Six weeks ago I began a ketogenic diet to understand what my client(s) were going through.
I wanted to know what they could expect on the diet, how they may have to change their eating habits and lifestyle to support it, and how their performance might be affected.
After those first three weeks, I returned to a moderate carbohydrate diet and kept protein and calories equated. Here’s how the second half of the test panned out;
Comparison of macronutrient content:
Keto: 1800 calories, 115g fat, 135g protein, 50g carbs
Carb: 1800 calories, 60g fat, 135g protein, 140g carbs
Comparison of average daily food intake:
Some of the things I found on each diet;
Sleep depth, length and quality:
No difference on this one. Absolutely zero! Both months I averaged 8 hours per night with about 45% of that as deep sleep, and I feel just as well rested doing either approach. I keep to a pretty rigorous sleeping pattern and sleep hygiene schedule, so if there were any vast differences I would have noticed.
Within the first week of a new program and increasing carbohydrates – I was back to 95% of my previous working weights with squats, and improving the weights lifted on bench almost immediately. (Deadlifts weren’t programmed in the same way, nor to the same intensity level or volume, so haven’t been compared unfortunately.) I had much more power behind my lifts and a lot of the hesitation to train hard which I had when finishing up the keto portion of this was gone. This would definitely be a nocebo effect at play here also – as I expected the carbs to boost my performance immediately so potentially that’s a huge part of why they did.Recovery:
I was ridiculously sore the first two weeks of switching my nutrition over but this also corresponds with a vastly different training program. My sets went from an average of 3 reps to an average of 8, which is going to fuck anyone up for days! Having said that, I do have data tracking my resting and average heart rates over that time and the higher carb diet did help me recover better. My average heart rate dropped from 70 to 67, and my recovery went back up by 5%. In September however, before beginning a diet of any kind and eating nearly 2,300 calories each day – my recovery was at 75%. Food for thought when performance is your first priority!
On another interesting note, I did move a LOT more when I put carbs back in.
Here’s the difference between my average daily steps in October (keto) vs November (moderate carb), with my daily steps increasing by 2,000:
Somewhat of a difference here. I still find it difficult sometimes to focus on one thing, but I also attribute that to the fact that I’m on social media FAR TOO MUCH and I am a product of the modern world… So, a tick here for keto here I guess. It did make it noticeably easier for me to keep my brain on pointbut I wouldn’t say it was significantly greater.
Hunger / Satiety:
Both diets were high in fibre, protein and whole foods. So in retrospect it would make sense that in the absence of any metabolic issues and a very low stress lifestyle, they’d both provide the same amount of satiety.
It’s fair to say that someone with constipation or gut issues needs to get some personalised advice on which diet would suit them best. There will be various issues potentially causing excess wind, constipation, diarrhea or any other gastric troubles and it’s ridiculous to imply that by reading a blog post about two different diets, that you could know which is better for you.
Get some personalised advice about your gut health if you need it!
Food prep / meals out:
I’m pretty masterful at this by now so I found it easy and simple to prep food and eat out as always. I have a number of takeaway places I know I can go to, and I stuck to the same types of dishes, eating mostly the same thing each day. This in part is due to me having found things that I enjoy eating each day, but also due to the fact that my oven is broken so my creativity is severely limited.
It took no more time for me to prep meals eating carbs than not, and my primary 2 carb choices were oats, berries and rice over this time, which assisted my gut health when transitioning from one diet to the other also. I probably ate an extra 20% or so of veggies during the keto phase, specifically because I was more worried about potassium / sodium balance and not being able to poo during that time.
There’s a couple of pretty logical reasons for this;
1 – Dropping all your carbs is a great way to lose intra and extracellular water really, really quickly.
2 – Greater glycogen storage will increase the swelling of muscles and make you appear fuller / bigger,
3 – The most logical, reasonable answer to this is not because carbs do not provide a better fat loss result – but because I’d already been eating at that same calorie intake and in a deficit for 3 weeks by this point. What was interesting to note is that by the start of week 4 and the end of week 6, I was the same weight but you can see that I am visually leaner, and my waist came in a further 2cms.
So a very low carbohydrate diet provides dramatic weight loss initially, only for it to come back on when you either reintroduce carbohydrates, or you quit whatever diet you were on, increase your calories again and return to your old habits. It’s also why you tend to be lighter the day after a long fasting period or a very low carb or low calorie day – and why you’re heavier the day after a cheat meal. That initial, swift weight loss has very little to do with actual body fat loss, and everything to do with glycogen, sodium and water.
What I found really cool about going back to carbohydrates however, is that the greater glycogen levels not only help me look fuller and helped me in the gym, but although it wasn’t as swift and dramatic as the first 3 weeks, there were still points where I woke up looking significantly leaner without having dropped my total calories down further. Potentially the difference between the two is not a factor of effectiveness, but a factor of patience.
Change between weeks 1 and 3
Change between weeks 4 and 6
Questions you need to ask when choosing a nutrition strategy:
Do you want to look tinier almost overnight?
Do you want to lose a shitload of (water) weight really quickly?
Are you not too fussed about your performance or maintaining strength?
Do you enjoy rich foods, meats, cheeses and other higher fat options?
Do you have metabolic syndrome, very high bodyfat (particularly central abdominal obesity) and difficulty metabolising carbohydrates?
Keto might be a better option for you.
Do you want actual FAT MASS loss?
Do you want something sustainable long term?
Do you want to do what is most effective for your chosen training modality?
Do you prefer variety in your meals and would you like something which is lower in animal products, or with no animal products at all?
Keep carbs in, or consider using a cyclical low / high carbohydrate approach.
For me personally, keto lost this battle but potentially would be something I could have done longer if I wasn’t aiming to get as strong as possible. I also would have had more patience with finding some foods that I enjoyed eating daily, and would have been more experimental in the kitchen.
Unfortunately however, the monotony of the food choices, the huge amounts of animal products I had to consume and the lack of performance benefits means it’s a no. Having a moderate carb diet provided the greatest amount of benefits and the least amount of drawbacks (well, there were no drawbacks) and I can see myself following my current diet indefinitely, so I plan to do so!