PROTEIN AND THE KETOGENIC DIETnot enough or too much?
How much protein on a ketogenic diet?
In part 1 of this series we went over how to determine your maintenance calories – basically how many calories it took to maintain your current weight. From there we learned how many calories you should eat on a ketogenic diet to suit your specific goals.
Now begs the question, just how much protein is required on the ketogenic diet?
In general, how much protein you should eat on a ketogenic diet will vary depending on your goal, i.e. weight loss vs. weight gain. The following serves as a great rule of thumb to shoot for.
Fat loss: 1.0 – 1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass
Muscle gain: .7 – 1.0 grams per pound of lean body mass
There are two schools of thought on how much protein you should eat. One side limits intake as a percentage of overall calories, while the other
We are definitely of the latter camp, but more specifically setting protein based on one's lean body mass.
While carbohydrate intake is the most important aspect of successfully reaching a ketotic state, protein intake is important to prevent muscle loss. This is why in part 2 of the equation we are going to discuss and then establish our protein requirements for optimal muscle retention and keto-adaptation.
What’s tricky about figuring out how much protein you need on a ketogenic diet is that it must fall in a range high enough to prevent muscle loss but low enough to allow one to enter and maintain a state of ketosis.
With that said, let’s dive in.
Once ketosis is established, our bodies require very little glucose (carbohydrates) and the glucose it does need can be produced from other sources in the body, protein, and fat.
Reaching ketonic state sets in motion a series of adaptations which minimizes body protein loss during periods of caloric restriction, but doesn’t negate it completely. Our primary goal is to have enough dietary protein to maintain ketosis while preventing the breakdown of our own bodily protein (muscle/lean mass).
And there lies the dilemma.
Just how much protein is enough to maintain ketosis while preventing muscle breakdown?
Through our own self-experiments and reasons discussed below, we believe in setting protein requirements based on weight, most notably lean body mass.
So how many grams of protein should you eat on a ketogenic diet?
How many grams of protein you should eat on a ketogenic diet will come down to a few factors:
- Bodyweight and more accurately your LBM
Lean Body Mass (bodyweight – body fat)
- If you’re active (exercise)
- Whether you’re just starting the diet or already in ketosis
- How many carbs you are consuming
Regardless of diet, the body has a minimum protein requirement needed for
PROTEIN CALCULATED BASED ON BODYWEIGHT
While it would arguably be more accurate to use lean body mass to calculate our protein intake, every method of measurement offers a margin of error. For simplicity’s sake, we will be using total bodyweight in our recommendations. If you know or have a general idea of your body fat percentage the more accurately you can determine your personal protein requirements.
While we do recommend measuring body fat via more accurate methods such as skinfold calipers, DEXA scan, or even bioelectrical impedance, we understand that these are not always accessible to everyone and have provided a visual illustration below to help
With that said, 0.82g/lb or 1.8g/kg seems to be the upper limit at which protein intake benefits body composition (1). After the .82g/lb of protein, additional protein intake ceased to provide any measurable benefits.
This would give your average male carrying ~20% body fat an estimate of 1g of protein per pound of LBM.
Example: 180-pound male at 20% body fat
1g of protein per pound of LBM
180 x .20 = 36 pounds of fat
180 – 36 = 144 pounds of LBM
.82g of protein per pound of total
.82 X 180 = 147.6
That gives us a net difference of 3.6g of protein which is negligible in the big scheme of things.
Based on these findings, our recommendation would be to set protein at .8g/lb of protein for individuals who ARE NOT exercising upwards of .9g/lb for individuals who ARE exercising. Again, these recommendations are based on TOTAL bodyweight for individuals generally under 25% body fat. For increased accuracy, those who would like to calculate protein based on LBM, we would recommend 1g/lb of LBM.
