Flourishing on Keto

Lots of people have tried keto, are currently eating keto or are thinking about starting keto and given the potential long term health benefits and bonus weight loss that comes with eating the keto way, who could blame them. However, one aspect that pops up from time to time with people on keto is tiredness. There are several reason why someone on a keto diet might experience tiredness or fatigue. The two most common reasons are that they are in the first 2 week to 3 weeks of the diet and their bodies are still adjusting to burning fat for fuel instead of carbs or that they are following some predefined plan that does not quite fit with their genetics, lifestyle or current fat adaption. Either way there is no reason why you should have to put up with low energy on keto. In this piece we are going to look at the different reasons you may be suffering low energy at the different levels of fat adaption and fitness and how to open up the energy gateways and let all that energy flow.

Weeks 1 to 3

As i mention in in the intro low energy or keto flu (this is not a real flu or a cold it is just a name given to the sensation of feeling a bit crappy in the first few weeks of a keto diet), can often be experienced in the first few weeks of going very low carb. There are a couple of reasons for this: poor fat adaption, chemical addictions and mineral loss are the most obvious. The least likely of the 3 is fat adaption however. Yes, your ability to burn fat will be low at the start but this process will rise relatively quickly as your body already knows how to do it. Chemical addiction and mineral loss are far more likely the cause of early diet fatigue.

Sugar and carbs (and yes they are the same thing) light up the very same areas of the brain as recreational drugs do, so if you are a big carb eater and then you stop eating them then you can expect several weeks of withdraws. For anyone who has ever given up cigarettes in the past you will be familiar with the feelings and cravings. Oddly the body only has one way of expressing chemical cravings so giving up sugar or cigarettes or alcohol will feel surprisingly similar.  So for the first few weeks don’t beat yourself up to much if you feel a bit crappy. It is a process and if you can stay the course it will pass.

The other main contributor to feeling a bit under the bar in the first few weeks comes down to a lot of water loss and with that a lot of mineral loss; namely, Sodium, Potassium and Magnesium. For every gram of carbohydrate that your body stores it also stores about 4 grams of water. Once you go off carbs and you body starts burning off the stored carbs in your body the associated water stored with them starts flooding out of your body. This is why people who go low carb often find themselves heading to the toilette a lot more often in the first week of the diet.  This is also the reason people often drop a lot of weight in the first 2 weeks of the diet.

The low levels of insulin that come with a reduced carb diet also inhibit some take up and storage of sodium and other minerals adding to this low mineral issue.  

Unlike the addiction aspect of the first few weeks, which just has to be endured,  the loss of minerals can be compensated for with food or a little supplementation. Personally i always think food is the better option but if you prefer to go down the supplementation route then you would need to be taking some electrolytes which can be bought from your chemist and which you mix with water and drink. But, if like me, you prefer to go the more natural food route then you need to increase your salt intake by adding more of it to your food, (mineral salts like sea salt and pink Himalayan sea salt are what you are looking for. Not simple table salt). This will increase your sodium levels as well as lots of other trace minerals. Eat 1 or 2 avocados a day to increase your potassium levels and get plenty of greens and sea foods like salmon in to keep you magnesium levels up.

If you do this you will greatly and possibly completely avoid any early mineral fatigue symptoms.

Weeks 3 to 6.

If by weeks 3 to 6 you are still feeling a bit of center this is most often the result of the addiction and withdraws from sugar, assuming you have dealt with any mineral imbalances. It can take 6 weeks for the body to give up looking for its sugar hit so be patient.

Another cause of fatigue at this stage can be from training to hard. I love all aspects and styles of training but if you are in the first few weeks of a keto diet and you hare doing a lot of HIIT or cross fit style training then it can cause you to feel fatigued. The reason is that the body is still getting used to burning mostly fat for fuel and when you try and train to hard or to fast the body flicks on the switch to burning carbs to get some rocket fuel and switches of fat burning. But there isn’t any carbs to burn, apart form the few your liver is making to support those few functions in your body that require them. So, if you are pushing to hard before your body is ready too you will feel completely shattered.

The solution is to go easy the first few weeks. Lift heavy but slowly. Rest between sets and leave off most of the HIIT seasons until you are better fat adapted. Long slow gentle cardio like walking and cycling can also be a great way of mobilizing body fat and getting your body into the habit of making fuel from your fat stores and using it. Include some of these sessions into your first few weeks and you will become fat adapted a lot quicker.

Week 6 and beyond.

No two peoples bodies work in exactly the same way, so some of the stages above can last longer or shorter depending on a whole host of variables, from genetic, diet, exercise even attitude and mood. But ultimately the transition from carb burning to fat burning comes down to one thing… fat adaption. Everything we have mentioned before is all leading to this. It is the time and process of your body moving from a state where it looks for sugar for fuel to one where it look for fat for fuel. After the first 6 to 12 weeks any lingering fatigue, (if any still exists), tends to come down to two factors. The first is the mitochondria in your cells; these are the little biological batteries in your cells that turn what you eat into fuel and the other is your diet.

In the first instance you mitochondria adapt to burn the fuel provided. Each mitochondria in your body has a life span of about 1 to 2 weeks and it takes about 5 to 6 life cycles for your mitochondria to fully switch over to burning fat for fuel. Some people have lot more mitochondria that other people and some people will have a higher turn over of mitochondria.  Some people will also have stuck more closely to the diet than others, encouraging a more rapid transition to fat burning. All of these aspects will play a big part in just how quickly you become fully fat adapted.

The other reason I mentioned was diet. Some people will need more fat consumption than others  to drive the change. Others will need less. Some will do better with higher protein levels and others with less.

As everyone is a little different you may well need to fine tune your diet as you progress but the trick is only to worry about that when you need to. Start with a basic plan and fine tune it later. The most simple plan to get you fat adapted in about 12 weeks is to cut your carbs to about 30 grams per day and keep you protein to about 20% to 30% and your fats at about 70% to 80%. Once you hit about the 12 week mark you can start to play with these numbers depending on your needs or genetic dispositions. 

Keto is a wonderful diet with many health benefits and i would encourage anyone to try it. Most people who do, improve their long term health and lose their excess body weight. But like any major life changes, going keto can present its challenges, but fatigue and tiredness does not have to be one of them; not when you understand what causes it and how to deal with it.