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I Loved Keto, Now I Hate It

I Loved Keto, Now I Hate It

I recently had a dentist appointment. The dental hygienist, Lisa, asked me what I did for a living. As soon as I could finish the sentence, “I’m a personal trainer and nutrition coach…” she said:

Lisa: Oh, my god! I’ve been trying to work out and lose some weight. What’s the best piece of nutrition advice that you can give me?

Me: Well, everyone shouldn’t eat the same. The best nutrition plan is the one that works to support your body and help you reach your goals. (Yes, it seems simple. However, if it was everyone who cares to lose body fat would be lean.)

Lisa: I completely agree. I just want to be able to eat whatever I want, work out a few days per week but still lose weight.

I don’t remember what I said thereafter, but I wasn’t shocked. It’s a response I get at least half the time during a nutrition consultation, and it lets me know if the person is a good candidate to work with. If you can’t give up the crap you’ve been eating for years for just a few weeks, then we’re a bad fit.

However, what happens when you’re your own client? My problem wasn’t that I was eating too much crap. I was eating way too much fat and not enough carbs to increase strength.

I Crave Fats, Not Carbs

Stress wreaks havoc on everyone these days. As stress and anxiety increases, your level of the neurotransmitter serotonin will become depleted. As this occurs, most people will instinctively gravitate towards carbs.

Why? Carbs produce serotonin and aid in the relaxation of the mind and body. If you don’t handle stress well, adding some carbs such as steel cut oats, white rice, or potatoes, can be fine in small doses. Most people don’t do this. Steel cut oats turns into shitty cereal, white rice becomes pasta, and potatoes become chili cheese fries.

If you handle stress well, you don’t want carbs. You want fat and tend to thrive off it, but just like carbs if you eat too much, you’re fucked. This was my problem. I’d get home late from training and only want fat. The calories started to add up.

Keto Crushed Me

My keto journey began July 2017 and lasted until December. I should’ve ended it in October. The first two months were great. My increase in healthy fats included things like coconut oil, aged cheese, bacon, and ghee. I eliminated all fruit, nuts/seeds, and cheat meals for the initial three weeks. I felt fantastic. The immediate calorie reduction caused a huge drop in body fat percentage (13% to 11% in three weeks). By the end of August, I got down to 10.5%. Not bad, but after losing 2% in three weeks, you’d expect more.

So, What Happened?

I thought I deserved cheat meals and I wanted more fat. Every Saturday, I ate whatever I wanted. Initially, it was fine. By the time my first cheat meal occurred, my vascularity was the best it had ever been — legs, arms, a little in my chest, and throughout my midsection. I judged whether I could have a cheat meal on my midsection. If I could see veins on my oblique, I ate whatever I wanted to on Saturday. If not, continue the diet. This went on until the end of October and I felt like shit. I felt weak and lethargic. The extended reduction in glycogen from a lack of carbs killed my training. After October, I didn’t care if the veins were popping in my midsection. Saturday was cheat day regardless. My body fat went back up, and I ate more fat than I ever have. It turned into an excuse to eat more bacon and cheese.

Low Energy in the Gym

When I initially began keto, I could tolerate more hypertrophy work (muscle-building reps of anywhere from 6-12 for 3-5 sets, depending on whose methods you subscribe to). Depending on the training session, I would tap out after 3 sets of 6-8. If you’re training correctly, 3 sets of 6-8 for hypertrophy is what I would recommend for most people. However, I always had to drop the weight by the last set. If you want to get stronger or simply maintain strength, it’s not ideal. I’ve always been able to handle a good amount of volume in a session, but at that point, I couldn’t.

Time to Change

From January to early March of this year, I made sure that I ate “healthy” 90% of the time. I wasn’t practicing keto, but I kept some of the principles. Early April, I decided that I wanted strength and mass to be the focus of my training sessions. To train effectively and see results, I had to increase my carbs. While on keto, I maintained strength in most lifts and barely increased in others. I pride myself on making people stronger than they think they are, but I wasn’t doing it for myself.

Carbs, Carbs, Carbs

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that my body doesn’t handle a large number of carbs at a single sitting very well. I tend to feel bloated and lazy. To avoid that feeling, I’ve done a few things:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, brown rice isn’t better for you than white rice. I avoid brown rice at all cost. Brown rice produces phytic acid. Phytic acid hinders nutrient absorption and creates bloating. After tough training sessions (typically legs or back), I like to have a serving of white or basmati rice in my post-workout meal as an option. It’s low-fat, fast digesting, and enough to help restore glycogen to my muscles after heavy lifting.
  2. Potatoes are great sources of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin B6. Again, you go against popular belief. I grew up eating sweet potatoes, but for increasing strength and size, a white potato is better. Why? It’s fast digesting and easy on the stomach. Do you see a pattern developing?
  3. To help with the digestion, I make sure there’s a green, leafy vegetable in every meal where I add carbs. Spinach, kale, lettuce, and broccoli are my go-to’s.
  4. The only fruit I still like to consume are low-glycemic ones such as berries, tomatoes, avocado, and cucumber. On a rare occasion, pineapple is a choice post workout.
  5. I replaced cheat days with re-feed days. Every 3-5 days, I’ll have a day where I reduce my fat intake and replace them with carbs. I usually have a version of Charles Poliquin’s Meat and Nuts breakfast on lower carb days. On re-feed days, I’ll replace the nuts with a serving of steel-cut oats with blueberries and cinnamon, but I’ll still have a four-egg scramble with spinach, tomato, and turkey bacon.

Results From Training

As long as my training objective is improving strength, I can’t say for sure that I’ll do keto again. I’ve improved my strength in every way. My training comprises of focusing on the big compound lifts: squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. My fifth training day of the week focuses on improving my work capacity on pull-ups, but it’s not a “traditional” big lift. (I just feel like a badass every training session involving pull-ups.) By adding carbs back in a couple of times per week, my strength has improved by 15-20% on each big lift over the last four weeks. Not to mention, my weighted pull-ups feel a hell of a lot easier. The amount of volume I’ve been able to add back into my sessions has also been tremendous; 45-minute training sessions have turned back into 55-60 minute sessions where I feel great at the end.

Conclusion

Here’s what you should learn from this:

  1. There’s no such thing as the “best” diet. The best one is the work that works for you.
  2. It’s extremely difficult to increase strength and mass on a keto diet.
  3. Don’t use a high-fat diet as an excuse to consume a ridiculous amount of fat.
  4. You can use the keto diet to lose weight/body fat in the short term.

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