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Low carb ketogenic vs. more carbs

by (159) Updated February 15, 2014 at 12:56 AM Created May 24, 2012 at 1:32 AM

I tried super low carb (less than 20) ketogenic paleo for 4 weeks, almost 5 and just felt shitty overall, which surprised me. Sleep was bad, mood was bad, bloated and cranky, less energy, couldn't think straight, gained bodyfat, etc.

The day I added in a cup of blueberries (the best blueberries, ever!) I noticed a HUGE improvement: workouts better, memory is back, happier overall, sleeping better.

My question is this: if we likely were in a ketogenic state most of the time as paleo people (minus the seasonal fruit binges), wouldn't you think we'd be at optimum performance then?? Is it because I've been a 'sugar burner' for so long that I just needed more time to adapt to ketones as fuel? I panicked cause I was just feeling so bloated and gross all the time, didn't seem worth it anymore...

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6 Replies

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1019 · May 24, 2012 at 3:52 AM

Modern day hunter gatherer's consumed a fair quantity of fruit and tubers, and it is thought that our ancestors did also. So it is hard to imagine that our Paleo ancestors were in ketosis as much as is suggested by some.

Considering that ketones cause insulin resistance, you have to question if this is the lifestyle you want to live. Dial in the carb intake that makes you feel good. Serum leptin will be low with no carbs or carb refeeds, which is why you were probably cranky. Leptin has down-stream effects on dopamine and serotonin, so it can greatly affect your mood.

Matthew Caton NSCA-CPT

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2945 · May 24, 2012 at 6:13 AM

Ketosis, at least in my experience, is thrown around a lot as a radical weight loss method and misapplied as a permanent eating strategy. If you're working out regularly and at or near your goal weight/size/bodyfat%, ketosis may not be ideal for your situation. Properly adapted, one can perform on a high-fat, ketogenic diet (a trained runner could run 3 marathons on the energy in 3% bodyfat), it takes extremely judicious dieting and a fairly sizable adaptation period.

I tried low-carb for a while without altering my workouts, and all it did was sap my energy and prevent me from recovering between workouts (I row 2hr a day, 5 days a week at least). I started intentionally consuming more carbs (sweet potatoes, white rice, fruit) and my performance increased dramatically. I'd estimate my workout-day carbs are well over the "max" of 150g (even more around big events) and I've been noticeably leaning out beyond 10% bf.

I'm not saying that you should dramatically increase your carb intake, or that ketosis isn't the right thing for you. All I'm saying is that there are other options that have been proven effective and might be worth exploring. n=1 is definitely the answer here—play around with your carb intake and see where you feel and perform best.

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840 · May 24, 2012 at 4:17 PM

Why don't you try a cyclical Ketogenic diet...? I sounds like a little carbs at the right time makes you feel good, so I'd suggest eating your carbs PWO and only the meal PWO (followed by sufficient water to prevent dehydration). Otherwise, just eat your super low carb diet per usual.

From my personal experience, the cycling of carbs gives you the benefit of being in the ketogenic state most of the time, with strategic carbohydrate re-feeds PWO to avoid feeling shitty/moody/low energy... I believe "carb cycling" is a pretty complex process (and results in the best body composition and mental sharpness I've ever had), and has benefits beyond just glycogen repletion and protein sparing.

More details for PWO re-feed in this thread.

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588 · May 24, 2012 at 1:58 AM

Well, the obvious answer is you were hypoglycemic which is why the blueberries helped, but you bring up important questions. There are degrees of ketosis, and I have read that humans evolved in a mildly ketotic state. Some people tolerate it better than others (well, duh). What are those differences? Adrenal (dys)function can be one -- people with adrenal fatigue don't secrete enough cortisol and will be prone to hypoglycemia; this was my case when I tried doing ketogenic for 2 weeks (until I nearly passed out... while driving.). Hormonal balance is another -- for women, estrogen dominance causes glycogen to be the preferred fuel; progesterone shifts it over to fat. If you listen to D'Adamo, it depends on your blood type -- Type As (which I am) do better on more carbs, Type O's better on low carb. (I'm not sure I believe in the blood type theory, but there are some interesting points to it.)

Anyway... how many carbs you need is individual. If a handful of blueberries snapped you out of your funk, maybe you need 30 g a day instead of 20. Play with it and go with how you feel, not the numbers.

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0 · February 15, 2014 at 12:56 AM

A radical change in diet can make you feel bad for more reasons other than simply a matter of being on ketogenic diet, the most common being detox from food you had been consuming previously and similar symptoms from sugar-fed bacteria dying in your gut. Besides, adaptation to ketogenic diet is said to require at least 4 weeks (could actually take more). On top of that, would be necessary to check your actual food intake, what exactly you were eating and what proportions. I found out, for example, that nuts are not good for me, giving me some allergy symptoms, so if I was to do ketogenic diet and ate more nuts, it would certainly affect me in a negative way (this is only a simple personal example). I find it unfair to criticize the diet without more in depth analysis, since nutrition is always a very complex issue.

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0 · August 02, 2013 at 9:18 PM

There are a lot of factors determining how you experience ketosis. There is high chance that if you had increased the salt or fat content of your diet then your energy would have recovered without the carbs. You could have been too deep in ketosis or somewhere on the border (where you have neither enough ketones nor enough glucose). According to some experts, a level of 1.5 - 3 mmol/l is optimal. Cycling is an option but it is arguable that it helps with anything and particularly energy. It is individual and there are many types of cycling. Some poeple find going up to 100 gr once in a while enough to replenish their glycogen stores. Other need to go up to 250 gr every week to reset their leptin sensitivity. Electrolyte balance is also a bit tricky when in ketosis. Supplementation with magnesium, sodium, calcium and potassium very often does the job. And finally, experience shows that ketosis is definitely not for everybody. Certain conditions are most probably counter indicative to the state of ketosis. For example, some people might be so used to being on high-carb regime that they are not able to digest fat properly. Last but not least, the type of fat you consume also determines the levels of energy one gets. Saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are preferable source of energy to the body. It is kinda long story. A book called "the art of low carbohydrate living" is a great source of practical, technical and well-reasoned info based on science and clinical data. But even there, you might not find complete info about the mystery of your bodies and mind. Keep on exploring and try to listen to your body. Yes, I know, it aint easy.

P.S. Our ancestors were definitely no carb junkies. However, every single detail including the level of stress, type of water, etc. matters in determining our performance and health. Ketosis by itself is not the key to the lock. It is the quality of food and more globally of life that unlocks doors.

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