Most of our lives we’ve been told the primary source of energy for our bodies is sugar. However, there is a more efficient source of fuel that is rarely utilized: ketones.
When the body metabolizes fat it produces ketones, which are then used by cells to power their normal functions.
Ketosis is the metabolic state of having ketones in the blood, typically above 0.5mmol/L. The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to eat in such a way (high fat, adequate protein, low carb) that it induces your body into ketosis.
The scientific community is constantly revealing the inner workings and potential applications of a ketogenic diet. Currently, many people opt for ketosis to enhance their mental performance, exercise, body composition, mood, or disease prevention and therapeutic benefits.
Ketosis is the metabolic process of using fat as the primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates. This means your body is directly breaking down its fat stores as energy instead of slowly converting fat and muscle cells into glucose for energy. You enter ketosis when your body doesn’t have enough glucose (carbohydrates) available. The prime function of the ketogenic diet is to put the body in ketosis.
Ketones are byproducts of the body breaking down fat for energy that occurs when carbohydrate intake is low.
How Ketosis Works
Step 1) Cutting Off Carbs
When there isn’t a sufficient level of available glucose and glycogen levels are depleted, blood sugar and insulin levels decrease, and the body looks for an alternative source of fuel (fat).
Step 2) Breaking Down Fats
The body breaks down fats for energy. This process is known as beta-oxidation, where there is an increase in acetyl-CoA, which turns into acetoacetate. Acetoacetate then shifts to beta-hydroxybutyrate, the ketone body that floats around in your blood to then provide energy to the body and brain.
Step 3) Using Ketosis
Many people use ketosis for benefits like:
Weightloss: When your body is using fat directly as a source of energy, you lose weight more readily because your body taps into your own fat stores for energy instead of the sugar you eat.
Improved energy levels: Without surges of glucose, your body has more consistent energy levels because you can use your own body fat for energy (no sugar crashes or food comas).
Increased mental focus: Fat is a more consistent source of energy, and preferred by the brain, meaning you don’t have ups and downs in energy and focus.
Longevity and disease prevention: Ketosis has been shown to decrease inflammation, Alzheimers, and benefit cancer patients and diabetics.
Increased physical performance: Ketosis uses oxygen more efficiently and avoids physical crashes of low blood sugar.
Acetoacetate is the first ketone created from breaking down fat. This then leads to the formation of Beta-hydroxybutyrate. Acetone is created spontaneously as a side product of acetoacetate via decarboxylation.
Why Our Bodies Use Ketones
Humans have always relied on ketones for energy when glucose sources were scarce (i.e. no fruits available during winter). It is a normal state of metabolism. In fact, most babies are born in a state of ketosis. However, with abundant sources of carbohydrate, people rarely access ketosis and it becomes a dormant metabolic pathway.Our ancestors likely had frequent periods of time when high carbohydrate food wasn’t immediately available. For this reason, our bodies are amazing at adapting to burning of ketones for fuel.
Ketosis can be a desirable approach to weight loss for the following reasons:
Increased Fat Oxidation: In ketosis, your body burns dietary fat and your own body fat as its primary source of fuel.
Hormone Regulation: Ketosis can help sustain weight loss by regulating hormones that affect weight. That means eating a ketogenic diet can help you avoid cravings for unhealthy foods, reducing the chance of gaining the weight back.
Appetite Suppression: Feeling full, even on a weight loss diet means you can better listen to your body’s true hunger signals.
Blood Sugar Regulation: Weight loss diets that include high carbohydrates can create blood sugar spikes that leave you feeling hungry again soon after eating—as well as tired and unfocused.
Exogenous ketones are a supplement used for boosting performance and energy, or complementing a low carb diet designed for weight loss. They are ketones you can consume that your body isn’t directly making. However from your cell’s perspective, they cannot tell the difference.
Recall that fats break down into ketones, which are then used as fuel by the body. Exogenous ketones are ketones that come from outside the body.
How to Use Exogenous Ketones
Use exogenous ketones to increase the ketone (energy) levels in your body which will:
Transition you into ketosis faster, which help with symptoms of the “keto-flu”
Boost energy at anytime of day (during work or exercise)
Get back into ketosis after eating carbohydrates
Suppress appetite in between meals or during a fast
Increase mood and mental performance
Benefits of Exogenous Ketones
Higher Ketone Levels: Especially in the morning or between meals, ketones boost your body into an effortless fat burning mode.
Physical Performance: Ketones before and during workouts give you energy and decrease need for oxygen.
Mental Focus: Ketones improve energy levels for brain cells, increasing mental output and sharpening focus.
Improved Overall Wellbeing: Ketones help you get into ketosis for benefits from enhanced well-being, to disease prevention and longevity.
How To Start Taking Exogenous Ketones
For those new to ketosis, our bodies aren’t used to running on ketones, so expect an adjustment period. Try 1⁄4 scoop first, heavily diluted in water (which will also help with the taste).
Transitioning to ketosis removes water from our bodies, so getting lots of water will help with any dehydration and stomach issues. Increase your exogenous ketone intake from there.
