The Keto Diet: What Is It and Is It Right For You?


The Ketogenic Diet has been around for almost a century – as early as the 1920’s, it was used as a therapy for epilepsy (1) and, in one form or another, has been especially popular in bodybuilding. The “Iron Guru”, Vince Gironda, used to advocate a high fat, low carb, high protein diet similar to the keto diet as far back as the 1960’s. Fast-forward to the mid-90’s and you have another variation on the Keto Diet, this time one called the Anabolic Diet by Dr. Mario Di Pasquale (2). One of the things that come to mind when I think of his diet is the short-lived bodybuilding federation run by Vince McMahon (WBF) and the good Doctor’s attempt to create highly anabolic results by diet manipulation because of the steroid ban McMahon implemented.

What is a Ketogenic Diet? It is a very low carb (10% or less of total calories), moderate to high protein, high fat diet that forces the body to utilize fats for energy since glucose stores will become depleted soon after starting this diet.

Ah, but it’s not as simple as that! There are 3 popularly-accepted variations on this diet:

Standard Keto Dieting (SKD) — This is the classic version and the easiest to follow. There’s no carbohydrate re-feeding with this one as there are with the other two versions. This is simply a diet that is moderate-high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate. Who is this version suited for? Primarily for those individuals that have reasonably sedentary lifestyles and find that their workout performance is not overly affected from dramatically reduced carbohydrate intake. Additionally, this is the best option for people who don’t train all that hard or those that are highly resistant to insulin.

Targeted Keto Dieting (TKD) — This variation allows predetermined periods of carbohydrate intake primarily in the hours around the workout to provide adequate glucose for workout energy. The goal here is to improve training performance without affecting ketosis for anything more than the length of your workout. Who is this version best suited for? The individual that works out intensely several times a week and feels that training performance and progress is suffering from the low-carb dieting. This is also good for those that do not do well with large carbohydrate re-feeds.

Cyclical Keto Dieting (CKD) — This version utilizes planned carbohydrate re-feeds to replenish muscle glycogen stores after they have been depleted from dieting. So, you are strictly following the diet for 6 days with 1 day devoted to refeeding. This approach is typically based on training intensity and goals. Who is this version suited for? This is generally considered the most popular variation of keto dieting among serious performance-minded athletes and individuals. If you work out intensely and feel your training performance is not where you want it to be after using both the SKD and TKD versions, then the CKD version is the next step.

How is a keto diet different from all the other low-carb diets out there? Primarily, some people believe a keto diet is most effective when the body enters a state known as “ketosis” and begins producing ketones for energy which can only happen after severe carb restriction. By the way the process of ketosis is where the term “ketogenic” comes from. The logical question at this point is, what is ketosis?

Medical News Today defines ketosis as “a metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose for energy. Stored fats are broken down for energy, resulting in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body”. Ketones are water-soluble organic compound that is synthesized in the liver from fatty acids when carbohydrate intake is restricted.

Is the Keto Diet an effective way to lose fat (3)? The general opinion is yes – the Keto Diet is even more effective than other low-carb/low-fat diets (4,5). The diet can be used by virtually anyone – but it goes without saying that you should talk to your doctor before beginning such a diet, especially if you are taking medications. The diet works by causing changes in body chemistry that can have a major effect on any medications you may be taking, especially during the initial couple of weeks. While the keto diet is completely safe for healthy people, there are initial side effects as your body adjusts to the drastic changes in carbohydrate intake. These short-term side effects include: poor workout performance, low energy, a “cloudy” mental state, hunger, potential sleep problems, nausea and digestive discomfort. The key here is that these effects are short term and will pass after the few weeks. One way to reduce some of these effects is to first try a typical lower carb diet for a week, then go into a Keto diet.

If you’d like to give the Keto Diet a try, we’ll now take a detailed look at meal ideas and set up sample diets, including options for bodybuilders, who want more protein, and vegetarians.

The first thing you’ll want to do is calculate your daily calorie needs and macronutrient totals. In the following examples, I’m using the SKD version, for those individuals that feel the CKD or TKD variations are better suited to their goals, you can use these calculations as a starting point and I’ll explain how to adjust them to fit your needs.

To determine our basic calorie requirements, I recommend using the revised Harris-Benedict formula by Roza and Shizgal in 1984 (1). Before we begin this process, we need to define BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate. BMR is defined as “The rate at which the body spends energy for basic maintenance activities” (2). Or it can be said like this: BMR is the number of calories (energy) the body burns (spends) to meet daily maintenance requirements.

Here is the formula:

Men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 × weight in kg) + (4.799 × height in cm) – (5.677 × age in years)

Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 × weight in kg) + (3.098 × height in cm) – (4.330 × age in years)

Next, we’ll need to determine the recommended daily calorie intake required to maintain your current weight (3):

Little to no exercise – daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.2

Light exercise (1–3 days per week) – daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.375

Moderate exercise (3–5 days per week) – daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.55

Heavy exercise (6–7 days per week) – daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.725

Very heavy exercise (twice per day, extra heavy workouts) – daily kilocalories needed = BMR x 1.9

*To convert from metric measurements, note that 2.54 centimeters is equal to 1 inch, and 2.2 kilograms equals 1 pound.

Ok, we have our formula’s, here’s an example, using a 6 ft., 200 lb. man that’s 30 years old with 15% bodyfat:


88.362 + (13.397 x 90.71) (200 lbs. divided by 2.2 kilograms) = 1215.24

4.799 x 182.88 (6 ft. = 72 in. divided by 2.54 = 877.64

5.677 x 30 = 170.31

88.362 + 1215.24 + 877.64 – 170.31 = 2013.92, or 2014.

