On the ketogenic diet, you are meant to keep your carbohydrate intake low and your fat intake high to be able to achieve and maintain the state of ketosis. But what about protein?
How exactly does your protein intake on keto affect ketosis and your results on the ketogenic diet? And what is the ideal amount of protein you need to be taking?
Protein is one of the 3 important macronutrients on the ketogenic diet, alongside fats and carbs. The amount of protein you consume on keto is essential to your success.
Keto is a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet, therefore protein on keto is often neglected while most of the attention goes to carbohydrates and fats.
However, protein is very important as you are about to see
Protein – what it is and what it does
Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body and is the building block of a lot of things in your body. It is made up of amino acids. The human body cannot produce all the amino acids it needs, so the rest needs to be gotten from protein rich foods we eat.
Protein has a lot of functions in the body as well such as
- It aids in the growth and repair of muscles
- Protein helps to maintain a healthy skin, hair and bones
- It helps for a healthy brain function
- Creation of enzymes
So as you can see, protein is really important for a proper and healthy function of the human body. We can’t do without it even on the keto diet.
But can it affect ketosis? And if it does, /how?
The effect of protein on ketosis – What happens when you eat protein?
The primary aim of the ketogenic diet is achieving and maintaining the state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body utilizes fats as its primary fuel source instead of carbs.
We know reducing carbs and increasing fat intake play a very important role in whether you enter ketosis or not. But what about protein?
When you eat protein, it passes through a bunch of processes thanks to certain enzymes and is broken down into amino acids. These amino acids have a lot of functions in the body like the ones stated above.
However, the body does not store amino acids directly. So when there is an excess of amino acids or a shortage of glucose, amino acids can be converted into glucose for energy. This happens through a process called gluconeogenesis which means “making new glucose”.
Gluconeogenesis is a way the body converts non-carbohydrate sources to glucose.
Some people believe this is a problem and will kick you out of ketosis. But how true is such belief?
Gluconeogenesis and why it’s important
Gluconeogenesis is your body’s abracadabra for energy. It’s a method your body uses to get glucose from non-carbohydrate sources like proteins, fatty acids and lactate.
Gluconeogenesis helps the body get glucose for the body especially when there is insufficient or no source of glucose available. And also when your body is in a deep fasting mode.
People think gluconeogenesis as a process is bad for ketosis. That is not true. The truth is, gluconeogenesis happens regardless of whether you are in ketosis or not.
Gluconeogenesis of protein and how it affects ketosis
It’s a common saying that too much protein is bad for ketosis because it is converted into glucose which then raises blood sugar and insulin levels and kicks you out of ketosis.
Well, it’s not that simple.
Gluconeogenesis is important even on keto. One of the reasons is because not all cells in the body can use ketones for energy.
Some cells and tissues still require glucose to function well. Gluconeogenesis is a way the body makes sure those cells get the glucose they need.
It also keeps the blood sugar from getting too low. If the blood sugar gets too low, it causes hypoglycaemia and that is a problem. Gluconeogenesis helps to avoid that.
So gluconeogenesis actually helps to make sure your body runs well on the keto diet. Without gluconeogenesis, we wouldn’t be able to survive.
Another big thing to note is that for non- diabetic people, the rate of gluconeogenesis appears to remain constant.
In the recent review on studies carried out on diabetic and non-diabetic patients alike, it was found that the rate of gluconeogenesis appears to be somewhat constant in the case of non-diabetics. In the case of diabetics however, the results so far are still uncertain.
Although some studies show gluconeogenesis can increase in the case of extreme carb restriction, it is not to a large degree.
So far, evidence has shown that gluconeogenesis is not an enemy to ketosis. Rather, it makes sure the body has enough glucose when carb consumption is too low to provide the required amount of glucose.
The effects of high and low protein intake on keto
Protein is very essential on the ketogenic diet. Here are a couple of things protein does on keto
- Support healthy bones
- Protein is satiating, so you feel full for longer
- Protein helps to reduce cravings
- You burn more calories with protein than you would with an equal amount of carbs
But these benefits of protein are best enjoyed when you consume it in the right amounts.
Here is what happens when your protein intake is either too high or too low
So what happens if your protein intake is too high or too low?
When your protein intake is too low, it doesn’t read good news. Here are a couple of things that will happen
- Loss of muscle mass – protein is needed to build and maintain muscle. When you take less protein than you should, your muscles won’t be getting enough protein to maintain the muscle mass and therefore, you lose it
- Weaker bones – muscles aren’t the only things affected by insufficient protein intake. Protein also contribute to bone health and development and a low amount of protein will produce weaker bones.
