The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, medium protein, and low-carb diet that shifts the body’s metabolism from carbs to fat.
Fat is metabolically active tissue in humans and plays many different roles within the body, including sending signals to control hunger.
However, it is best known for being the form of fat that accumulates in adipose tissue around our internal organs, which gives us our waistline.
However, when you are on a ketogenic diet, your body shifts its primary metabolic fuel source from carbohydrates to fats and proteins. In this respect, protein becomes much more metabolically active.
Excess protein (protein above your body’s needs) is either stored as fat or broken down and converted into glucose by the liver via a process called gluconeogenesis.
Additionally, when too much protein is present, it can raise fasting blood sugar levels, increase insulin resistance and cause increases in cortisol.
Gluconeogenesis is a process that takes place in the liver when carbs aren’t available for energy and protein must be converted into glucose.
The Importance Of Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient for the human body. Proteins are made of amino acids and are the building blocks for all our tissues and organs.
Protein provides us with structure, strength, support, flexibility, and healing ability.
In addition, they greatly influence how we look and feel as they help regulate metabolism, hormone balance, healthy inflammation levels, and brain function.
There is a common myth that excess protein intake is converted to glucose and causes obesity. However, this has been proven false by several studies.
Protein is essential for:
- Growth & repair of body tissues
- Maintaining muscle mass
- Supporting immune function
- Supporting the health and longevity of bone, skin & hair
- Supporting energy production
- Supporting healthy hormone levels (growth hormones)
As a matter of fact, it is recommended for all adults on the ketogenic diet to consume around 25% of their daily calories from protein.
Protein can be found in animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. It also comes in plant-based foods like nuts, beans, grains, and legumes. Even some vegetables contain small amounts of protein.
Protein goes through a complex process within the body called the “Dietary Amino Acid Shunt.” This means that it can be converted to glucose if there are not enough glucose transporters available, but it is primarily used for energy production and heat.
Maintaining the right balance of amino acids helps with weight loss on a ketogenic diet. It may also help prevent metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Why Protein Matters On Keto
Protein is essential when you are following the ketogenic diet.
- Protein helps keep hunger and cravings at bay while on a ketogenic diet. It is an excellent source of satiety and makes it easier to follow the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle.
- Protein is needed to build and repair muscles. The ketogenic diet can cause the body to break down muscle tissue for energy during a state of ketosis, so it’s important to make sure you are getting enough protein, especially if you exercise regularly.
- Increased protein intake can also help enhance fat loss by increasing satiety levels while preserving muscle mass.
- Protein is a crucial part of the ketogenic diet. It helps control blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity.
Why Insulin and Glucagon Matter On Keto
Insulin and glucagon are hormones that work together to maintain a healthy metabolism. Insulin is the primary fat-storage hormone, which makes it particularly important on a ketogenic diet.
Protein and fat are broken down into amino acids and free fatty acids. Whether these are used for energy or stored in the body depends on several factors, including exercise level, insulin levels, and other hormones like glucagon.
Glucagon is a hormone that works to move glucose out of the bloodstream when there is an adequate amount of insulin. This means that it helps maintain stable blood glucose levels, prevent diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity.
Overall, glucagon helps keep body fat down while protecting muscle mass when you are on a ketogenic diet.
Signs You’re Eating Too Much Protein
If you follow a ketogenic diet and eat too much protein, there may be some signs and symptoms that will alert you to the fact.
Many issues come from eating too many carbs or not eating enough dietary fat. Adding more protein into the mix, especially if you’re not tracking your macronutrients, can cause you not to enter ketosis.
Here are some telltale signs that you have gone overboard with protein:
- Feeling gassy, bloated, or constipated. Excess protein can cause a buildup of ammonia in your intestines and create discomfort in various ways. For some people, this includes feeling gassy, bloated, and/or constipated.
- Increased cravings for carbohydrates. When you eat more protein or cut out carbs, your body craves them. If you have been increasing your protein intake and still find yourself having intense carb cravings, it may be time to back off the protein a little. Fat will make you feel full instead of trying to get more protein in the diet.
- Inability to maintain ketosis while following a low-carb diet. If you are increasing your protein levels and not seeing the results on the scale you want, it may be time to drop some of those extra grams of protein from your meal plan. Checking your ketone levels regularly will alert you to the fact if something is wrong with your diet.
Top Protein Sources On The Ketogenic Diet
- Eggs – high in protein, low in carbs.
- Meat – especially chicken & beef, but also including pork and lamb (beef has more protein than chicken, and pork has more protein than lamb). Around 4-6 ounces of meat is considered a serving (this can vary depending on the cut of meat).
- Fish – some fish like salmon or trout are higher in fat and lower in carbs. 5 ounces will also provide you with around 30 grams of protein.
- Nuts & Seeds – Peanuts and cashews are top sources of protein on a ketogenic diet – the nuts have higher fat content, but seeds are also a good option as they are high in fiber, which is needed for healthy gut bacteria.
- Cheese – full-fat cheese is one of the easiest ways to get protein on a ketogenic diet.
In summary, I recommend that people on a ketogenic diet consume 25% of their calories from protein. This can come from animal and plant-based foods.
Protein doesn’t accumulate in the body as fat, but it is used as a source of energy or converted to glucose when needed. Protein keeps you feeling full and reduces hunger and cravings. This can help prevent overeating, which is one of the biggest pitfalls when following a ketogenic diet.
Protein also helps keep blood sugar levels stable, which prevents weight gain. It may also help reduce your risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Bottom Line: Protein is crucial for weight loss on a ketogenic diet. Increasing your protein intake to just the right amount can help reduce hunger and cravings while sparing muscle mass. This can improve metabolic health and diabetes risk factors as well.