Chances are you have a rough idea what the Atkins diet is, and now you're hearing people talk about being on a 'keto' diet. But what does it mean? Is it an effective way of losing weight or just another fad diet?
What can you eat on a ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is an extreme low carb diet plan which aims to aid weight loss through achieving a state called 'ketosis'. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it burns fat as fuel instead of carbohydrate and the theory is that this is a good way to drop body fat. However, it is an extremely complicated and scientific process and must be followed very strictly for it to work.
With regards to what you can eat, the keto diet is strictly high fat, low carb. To be more specific, nearly no carbs at all. As soon as you slip and eat a small amount of carbohydrates, your body will snap out of ketosis and you will pile on weight due to your body storing the carbs. Ketosis is a state our body adapts to naturally when food supplies are low; it is a form of starvation mode. Whenever the body is in starvation mode, it naturally wants to hold on to as much energy as possible because it thinks there's a low food supply. So if you slip up or eat a snack, you'll hold on to it more so than if you were not following a keto diet.
A typical keto meal plan will consist of eggs, bacon and other fatty meats, double cream and other high fat dairy, and vegetables. You strictly cannot eat any sugar so that means no fruit or junk food, no starch so no potatoes, beans, or legumes, and no grains so no bread or cereals. It is a ridiculously tough 'diet' to stick to and it is advised that you should employ the help of a trained physician or medical professional as it is so complicated. This is not a diet to be taken lightly and it is strongly recommended not to follow it if you have not done proper research first.
Is the ketogenic diet safe?
The ketogenic diet was actually originally created as a way of controlling and treating epilepsy, and diet regimens like this have been used for hundreds of years. When modern treatments and anti-epileptic drugs became more widely available in the early 20th century, the use of extreme fasting diets declined. However, people began adopting this regimen for weight loss and interest has spiked in recent years, especially following the fame of the notorious Atkins diet.
There are a lot of negative side effects to being in a state of ketosis. Most infamously is the bad breath you will suffer. You will also suffer from increased urination as ketosis is a natural diuretic and this will also lead to suffering from an extremely dry mouth. It is also highly likely that you'll suffer from the 'keto flu' which has symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and cramping. As the ketogenic diet employs a lot of fasting, be prepared to be very hungry a lot of the time too!
In answer to the question, "is it safe?" the answer is only if it is followed properly. Any type of fasting or extreme change in diet should be monitored by a healthcare professional otherwise it could be potentially dangerous. If you still want to try this diet after reading the above, make sure you do your research first and are fully prepared.
How many carbs can you eat and still be in ketosis?
If you limit your carbohydrate intake severely by eating less than 15g per day, you will enter ketosis more quickly. You can eat up to 25g of carbs per day and still be in ketosis. Any more than this and you risk snapping back and storing fat. Your total carbohydrate intake should be no more than 5% of your total daily calories. You should have 75% fat and 25% protein. This is really not a recommendable ratio of macros and you should proceed with extreme caution.
What is gluten? What is a gluten-free diet? Why is it bad for some people?
New research by YouGov has found that as many as 60% of adults in the UK have bought a gluten-free product, whilst 10% of households contain someone who believes gluten is bad for them. But what actually is gluten? And how can it affect our health?
What is gluten?
Gluten is actually a protein component and is commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is made up of two forms of proteins: gliadin and glutenin. When these cereal grains are mixed with water, the proteins in gluten form a sticky texture with a glue-like consistency and this is how soft, doughy foods are made. The glue-like property of this mixture is what makes the dough elastic and gives the chewy, stodgy texture. The name gluten is derived from the fact it is glue-like in texture.
Why is gluten bad for some people?
Most people will not suffer any negative side effects from eating gluten. However, some people suffer from gluten-intolerant diseases, the most notable being coeliac disease, and this can cause them some distress if they ingest the protein. Coeliac is a fairly common digestive problem whereby the small intestine becomes inflamed and unable to digest any nutrients. Those who truly suffer from a gluten intolerance may become seriously ill after consuming it. Most people who think they have a gluten intolerance just become bloated from eating too much and stretching the stomach, and confuse this for a real illness.
Will gluten-free make you lose weight?
No, it won't. Removing gluten from your diet and eating special gluten-free products will not help you to lose weight as it does not affect the calorie balance of your food intake. In fact, many gluten-free foods still contain a high number of calories, sugar, and fat, and so by thinking it's healthy and eating more, you're actually likely to gain weight. If you don't have a diagnosed condition, you don't need to eat gluten-free foods.
Who should go gluten-free?
