I was fortunate to be able to attend a Ketogenic Diet conference in Orlando, Florida last week. There was so much great information presented by many different physicians, researchers, and athletes. Steve and I have been following a Ketogenic diet for nearly two years now, so I was familiar with many of these experts from following their blogs and listening to their podcasts, but it was awesome to be able to actually meet them and watch them present their research and clinical findings in person.
I have experienced first hand many of the benefits of the Ketogenic diet- mental clarity and focus, reduced appetite, decreased inflammation, and increased energy and recovery. So it was really neat to be surrounded by so many others who were experiencing the same things and to see the actual reasons behind these results.
A Ketogenic diet is a very low carb, high fat, and moderate protein diet. This macronutrient breakdown keeps insulin levels low and the body is able to use stored body fat as fuel. Ketone bodies are a byproduct of the breakdown of fat (both dietary and body fat) and their benefits are extensive.
A major theme throughout the conference was that ketone bodies, specifically beta hydroxybutyrate, provide a cleaner energy source to the brain, muscles, and organs than sugar/glucose. The heart actually works more efficiently on ketones and requires less oxygen. The process of using ketones for energy creates less free radicals and oxidative stress in the body. There are many conditions (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and concussions) where the brain is not able to use sugar/glucose as fuel. In those cases the brain tissue will die if it doesn’t have another fuel source. Ketones are neuro protective and serve as that energy source. Research shows that these organic compounds show great promise in conditions of the brain and nervous system as they enhance brain energy metabolism and thereby improve brain function.
As well as being a superior fuel source, ketones also serve as chemical messengers in the body. As messengers, they suppress inflammation by inhibiting the assembly of the NLRP3 inflammasome. This inflammasome is known to cause an inflammatory cascade in the body and the resulting chronic inflammation that is the cause of many of the major diseases of Western society. In addition, ketones signal leptin (our satiety hormone) to tell the brain we are full and don’t require more energy. This is the reason that most people on a Ketogenic diet find that they are not hungry the way they used to be on a standard diet, and are able to intermittent fast naturally with no problem at all.
Ketones have also been shown to lower blood glucose and enhance insulin sensitivity. This is critical for anyone on a weight loss journey, because under those conditions, fat is pulled out of storage and utilized for fuel. Ketones suppress the making of fat and increase the breakdown of fat. In mouse studies, ketones have been shown to decrease feed efficiency (mice gain less fat from the same quantity of food) and turn white fat to the more favorable, metabolically active, brown fat.
Ketones can also reduce anxiety and depression as they encourage the production of GABA and serotonin, which are important neurotransmitters that have calming and feel good effects.
The key to slowing aging, and improving athletic performance and body composition is preventing muscle loss. Ketones have been shown to do just that by inhibiting the breakdown of the important branch chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine. If someone is losing weight on a Ketogenic diet, they can be sure that they are losing fat and not muscle, which is inevitable on most any other diet.
Dr. Jacob Wilson, PhD., CSCS “The Muscle PhD” is an expert researcher on the changes in muscle size, strength, and power in response to nutrition and training interventions. I have followed his work for three years now and was so excited to hear him present. He follows a Ketogenic diet and uses ketone supplements himself and has done many studies on athletes in ketosis and using supplemental ketones. He has found increased performance in MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters using exogenous ketone supplementation (Pruvit Keto OS products). He has also shown the muscle sparing effects of ketones by studying two groups of athletes for a two month period. One group was put on a strict Ketogenic diet and the other followed a standard diet. Both groups did the same CrossFit workouts for the two-month period. At the end, both groups had lost the same amount of weight, but the keto group lost predominantly fat mass, while the standard diet group lost a great deal of muscle.
As for those skeptical of a Ketongenic diet for high intensity athletes, Dr. Wilson referenced a study where after a year of keto adaptation, athletes on a Ketogenic diet had just as much glycogen stored in their muscle tissue one hour after training as standard diet athletes did. This shows that keto adapted athletes can perform and excel at high intensity interval training (a very glycolytically demanding task), but it takes some time for the body to be able to replenish glycogen stores without carbohydrates.
Dr. Wilson also talked about the importance of high intensity interval training for fat loss, stating that short, all out sprints are much more beneficial than long duration steady state cardio because of the EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption). He went on to explain that steady state cardio decreases the metabolic rate while the combination of cardio with resistance training increases the metabolic rate. This is a definite benefit of CrossFit training and one of the many reasons it is so effective.
Drew Manning is the New York Times Best Selling Author of the book, Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit and is famous for his personal experiment gaining 75 pounds in six months and losing it in the next 6 months. Drew is a CrossFit athlete who follows a Ketogenic diet and supplements with exogenous ketones regularly. He admits that his physical performance took a hit when he began the diet, but after the first month, his workouts started to feel better, and after 60 days he felt his performance was even better than before. He has done a Spartan Race fueled only by Pruvit Keto OS drinks and is doing a triathlon this weekend in Hawaii where he will be doing the same.
Another one of my favorite speakers was Dr. Adam Nally, a family physician and obesity medicine specialist who has been using the Ketogenic diet both personally and clinically for over a decade. He also has a great podcast with the awesome Jimmy Moore (another keto expert and speaker at the conference) called Keto Talk with Jimmy Moore and the Doc. Dr. Nally spoke candidly about his own success with the diet and how it has allowed him and many of his patients to lose weight and become more insulin sensitive. He is a big promoter of Pruvit ketone supplements and says he takes several servings per day to put him in a higher state of ketosis for the benefits of increased mental clarity, energy, and decreased inflammation.
After hearing first hand the research and testimonies of the experts in this field, I left the conference with an even greater passion for ketones and the positive effects they can have on our brain and mitochondria. These effects allow us to perform and function more effectively as human beings. Whether a result of a well formulated Ketogenic diet or a high quality ketone supplement like the Pruvit products, ketones have potent anti inflammatory, muscle sparing, anti oxidant, neuro protective, and insulin sensitizing properties. I’m so excited to be part of the ketone conversation and to help others see the benefits of a low carb lifestyle.