The Different Types of the Ketogenic Diet
In this part we’ll continue our introduction journey by looking at the different recognized types of the ketogenic diet. I’ll explain their composition, how they work, their advantages and possible disadvantages for dieting and as a long-term diet. We’ll also look closer at the variants of the ketogenic diet used to treat various diseases.
Even if you’re not suffering from any of these diseases, you probably know someone who is – and by getting a basic knowledge of these applications you can point this person in the right direction.
Another aspect of disease treatment and prevention is that there are many other benefits that can improve your health, quality of life, and longevity. The more you know, the better you can tailor your own diet to suit your needs, goals and life situation.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet
The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) is the most common type of the ketogenic diet. It’s usually the type that is used in studies and what people usually refer to when speaking of ketogenic diets and being in ketosis.
The definition is quite simple; you restrict your carbohydrate intake to less than 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day (depending on your muscle mass and level of activity). You set a protein intake suitable to your goals and then fill up the rest of your daily caloric intake from fats. Usually, fats make up at least 70 percent of total calories.
Your carbohydrates in the ketogenic diet usually come solely from vegetables, and it’s important to note that most carbs in vegetables are fiber that can’t be used as energy (other than for your gut bacteria). In other words, when looking at vegetables, you need to separate fibers from actual energy giving carbohydrates, also known as “net carbohydrates”. In its most simplicity, this means that you can eat a lot of vegetables as long as you limit or stay away from the few that are high in starches such as corn, green peas, butternut and acorn squash, pumpkin, carrots, tomatoes, and of course any kind of potato or yam. We’ll look at the best food choices in the upcoming parts of the series.
The SKD is also the type that people use long-term or as a “base diet” for life. It’s also important to recognize that just because you structure your diet around the principles of the SKD, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have foods with carbohydrates on occasion. Once you’ve adapted to the ketogenic diet and your mitochondria runs efficient on fats and ketones, it’s much easier to transition in and out of ketosis if the occasion arises for consuming some carbs – at, for example, social gatherings, business meetings, or simply because you feel like having some variation or trying some food you never had before. Being fat adapted also means that you won’t feel as drowsy or tired when you have carbs again and shift out of ketosis. You will by all likelihood feel and perform better than you previously would, since your mitochondria can now efficiently use both glucose, fats and ketones as fuel.
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) is simply a traditional ketogenic diet where you place, or “target”, a single intake of carbohydrates before your training session/exercise. It’s advisable to use simple and easy digestible carbs to avoid stomach upset. Also, fructose should be kept to a minimum or avoided, as it replenishes liver glycogen instead of muscle glycogen.
Typically, you eat 20-60 grams of net carbs (depending on body weight and muscle mass) 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. The post-exercise meal should be high in protein and low in fat.
Some people does better with carbs before their workouts, while other do not. TKD is a variation you can try if you exercise at a high level and you have been following a traditional ketogenic diet for a few months so you’re fully “fat adapted”.
Ingesting carbohydrates before and/or during your workout can give some people a performance boost and can help a little with recovery if you exercise at a high level. It’s also a convenient way to get in more calories if you have trouble pushing your fat intake even higher (if trying to gain muscle mass). This is especially true if you already have a muscular physique and require a lot of calories just to maintain your weight.
If you perform well without carbs, another powerful pre-workout strategy is MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides). You can get them as a pure MCT-oil (preferred), as a powder or from coconut oil.
MCTs are easily digestible, less likely to be stored by your body and are used for immediate energy. Research also shows that MCTs are thermogenic and can therefore aid in fat loss.
MCTs can of course be used in combination with carbohydrates before and/or during your training sessions.
