consumption can kickstart ketosis and help you maintain that state of ketosis.
One of the biggest keys to any successful diets is finding food you enjoy to eat.
Sounds simple enough, but one of the main reasons dieters fail is because they’re forcing themselves to eat bland, unappetizing food.
By creating a diverse and exciting meal plan, it may help you sustain the diet. Some of the most popular keto-friendly foods include:
For beverage options:
These are just a few examples of some of the foods that you may enjoy on a ketogenic diet. Of course, taste is individual. Take joy in eating, and seek out keto-compliant foods you actually want to eat. Who knows—your palate could change while you're on keto, and you could find yourself craving foods you never thought you'd like (hello, Brussels sprouts).
Following a ketogenic diet doesn’t mean protein levels will drop. If anything, protein levels may even increase a little. Eating enough protein is beneficial as it may help prevent muscle breakdown.
A moderate protein intake also helps you feel more satiated after eating. A diet that is high-fat and moderate-protein can help to prevent feelings of hunger even when eating in a caloric deficit.
Protein should be obtained from sources rich in fat such as steak or oily fish. If you are unsure of how much protein you should eat, here’s a good rule of thumb: eat 0.8g per pound of bodyweight per day. So, if you are a 200-pound individual, aim for at least 160g per day.
The practice of fasting is ancient, but it has gained some modern traction. But remember: it isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. Fasting doesn’t have to entail foregoing food for weeks at a time. There are a few different ways to fast, with one of the most popular being time-restricted eating.
The definition of fasting is the “controlled and voluntary abstinence from all calorie-containing food and drinks from a specified period of time.” This differs from starvation, which is neither deliberate nor controlled.
Here are some of the most common ways to fast.
Time restricted feeding:
Fasting may increase lifespan. Animals who experience long term caloric restriction live longer, but it is not clear yet if that applies to humans.
Supplements are emerging as a way to tap into faster ketosis. You have a couple options to choose from, with varying potency. Along with supplements, exercise is another tool you can use to speed of ketosis.
Medium chain triglyceride oil, better known to the masses as MCT oil, is incorporated into many ketogenic diets. MCT doesn’t actually contain ketones, but instead, a fat easily converted into beta-hydroxybutyrate (or BHB), the main ketone body. After taking MCT, blood ketone levels rise slowly over several hours.
Usually extracted from coconut oil, MCT has unique benefits when compared to longer chain length fatty acids. Most dietary fat contains more than 12 carbons in the fatty acid chain, while MCTs are only 6 - 12 carbon chains in length. Shorter chain length allows for easier absorption and rapid conversion to ketones in the liver.
Adding MCT oil to your coffee can boost ketone levels in your blood, usually between 0.5mM - 1mM.
Studies have shown that MCT oil can reliably reduce the time that it takes to reach nutritional ketosis.
MCT oils that contain sufficient amounts of C8 capryilc acid (the most ketogenic MCT) can help you get into ketosis faster as well.
These are some of the best options for quick ketosis. As we mentioned, exogenous ketones are external ketone sources ingested via diet and can help you transition into a state of ketosis even without dieting or fasting.
One of the most common options is using a ketone salt. But these only raise blood ketone levels marginally (~1mM), result in GI issues, and often require consumption of high amounts of sodium to reach desired ketone levels.
Supplementing with ketone ester drinks can help enable you to enter a deep state of ketosis within minutes. Supplements like this have been used by professional athletes and the US military, and was even used to help break a world record.
Some of the advantages of ketone ester drinks include:
If you’re struggling to stay in a state of ketosis or want to go into a state of ketosis for the first time, consider adding ketone supplements to your repertoire for optimal performance and results.
Even though it might be the last thing you feel like doing, exercising more can speed up ketosis by depleting the body of glycogen stores naturally. Once the body no longer has glycogen, it will turn to fat burning as its main energy source. Research has shown that exercise can lead to ketosis.
Endurance athletes have special considerations.
You may think an athlete cannot perform on keto. But studies have shown keto-adapted athletes had no signs of compromised endurance performance.