If a person suffers from coeliac disease, eating a product containing gluten means their body physically cannot digest it and it triggers their immune system to start damaging their small intestine. Gluten does this to a coeliac by destroying their villi. Villi are tiny protrusions which line the intestine and transfer essential nutrients into the bloodstream. Once the villi are damaged, a person will become malnourished, regardless of their food consumption, as their body simply cannot absorb the right nutrients from what’s being ingested. Coeliac is a serious disease and so you would know if you have it. If you're not sure, it can be diagnosed with a blood test. Those with coeliac disease must avoid gluten in order to stay nourished and healthy. Those without this disease have absolutely no reason no to eat gluten, and if they are becoming bloated often, this is probably due to something else.
Important facts about coeliac disease
- Coeliac UK found that the disease affects only 1 in 100 adults in the UK.
- Coeliac disease is not an allergy or an intolerance, it is an autoimmune disease.
- You cannot ‘grow out’ of Coeliac disease, it is a lifelong disease.
- As little as a breadcrumb of gluten can harm someone with Coeliac disease.
Could you make hunger part of your daily routine? Could being hungry actually be good for you? Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world, promising results of increased muscle, reduced body fat, and enhanced energy. Is this just another fad diet or is this the ultimate way to build muscle, keep fit, and stay lean in the process?
Fasting Diets Through History
Fasting isn’t a new concept. In fact, throughout history, our ancestors have been fasting for thousands of years and it is a key part of many religions. From Cavemen forced to feast and famine, to hunger strikes in political protests, and symbolic religious fasts said to cleanse the soul, fasting has always been a part of our existence. Throughout the ages, fasting has been proven to affect our physical, mental and emotional needs. But what are the health implications and how could it affect our training?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. Intermittent fasting is not about starving yourself. Yes you will get hungry, but you do eat, eventually. Those embarking on an intermittent fast will typically split their day between two metabolic states, the fed state and the fasted state. Whilst the lengths of fasting differ between individuals, the most popular format is the 16/8 method. 16/8 requires 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8-hour eating window, for example between 12 pm and 8 pm users would eat and then fast from 8 pm until 12 pm the next day, providing a 16 hour fast.
Fed State Metabolism
Once you begin eating, your body enters into a fed state where your metabolism begins to convert carbohydrates, proteins and fats into energy. After you eat, there are high levels of nutrients in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels are high. In order to control this, the body releases insulin. At this point, your body’s ability to burn fat is limited. Your body remains in this fed state until it is finished digesting and absorbing your food.Typically, this can last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours after eating, depending on what it was you ate. After your food is digested we begin a transitional stage before fasting called the postabsorptive state. Finally, approximately 12 hours after our last meal, insulin has significantly dropped and our bodies move from the postabsorptive into a fasted state.
Fasted State Metabolism
When you go into a fasted state, insulin levels drop and your body now has to burn fat stores for energy. When it was fed, your body wouldn’t burn these fat stores as there was glucose to use as its primary source of fuel, but since that’s run out, your body is forced to burn fat. This is why those who follow an intermittent fast often lose weight without changing what it is they eat or how much training they do, simply by adjusting the timing of their eating they design an eating pattern for burning more fat. What’s more, in a fasted state, your body's human growth hormone levels are significantly higher, due to the fact you are using fat for energy rather than food so your body increases the production of human growth hormone in order to preserve muscle. The increased levels of human growth hormone can result in an increase in muscle gains, quicker recovery, and an overall leaner physique.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can help weight loss.
Due to an overall reduction in your weekly calorie consumption, those using an intermittent fasting eating schedule are more likely to benefit from losing weight.
Intermittent fasting can lower your risk of diabetes.
Intermittent fasting is thought to lower the risk of type II diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and adjusting insulin resistance. Whilst it's difficult to find any conclusive research, some doctors have even argued type II diabetes can be cured with intermittent fasting. Weight-loss is at the forefront of treating type II diabetes.
Intermittent fasting can help your body repair.
Fasting initiates ‘autophagy’ in the body, this is a process of waste removal whereby the body starts to break down dysfunctional proteins which build up in the body. The removal of these waste products helps your body to function better and repair itself more effectively.
Will Intermittent Fasting Get Me Results?
There’s a vast array of suggested benefits of intermittent fasting which could inspire you to give it a go, however, studies with definitive research conclusions in humans are limited and so it seems the best way to find out if intermittent fasting is for you, is to try it for yourself. Keep a food and mood diary and take your weight, measurements, and photographs before and after a three-week trial to give yourself a full and fair picture of your progress. When you first start a fasting programme you may experience symptoms such as:
- Extreme hunger
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Feeling weaker
These symptoms should all fade once your body becomes accustomed to your new pattern of eating, however if you experience any more serious or unusual side effects it is best to return to your regular eating pattern and then contact your GP if symptoms persist.
Research has shown it takes 21 days to adapt to a new habit, so it's best to stick it out for 3 weeks to discover if it really works for you.
