For years now I have included a couple of short bouts of ketosis in winter, 2-3 weeks each.
Today I explain why and detail my last week: menu, shopping list, calories, macros, recommendations, answers to frequently asked questions …
But before moving on to food, a bit of philosophy.
Comfortable lives, weak bodies
Throughout human history, winter meant two things: cold and hungry. Technology brings comfort to our lives, but it also weakens us.
This paper defends the need to simulate the intermittent challenges experienced by our ancestors: «1) Food shortage, 2) Physical exercise to hunt or repel attacks and 3) Biological toxins present in plants«. By biological toxins he refers to the famous polyphenols, ancient defense mechanisms of plants. These compounds they benefit us via hormesis: they generate cellular stress, forcing us to develop defenses that prevent disease (study).
He concludes the following: «Reverse the epidemic of diseases caused by less challenging lifestyles will require reintroducing intermittent fasting, exercise, and plants rich in hormetic phytochemicals«.
Another beneficial stressor is cold. Multiple studies warn of the risk of spending a lot of time in our area of Thermal comfort. This reduces the activity of brown adipose tissue and contributes to obesity (study, study).
Our diet also varied with the seasons. We ate more carbohydrates in the summer and more protein and fat in the winter. Consistent diets throughout the year can make you lose metabolic flexibility.
Summary: Our body adapts to the challenges of the environment through a complex biological machinery (muscle development, hormone release, neurogenesis, changes in gene expression, regulation of the immune system, heat shock proteins, sirtuins, activation of factors of transcription…). The absence of challenges stunts this powerful machinery. Our health suffers from living in a perpetual state of homeostasis.
Including certain stressors will reconnect you with your deeper biology. Specifically, I am talking about the following:
- Caloric restriction: The eating block I’m following now represents a calorie deficit of 20-25% of my maintenance calories (roughly).
- Intermittent fasting. Two days a week of 16-20 hours of fasting.
- Polyphenols. Within plant foods I prioritize those rich in these compounds.
- Ketosis. Part of the benefits of ketosis are directly mediated by its hormetic effect (study).
- Exposure to cold. One minute of cold shower after my normal shower, in addition to training outdoors without extra clothes (more detail).
- Training. It is a hormetic stressor in itself and also minimizes the risk of muscle loss with a caloric deficit.
The objective is challenge our biology, not annihilate it. We want to recover some stimuli typical of our evolution, not to simulate a concentration camp. Keep in mind the concept of hormetic dose.
Calories and macros
We design a diet of about 2,000 calories a day, which represents a deficit of 25% compared to my 2,800 maintenance calories (approximately).
To determine the macronutrients We fix protein and carbohydrate in grams, filling the rest with fat:
- Protein: 1-1.5 g / Kg (approximately 20% of total calories).
- Carbohydrate: <50 grams (5-10% of the total, including fiber).
- Grease: the rest (70-80% of the total).
Fats have many benefits, but its nutritional density is low. That is why we select proteins and carbohydrates with high nutritional density, avoiding possible deficiencies.
- Protein: Eggs, fish, meat, liver and gelatin.
- Vegetables: We prioritize those with the highest amount of polyphenols (spinach, broccoli, arugula, kale, onion, cabbage …). Herbs and spices also provide concentrated nutrition (garlic, ginger, coriander, chives …).
- Fruit: Blueberries and raspberries. Rich in polyphenols and with minimal carbohydrate intake. Avocado is a special fruit, ideal for providing healthy fat.
- Dairy products: Whole fermented dairy helps fill in the fat quota of a ketogenic diet. If you don’t like them or your genetics don’t tolerate them well, you should use other types of fats.
- Fats: Oils (olive and coconut), butter, cream, nuts, grated coconut, dark chocolate.
Here are last week’s main meals and their approximate calorie and macro content. Most are simple recipes and others require a little more elaboration. Several are in The Revolutionary Plan.
My actual calories were slightly higher, for some unplanned extras: cups of bone broth or a few tablespoons of coconut oil (or butter) with the coffee. If your goal is to lose fat, you should also consider these calories.