- A weaker immune system – Protein also plays an important role in your immune system. Lack of adequate protein therefore makes your immune system weaker and therefore making you more vulnerable to diseases.
- More hunger cravings – protein is a really satiating nutrient. It suppresses appetite and reduces hunger cravings. Lack of sufficient protein can make you experience more hunger cravings more easily.
So as you can see, too little protein is definitely not a good thing.
People tend to fear protein because they want to avoid getting kicked out of ketosis. Not knowing they are in for worse by consuming too little protein.
The low carb community seems divided on the effect of too much protein. But one thing for sure to know is that eating excess protein will not cause your insulin levels and blood sugar to spike.
We do know that the rate of gluconeogenesis although stable, can be slightly increased on a low carb diet and during fasting periods.
But regardless of whether it affects ketosis or not, eating too much protein may contain risks for certain people.
For example, over excessive consumption of protein may put extra stress on the kidney which can affect people with kidney disease.
This doesn’t mean adding an extra egg or two a day is bad for you. A normal healthy person is very much less likely to experience problems when taking a higher amount of protein.
As a matter of fact, it would be better to overconsume protein than to under consume it.
But how much is too much and how little is too little? Here is how to determine your ideal protein intake on the ketogenic diet.
Finding your ideal protein intake on keto
On the ketogenic diet, protein accounts for about 20 – 25% of your calories. The definite value in grams is not the same for everyone and depends on a number of factors
- Gender – the required amount of protein varies by gender. Females tend to need less protein while males tend to need more.
- Age – Also a defining factor. As you get older, your protein needs change as well
- Activity levels – the more active you are, the more protein you’ll need.
- Level of keto adaptation – people who have spent more time being keto adapted can consume more protein without it affecting their ketone levels drastically
Other factors include
Based on activity levels, these are the amount of protein to consume
- Sedentary: around 0.7 – 0.8g of protein per pound of lean body mass.
- Slightly active: around 0.8 – 1.0g per pound of lean body mass.
- More active: 1.0 – 1.2g per pound of lean body mass.
How to determine your ideal protein intake
There are 2 ways we recommend finding your ideal protein intake on keto.
Use a Keto calculator
The first way to find out how much protein you should be eating on keto is with a keto calculator.
A keto calculator shows you the ideal amount of each macronutrient you should be consuming based on your gender, weight, activity levels and body fat percentage as well as a couple of other factors.
2 good keto calculators we recommend are the tasteaholics keto calculator and the ruled.me keto calculator.
The keto calculator shows you the ideal amount of protein, as well as other macronutrients that you need to consume based on your body and lifestyle.
It’s a good and precise way to find out how much protein on keto you should consume.
The self-test method
This is a more personal approach to figure out your ideal protein requirements on the keto diet. Although in terms of numbers, it seems a little bit less accurate when compared to a keto calculator.
Basically, it involves being in ketosis first based on the keto macronutrient proportions. And then gradually increasing your protein intake till you notice you your ketone levels drop beyond the recommended values for ketosis.
You can know this by measuring your ketone levels.
This is better in terms of finding the adequate amount of protein that sits well with you and still lets you remain in ketosis.
The best sources of protein on keto
There are plenty of ketogenic-friendly protein sources for you to choose from. They include;
- Grass fed, dairy sources
- Organ meat
- Keto friendly nuts and nut butter
For more keto friendly protein sources, check out our keto food list.
Summing it all up – Protein on the ketogenic diet
Protein is an important macronutrient for the body and is the core basis for a lot of bodily functions like bone health and muscle building and maintenance among others.
On the keto diet, protein makes up about 20 – 25% of your calories and therefore should be consumed in adequate amounts.
Consuming too little protein isn’t a good thing as it leads to weaker bones and loss of muscle mass among other things.
Excess protein is converted into glucose through gluconeogenesis which in itself is not a bad thing but rather helps the body meet is required energy needs when glucose is low.
To figure out your ideal protein intake, use a keto calculator or the self-test method to know the appropriate amount for you.
There are lots of good keto friendly protein sources. As always, the natural ones are the best. Processed ones tend to have hidden sugars. It’s important to check the labels for hidden sugars.
For more tips to succeed on the ketogenic diet, check out our free resources to guide you on your journey to success on keto.
- Gluconeogenesis in rats study – JBC
- Gluconeogenesis and fatty acid oxidation rat study – NCBI
- Benefits of protein – WebMD
- Protein metabolism – opentextbc
- Gluconeogenesis on a high protein diet male test – NCBI
- Rate of gluconeogenesis review in diabetics and non diabetics – NCBI
- Effect of protein deficiency – Healthline