Once the body enters state of ketosis, fat stores become its main energy source. A similar analogy might be switching a gas powered vehicle to a diesel vehicle; it’s the same vehicle operating in the same manner just using an alternative fuel source to power it. What’s more, a fat-adapted athlete can tap into stored body fat for fuel (of which, the body stores far more than carbohydrates).
Similarly, strength athletes have a few things to think about.
A ketogenic diet is not limited strictly to endurance athletes; the same principles can also be applied to strength athletes. In a study performed on strength athletes on a ketogenic diet, increases were seen in all major categories including squat and bench press.
Furthermore, strength athletes may be concerned about a loss of muscle mass on a low-carb diet. But many studies show that muscle mass is at least maintained, and in some cases even increases on a ketogenic diet, especially when combined with resistance training.
Regardless of whether you’re a strength or endurance athlete, a ketogenic diet can be used to burn fat and provide the body with the energy it needs to perform.
It can be difficult to know if you are in ketosis objectively. Thankfully, there are ways of determining if you’re in a state of ketosis—several devices can measure ketosis almost immediately.
Blood ketone testing is the most accurate representation of your current blood ketone levels. It directly measures BHB levels in the blood. This is similar to how diabetics use monitors for reading their blood sugar levels, using a finger prick to draw and test blood.
Using a blood reader is the most reliable method, but some people understandably don’t like dealing with the finger prick (or simply don’t like blood). If you are faint of heart, this may not be the best option for you. Blood testing strips also tend to be more expensive than urine strip counterparts, and the strips with which you test require repeat purchase.
One of the most common ways to measure ketone levels is using urine strips. When blood passes through the kidneys, small molecules like glucose and ketones end up in the urine.
Like glucose, ketones are an important metabolic fuel, and so they are mostly reabsorbed through the kidneys after the blood has been filtered. But some ketones are not reabsorbed, so urine testing is a way to indicate if ketones are present in the blood.
Urine strips are inexpensive (although they must be purchased fairly frequently) but they don’t give you the full picture. First—urine tests only measure the ketone body acetoacetate, not BHB.
Second, the result gives you a color that corresponds to a ketone level, but doesn’t give you a direct numerical reading like other measurement methods. Over time, keto-adaptation leads to changes in how the kidneys handle ketones, meaning that urine ketone levels might be lower, even though the amount of ketones in the blood is the same.
Acetone, the third and least abundant ketone, is spontaneously formed from the breakdown of acetoacetate. It’s found mostly in breath, and its contribution as an energy source is insignificant.
Using a specially-designed acetone breath meter, you receive results almost instantly. These meters specifically measure the amount of acetone excreted in breath, generally readings that relate well to blood ketone levels at low concentration. But their accuracy at higher levels of ketosis is still being researched.
Why did your diet fail? Many people fall victim to excuses. A common excuse: you’re unable to live an active social life.
But to correct this, all it takes is learning how to mold diet with social life. One way to do that is understanding how to navigate a menu when eating out.
Many restaurants today are becoming more keto-friendly. If there are no keto options available on the menu, many items can be altered slightly to adhere to the keto style of diet.
These are easy options to maintain a keto diet while still being able to enjoy time out with friends and family.
No matter if you are eating fast food or a Michelin cuisine, there is always a way to make the menu fit your style of eating.
All it takes is a bit of creativity and a tweak here or there.
Old perceptions about high-fat diets have changed. Health benefits from ketogenic dieting continue to grow, from everything to weight management to diabetes control.
Continued research is necessary to understand the full benefits, but some people are using keto to reverse diabetes, to maintain blood sugar levels, for endurance performance, for improved cognition or for longevity. The list continues growing. Everyone is different- some people don’t get along with keto, but for others it is transformative, so this diet certainly deserves consideration
If you want to get into ketosis fast, follow our steps. But understand it’s a process—it will take some time (and maybe even a bout of keto flu) for the body to fully adapt to this lifestyle. But overall, the process isn’t difficult. It takes dedication, but will be worth it in the long run.
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