For the details of the shopping list and each meal, download it here.
If you want to delve into the benefits of the ketogenic diet, along with intermittent fasting, check out the From Zero to Keto program.
Ketosis causes a rapid loss of glycogen and electrolytes at first. To recover electrolytes, I add a little more salt to my meals and include a supplement of 400 mg of magnesium up to date.
During my ketosis cycle I cut out the protein shakes, which provide about 600 calories, creating a caloric deficit without much effort. Real food produces more satiety. I am still taking 5 grams of creatine after training.
A tasty recommendation
During ketosis, sauces are your friends. They add flavor to your meals and allow you to calibrate the total fat, being based on oils, butter or avocado.
We include the following (all homemade): pesto, hollandaise, mayonnaise, guacamole and different butters.
Some last for several days (pesto, mayonnaise and butter), others must be consumed at the moment (guacamole and hollandaise).
Answers to some typical questions about ketosis.
How long does it take to get into ketosis?
Assuming your macros are fine (especially carb restriction), it will depend on your metabolic flexibility, genetics, physical activity level etc., but 2-5 days is normal. Recovering physical performance however requires a longer process (detail).
How do I know if I am in ketosis?
The easiest thing to do at first is to use urine test strips. As your body adapts to ketosis it will be more efficient in its production and use, eliminating fewer ketones in the urine. Once adapted, you can be in ketosis without the strip marking it. On the other hand, these strips do not measure betahydroxybutyrate (BHB), the brain’s main fuel during ketosis.
It is therefore more reliable to measure ketone bodies directly in blood, with a device like this. In any case, I don’t recommend obsessing over ketone levels, and more is not necessarily better.
Do I have to be in a caloric deficit to reap the benefits?
Ketosis provides benefits regardless of calories, but moderate caloric restriction is certainly a beneficial challenge that we must incorporate periodically, in isolation or in conjunction with intermittent fasting.
Can I get fat while in ketosis?
Appetite suppression is one of the benefits of ketosis, but if you exceed the calories you can accumulate fat (more detail). That said, they are especially effective for losing weight (meta-analysis).
I feel that I lack energy to train. Any alternative?
Low glycogen levels can interfere with strength training. In addition to supplementing with creatine, you can try the approach TKD or Targeted Ketogenic Diet (more detail), which consists of ingesting 15-40 grams of some simple carbohydrate (or pure glucose) half an hour before training.
More on ketosis and athletic performance.
Should I count total or net carbs?
Technically, we should not discount all carbohydrates from fiber, since depending on the type we can absorb some calories.
For simplicity you can point to 50 grams of total carbohydrate per day, gradually reducing this amount if you do not enter ketosis. Another option is to subtract the fiber and use a limit closer to 20-30 net grams daily carbohydrate.
It is important to understand that they are approximate limits, variables according to each person, your level of physical activity etc.
Are there risks?
The benefits of ketosis have been extensively studied (detail, detail, detail, detail, detail, detail), with promising results against the great modern killers: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
People with certain pathologies remain in ketosis for their entire lives without significant long-term risks being identified (study, review).
That said, there are open discussions on several topics:
- Chronic carbohydrate restrictions can downregulate the thyroid (study). Whether it is a normal adaptation or a sign that something is wrong is still up for debate. Individual tolerance is highly variable.
- In some people the lipidic profile it gets very upset with ketosis. We do not know if it is dangerous but not everyone can metabolize fat with the same efficiency. Genes matter. If you do an analysis, try to include the ApoB.
In the short term it is normal to experience some symptoms such as slight fatigue, headaches, constipation … Drink more water and electrolytes it usually helps.
Can I stay in ketosis longer?
If you feel good and see results, go ahead. Personally, I find it a very restrictive diet, and after a few weeks I miss my tubers and fruits. I also don’t like to abuse concentrated fat sources like cream or butter. Ketosis is a normal metabolic state, but It is also normal to take advantage of the food of each season. After the harsh winter, spring came.
What typical mistakes are usually made?
In this article I answer this question in more detail.