What you need to know about ketogenic adaptation

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A ketogenic (or "keto") diet is an eating plan designed to seriously minimize carbohydrates, your body's favorite fuel source, and significantly increase fat. The idea is that as carbohydrate levels decline, the body is forced to burn stored fat as its main source of fuel, which can lead to dramatic weight loss. This diet is a complete change from what most people eat: while the proposed American diet is about 50 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein, and 35 percent fat. Most typical keto diets are 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates, 70 to 75 percent fat, and the rest are protein.

Ketogenic adaptation (also sometimes called fat adaptation) is the process your body goes through when dieting, as it shifts from using primarily glucose for energy to using primarily fat.

"Keto" refers to ketones , which are water-soluble molecules that the liver produces when metabolizing fats, especially with a low carbohydrate intake. Ketones can be used for energy by most tissues in the body, including the brain, which cannot use unrefined fats for fuel .

Your body always uses a mixture of fat and glucose for energy, but in a non-keto-adapted state, it reaches glucose first because fat metabolism generally produces only a small amount of ketones and some body tissues … like the heart, I prefer to use ketones when I have them … The brain cannot use fat, so it depends on glucose when it is in a non-keto-adapted state.

If glucose is your body's regular source of energy, you may wonder what happens when it suddenly becomes insufficient to be used as your primary fuel.

Entering an adaptive keto state

When glycogen stores (the body's way of storing glucose) are depleted, your brain and other organs begin the adaptation process to use fat and ketones instead of glucose as their primary fuel. But reaching ketosis, a state in which fat provides most of the fuel for your body, is usually not a pleasant experience .

Extreme carbohydrate restriction is often accompanied by side effects. Commonly known as the "keto flu," the transition period can cause periods of fatigue, weakness, dizziness, mental confusion, headaches, irritability, muscle cramps, and nausea.

Although the time it takes to adjust to the ketogenic diet varies, the process begins after the first few days. Then after about a week or 10 days, many low-carb people suddenly begin to experience the beneficial effects of ketogenic adaptation. They report better mental focus and focus, as well as increased physical energy.

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By the end of the second week (sometimes up to three weeks), the body has generally done most of its adaptive work to using fat for energy. At this point, hunger and food cravings have subsided and stamina and vitality have increased.

After that, the body continues to make more subtle changes. For example, it is gradually getting cheaper, which is why people often want less protein. Another change that athletes often notice is less lactic acid build-up in the muscles with prolonged exercise, leading to less fatigue and pain. It can take up to 12 weeks for these changes to occur and you are completely in ketosis.

Helping your body adapt

There are several ways to overcome the first week hurdle of cutting carbs:

  • Get lots of fat and fiber . The fuller you feel, the less likely you are to skip your favorite carbohydrate-rich foods. For example, foods made from flax seeds are rich in fiber and healthy omega-3 fats .
  • Increase your intake of salt and water. Many of the negative side effects are caused by the loss of fluids and electrolytes such as sodium (carbohydrates retain water, so you will likely urinate much more frequently when you cut them). To replenish both, drink a cup of water with half a teaspoon of salt added or a cup of broth several times a day for several days.
  • Be light in physical activity. As you adjust to your new fuel source, vigorous exercise can put more pressure on your body, so stick to gentle forms of exercise, such as walking and stretching, for several weeks.

Other expected changes

Research shows that ketogenic diets (and low-carb diets in general) can reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes , and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The ketogenic diet has also been used successfully to treat various seizure disorders . Research shows that they can also help other neurological disorders , such as Parkinson's disease, although more research is needed .

The more scientists study the keto diet, the more positive benefits they discover. For example, people who follow this diet have less saturated fat in their blood, which has been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. New research also shows that using ketones for energy can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, and may even be involved in the activation of some genes that can be beneficial to health .

Make sure to let your doctor know if you are switching to a ketogenic diet because your lipid panel can change significantly. Your healthcare provider should be informed so that your diet and other possible changes, such as weight loss, can be taken into account when developing clinical guidelines.

Ketogenic adaptation management

Some people find their ketosis fairly stable if they are on a low carb diet and consume less than 50 grams of carbs per day, while others find that they need to eat fewer carbs to stay in ketosis. Athletes and vigorous exercisers can often eat more than 50 grams of carbohydrates and still remain in ketosis. Other factors, such as hormonal fluctuations and stress, are known to bring people out of ketosis.

Some people appreciate having blood ketones measured, which can be done at home with a special blood glucose meter and test strips. But most low-carb authors don't recommend messing with it. If you get the expected benefits of a ketogenic diet, worrying about how high your ketones are can only add a level of complications that you don't need.

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