We tend to hear the buzz word 'superfood' a lot these days, and an increasing number of foods are now being labelled as superfoods and marketed to us as great for our health. But is it all just hype? We take a look.
Why are superfoods good for us?
It's definitely arguable that the term 'superfood' has been created as a marketing ploy to justify the increased price on certain food products and to make us think they are miracle cures when really they have no discernible qualities.
Superfoods tend to be foods that are packed full of nutrients and are indeed good for our health. Foods like kale and spinach, which we know are good for us, are labelled as 'superfoods' because of their high doses of vitamins and minerals. What that means is that superfoods are good for us because they are naturally healthy. However, it shows that the label 'superfood' may well be unnecessary.
Related: Food Fixes For Bad Skin
Are superfoods a myth?
There are more and more foods being labelled as superfoods now, from kale to coconut water and ginger to garlic. It's important to use common sense when trying to figure out if they are a myth, as some of these foods are obviously very good for our health. For example, dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are full of antioxidants, can balance hormones, and provide lots of high quality nutrients. However, foods like garlic seem a little more average.
What are the benefits of super foods?
There are many benefits to the health foods labelled as super foods. In answer to the question 'is garlic really a superfood?' we can see that it does has health benefits, for example garlic lowers blood pressure and is also thought to prevent illnesses like the common cold. In fact, the sulfur compounds in garlic are thought to reduce our risk of developing cancer. This certainly does argue a good case for garlic being a superfood. Really, any food that has health benefits could be labelled a 'superfood'. It's more a case of using common sense to make sure you follow a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle in order to stay happy and healthy.
What you eat is important, but did you know that when you eat it is just as important? If you are aiming for a particular goal like competing in a bodybuilding show or racing a triathlon, nutrient timing is everything. Especially if you need to cut weight while still increasing strength, just monitoring your macros won’t be enough and you need to be aware of when you are eating and if it is working towards your goal as hard as you are.
Does nutrient timing actually matter?
The short answer to this is yes. The long answer is yes, so long as you have a very specific training goal. There is a wide debate surrounding whether nutrient timing actually matters or whether it is just a myth, but I am going from personal experience so I am confident in my statement that it does indeed matter. If your goal is just to ‘tone up’ or ‘lose weight’, nutrient timing won’t matter for you. However, if you are prepping for your next big competition, whether that’s bikini fitness, powerlifting, or even an Ironman, nutrient timing is absolutely important.
What actually is nutrient timing?
Nutrient timing simply refers to when you eat certain nutrients such as protein, fat, and carbs. The human body is a complex scientific machine and if you push the right buttons, it will do amazing things for you. Nutrient timing is a very specific and deep principle which will only help you if you do it properly and fully understand the science behind how the body works.
We all know that we need protein to build and repair muscle, and carbs for energy, but your body is very specific in its needs and if you want to function at a high level, you need to figure out what those specifics are.
Simple examples of nutrient timing
While this subject can become a deeply complicated scientific debate, it’s easy to simplify. For example, if you drink a protein shake as soon as you put down the last weight of your session and then go home and eat 4 chicken breasts, this isn’t smart nutrient timing. Why? Because you’re consuming too much protein in a small period of time and it won’t be able to fully benefit you. There is a 45-minute anabolic window which is open after you train in which your cells are extra sensitive to insulin and the right nutrients will aid your strength gains and recovery. Consuming these nutrients more than 2 hours after you train will not have the same effect. Your body can only absorb a certain amount of protein in one sitting so it’s important to balance your macros throughout the day.
Another easy example is when it comes to breakfast. So many common breakfast foods like toast or cereal are pure carbs which are digested fairly quickly and leave you feeling hungry by 11am (hence the need for elevenses). Eating a lot of carbs at breakfast spikes your blood sugar which then won’t have a chance to settle back down all day and will leave you with mood swings and hunger pangs all day. If you eat a high protein breakfast instead (eggs and bacon for example) your blood sugar will only rise slightly and will then stay more stable throughout the day meaning you stay satisfied for longer and will have improved focus and concentration.
So is nutrient timing for me?
Of course, eating smart is important, and having a good balance of each macro will benefit anyone. However, if you need to increase your strength while cutting weight, or if you need to train for a big endurance event, nutrient timing will be very important. Keep your nutrients balanced throughout the day and be aware of what you’re eating.
Key points to take away
- Eat a high protein, low carb breakfast to keep your blood sugar stable and prevent mood swings and hunger pangs.
- Eat a protein- and carb-rich meal within 45 minutes of training when your cells are particularly sensitive to insulin.
- Don’t wash down a protein-rich meal with a protein shake as this extra protein will be wasted.
- Eat little and often to keep your blood sugar stable and to keep your muscles anabolic.