*Let me preface that I am not a nutritionist. I’m new to educating myself on what I’m putting into my body. My trial with the ketogenic meal plan is a self-experiment on my energy levels while training for a marathon.
About six months ago, I met another American here in France. While I was excited to have drinks with a native English speaker, I was amazed to find out she was a big-time leader in the Beachbody world; one that I participated in a couple years ago, but have since decided to step away from. Full disclaimer: I’m still a huge fan of the home programs and still do them for strength and cross-training.
Anyway, I became Facebook friends with her and signed up for her blog (Fit With Rachel). If you have a Facebook account you are fully aware that it is the largest platform for all multi-level markets to use, so through it, I discovered her previously recorded live videos about following a ketogenic meal plan. I saw her before and after pictures of toned abdominals and decreased leg cellulite (since losing 80lbs post-partum) thanks to workouts and change in diet. Aesthetically, I was impressed but that was not the reason I was intrigued by the meal plan. I did a little bit more googling and reading from other keto minded sites like Ruled.Me and Dr. Hyman and was pretty much convinced to give it a go.
What they were basically telling me was that I could, not only be heart-healthy and tone up with foods considered high in fat but also, change my energy sources from sugars to fats by being in a state of ketosis.
What is ketogenic?
The short version, essentially you minimize your carbohydrate intake (usually <60g per day, hardcore <20g per day which I found to be extremely difficult considering fruits and veggies have carbs!). By doing so, you put your body into a state of ketosis in which it chemically changes to get its energy from burning fats instead of sugars (digested carbohydrates turn to sugar).
If this program sounds familiar to the Atkins diet, you’re not far off except for the fact that the foods are much more heavily monitored. For example, you can’t just start eating all the red meat and cook with all the vegetable oils you want and expect that because it’s high protein and high fat that you’ll automatically start losing weight (although there are probably people who will, but what’s more concerning is that it’s not healthy). Instead, you can eat red meat that has been grass-fed and oils that are comprised of saturated fats, like coconut oil.
Why? The difference is that non-grass fed beef has developed over time with chemicals, producing stressed meat that we ingest which can lead to an inflammatory response in our own bodies. When we eat unsaturated, trans, or hydrogenated fats like vegetable oils such as soy, corn or canola, the fat process has been damaged creating free radicals which again leads to inflammation in our own bodies and can lead to i.e. heart disease and diabetes.
It seems the opposite of what some food industries have been informing us for years by stating we should eat advertised low-fat foods. But, unfortunately, the process in which to reduce FAT (damaging the fat particle, as I mentioned above, by producing free radicals) can ultimately lead us to eat more carbs because they have been advertised as lower in fat! Seriously, wtf?!
As an endurance runner, it’s been ingrained in me to carb up! In fact, a former co-worker of mine, when I ran my first marathon, bought me a headband that read ‘will run for food’. Some large races even incorporate a pasta dinner the night before the run included with the race fee. Honestly, I never educated myself on macros and nutritional values. I used to run so I could eat what I wanted regardless if it improved my performance. But after 10 years and 9 marathons with increasing finishing times, I figured my go-to plan of eating what I wanted wasn’t working to help my performance anymore. I know, I’m a late learner.
So hearing about a change in energy sources from a ketogenic meal plan inspired me to try it more so than dropping 5lbs or reducing leg girth.
Four weeks ago I started the plan. The first week was the hardest, you’re ridding your body of processed sugars which act like drugs to your body. Some people even develop something called the ‘keto-flu’. I read recently a study in which they gave a group of mice cocaine laced water bottles and another group sugar-laced water bottles, and the sugar mice ended up drinking way more. Science.
To start the process, your first grocery bill will also be quite expensive. You have to buy typically from an all-organic market and get essentials like ghee or grass-fed butter, coconut oil, almond, and coconut flour, coconut sugar, protein powder, all-natural nut butter, full-fat cheeses, grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range meats and eggs, fish high in omega 3’s like salmon or tuna, avocados, olives and fresh vegetables and fruits that are low starch (think a lot of above-ground legumes like spinach and fewer root vegetables like potatoes and carrots and for fruits more berries than bananas or apples), etc.
Here is an example of my first week’s meal plan…
Luckily for me, I didn’t experience any sort of carb withdrawals during that first week. The meals were, of course, tasty but moving forward into weeks 2 and 3, there were days when all I wanted was to have an ice-cold beer, bread or pasta with my meal. The hardest times were when I went to eat at a friend or family’s place, in my opinion. But I persevered! And although they recommend not drinking alcohol at all because of its lack of nutritional value, essentially spirits like vodka and wine have virtually no carbs so I was still able to have a few cocktails on the weekends, especially when I was traveling to Portugal and Switzerland the past couple of weekends.
My goal was to complete 3 full weeks and I can proudly say I went 19 out of 21 full days without having bread, and the full 21 days of not having beer or pasta. And while I should have taken my weight and measurements to find objective changes, I didn’t. But here is a before and after picture.
As for my energy, I did feel low the first week but now feel less tired on runs or training sessions that are less than an hour. As my Berlin marathon training cycle continues to increase in mileage, I’m going to try to continue being in a state of ketosis but I may experiment with carbs again on pre-day runs greater than 90 minutes, depending on how I feel on that first longish run.
Have you tried a ketogenic diet? What are your thoughts or concerns?