MORE REASONS TO INCREASE PROTEIN
Protein has been shown and reported to be the most satiating macronutrient compared to carbohydrates or fat (2). There is also convincing evidence that a higher protein intake increases thermogenesis (calorie expenditure) via the Thermic Effect of Food or TEF which accounts for about 10% of our total calorie expenditure each day.
Wait a minute, I thought gluconeogenesis was bad and that’s why we wanted a lower protein intake?
Yes and no, hear us out for a second.
Often referred to and even feared by many in the ketogenic community, gluconeogenesis literally translates to the making (
genesis) of new (neo) sugar ( gluco).
The thought here is that extra protein is converted to sugar and either prevents us from reaching a state of ketosis or knocking us out of ketosis. This may or may not be true as there is no solid evidence supporting this, but in context of what we are about to discuss this shouldn't be an issue.
Just know that gluconeogenesis is happening ALL the time and to everyone despite low or high protein intake.
During the first couple weeks of a ketogenic diet, during the transition to becoming a fat burning beast, the body still relies heavily on glucose for fuel. Since glucose needs are high when availability is low during the keto-adaptation period (1-3 weeks), the body will begin to break down its own protein stores via gluconeogenesis.
As a result, during the first couple weeks of a ketogenic diet, we strongly recommend you keep your protein intake up and adjust downward if you feel so inclined.
- PROTEIN TASTES GOOD.
CAN TOO MUCH PROTEIN PREVENT OR KNOCK YOU OUT OF KETOSIS?
A lot of the questions we get and see floating around is “can too much protein stop ketosis?” or whether too much protein can even prevent someone from reaching a ketonic state.
And like always, it depends…
In my personal experience, along with a few other individuals, we have had no problems establishing and maintaining ketosis with upwards of 1.2g of protein per pound of total body weight. Whether or not eating that much protein is optimal is a completely different story, and as mentioned above, likely offers no significant benefits.
CAN YOU HAVE PROTEIN SHAKES ON A KETOGENIC DIET?
While protein shakes are allowed on a ketogenic diet, there is generally no need to supplement additional protein. If you are consuming a diet high in meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy you may even find yourself going OVER your allotted protein intake.
This is why we suggest fatty cuts of meats and even going against the popularity of eating only egg whites and consuming the entire egg… and sometimes even ONLY eating the yolks.
Of course, there are times (many times on a ketogenic diet) where you may find yourself not hungry or on the go and would rather opt to drink a protein shake. And quite possibly there may be some individuals who find it hard to hit the ideal protein intake. In these cases, a protein shake is a perfectly acceptable replacement/supplement to your ketogenic diet.
Below are a few of the protein shakes we would recommend based on taste and quality
THE TAKEAWAY OF HOW MUCH PROTEIN YOU NEED ON A KETOGENIC DIET
Hopefully, you see by now that there is nothing to fear when it comes to protein intake on a ketogenic diet. We need enough protein to stave off muscle loss while dieting, but not too much where it either prevents us or knocks us out of ketosis.
Our general rule of thumb regarding protein for individuals without excess amounts (>25%) body fat is to set your protein intake at .8g/lb of total bodyweight if inactive or .9g/lb if working out regularly.
Ideally, we recommend you calculate protein on your lean body mass, which you may either guesstimate or have a body fat test done. With that said, based on your lean body mass we would recommend 1g per pound of LBM upwards of 1.2g per pound of lbm.
For a SUPER EASY WAY to calculate how much protein… simply eat 1 gram per pound of DESIRED body weight. For example, if you are 250 pounds and desire to be at a body weight of 200 pounds you would eat 200 grams of protein.
To set your protein and calculate the rest of your macros you can also use our easy keto calculator.
Lastly, if you have trouble establishing and maintaining ketosis based on the recommended protein intake, and all other aspects of the diet are in place, adjust protein intake downward until ketosis is established as measured by ketone test strips, a ketone blood monitor, or a ketone breath meter.
OR don't, because as long as you are seeing results that's all that really matters.
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