Therefore, BMR = 2014 calories per day. Now let’s factor in activity: we’ll use light exercise, so we multiply 2013.92 x 1.375 = 2769 calories per day. This number represents what you would need to maintain your current weight.

That wasn’t too bad, right? All I did was get the individual totals for each part of the formula and calculated the total.

OK, in general, if fat loss is your goal, you’ll want to reduce your daily calories by 500. On the other hand, if your goal is to build muscle, you’ll want to increase calories by 500 per day.

In this example, here’s how our 200 lb, 6-foot, 30-year-old male’s calories need to work out if the goal is fat loss:

Using our SKD variation, here are our macro totals:

2769 calories per day – 500 calorie reduction = 2269 calories

Carbohydrates: 5% – at 5%, our daily carbohydrate intake will be 113 calories or 28 grams per day (carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram).

Fats: 70% – at 70%, our daily fat intake will be 1588 calories or 176 grams per day (fat has 9 calories per gram).

Protein: 25%, or 1 gram per lb. of lean mass, I assume a 200-lb. man has a lean mass weight of 150 lbs., this assumes 15% bodyfat. So, our daily protein intake will be 600 calories or 150 grams per day (protein has 4 calories per gram).

Based on our totals, here’s a by-meal breakdown:

Example 5-Meal Per Day Breakdown – 6 grams carbs/35 grams fat/30 grams protein per meal.

One important point is that you may have to adjust the 500-calorie reduction as individuals vary – you may find it’s a little too big of a deficit, or not quite enough. A second point is, you can adjust the carbs if you’d rather have more in the morning, for example – you have a daily total of 28 grams to work with.

We have our daily calorie intake broken down into macro-nutrient totals per meal, the next consideration will be food choices. First, get rid of all the high carb foods in your cabinets and cross them off your shopping list. This includes these foods:

The Do Not Eat List

High-sugar foods: Sugary junk food, such as cake, ice cream, candy, cookies, soda, and fruit juices.

Fruit: All fruit, except small amounts of berries like blueberries or strawberries.

Beans or legumes: Kidney beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas.

Root vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Grains: Wheat products, rice, pasta, cereal, and breads.

Low-fat or diet products, including sugar-free: These are often highly processed and tend to be high in carbs or sugar alcohols.

Condiments or sauces: Watch the sugar content, these often have too much sugar.

Unhealthy fats: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, high-fat salad dressings, mayonnaise.

Alcohol: These beverages can have too many carbohydrates.

Next, your meals should primarily include the following foods:

The Yes You Can Eat These Foods List

Meat: Red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken, and turkey.

Fatty fish: Such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel.

Full Fat Dairy: whole eggs, cheese, butter.

Nuts, Nut Spreads, Seeds: Cashews, almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, nut spreads.

Healthy oils: Primarily extra virgin olive oil, coconut, flax and avocado oil.

Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.

Low-carb veggies: Green veggies, such as lettuce, celery, broccoli, spinach, also tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Condiments: You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.

Vegetarians: You’ll need to rely on soy and vegetable protein foods and protein powders, beans, meatless burgers, oils, nuts, nut butters, and low carb veggies.

If you’re following one of the variations that allow a carb re-feed day, or workout carbs, here’s how to do it:

CKD Variation

On this variation, we have one carb re-feed day per week. The primary considerations are to keep protein the same, reduce fat intake and increase carb intake. In general, using our example 200 lb. male, you should increase your calories back up to maintenance (2769), increase carb intake to 30% of total calories, in our example this would be 830 calories or 207 grams of carbs. The balance after calculating protein (600 calories) and carbs (830 calories) would be 850 calories from fat, or 95 grams. Your carb intake for this day is adjustable in that you may find your body reacts better to a little lower carb intake. Remember, you’ve been eating virtually no carbs for 6 days, ease into your re-feed meals and listen to your body. Just because the number is 207 grams does not mean you must force yourself to eat that much. Similarly, don’t use the re-feed day to go nuts and pig out. Your goal is healthy carb choices.

TKD Variation

In this variation, we’ll incorporate carbohydrates before and after your workout. The primary goal of extra carbs in either the CKD or TKD variation is to temporarily restore glycogen levels, in the case of TKD, you want to positively impact your workout performance.

Staying with our example 200 lb. male trying to lose fat, we will assume he is training 5 days a week, so on those days, he will take in carbohydrates leading up to and right after workouts. The other 2 days he will follow their SKD macro-nutrient breakdown.

The TKD nutrient breakdown is the same as SKD, except we are adding carbohydrates (with a corresponding decrease in fat) on training days. Here’s how it would look:

Protein intake stays the same (600 calories or 150 grams). Increase carbohydrate to .50 grams per lb. of lean body weight – notice I said lean! Our example male has 150 lbs. of lean mass. Therefore, we’re looking at 75 total grams divided up and ingested before and after the workout. You can divide these 75 grams, or 300 calories, however you prefer, I would suggest taking in 35 grams before and 30 grams after. So, after calculating protein (600 calories) and our new carb (300 calories) totals, this leaves us with 1369 calories (152 grams) for fat (2269 daily calories – 900 (600 + 300) = 1369).

As with CKD, you may need to adjust your carb intake based on how you feel. If you don’t like how you react to the 35 grams of carbs during your workout, adjust them down, if you feel good, then stay with that. Everyone is different, there are no carved in stone numbers that work for everybody.

So that’s the Keto Diet! There’s never a better time to take the step to the body you want than right now! The Keto Diet can help you get there!

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