The ketogenic diet is known as a highly efficient low carbohydrates, high fat diet. The reduction in carbohydrate intake, combined with the increase in fat intake puts your body into a metabolic state of so-called ketosis. During ketosis, your body becomes extremely efficient at burning fat for energy. But where does protein fit into a ketogenic diet and why does it matter? And how much protein should I consume while on keto? In this article we are going to answer these questions for you!
If you are new to the keto diet, then I recommend checking out my “What is the Keto Diet?” Article and “The Top 5 Reasons to be on the keto Diet” before diving deeper into this topic! These two articles will give you a great overview of what Keto is all about, and why you should try it now.
Regardless of Keto, what’s the recommended daily Protein intake?
There are many studies out there with different outcomes on how much protein the human body actually needs per day. Most official nutrition organization like the World Health Organization and the American Society for Nutrition recommend a modest daily protein intake ranging anywhere from 0.3 to 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. However, this is the amount of proteins that prevents deficiencies. To ensure optimal health and a healthy body composition, most studies suggest a much higher intake. That said intake is not based on just bodyweight, but depends on many factors like age, activity level, muscle mass, current state of health and fitness/physique goals.
Depending on your goals and the above-mentioned factors, your required and recommended protein intake can be well above the intake which some official nutritional organizations recommend. For example, if you are trying to gain muscle, nutritionists and trainers commonly put you on a 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight diet.
Summarized, there is no fixed recommended intake of protein, however, regardless of your goals and intentions, it’s best to consume somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day.
Now it’s time to talk about how your recommended daily protein intake fits into your keto diet.
Where and how does protein fit into a ketogenic diet and why does it matter?
Unfortunately, most people forget about, or pay too little attention to their protein intake when they start their keto diet. The three building blocks for any human nutrition are carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Any given food is composed of these three energy-yielding nutrients. Other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are also essential, but they don’t yield energy to the body.
Because proteins are one of the three essential building blocks for any human nutrition, it is just as important as carbohydrates and fats, and should definitely not be forgotten when undergoing ketosis.
When proteins are digested, they are broken down into amino acids and essential amino acids. Your body is not capable of producing these essential amino acids by itself and thus they need to be consumed. Essential amino acids are ultimately the building blocks of life and are involved in building and retaining muscles, creating enzymes and hormones, carrying oxygen in your blood, producing antibodies and many other functions.
Because the body cannot store protein like it is able to store fats and carbohydrates, it is important to eat the right amount of protein every day. But there is even more to protein than the essential role it plays in sustaining a healthy body. The nutrient-dense protein takes time to digest and helps you feel full. It also builds muscles which in turn burns calories. Proteins are also essential for your muscle and tissue recovery after workouts.
By now you should notice that proteins are essential for your body. Despite being on a keto diet and some “bogus” websites and hobby nutritionists out there claiming that proteins keep you from attaining ketosis, you should pay equally as much attention to your protein intake, as to your carbs and fats intake.
The big myth floating around, that consuming too much protein will kick you out of ketosis is nothing more than a myth. Many keto dieters worry that cutting carbs and eating too much protein causes the body to start turning protein into sugar (gluconeogenesis) and raising the blood sugar levels. The function exists because the body needs a constant amount of glucose to function. Despite limiting the carb intake because you are on a keto diet, the body needs to protect you from glucose starvation and thus turns to other sources for its production. Therefore, dieters worry that if they consume too much protein, that the body will just turn the protein into sugars and raise blood sugar levels.
But studies show that unless you are an insulin-dependent diabetic, eating proteins doesn’t affect your blood sugar level. In one trial, researchers fed participants 160 grams of protein. In return they expected the body of each participant to produce around 80 grams of glucose. However, to the surprise of researchers, the blood glucose levels stayed exactly the same as before the consumption of the 160 grams of protein.
It’s quite common to experience some form of gluconeogenesis when first starting the keto diet. Once your body adapts to using fat or ketones as a main source of energy it will happen only on a need-based basis.
Just because the body could turn proteins into glucose doesn’t mean it will do it. Your body will figure out that ketones are much better long-term energy source than proteins and amino acids. Which is the ultimate goal of a keto diet, to teach the body to use fat for energy instead of glucose.
How much Protein should I consume while on Keto Diet?
Most people on keto diets are prone to consuming not enough proteins. A common mistake that could make your entire keto diet weight-loss and energy goals obsolete. To avoid eating too little protein, you need to calculate your optimal protein intake and make sure you meet that intake.
The traditional keto diet macronutrient calculation recommends getting 20-25% of your calories from proteins. However, like I said earlier, protein intake definitely is not a one size fits all number. It depends on age, gender, height, weight, activity level and overall body composition.
To calculate your ideal protein intake, first you need to figure out your body fat percentage. This can easily be done at most pharmacies or by just checking out different picture online and comparing yourself to them. After calculating your body fat percentage, determine your lean body mass which is your total weight minus your body fat.
For example, if your body weight is 150 pounds, and you have 20% body fat, your lean body mass is around 120 pounds. Based on your activity level and type of lifestyle you will now use one of the following factors to determine the amount of proteins you need to consume:
- Times 0.6 for very little activity
- Times 0.7 for little activity levels
- Times 0.8 for moderate activity level
- Times 0.9 for active lifestyles
- Times 1.0 for extremely active people
If you are not sure where you best fit in, take your lean body mass and multiply it by 0.6 and 1.0 and choose the middle.
120*0.6= 72 grams of protein which will be your minimum intake.
120*1.0=120 grams of protein which will be your maximum intake.
Your ideal protein intake will be somewhere between 72 grams and 120 grams of protein per day. Always remember to stick to the higher end of your intake range for very active days, and to the lower end for less active days.
It is recommended to split up the amount throughout your whole day to ensure a steady supply of proteins throughout the day.
Signs that you are consuming too much or too little protein while on keto diet
Studies show that there are no known benefits of consuming too much protein. Consuming excessive amounts can even lead to adverse side effects. These are signs that you are consuming too much protein:
- Indigestion, constipation or diarrhea
- Kidney damage
- Lower ketone levels
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, chances are high that you need to reduce your protein intake. Aim towards the lower end of your daily protein intake spectrum to avoid the said symptoms.
On the other side, if you are not consuming enough protein it can also lead to side effects. There are many signs that will point you towards a protein deficiency during your keto diet. If you are for example:
- feeling weak and tired most of the time
- suffering from thinning hair, peeling skin and brittle nails
- being plagued by brain fog
- always feeling hungry and constantly craving sweets
- being sick often
- have swollen legs, ankles and feet
It is time to pay more attention to the daily protein intake. First determine your ideal intake amount and then look for keto recipes that are protein rich and make sure you are meeting your daily goals to avoid any unwanted side effects from deficiencies or surpluses.
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