Personal: The Ketogenic Diet: What I Learned From Two Months of Zero Carbs
I’m addicted to experimenting.
At any given time, I’m performing some sort of experiment in order to improve my life. I’ve tried out polyphasic sleep, I do float tank sessions every month, and I drink bulletproof coffee every morning.
But the ONE area of my life I’ve never experimented with much was my diet.
I’ve always known that your diet is a huge lever – but I LOVE food.
Vegetarian? How can I live without meat?
No Carbs? I’m Asian…I’ve been eating rice with every meal since birth!
Fasting? I’ll die if I don’t eat! My muscles will wither away.
I’ve put off experimenting with my diet for years. A while back my buddy Thanh called me.
Thanh: I just started the Keto diet
Me: Isn’t that the crazy diet for fat people?
Thanh: Yes. I did it to lose a few pounds, but I’ve never been more mentally focused in my life.
Me: Sign me up!
I have to confess that my energy levels aren’t the best. Every afternoon I go through a slump, and I don’t feel as mentally sharp as I used to be a few years ago. And this is in spite of sleeping 7+ hours a night and exercising 5 times a week.
Could it be my diet?
My diet wasn’t horrible. I avoided sugar. I didn’t eat fast food. I didn’t drink soda. Could carbs be the enemy? Only one way to find out.
I started the diet the next day.
This isn’t my nature. I love to read, plan, and research to the point of exhaustion. But this time I decided to jump in with both feet and take action!
Something that surprised me is how polarizing the Ketogenic diet is. I made an announcement on my Facebook and people acted as if I talked about politics or religions.
Some people swore by it, other people thought I’d end up dying if I go on it.
I’m going to write about my experience.
Remember that we all have a unique body and lifestyle; the only way to find out what’s best for you is to experiment.
What IS the Keto Diet?
You restrict your carbs and instead eat a ton of fat.
Normally your body will take the carbs you eat and convert them into glucose for energy. When there aren’t any carbs, your body burns your fat for energy.
The recommended macro level is roughly 5% net carbs (carbs minus fiber), 20% protein, 75% fat.
What you end up eating: tons of fatty meat cuts (bacon, chicken thighs, steaks, pork), eggs, cheeses, avocado, butter, olive oil, etc.
You CAN and you’re encouraged to eat vegetables. Just make sure you you’re tracking the net carbs.
What you can’t eat: no baked goods, no grains, no sugar, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, no fruit.
The Keto Experiment
The first few days went by fine. Nothing seemed weird.
On day 4 is when the “Keto Flu” hit.
It’s your body’s reaction from burning glucose from carbs as energy into burning fats. The symptoms usually last a week and it feels as if you have the flu itself.
My Keto flu lasted only one day, but that was a miserable day. I was sick and couldn’t work that day.
I drank plenty of bone broth and electrolyte supplements and that helped me recover.
Something that isn’t mentioned often is you’re going to have insane diarrhea the first week.
It took me about 10-ish days before I felt I was Keto-Adapted. I bought a device that took blood samples to test my Ketone levels.
How Did Keto Affect Me in the Gym?
One concern I had about Keto is how would it affect my performance in the gym. I lift weights and I compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.
How would Keto affect my performance?
My “gas tank” / stamina was horrible the first few weeks.
Normally I can do five rounds of sparring in Jiu Jitsu. The first three weeks I could do around 2 to 3 before I’d gas out.
But then the Ketone powers kicked in.
Now at the eight-week mark? I can do eight, five-minute rounds.
My conclusion is that the Keto diet gives me more stamina / endurance. However, I’m not as strong or explosive as I used to be.
I think being on the Keto diet is not optimal if you’re competing in any way. There is something called the Targeted Ketogenic Diet.
That means 30 minutes before your workout you can take 40g of fast digesting carbs (Dextrose) to fuel your workout.
How Did Keto Affect My Weight?
I started the Keto diet at 141lbs. I weighed in this morning at 137lbs.
For my macros, I ate to “maintain.”
Although I didn’t lose too much weight, I can visibly see my abdominal muscles more.
I was going to post some before after pics, but you can’t really notice a difference between 4 pounds.
How Did Keto Affect My Sleep?
I track my sleep using a Fitbit Alta HR.
You can see that I was averaging around 7 hours of sleep before the Keto diet.
On the Keto diet, I averaged around 8 hours of sleep.
I’m sleeping an hour more with Keto, but my sleep quality has increased too.
How Did Keto Affect my Energy Levels?
There’s no denying that my energy levels have gone up. It’s not superman levels like I was expecting, but it’s much better.
