How much protein should I have on the keto diet? That is a common question I receive from hard training athletes whom need to eat high protein but want to maintain a state of ketosis.
The keto diet is a fantastic form of a low carb high fat diet to manage blood sugar, boost cognitive health and fix a stressed out gut or intestinal permeability.
New podcast episode goes deeper into this
One of the issues with the true ketogenic diet is that overall protein intake must be extremely low, less than one gram per kg of body weight,due to the gluconeogenic nature of amino acids. Amino acids, the building block of protein, causes a spike in blood glucose and while that spike is minor in comparison to carbohydrates, it can kick you out of ketosis.
Now the bodybuilding world has along used a “keto” diet as a higher fat, higher protein and lower carbohydrate diet but that’s also incorrect. Since protein can increase blood glucose and knock you out of ketosis, following a higher protein approach isn’t truly ketosis if you aren’t getting all the benefits of being in ketosis. Feel me?
If you’re kicking off gluconeogenesis and protein is being turned into glycogen then your body isn’t going to use the ketones for fuel but rather glucose. Yet we don’t have conclusive evidence that a high protein intake prevents ketosis and I think this is in large part to a variety of factor.
How deep you are in ketosis is dependent on your muscle mass, activity levels, how long and how deep you’re in ketosis and if you are using ketogenic supplements.I've known endurance athletes that can eat upwards of 100 grams of carbohydrates per day while training for an ironman triathlon or endurance event and still stay in a measured state of nutritional ketosis.
The tricky aspect is that you need protein to fuel recovery and maintain precious muscle mass while on a diet. Your protein levels depends on both your goals and specific training methods.
The trick I use is introducing branched chain amino acids into a keto dieters program. The three branched chain amino acids have a variety of unique benefits with the largest benefit, in this case, being that BCAAS are actually ketogenic in nature and do not cause a significant spike in blood glucose.
The Physique Formula BCAAs include the research proven ratio of 2:1:1 leucine-isoleucine-valine. Leucine is actually ketogenic in that it may help the ketone bodies produced by the state of nutritional ketosis to enter the brain more efficiently and leucine does not raise blood glucose. Isoleucine is partly ketogenic and partly gluconeogenic and valine is gluconeogenic. If you do the math, since the BCAA ratio is 2:1:1, you will primarily maintain ketosis by using BCAAS and increase muscle recovery without adding extra whole sources of protein.
BCAAS are also a fantastic way to maintain and raise muscle protein synthesis. Without a large volume of carbohydrates your body may tap into muscle tissue for energy during training and as a result, burn muscle tissue. BCAAS are proven to halt muscle breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis for new muscle growth.
Summary:How Much Protein Can I Eat On A Ketogenic Diet?
1) Consume at least 1 gram of protein per kg of body weight during the course of the day to maintain muscle mass. If you’re going higher protein without a high activity level then make sure you consume this protein with an additional high fat intake such as extra olive oil, coconut oil or fatty protein sources such as grass fed beef or wild caught fish
2) Supplement with BCAAS in between meals to maintain elevated muscle protein synthesis.
3) If you are training for an athletic event or bodybuilding show, you can bump your protein intake up to 1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight but it must come with additional fat sources.