A lot of people adopt a keto diet with the intention of losing body fat. This can be an excellent approach. Ketosis, the metabolic state you experience on a high-fat, low-carb diet, blunts appetite and makes it easier to achieve a calorie deficit. Plus, ketones have a protein sparing effect, helping to ensure you are losing fat and not muscle.
Despite these benefits, many people make fatal mistakes when doing keto. Due to misinformation and false promises, it’s common to find yourself spinning your wheels when it comes to fat loss. Therefore, this article will explain how fat loss works, discuss the role of exercise, and give you the basic rules for making it happen on a keto diet.
You probably know that the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet that shifts the body’s metabolism from relying strictly on glucose for energy to using ketones. While glucose is produced from carbohydrates, ketones are a result of fat burning and are produced by the liver.
The tricky thing about keto is that it requires an adaptation process. When your body is used to running mainly on glucose, shifting to ketosis takes several days during which the body ramps up its production of enzymes involved in fat burning. Because energy production is compromised during this period people often suffer from low energy and can even feel ill—an experience termed the “keto flu.” Fortunately, there are several tricks that can help you get into ketosis and minimize the flu-like effects, which are covered below.
When trying to lose body fat, your goal is to create a calorie deficit so that you are burning more energy than you are taking in. Your body’s total calorie needs are made up of these four components:
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the energy burned at rest, such as when lying in bed all day.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is the energy used to digest and assimilate food.
Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE) is the energy burned during exercise.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy burned during “spontaneous” activity, not including exercise. This includes all the everyday activity you perform, such as walking to lunch, typing, cooking meals, fidgeting, doing house chores, or driving your car.
Total Energy Expenditure (TEE) = BMR + TEF + AEE + NEAT
For fat loss, your goal is to maximize energy expenditure while moderating energy intake. You might wonder why the goal is not to minimize energy intake because in theory, the fewer calories you eat, the greater energy deficit you would achieve and the more weight you would lose. The answer has to do with how energy intake impacts BMR, AEE, and NEAT. When you drop below a certain threshold of daily calories (around the amount burned in BMR, which tends to be between 1,200-1,600 a day), your body will undergo metabolic adaptation and lower your resting energy expenditure.
This is important because one thing that can happen on keto is that people cut calories too low due to the appetite-dampening effects of ketones. This can lower metabolic rate and worsen the keto flu. It also makes people lazy so that they are less inclined to be physically active (lowering NEAT). Exercise performance may also suffer, decreasing the calories burned during exercise (AEE). Therefore, you need to ensure you are eating at or above your BMR in energy to get best results with fat loss.
Counting Calories—Yes or No?
Although it is seldom necessary to count calories with a keto diet, it is important to understand calorie needs so that you can troubleshoot if you hit a fat loss plateau. The first place start is by getting an idea of your metabolic rate. There are numerous online BMR calculators that take care of all the math for you and just require you to plug in your data. Here is one from Omni Calculator.
For fat loss, you need to create a calorie deficit. A general rule of thumb is to subtract 350 to 500 calories from your maintenance requirements. Another option is to identify 15 percent of your maintenance calories and cut daily intake by that amount. Larger calorie deficits can be appropriate; however, they are associated with greater loss of lean mass, which can result in greater rebound weight regain down the road.
Tips For Getting Into Ketosis
One of the biggest challenges of fat loss on a keto diet is getting your body adapted and into ketosis. Here are strategies that can help ease the process and avoid the keto flu.
The keto diet is naturally dehydrating so ensuring you are getting enough water is critical. To estimate baseline intake, try 0.6 to 0.7 ounces per pound of bodyweight of water a day. For a 160 lb person (72 kg), this would be 96 to 112 ounces or about 2.8 to 3.3 liters a day, though requirements will vary depending on factors such as activity levels.
2. Get Extra Electrolytes
Ketosis leads the body to shed electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium along with water. Lack of these nutrients will increase keto flu symptoms and can contribute to lean muscle loss, muscle cramps, and other complications.
Don’t wait until you start feeling bad to get water and electrolytes sorted. Individual requirements will vary, but a general recommendation is to get 4 to 5 grams of sodium (about 2½ teaspoons of table salt), 400 mg of elemental magnesium, and extra potassium. Potassium intake should be increased progressively, working up to a range of 4 to 6 grams of potassium citrate (not potassium chloride).
3. Get Fat Adapted With A Super Reduced-Carb, High-Veggie Phase
For the first two weeks of your keto journey, adopt a very-low carb, higher protein, high-fat diet designed around whole foods. This phase will get the body to start burning fat and establish the eating patterns that will make keto a worthwhile lifestyle rather than a miserable “diet.”
The good news is that a keto diet can have a healing effect on the gut, but only if you do it right. Many people make fatal mistakes when putting the diet to practice, often eliminating all carbs including low-carb fruits and vegetables, effectively removing fiber from their diets. Fortunately, low-carb vegetables and plant-based fats like olives, avocado, coconut, nuts, and seeds provide gut-fueling fiber without the insulin release of higher carb foods.
5. Strength Train to Maintain Muscle & Encourage Ketosis
Although it is possible to lose body fat and experience the physiological benefits of ketosis without a training program, exercise can accelerate the keto adaptation process by helping to get the body into fat-burning mode. Strength training will also help sustain muscle mass during fat loss and preserve physical function. Exercise (both aerobic exercise and intermittent modes such as strength training and intervals) also helps kickstart fat burning and improves metabolic flexibility. It is especially important for overweight individuals who have a harder time mobilizing fat for fuel.
Final Words: The keto diet is a great tool for resetting your metabolism and losing body fat. With these tips, you have a strategy to overcome pitfalls and set yourself up for success on your keto journey. For more tips on going keto, check out our new book, The Keto Diet Handbook. We also have an eBook version available that gives you everything you need to know for success with a keto diet.