What is keto? I can’t begin to blog about my training without beginning with nutrition.
I know I’m going to bungle this, but I’ve always believed if you can’t clearly articulate a basic understanding of The Thing*, you don’t have a full understanding of it. So here goes my extreme layperson version:
When we eat food, our bodies begins a series of chain reactions to process the food that goes into our stomach. One of those reactions is to deal with the rise in our blood sugar (blood glucose) that occurs when we eat certain foods. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar a lot, protein raises it a little, and fat raises it almost not at all. Our meals and snacks are usually a combination of all 3 of those macronutrients, and acids and enzymes go to work breaking down the food during digestion.
Our bodies carefully monitor the sugar that is in our blood, and it has some choices about how to maintain the level it wants. Our pancreas secretes insulin, which directs the body to put a certain amount of the glucose into our muscle cells, and when those are replenished, the rest gets stored in the liver and fat cells for later use.
A keto diet is a low carb, high fat diet that results in lower insulin levels. A consistent reduction in carbohydrates results in your body going into a metabolic state known as ketosis. This means that the body burns fat instead of glucose, because a) there’s limited glucose to burn, b) there’s plenty of fat available, and c) the fat storage hormone insulin is low enough for our bodies to access the fat in all of our jiggly fat cells. The fat we burn can come from what’s on our plate or what’s on our body.
The fewer carbs that we eat, the more consistently we can reduce our insulin response, and the more we become fat-burners instead of glucose burners.
This is far too simplistic an explanation to describe the many components, down to the cellular level, that are active in our organic, self-replicating bodies.
We humans have the ability to burn sugar or fat. As long as we restrict the sugars/carbs going in, our body is forced to seek sources of energy elsewhere. Not only does this give us a steady stream of energy (even lean folks have enough body fat to fuel for hours), we don’t experience crazy hunger surges. We can only store so much glucose in our blood and in our muscles, and once that’s depleted, and insulin is low, the body resorts to burning fat for energy.
There are some great analogies that help us picture what is happening when we are fat-burners instead of sugar burners.
Here’s Dr. Jason Fung on his fridge-in-the-kitchen/freezer-in-the-basement analogy (video version). And this is it in blog form.
There’s another illustration that describes switching from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner is similar to reworking a mechanical engine to burn a different type of fuel.
I’ve also read another comparing burning sugar to burning twigs and leaves, and burning fat is a big log on a nicely-banked bed of coals.
At some point all of these analogies collapse, as analogies do, but you get the general idea, and maybe one of these would be helpful.
I think my explanation was a little messy and wordy. You would be much better served hitting up a few good Google search links to get a more comprehensive understanding of ketosis and the ketogenic diet. Both of the following are awesome, but heavy on the science:
This site is called ketoschool:
The concentration of glucose in your blood is the critical upstream switch that places your body into a “fat-storing” or “fat-burning” state.
This site/blog is among my favorite: Virta Health – it’s LOADED with good information and clear science.
I’ll post more extensively soon about what I specifically eat, but it’s pretty simple: meat, fat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and low-carb vegetables.
I don’t want to finish without adding this little thought: I’ve been working on understanding nutrition science for years. I’ve experimented with paleo, primal, and all the buzzwords in this category. It’s taken me a while to get it all dialed in, and I’m still tweaking and learning.
I’ll also write a post soon about what I would suggest if you are just starting out, because this way of eating (WOE) is so drastically different than the standard American diet (SAD), I think it would be overwhelming to jump from SAD to keto.
I’ll repeat my disclaimer here that I fully embrace that there is more than one way to skin that proverbial cat. This is what has been working for me and my body and my training.
Thanks for reading.
*This works with financial investments, studying for the Bar Exam, defending your non-evidenced beliefs, and explaining your politics. 😉