The Cyclic Ketogenic Diet
The Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) is obsolete and should not really be used by anyone – as it defeats the purpose of a ketogenic diet. On a CKD you’ll alternate days of ketogenic dieting with days of high-carb consumption also known as “carb-loading”. Typically, this kind of carb-loading lasts for 24-48 hours. Usually, you consume about 450-600 grams of carbs during the carb-loading phase. And on some variations used by larger bodybuilders, about 50 to 80 grams of carbs are allowed daily while following the ketogenic diet. Due to hard training and more metabolic active muscle mass, these 50 to 80 grams of carbohydrates won’t affect ketosis. Bodybuilders and other athletes used CKD during the 90’s and early 2000 to maximize fat-loss while also building lean mass. Usually insulin was used during the carb-load and even after to quickly get into ketosis again.
The idea behind CKD was the faulty belief that a strict ketogenic diet would lead to muscle loss in the long term. This has been proven to be false. Actually, the opposite is true. A ketogenic diet is very muscle sparing when you’re in a calorie deficit – more so than a low-fat diet if the amount of protein is the same over the board.
The biggest problem with CKD is that you disrupt ketosis at given intervals, which will increase hunger and cravings for more “sugary and high-carb foods”. You will also feel like crap once the body dumps a lot of insulin to handle all the carbs – and you will probably get a kind of “carb-load hangover”, where you feel drowsy and tired the day after and before you have returned into ketosis again.
CKD is one of the few ketogenic diet types that would not be advisable to follow as a long-term or life-long diet as it was originally designed for bodybuilders and fat loss.
Restricted Ketogenic Diet: for treating various diseases
The restricted ketogenic diet is a calorie-restriction version of the standard ketogenic diet and is designed for specific therapeutic uses. We touched on this in the beginning of the first part, as ketosis is a very beneficial condition for treating cancer. We know from several studies that calorie restriction, that is, eating about 15% less calories than you need in a day, is beneficial for healing the body and slow down aging – mainly from a lowered protein synthesis and reduced levels of insulin and IGF-1. When combining a low caloric intake with the benefits of ketosis, you will starve and slowly dispose of cancer cells.
Some of the more prominent researcher’s within this field are Dr Thomas Syfried, Dr. Ron Rosedale, and Dr. Dominic D’Agostino. They recommend that you begin with a water fast for 3 to 5 days to quickly get into deep ketosis while turning on your body´s own repair and recycling program known as autophagy. Then you continue with a low-calorie ketogenic diet, aiming for blood sugar levels of 55-65 mg/dL and blood ketone levels of at least 4.0 mmol. This means that the daily carbohydrate intake will likely have to be below 20 grams of net carbs for the average person. Also, protein intake will have to be kept pretty low, in the neighborhood of 50 to 70 grams a day, and preferably spread out over several feedings to lessen the impact on mTOR. Stimulating mTOR and protein synthesis can lead to accelerated cancer growth if you have cancer cells. Although the impact will be low if you’re in ketosis and already starving your cancer cells, it’s advisable to do anything in your power to minimize anything that can promote cancer growth or slow down the healing process.
There is also some evidence that certain brain tumors and some breast cancers can, when there is a lack of glucose, turn to burning glutamine or glutamate (from proteins). So, when treating cancer, it would seem that a calorie-restriction ketogenic diet with high fat, low protein and very low carbohydrate content would be the best bet.
Additionally, restricted ketogenic diets, as well as the standard ketogenic diet, have been used for treating neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, depression, migraines, epilepsy), chronic fatigue syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (POS) and more.
Unless you’re suffering from one or more of these diseases, or if you really need to lower inflammation in your body, I would not recommend the restricted ketogenic diet due to its low protein recommendations.
It’s also worth mentioning that Dr. D’Agostino is a passionate weight-lifter and has worked with various athletes and bodybuilders. He’s currently an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida. He works to develop and test nutritional and metabolic therapies including ketogenic diets and ketogenic agents for CNS oxygen toxicity (epilepsy & seizures), metabolic disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, muscle wasting and cancer. He’s one of the true pioneers of ketogenic diets for both performance, body composition, optimal health, and disease prevention and treatment. If you want to dig really deep into the possible therapies of the ketogenic diet, look him up.
In the next part I will take you through the first steps of the standard ketogenic diet. What to do before you start, how to start in the best way possible, and some other tips and guidelines.