So you’re living a ketogenic lifestyle from some time now, but the results aren’t as expected. That may be because you’re getting the wrong amount of protein. Let me clear that out for you in this in-depth article.
Protein is one of the building blocks of anatomy. It contains amino acids that are essential for the maintenance and repair of body tissues, muscles, bones and organs.
This macronutrient is often hailed as the most critical component to sustaining life and functionality within the body.
Yet, how much this seemingly vital molecule is required to be consumed while practicing a high-fat, low carb, ketogenic lifestyle? The answer may surprise you.
Prior to determining the appropriate protein intake requirements, an in-depth review of the metabolic process and physiology of ketosis will give you further insight of the other critical macronutrient – fat.
Why A High Fat Diet?
Inducing a state of nutritional ketosis requires depletion of the glucose reserves and stored glycogen in the body through a drastic reduction of daily carbohydrates (recommended at 20-30g net per day) or a deliberate practice of fasting over a few days (1).
Glucose is typically the primary energy source for the human brain as fatty acids do not cross the blood-brain barrier (2).
However, once implementing the lowered quantity of carbohydrates for a few days, the central nervous system (CNS) calls upon an alternative fuel source through overproduction of acetyl-CoA.
This leads to the production of the three ketone bodies: acetoacetate, b-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB), and acetone (3).
Does this mean that the presence of glucose is entirely abolished after transitioning to a ketogenic lifestyle?
On the contrary, as glucose is formed from both glucogenic amino acids and from glycerol released from triglycerides, the second named source is known to increase during the state of ketosis.
As glucose becomes less abundant, the amino acids that are used up first will diminish leaving the ratio of glucose stemming from glycerol to be elevated.
In laymen’s terms, your body will find new means to produce enough glucose for the functionality of your body and brain if it is not being ingested through dietary form. Instead, it is extrapolated through triglyceride (fat) hydrolysis (chemical breakdown) (4).
Okay – so how does this pertain to protein consumption?
What Happens With Protein?
As explained, during ketosis glucose is produced from two sources including the breakdown of amino acids from protein in your muscles and cells.
While carbohydrates have been limited steadily over a period of time, fat-adaptation is achieved and subsequently ketones taken as the principal fuel source for your body. And an overabundance of protein can trigger EXCESS gluconeogenesis (GNG).
This is the method by which your body converts protein into glycogen to be used as glucose for energy for the body.
It is to be noted that gluconeogenesis is a very important and natural process that occurs all the time, especially during the dormant and sleeping hours when you’re devoid of food, to help regulate and stabilize blood sugar levels.
However, it is not efficient to continually be resorting to breaking down proteins from lean muscle mass and can also supersede and stunt ketone production altogether for a duration of time.
The production and presence of ketones is highly beneficial and interruption in the state can lead to suboptimal and inconsistent results, and not allow the body to become fully fat-adapted.
Furthermore, the overconsumption of protein in any diet can cause undue stress on the kidneys as they are tasked with filtering nitrogen waste from the blood.
Any current impairment of the kidney can lead to worsening of the status and there is an upper limit that can be achieved where the excess amount of protein is unnecessary.
Insulin Resistance Explained
Insulin is a hormone that allows your pancreas to convert the sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates into an energy source and to store as fat for future use.
It calls for regulation of blood sugars by signalling cells to release or absorb the consumed glucose for energy or store in the liver during periods of exercise or between meals.
Insulin resistance is commonly observed amongst diabetic patients or suffering from a metabolic syndrome marked by visceral obesity and hypertension.
When the cells fail to respond to the hormone insulin or your body is unable to produce insulin, glucose cannot be absorbed from the bloodstream. So it leads to elevated blood glucose levels.
Ideally, a person who responds to a low level of insulin in order to regulate blood glucose is known to have insulin sensitivity.
It is remarkable to note that data suggests ketone bodies mimic the acute effects of insulin by augmenting the intracellular glucose concentration at the mitochondrial level which by-passes the intricate signalling of insulin.
This alternative method to regulating blood sugar levels means that consumption of higher quantities of carbohydrates and other sources is not needed in ketosis.
That’s because ketone bodies will supplement the lack of insulin production, creating greater insulin sensitivity and still providing the body with the regulation required.
Insulin-Like Growth Factor
How protein plays a role in this equation is with stimulation of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1).
When an excess of protein is consumed, IGF-1 (a close cousin to insulin) will be manufactured by human growth hormone (HGH) in the brain to allow for the growth and reproduction of cells to develop a stronger organism.
In doing so, however, it stimulates aging and potential disease as well as activating mTOR.
This is a vital protein responsible for the body’s nutrient signalling pathway.
mTOR it’s also a key muscle-building element that cues the cell to grow at the expense of mitochondrial and DNA repair, regeneration and cleaning out damaged cells known as autophagy.
If longevity of life and of health is desired, activating mTOR through excess protein consumption for long durations should be avoided.
Macronutrients In A Ketogenic Lifestyle
Proteins provide a high level of satiety allowing for small increments to not only be sufficient for energy, but also help to suppress hunger hormones along with the healthy, high concentration of fats.
The percentage of macronutrients on the ketogenic lifestyle can vary depending on level of physical activity, health imbalances and gender.
However, the standard and most commonly used division of caloric intake per macronutrient type is:
- 75% Fats;
- 20% Proteins;
- 5% Carbohydrates (below 20-30g NET – remove fibre content from calculation).
To determine how to calculate the protein intake for your specific body, there are a few important factors to consider and measure such as age, gender, activity levels and fitness goal.
If you want to lose weight and maintain muscle mass, you need to eat between 0.68 to 1 g per pound of lean body mass. This works out to be between 60-80g of protein per day for most women.
But if your goal is to build muscle, you should aim at 0.8 – 1g of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Those who are athletically inclined or over the age of 65 years old may find that a slight increase of protein intake is required to help maintain lean muscle mass.
They need to increase protein intake even on a ketogenic lifestyle to produce enough mTOR that will be converted to muscle or preservation of existing muscle mass.
This can be done through an adequate or moderate protein intake observed with a standard ketogenic diet format.
Hopefully these tips will help you understand and improve your ketogenic lifestyle. Stay healthy, stay fit!