What exactly is ketosis? The metabolic state of ketosis simply means that the amount of ketone bodies in the blood has reached higher than normal levels. When the body is in a ketogenic state this means that we will use fat for energy. This means that the body will begin to break down its own body fat to use for fuel. Energy to perform all the functions of the body.
The classification of ketogenic diets addresses the restriction in the amount of carbohydrates, either because fats or proteins predominate (low-carbohydrate diets) or because the total amount of nutrients is insufficient to provide the necessary energy (deficit caloric).
This is how they develop:
Low-carbohydrate diets: In general, they provide less than 50 grams of carbohydrates and which, in turn, are subdivided into:
- Rich in fat: Generally they are rich in saturated fats but they can also be good fats and are subdivided according to the type of fat that predominates (such as medium chain triacylglycerides or MCTs) and the proportion of the other macronutrients.
- Rich in proteins (hyperprotein): Although the nutrient that predominates from the energy point of view is fat, in these diets the proportion of proteins increases to 30% of energy. These are the diets that are most designed for bodybuilders
Low-energy (hypocaloric) diets: Such diets provide an insufficient amount of carbohydrates and energy (not more than 1,000 kcal). They are used in the treatment of obesity and are not intended for bodybuilders.
Establishing the metabolic state of ketosis, even for a short period of time, has many unique benefits.
- The main benefit is that it increases the body’s ability to use fat for fuel, which makes it very lazy on a high carbohydrate diet. In high carbohydrate diets the body normally expects an intake or source of energy. However, in the state of ketosis the body has to be efficient in mobilizing fats for energy.
- Another funny thing about being in a state of ketosis is that if the body has no more use of ketones, they can simply be excreted in the urine as a waste product. This means that sometimes your body urinates the fat from your body! This is a novel topic, as the body is very efficient at storing energy substrates for later use.
- Ketosis has a protein-saving effect, assuming you are consuming adequate amounts of protein and calories in the first place. Once in ketosis, the body actually prefers ketones to glucose. Since the body has copied amounts of fat, this means that there is no need to oxidize protein to generate glucose through gluconeogenesis.
- Another benefit has to do with low levels of insulin in the body, which causes more lipolysis and the release of free glycerol compared to a normal diet when insulin is around 80-120. Insulin has a lipolysis-blocking effect, which can inhibit the use of fatty acids for energy. Also, when insulin is lowered, many beneficial hormones are released into the body, such as growth hormone and other effective growth factors.
- Another small but very important advantage over the ketogenic diet is that when we are in the state of ketosis, ketones seem to alleviate hunger in many people. Since on the ketogenic diet you have to consume a lot of fat, which contains 9 calories per gram.
The state of ketosis is for the most part controlled by insulin, glucagon, and blood glucose levels. Insulin is one of the hormones that the pancreas secretes in the presence of carbohydrates. The effects of insulin are to keep blood glucose levels in check by acting as a conductor, pushing blood glucose into cells. If insulin is not released, blood glucose levels will spiral out of control and this is not good for the body.
Glucagon on the other end of the spectrum is the insulin antagonist hormone that is also secreted by the pancreas when insulin drops to very low levels, this normally happens when a person skips meals, or does not consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates for an extended period of time. When this happens, glucagon is secreted by the pancreas to break down the glycogen stored in the liver into a more user-friendly form, glucose. But what if this continues and the glycogen in the liver is depleted? This is where the metabolic state of ketosis comes in, because the pancreas can also begin to break down free fatty acids into a usable energy substrate, also known as ketones, or ketone bodies.
Side effects of ketosis
- During the first few weeks of the ketogenic diet, the body has to go through the “metabolic shift.” The body will experience a small degree of fatigue, but once the body gets used to making ketones as the body’s main energy substrate it actually has more energy than it previously had. Also when we are in ketosis, ketones are the brain’s preferred energy substrate, much more so than protein.
- The blood lipid profile is also a concern in the ketogenic diet, due to the huge amounts of saturated fat in the diet, even though the diet can be around healthy fats, 90% of people on this diet eat saturated fat. The issue of blood lipid profile is undergoing much debate due to the fact that some people who followed the ketogenic diet experienced a drop in cholesterol levels, while for some it increased.
- Another point is that since carbohydrates are so limited in this diet, there may be a problem with micronutrient deficiencies. The best thing you can do to avoid this is to make sure you take a high quality vitamin / mineral twice a day to ensure that you are getting 100% of the daily value. Also supplementing with a fiber supplement is a good idea.
- When doing this type of diet, we should not be more than 3 months with it.
Anti-catabolic effects of the ketogenic diet
Every reduced calorie diet is catabolic, which means it can cause muscle loss. It is a fact! This is mainly due to the fact that on a low calorie diet many of the anabolic hormones in the body are significantly reduced. In addition to the fact that most dieters do large amounts of aerobic exercise, which is a very good way to catabolize muscle. So the main thing we can try to do is lose as little muscle as possible when dieting, or even possibly rebuild lost tissue, which is where carb-up comes into play, but I won’t talk about that in this article.
Aside from hormonal reasons, the main reason catabolism occurs is because protein breaks down, or catabolizes, to create glucose. This is because the brain uses a glycogen cargo ship, more than 25% of the body’s glucose. Now, when carbohydrates are restricted, the body still needs glucose for the brain, so it is forced to break down the protein in its own muscle tissue.
Now, in the state of ketosis, the brain prefers ketones over glucose. For the diet it is very good because the body will not have to break down proteins for energy. In turn, the body will be forced to use its fat stores, also known as its love handles, for energy. This is why ketogenic diets are a great option.