I can say that my “afternoon slump” was due to grain heavy lunches. I loved eating pasta, noodles, and rice!
Also because I’m getting deeper sleep, that also gives me more energy throughout the day.
Have you guys ever experienced the “food coma?” It’s when you have a heavy meal and you’re tired. My girlfriend jokes that after dinner I’d have to lay on the couch for 15 minutes.
I no longer had any food comas after going on the Keto diet. Also I rarely felt “hungry” on the Keto diet. I felt like I was in a satiated state 24 / 7.
What Did I Eat on a Keto Diet
Whenever you’re starting a diet, always keep it simple.
Here’s my typical day:
- Bulletproof coffee (A cup of black coffee, 2 tbsp of Kerrygold’s unsalted butter, 1 tsp MCT oil, and 1 tbsp of heavy whipping cream. Throw it all in a blender.)
- 2 Scrambled eggs /w cheese or 2 fried eggs.
- 4 Strips of bacon.
- Kimchi. It gets some veggies in and is a probiotic.
- Protein shake (1 scoop of protein + peanut butter + almond milk + keto supplement)
- A fatty meat. salmon, pork belly, steak, chicken thighs, chicken wings.
- Vegetables: I’ll roast some asparagus, spinach, or cauliflower.
I worried about giving up some of my favorite foods by going on the Ketogenic diet. I learned that I didn’t really have to.
I didn’t give up pizza. You can make something called Fathead pizza which uses Almond flour / cheese as a crust.
I love eating pho. To make it ketogenic I use more bean sprouts and shirataki noodles (made from mushrooms).
These tasted 90% as good as the real thing. Good enough for me!
Eating Out on a Keto Diet
I naturally stayed at home and cooked more because I was on a Keto diet. I didn’t find it that hard to stay Keto when I ate out.
Here are some of the places I ate out at:
- Shake Shack / Five Guys – Get burgers without the Lettuce Wrap
- Korean BBQ
- American BBQ
- Japanese – Sashimi
- Chipotle – Skip the rice and beans
What I Learned From This Experiment
#1: Grains are useless.
There isn’t much nutritional value from grains, yet your body is using up so much energy to digest them.
This was hard for me to accept because I grew up eating rice and noodles with every meal.
The typical diet incorporates a ton of grains because they’re cheap.
#2: I didn’t miss carbs that much.
The next thing I learned is how easy it was to adapt to the diet.
I go through experiments all the time and I’m always dreading the thought of how hard it’ll be.
For example, I thought deleting my Facebook account would be impossible. Two years later I still don’t have a Facebook nor do I miss it.
Same deal with carbs
It makes me wonder what else is actually easy, but I’ve built it in my mind how hard it is?
#3: Your Diet Affects Everything.
And most of our eating habits came from how we ate growing up. They’re ingrained habits that we’ve never questioned before.
I use to think all fat people were lazy. If they just controlled their diets or went to the gym then they wouldn’t be so fat. How hard is that?
But over the years I’ve realized it’s not that easy.
It’s hard to break lifelong habits. And for some people…eating isn’t just eating. Eating is a way of coping with negative emotions.
So in a way going through this made me a more empathetic person.
Why I’m Stopping the Keto Diet and What’s Next
I’m stopping the diet after eight weeks.
This was always meant to be a two-month experiment. There are several other experiments I’d like to try out such as vegetarian, paleo, whole30, pescatarian (no meat except seafood), and fasting.
I need to experiment with different diets to see what’s best for my body. It’s dumb to say that there’s one best diet since everyone has a different body / lifestyle / genetic profile.
Going on the Keto diet has made some permanent changes to my diet:
- Avoid fried foods. I prefer baking / grilling if possible.
- Seek healthier alternatives to food. I use to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every week. Now I switched to Halo top which is 1/5 the calories.
- I love fruits but I’m going to tone it down with the tropical fruits. Too much sugar. Instead I’m eating more melons / berries.
- Avoiding grains once again. This is tough since I love Asian food so much.
- Cook at home more. The Ketogenic diet made me cook at home more to in order to stick to the diet. Because of that I’ve become a better cook. I’m saving money and I’m saving time!
The next diet I’m trying out is a low carb version of Paleo. I’ll be introducing potatos and some fruits back into my diet. Think of it like Keto but with three times the net carbs.
Anyways, I’m so glad that I tried out this diet. I think every year I’ll get on it for two months to reboot my system.
Let me know what your experiences are.
And if you do decide to try the Ketogenic diet please do some research. This post was just my experience and not written as a how-to guide!
Here are some resources that helped me out.
I pretty much got most of my information from Ruled.me