One of the most common questions that new keto dieters have centers around whether they’re eating too much protein. In general, the keto diet focuses on heavy fat intake, low carb intake, and moderate protein intake. But just what exactly does moderate protein intake mean? The answer is, it depends. While there is some science to it, much of the determination of how much protein you should eat comes down to your situation and goals and how your body feels and reacts to different amounts of protein. In this post, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of protein on the ketogenic diet.
A Word On High Protein Diets
High protein diets have received a lot of buzz in recent years. Many of them focus on building muscle in order to burn more fat and lose weight. But while some people get positive results from high-protein diets, there are a number of complications and negative side effects that have been cited in studies examining high protein diets. While a high protein diet may not necessarily cause these issues, here are just some of the health complications that have been associated with high protein diets: constipation, diarrhea, weight gain, increased risk of cancer including prostate cancer, bad breath, kidney damage due to too much protein in the blood, calcium loss, bad breath, and dehydration.
The Science of Protein on the Keto Diet
The aim of the ketogenic diet is to get the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis essentially means that the body uses fat, instead of glucose or carbs, for energy. Some argue that the reason consuming too much protein is detrimental on the keto diet is that the body converts the protein to glucose through gluconeogenesis. This, however, is not a valid concern, as the body only produces glucose when it needs it. So if the “too much protein leads to too much glucose and affects ketosis” hypothesis isn’t correct, what is?
It turns out protein can have a negative effect on ketosis, but not for the reason most people believe. It has to do not with glucose production, but rather with the Krebs cycle. The Krebs cycle explains how the body turns fatty acids into functional energy. In the typical Krebs cycle, fatty acids are pared down to acetyl-CoA. In the next part of the cycle, oxaloacetate pairs with that acetyl-CoA in order to create ATP energy. When oxaloacetate is absent, acetyl-CoA converts into ketones, which is the aim of the ketogenic diet.
What happens if you eat too much protein on the keto diet?
So what’s the deal with protein? Well, you see protein, just like carbs, is a source of oxaloacetate. Too much protein in the blood means there is more oxaloacetate available. For that reason, excessive amounts of protein can in many cases inhibit ketogenesis. If you want to reach ketosis quickly, it’s recommended that you don’t consume too much protein.
How much protein should you consume on the keto diet?
If protein can have potentially negative effects on ketosis, just how much protein is too much? The answer is different depending on a number of factors. Let’s explore three types of people on the ketogenic diet:
- Those treating severe health conditions with the keto diet
- Those trying to lose weight on the keto diet
- Those trying to build muscle on the keto diet
Recommended Protein Intake for Those Treating Severe Health Conditions with The Keto Diet
Sometimes doctors will specifically require someone to follow the keto diet in order to combat the negative effects of certain health conditions. Children with severe epilepsy, for example, are often told to consume only 5 to 10% of their calories from protein. On the other hand, adults with inflammation, dementia, or epilepsy, are typically counseled to get 10 to 15% of their calories from protein.
Recommended Protein Intake for Those Trying to Lose Weight on The Keto Diet
If your goal on the ketogenic diet is to lose weight, you may want to eat about 15 to 20% of your daily calories in protein. Remember that your goal is to feel great and function at a high level. Protein helps you feel full and it also helps you maintain muscle mass.
Recommended Protein Intake for Those Trying to Gain Muscle on The Keto Diet
If you are on the ketogenic diet and still trying to build muscle, you’ll want to aim to have 20 to 25% of your calories coming from protein. Since protein helps build muscle, you will want to be careful not to cut it out or limit it too much.
Protein on The Keto Diet: Overall Considerations
Remember that protein is not the number one enemy on the keto diet, but too much protein can still become an issue. Take some time to think about your goals, and above all listen to your body. When in doubt, a good general rule of thumb is to eat about .45 grams per pound of body weight. If you weigh 154 pounds, that means about 70 grams of protein per day. Keep in mind that some protein is essential in order to maintain your organs, muscles and bones. Also, don’t forget that your body cannot make protein on its own, and that it is an essential macronutrient. Above all, be wise as you moderate your protein intake on the keto diet. As you pay attention to the way you feel, you’ll find great results.