How can I lose weight quickly? This is a question I’m often asked, and it’s one without a straightforward answer.
Firstly, it’s body fat you want to shift – a concept you might be familiar with from previous posts. Secondly, effective weight loss should be the focus, rather than speed.
So, with this in mind, yes, there is an effective way to reduce body fat. What is this magical method I speak of? Well, it involves entering a ketogenic state. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with this concept, as all will be revealed.
What is a ketogenic state?
A ketogenic state – otherwise known as nutritional ketosis – is reached when the body enters a capacity for high fat-burning (yippee!). It occurs when your carbohydrate intake dips to around 20-50g – though there is a notable variance between individuals. Some will need to eat fewer carbs to have this effect, whereas others can get away with more carbs; the use of urine ketone strips can be reliable in monitoring ketosis.
When we eat carbs – whether sugar or starches – they are broken down into glucose. Our bodies then use this as an energy source, storing any additional glucose in the muscles and liver as glycogen. This will support muscle contractions during physical exercise and/or sustained periods without food (such as sleep). Carbs that are surplus to these requirements will be converted to body fat.
When carbs are scarce (either because you’ve not eaten for a few hours or you’re actively avoiding them), the body will switch to burning its alternative fuel source: fat. The brain needs to function as a priority; in the absence of glucose, we simply couldn’t survive for more than about 36 hours. Thankfully, our physiology has a nifty, built-in mechanism to stop this from happening; it’s able to convert amino acids (from protein) and fat into ketone bodies, which our brains use as an alternative fuel source when carbs are not available. If this happens for a prolonged period, you become ketogenic.
The Pros of Going Keto
Essentially, once you enter ketosis (usually after a few days), you become a fat-burning machine! However, it does involve a lot of discipline to reach this state. Your food intake should be predominantly fat, with adequate protein, and few carbs; tipping the balance in this way can understandably, be challenging. If you use supplements, you’ll also need to consider their carb content. For example, it might be necessary to switch to whey protein isolates or hydrolysed whey, which are very low in carbs.
The advantage of a ketogenic diet (aside from increased fat loss) is that it can help to stabilise the appetite and reduce cravings. This is because both fat and protein have a low impact on blood glucose/insulin, helping you to avoid fluctuations and consequential cravings for ‘naughty’ stuff.
The Downside of Cutting Carbs
It’s important to note that there is usually an ‘adjustment period’, which can lead to some unpleasant side effects. Some people will barely notice a thing, whereas others might experience symptoms such as muscle aches, thirst, increased heart rate and ‘brain fog’. The good news is that these are signs the body is adapting, and they are almost always short-lived, clearing up usually within a week two. However, going ultra low-carb is not for everyone.
Is There an Alternative?
Yes, seemingly, there is. Instead of going ketogenic, you might instead choose to eat ‘good’ carbs in moderation. Sweet potato, butternut squash and quinoa are such examples. These are slowly released into the blood stream, which helps to avoid ups and downs in blood glucose. The fat-burning effect may not be as pronounced, but you’re likely to bypass any symptoms that are associated with going ketogenic.
Some experts will argue that dramatically cutting carbs is not conductive to athletic performance. Personally, I think it depends on your goals. Some studies indicate that once the body becomes keto-adapted, it’s able to function well on ketones; others suggest that glucose is a superior source for muscle function.
If you’re aiming to gain serious mass, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a low-carb diet (unless you want to significantly lower body fat levels and showcase definition). On the other hand, if getting lean is your objective, you’re likely to benefit from reducing your carbs, and increasing your intake of healthy fats.