Ketogenic Diet 101: A Beginner's Guide to Keto

September 29, 2021

Ketogenic Diet 101: A Beginner's Guide to Keto

We hear questions about this all the time here at the personal training studio in Richmond, BC. Unless you’ve been living and working out under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about a keto diet, too (also referred to as a ketogenic diet). Many eating regimes feature low carb food intake – you may even have heard your fitness coach talking about it.

So, is it all hype? Or are there real results to be gained?

It’s always a good idea to consult with your personal trainer before making any radical changes to your diet, but this article is designed to help you decide whether a keto diet might be right for you and whether it can assist you with achieving your fitness goals. We’ll include everything you need in a beginner’s guide to keto – like explaining ketosis, what you can eat on a keto diet, and even how you still get to drink coffee – which is great news, right?

What is a Keto diet?

To start with, keto is a form of low-carb food diet. Your intake consists of high-fat, and protein rich foods, and that sort of eating regime can help you shed pounds – pretty darn fast. In fact, keto diet followers limit carbohydrates intake to between only twenty and fifty grams each day. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and you may well experience some relatively acute withdrawal symptoms at first – but the rewards can be well worth the effort!

In short, keto diets aren’t all that bad to put up with. You won’t need any special ingredients to prepare an easy keto meal, for instance. In fact, almost anyone out there can cook for a keto diet. It’s less about fads and fancy foodstuffs and more about using everyday ingredients carefully and in a controlled way. You can even get keto meal delivery in Vancouver if you’re too short on time to visit the store! Not only that, but you get to eat a lot of delicious foods – although you will still need to watch how many kilojoules you consume.

What’s ketosis?

Basically, a keto diet produces a physiological effect called ketosis. That’s what happens when your body needs to stop burning sugars for energy and begins to make ketones out of fatty deposits in your liver instead. That’s primarily what helps with weight loss on a keto diet.

Ketosis occurs when you limit how many carbs you eat and kilojoule intake – hence the term ketogenic diet. Everyone is different, but many people experience lower levels of hunger on a keto diet than with other methods of weight loss. Experts also recommend eating as many ‘good fats’ as possible rather than gorging on too many processed or saturated fats.

It’s a great idea to speak with your fitness coach or get some specialist nutrition advice before you start a keto diet. What you can eat isn’t all that hard to endure, but fiber, for instance, is limited – so it’s essential to talk to someone qualified.

What you can eat on a keto diet, and what to avoid

Eating fewer carbs is the quickest way to reach ketosis, and you’ll need to watch what you eat in order to stay in that state, too. If you want to start gently, limit your carb intake to 50 grams a day, although it’s better to ultimately aim to keep your intake under 20 grams.  It sounds kind of complicated, but most people find once they get into a keto diet, it’s far simpler to regulate their carb intake, and they stop having to count so much.

On top of limiting your carbohydrate intake, you’ll also need to abstain entirely from eating certain foods.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can and can’t eat on a keto diet:

·   You can eat butter, and you can also put cheese on stuff, which is high in protein – but avoid other dairy products like milk.

·   There’s no need to give up bacon and other meats – in fact, you’ll plan a lot of your meals around protein sources.

·   Fish is a great source of many things, such as omega-three oils, and you’re absolutely fine to include fish in a keto diet plan.

·   Vegetarians don’t have to do without meat substitutes, and you can eat tofu.

·   Nuts and seeds are fine, like almonds.

·   Avoid vegetables that are high in carbs, like potatoes and stick with low carb vegetables, such as lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli.

·   Most fruits are out, but lemons, tomatoes, and avocados are OK.

·   Some nuts and seeds are fine to eat on a keto diet, but avoid cashews and pistachios, which have a high carb content.

·   Don’t use sugar or sweeteners when you’re following a keto diet – your body needs to get used to burning fats instead.

·   If you’re a drinker, alcohol is pretty much a no-go, but it’s OK to have a glass of red wine every now and then.

·   Carb-rich foods are definitely out, so say goodbye to bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta for a while.

·   It’s also essential to avoid processed foods and concentrate on eating fresh, keto-friendly options instead.

·   Your personal trainer will no doubt recommend you consume water during exercise, but you can still enjoy tea and coffee, and you can use almond milk or oat milk instead of cow’s milk. If you want some inspiration for keto-friendly coffee, check out these ideas for Starbucks keto drinks.

How to plan meals on a keto diet

So, you won’t need to shop in specialist stores to follow a keto diet, and once you’re into the right habits, you can transition over easily. It’s important to have a plan, however, for many people, the best place to start is clearing out their refrigerator and pantry. That removes temptation, and you’ll have the right ingredients in your home to make some delicious keto-friendly meals.

One of the best ways to do that is by starting with a source of protein. Choose a fish, meat, or vegetarian option like eggs or tofu and then build up the rest of the meal around that. You’ll also need to choose a source of fat and some low-carb vegetables.

Macronutrient Ratios, and how to achieve a balance that’s right for you

There are three main food groups you need to worry about on a keto diet – protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Here’s how that tends to work for most people:

·   Carbs are the key to entering and staying in ketosis, or rather, an absence of carbs is what you should aim for. It’s very important to stick to under 50 grams a day or lower. If you don’t do that, you won’t get the benefits of a keto diet, and there’s no avoiding that fact.

·   Protein is important when you’re on a keto diet. Most people need a minimum of 70 grams a day. Aim to get between 20 and 40% of your calories from protein, and you won’t be too far off.

·   Fats are a great way to add flavour to a keto meal, but you need to avoid saturated fats. Again, stick to healthier sources of fat like egg yolks or fatty meats and fish. You should target getting between 60 and 80% of your calories this way.

Keto risks, side effects, and what you should do before you start

Existing medical conditions: If you already take medication for high blood pressure, you should consult your doctor before you embark on a keto diet. Likewise, although keto diets have proven to be beneficial for many people with diabetes, you should always talk with your specialist before a drastic change in the way you eat or exercise.

Breastfeeding: If you’re breastfeeding, you should avoid ketosis altogether because it can be very dangerous for your baby. However, you can talk about alternatives with your doctor. The primary difference between a low-carb diet and keto is in the number of carbs you eat each day. Some mothers can breastfeed perfectly fine on a standard low-carb diet, where ketosis doesn’t occur.

The keto flu: This doesn’t happen for some people at all, but others can experience some discomfort at the start of a keto diet, which wears off after a couple of weeks. If you do get a touch of ‘keto flu,’ you’ll likely experience one or more of the following symptoms while your body makes the switch from burning sugars to functioning on stored fat:

Symptoms of keto flu include:

·   You may feel dizzy

·   Feelings of tiredness, even when you’re getting a good night’s sleep.

·   Some keto diet followers get headaches.

·   Muscle cramps are relatively common with keto flu.

·   Mood swings and irritability can be relatively common when you first start a keto diet.

·   Trouble concentrating on a task.

·   You might find your regular workouts harder.

Even if you do get keto flu, you can ensure you drink plenty of water and up your salt intake to counter the symptoms.  After keto flu passes, you’ll likely begin to have more energy and feel healthier – so stick with it if your body doesn’t make the adjustment right away because the benefits will far outweigh the cons in the long term.

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Written by

Ken Lu

Ken has a Bachelor's Degree of Psychology from the University of British Columbia, specializing in Sport Psychology. As well as being a Certified Personal Trainer, Ken is also a Movement & Mobility Specialist, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has trained for and won the 2018 NPAA BC Men's Physique Championship.