The ketosis promise land

(Week 7-11) How the search for additional marginal gains led me to the path of tenuous benefits and brought me (almost) nothing but misery.

Blood ketone measuring device - Abbott Precision Xtra

While studying various aspects of LC way of living, It wasn’t difficult to stumble upon the term “keto-adaptation” or ketosis, that seemed to pop up very frequently, especially with relation in endurance training. This keto adaptation approach entails severely limiting your carbohydrate intake, usually to less than 50g per day, in order to teach your body metabolism to burn and use exclusively fat for fuel, i.e. to use ketone bodies instead of glucose. The body’s reliance on fat as a primary fuel in endurance exercise is the “holy grail” in sports nutrition, as even the leanest of athletes have enough body fat stores for a couple or Ironman races.

The theory behind this approach was obtained from excellent book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance from Phinney and Volek and various internet sources, most notably from Peter Attia’s eatingacademy.com. The theory behind keto-adaptation seemed plausible and very compelling, therefore decision was unambiguous: bring on even more fat! I got myself a blood ketone body measuring device (Precision Xtra NFR Blood Glucose Monitoring System
), and after some additional tinkering with my nutrition, I managed to get myself into “keto-adapted” state. For me to achieve this, I needed to cut my carbs to less than 50g per day and limiting protein intake to fewer than 140 g (less than 2g per kg of body weight). Time wise it took me 7 weeks from starting LC to get to keto-adapted state.

Comparison of both body storage systems in terms of adequacy for IM races

Comparison of both body storage systems in terms of adequacy for IM races

The results were most dramatically seen in my body composition. I leaned out even more reaching a body weight of 67 kg, lowest in 5 years. But most striking difference from a couple of weeks before was now even more pronounced lack of motivation to start movements. Not only lack of motivation to start training, but a really strong aversion to start any kind of movements, i.e. going to the bathroom, standing of a chair, moving around my place. So needless to say, going to training sessions became like a nightmare. And I was feeling cold non-stop, at home and at the office, I was freezing in pool so much that I couldn’t complete sessions. My general rating on well-being scale was between “miserable” and “unbearable”. And as I was going through various literature searching for answers, it become more and more clear to me, that I was starving (lack of motivation, difficulties in starting movements, lower body temperature, depression…). But due to previous experiences of “constant” hunger when on HC diet, this hunger sensation was quite natural to me.

Performance wise, nothing dramatically different was happening, if so, I was getting more sluggish. Like before I couldn’t produce maximal efforts in interval training, tempo and long workouts were at lower intensities and most importantly, realization of my training plan came into jeopardy as a consequence of low motivation. I was frequently making self-excuses for missing workouts here and there and this was totally against my previous habits.

My experience with ketosis and large volume endurance training

My experience with ketosis and large volume endurance training

The final nail in the coffin that made me abandon the keto-path was the emergence of food cravings. As my well-being got progressively worse I increased my fat intake even more, now eating in excess of 500g per day, thinking my body needs more energy. Total consumed calories went over the roof, but I was having food cravings, almost like the ones before starting LC. I could only explain these cravings as my body’s cry for some carbs! Misinterpreting this signals and ingesting even more fat resulted in gaining some weight back. My well-being stayed the same, i.e. miserable, so after 5 weeks it was time to consume some carbs.

Lessons learned:

  • High intensity training in keto-adapted state is very hard.
  • Lack of motivation is clearly linked to nutrition status.
  • Calorie restriction is unbearable in the long-term.
  • Keto-adaptation is not suitable for me, as my training entails quite a bit of interval training.

Various observations:

  • By the end of my keto-adapted state I got more pronounced feel for my body’s hunger signals. Even though I was eating more than enough in terms of calories, my body was still craving for carbs due to training demands, something that I falsely ascribed to lack of calories in the first place. That led me to overconsumption of fat/calories and consequently to weight gain.
  • Thirst is more pronounced in keto-state, at least for me, as I was drinking at least 1 l of water more per day as usually.
  • Urination frequency decreased even more. By that time I learned, that one of the insulin effects on the body is the retention of fluids. So when the insulin levels drop, it’s time for bathroom.
  • Ketone breath is not that bad, at least for the one in keto-adapted state 😉
  • It is very hard to let go ingrained fear of fat. Even though I consciously knew that fat is not harmful, I was still having subconscious doubts when searching for highest fat products in the store.

Detailed weekly nutrition data

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