When to Take Exogenous Ketones
In the morning or between meals for a sustained energy boost.
Before or during exercise as a no-carb energy boost. Try our Pre-Workout supplements for an even bigger boost to your workouts.
During the day for peak mental performance and sharper focus (Try mixing it in your coffee or tea).
After eating a meal that knocks you out of ketosis (eg. high carbs) to transition yourself back into ketosis.
Notes on Exogenous Ketones For Weight Loss
Exogenous ketones are very effective supplements, but none the less, should be supplementary to a low carb/ketogenic style of eating that is geared towards weight loss (if weight loss is the goal).
Exogenous ketones don’t cause weight loss, they help cause ketosis. In other words, they don’t directly make you burn fat, but can help make it much easier to incorporate a lifestyle that leads to fat loss.
Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body is using fatty acids for its primary source of energy. Using fat for fuel does not automatically guarantee weight loss. It all depends on how much fat and protein you are eating, in addition to being below a carb threshold that will induce ketosis.
The ketogenic diet is an approach to eating that is high fat (70-80%), moderate protein (20-25%) and low carb (5-10%). This is designed to induce the body into ketosis. The quality and types of foods are vitally important for crafting a nourishing ketogenic diet.
For most people, a range of 20-50 grams of carbohydrate intake per day is ideal for the keto diet. To get a visual understanding, see our post, What Does 30g of Carbs Look Like?
The way to figure out adequate protein levels is by using the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator. Protein is extremely important on keto. Ideally, you should consume 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. This will prevent muscle loss.
The truth is that on a keto diet, you can eat a lot more protein than the standard 10-15% of total calories (that some other sources promote) without being kicked out of ketosis.
Too much protein won’t raise your blood glucose and decrease your ketone levels. That’s just a myth.
Check out the video below by Perfect Keto founder Dr. Anthony Gustin to understand the role protein plays on keto, why we recommend a higher protein intake, and why gluconeogenesis is not a problem:
The remaining 70-75% of your calories come from fats. Since fat is the main source of nutrition on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to source high-quality, healthy fats.
Optimal nutrition is intensely individual, it is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Therefore, each persons macronutrient distribution will vary.
Styles of Ketogenic Dieting
The most common variations of the ketogenic diet are:
The Standard Ketogenic Diet(SDK) – Keto with the classic macronutrient splits.
The Targeted Ketogenic Diet(TKD) – Add carbs around exercise
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet(CKD) – Go in and out of ketosis in planned intervals
The High-Protein Ketogenic Diet – Eat more protein than on the SDK
Testing your ketone levels is imperative in order to know if keto is working for you. Eating “keto” foods doesn’t automatically mean you are in ketosis. Ketosis is that it’s not just an idea, it is a measurable state of metabolism.
Luckily this means we can test if our diet is adequately “ketogenic” to allow our bodies to enter ketosis. Excess carbs can prevent ketosis. It’s a high fat diet, not just low carb.
There are 3 methods for measuring ketone levels. They are:
Urine Testing – When ketone levels in your body increase past a useful point, they get excreted through urine. You can easily measure excess amounts of ketones with a urine strip. It’s easy to test at home, but not completely reliable.
Blood Testing – You prick a finger and squeeze a drop of blood onto a test stick to test the amount of the ketone called Beta-Hydroxybutyrate in your blood. This is the most accurate method for testing your body’s ketone levels, but the most expensive.
Breath Testing – You can measure the amount of acetone in your breath using a breath meter. This is the least reliable method of testing for ketosis.
Reading Your Results
Blood ketone tests measure the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in millimolar concentration. A urine or breath ketone test should also make it easy to convert its results to mmol.If your ketone levels are between 0.5 and 3.0 mmol, then your body is in a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a perfectly safe and natural metabolic state, but it is often confused with another, and highly dangerous, metabolic state called Ketoacidosis.
Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis
Ketosis: The metabolic state when fat is the primary energy source instead of carbohydrates. Ketosis is a perfectly normal state of human metabolism. Without ketosis, all humans would have died many thousands of years ago in times of carbohydrate shortages, such as winter and drought.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA): A dangerous metabolic state that is most commonly seen in people with type 1 diabetes and sometimes type 2 diabetics if they aren’t properly managing their insulin and diet. The condition can be deadly if untreated.
Other Side Effects of Ketosis
Dehydration: Transitioning to ketosis is frequently a dehydrating process. This is because,
Glycogen and carbs are stored in the body with water. It takes 4 grams of water to store a gram of glycogen. As you deplete glycogen, you will lose water.
High insulin levels cause water retention by inhibiting sodium excretion. The ketogenic diet lowers insulin levels, allowing excess fluid to be released.
Other temporary symptoms are byproducts of dehydration and low carbohydrate levels while your body is still trying to use carbohydrates as its primary energy source, including:
These symptoms often pass once the body has switched into ketosis.
Remedies to Ketosis Side Effects
Drinking lots of water to counteract dehydration
Adding salt and electrolytes
Time. Often your body just needs to get used to low carbohydrate levels and switch into ketosis
Eating more fat. Higher proportions of fat in your diet will help getting into ketosis.